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A Season of Slaughter: The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, May 8-21, 1864

 Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White, Savas Beatie

At the beginning of his first campaign in Virginia since becoming commander in  chief of the Union Army, Lt. Gen.  Ulysses S. Grant told Maj. Gen.  George G. Meade on May 3, 1864,  “Lee’s Army will be your objective:  Wherever Lee goes, there you will  go also.” That directive signaled a  significant change in strategy. Until  then Richmond had been the Army  of the Potomac’s target, but henceforth Grant’s ultimate goal became  the destruction of General Robert  E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  What followed was a campaign of  attrition that tested the will of both  sides, but brought the war to a victorious conclusion in less than a year.

After the first failure of their  frontal attack through the Wilderness, Grant, Meade and his staff rode  down to the intersection of the Brock  Road and Plank Road, where Grant  ordered the army southeast along the Brock Road toward the crossroads town of Spotsylvania Court  House. According to co-authors  Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D.  White, that would prove to be the  most important crossroads of Grant’s  life, underscoring the determination  of the Union general Lee now faced.

Mackowski and White believe  that the accidental wounding of Lt.  Gen. James Longstreet on May 6  by his own men was a serious loss  to Lee, since Longstreet had been  one of his key assets in offense and  defense—and Lee critically needed  his defensive skill at Spotsylvania.  They also argue that Maj. Gen. Philip  H. Sheridan’s role has been overestimated. Sheridan’s only success  was at the Battle of Yellow Tavern  on May 11, in which Maj. Gen. J.E.B.  Stuart was mortally wounded. One  month later, Stuart’s successor, Maj.  Gen. Wade Hampton, would defeat  Sheridan at Trevilian Station.

The photos and maps included  throughout A Season of Slaughter will benefit battlefield tourists. In  that regard, as well as its insightful  examination of the campaign’s  context, the book should be of great  interest to Civil War enthusiasts.


Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.