Spotsylvania Court House

May 8-21, 1864 - Fredericksburg Area Battlefields

Located in the city of Fredericksburg and surrounding Spotsylvania County, Central Virginia, the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park is home to the battle sites of four important American Civil War battles: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.

At over 8,000 acres, it’s the second-largest military park in the world.

The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park features many fascinating historical sites.

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

One of the famous battles of the American Civil War and the second battle of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House is best remembered for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Mule Shoe defenses where intense hand-to-hand combat took place at the Bloody Angle.

On May 7, 1864, after two days of bloody but inconclusive fighting in the Wilderness, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant decided to disengage and move to the southeast. He planned to reach the next road network to Richmond at Spotsylvania Court House, get between Gen. Lee, and defeat him in an open area with his numerical superiority.

On May 7th and 8th, 1864, the Confederate cavalry engaged in a strategic running delaying action that allowed General Lee’s army to outpace General Grant, effectively blocking the road to the village of Spotsylvania Court House. As the dust settled, both sides meticulously established miles of formidable defensive earthworks.

The Confederates constructed an immense salient within their lines, a feature that was promptly dubbed the ‘Mule Shoe’ due to its distinctive shape and the stubborn resistance it offered. This fortification became a part of an extensive network of intricate defensive breastworks, trenches, and artillery emplacements that sprawled across the landscape, a foretelling harbinger of the trench warfare that would dominate the First World War.

On May 10, 1864, U.S. Colonel Emory Upton led a daring charge that successfully breached the Mule Shoe, revealing for the first time that the rebel salient was not invincible.

In the early morning light of May 12, 1864, amid a veil of rain, an overwhelming surge of blue-coated soldiers launched a further assault on the Mule Shoe.

They created a sizeable breach in the salient, seizing considerable ground from its rebel defenders.

A fierce Confederate counterattack followed, triggering an unrelenting 22-hour stretch of hand-to-hand combat.

As both sides struggled over the mud-caked and blood-stained earthworks, the most ferocious and chaotic fighting took place at a location within the line known as the Bloody Angle. After midnight, General Lee established a final line, effectively bringing the horrific, desperate battle to a halt.

Further conflict ensued after days of relentless rain as General Grant sought out vulnerable points within the Confederate-held line. However, these attacks yielded no significant advantage.

On May 21, 1864, confronted with a stalemate and having found no decisive advantage, General Grant decided to withdraw and move southeast, closer to Richmond. This decision followed a communication he had sent to Washington just days earlier, in which he asserted, I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.

Notable Places of Interest at the Spotsylvania Court House Battle Site

  • The Spotsylvania Court House Exhibit Shelter – An outdoor exhibit where the battle started. Maps and pictures will orient you to the battlefield.
  • Earthworks Display – A portion of Lee’s Final Line defense has been recreated showing what a Civil War earthwork looked like.
  • Gen. John Sedgwick Monument – Stone monument in the vicinity where the highest-ranking U.S. General fell in the Civil War.
  • The New Jersey Monument – Stone monument located at the Bloody Angle which pays tribute to the 15th New Jersey Regiment.
  • The Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center – Located 30 minutes away, it features exhibits on the battle of Spotsylvania Court House as well as Chancellorsville and the Wilderness.
  • Chancellorsville: Museum Shop – The gift shop is located in the visitor center; one will find Civil War books, collectibles, and clothing items.
  • Confederate Cemetery – Located 10 minutes away in the historic Spotsylvania Court House Village, nearly 1,000 Confederates from numerous states are buried here.

Ready to explore the battlefield for yourself? Browse our full selection of American Civil War Battlefield Tours.

Please contact us if you have any questions about our tours or services.

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The Wilderness

Battle of The Wilderness Battlefield Tour

4 Hours
Next major battle after Gettysburg, known as the opening phase of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. Historians say, it’s the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.
Spotsylvania Court House

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House Guided Tour

4 Hours
The second battle of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. See Robert. E. Lee’s defenses known as The Mule Shoe & where intense fighting occurred at The Bloody Angel.
North Anna

Battle of North Anna Battlefield Tour

4 Hours
The third battle of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. Robert E. Lee sets a trap for Ulysses S. Grant. See some of the best preserved Civil War earthworks.