General Edward Porter Alexander (Part 6)

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The Army of Northern Virginia was really feeling the pain from the federal blockade so Lee decided to invade the giant storehouse to the north in Pennsylvania. General Meade was the new commander of the federal army and the Gettysburg battle was the result related in part one. Meade was a good officer so he was left in charge. Lincoln decided that to end the war was General Grant would be the man to take over as supreme commander. With nearly 250,000 men and 582 guns, Grant attacked Lee.

The desperate battle took place over the same ground where Hooker had met with disaster, the Wilderness. The result was nearly the same only Grant didn’t retreat back across the river. Longstreet was shot though the neck with a serious would that cut the nerve and left his right arm useless for the rest of his life. A union battery “dropped a beautiful 3 shot group” and Alexander’s horse Dixie caught a 2 inch piece of shrapnel in her neck about a foot behind her ear. She let out a scream as she reared on her hind legs. Alexander tried to dismount as it appeared she might fall on him, but his spyglass strap hung on the cantle of the saddle. He managed to break the strap and jump clear.

Poor old dixie was running here and there with flying blood everywhere when one of his mounted officers asked he should put her out of her misery. It appeared that an artery was cut, but the officers couldn’t get close enough for a decent brain shot with his pistol. The faithful horse’s life was saved when they decided to herd her close to the supply wagons so they wouldn’t have to carry the saddle and gear so far. It turned out to be only a flesh wound and she recovered in 6 weeks. After the war she was retired to a farm in Georgia.

When Grant hit the brick wall of Lee’s army in the Wilderness, the feds couldn’t believe they were actually continuing the fight by making a quick march to Spotsylvania Courthouse. On May 7, 1864 it turned into a footrace with Lee coming in first. The butternut scarecrows dug in with bayonets and tin cups. In contrast, the federal troops had plenty of picks and shovels. Sharpshooting and artillery fire was hot and one of Alexander’s 24 pound brass howitzers caught a 12 pound solid shot nearly straight down the bore. The muzzle was slightly elongated, but otherwise unharmed. Colonel Frank Huger ordered a crew to remove the shot. He loaded it into a 12 pr. Napoleon and fired it back. He said ” it apparently knew the road”.

The fighting at the Bloody Angle was some of the most horrific of the war. Hand to hand was the normal of the day with bayonets stabbed into the faces between log parapets and point blank musket fire doing brutal damage. A 2ft oak tree was cut down from musket fire alone.

Alexanders’s boys were loading a double charge canister as fast as they could ram it down the bore at 2 to 3 shots per minute. A carpet of blue covered the field while the ditches were filled with the dead and dying. The 15 days of combat at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania resulted in 11 generals killed and 36,000 casualties from both armies. Grant was just getting warmed up.

2 COMMENTS

  1. My several times back Great Grandfather and his son were at the Bloody Angle in different units…truly horrific. The father was captured there and served his time out in Andersonville. His son chased Lee with the NJ cavalry, getting shot in the face by Johnny in the act. He still got to see Lee surrender at Appomattox.

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