American Battlefield Trust’s map of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House - Laurel Hill
On May 7, Grant issued orders for the Army of the Potomac to march toward Spotsylvania Court House, a small town along the route to Richmond. He hoped to get between Robert E. Lee’s army and Richmond or, at the very least, to draw the Confederates into the open field where he could take advantage of superior Union numbers. It was Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s job to prevent the Federals from reaching Spotsylvania. For two days, a division of Stuart’s cavalry, led by Fitz Lee, had battled Union horsemen for control of the Brock Road, the most direct route between the Wilderness Battlefield and Spotsylvania Court House. Forced to relinquish his position near Todd’s Tavern, Lee withdrew here to Laurel Hill on May 8. Laurel Hill was the last defensible position this side of Spotsylvania. If the Confederates lost Laurel Hill, they would also lose Spotsylvania.
Union General Gouverneur Warren, meanwhile, brimmed with optimism. Unaware of Anderson’s proximity, he believed Spotsylvania to be within his grasp. “The opposition to us amounts to nothing as yet,” he wrote Meade at 8 a.m. “We are advancing steadily.” When he saw Stuart’s cavalrymen making a stand at Laurel Hill, Warren ordered General John Robinson to brush aside the horsemen and capture the town.
Robinson’s division advanced across this field only to be met by a sheet of flame. After a night of hard marching, Anderson’s infantry had beaten Robinson’s men to the crest by a matter of seconds. As additional Union troops arrived at the front, Warren sent them in. “Never mind cannon. Never mind bullets,” he shouted. “Press on and clear this road.” But by now additional Confederates too had reached the field, and they beat back each of Warren’s assaults. The Confederates had won the race to Spotsylvania.
Text by Don Pfanz.