Mainers visiting the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield will find no monuments dedicated to Pine Tree State regiments. A few Union monuments stand here; the first encountered by visitors is the John Sedgwick monument at the intersection of Brock Road and Grant Drive. The low-key monument marks the spot where the Sixth Corps commander offered himself one time too many times as a target to Confederate sharpshooters.
The greatest concentration of monuments, both North and South, exists at the Bloody Angle, a charnel house historically submerged by the lesser slaughter at Antietam’s Sunken Lane in September 1862. That bloody encounter was over in a few hours; the personalized murder at the Bloody Angle dragged on for 22 hours.
So if no Maine monuments stand at Spotsylvania Court House, then no Maine soldiers fought here, visitors might assume.
They would be incorrect. Great violence occurred across this bucolic landscape southwest of Fredericksburg – and Maine boys were in the thick of it.
A national park preserves the key features of Spotsylvania Court House: Laurel Hill, the Mule Shoe, and the Confederate trenches extending east to modern Route 208. Most visitors overlook Laurel Hill, which lies across from Grant Drive on a dangerous-for-pedestrians curve of the well-traveled Brock Road. Until the field grass reaches an adequate height each spring, the mown trails are not clearly marked.
Visitors may not understand that the main component of the preserved battlefield is the Mule Shoe, the heavily fortified salient that Robert E. Lee ordered built during the battle’s early stages. Grant Drive “enters” the Mule Shoe near the Bloody Angle; Gordon Drive (named for Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon) “exits” the salient at its “East Face.” There are several places where visitors can park their cars and walk along the trenches; do stay on the marked trails — or at least do not walk on the surviving Confederate trenches.
The name “Bloody Angle” does inadequate justice for the heroes in blue and gray who slaughtered each other May 12-13, 1864. The term applies to one section of the Mule Shoe; signs point visitors to the site. To experience the entire Bloody Angle, take time to hike the well-marked Bloody Angle Trail.
Visitors can exit the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield by two-way Grant Drive or one-way Burnside Drive, which intersects busy Courthouse Road (Route 208). To better understand the entire battle, take Burnside Drive and stop at Heth’s Salient, site of additional fighting. A few more monuments are scattered along the paved road.
Viewed from a car, Spotsylvania Court House appears to be a geographically small battlefield, unlike Gettysburg some 150 miles to the north. Viewed on foot, this bucolic landscape assumes a larger dimension — and that’s how Maine boys experienced the horrific fighting 150 years ago.
Despite the lack of Maine monuments — there are none to be found from Fredericksburg west to Culpeper — Maine regiments did fight here at Spotsylvania Court House. Visitors cannot walk at least one specific trail without crossing paths (albeit 150 years later) with Maine regiments inbound for the Confederate trenches and a blue-and-gray blood-letting.
Maine boys performed great deeds here where great violence occurred. During the next few weeks we will plunge into the boiling Spotsylvania cauldron with the heroes from the Pine Tree State. They, like their counterparts from other loyal states, tried to accomplish the impossible as ordered by generals who seldom bothered to scout the battlefield and see what their men were up against.
And on one particular May evening, Maine boys did accomplish the impossible at Spotsylvania Court House.
Next week: Marching to the sound of the guns
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.