May 18th, 1864, Spotsylvania : not a day that comes to the fore of the accounts of that thirteen day long engagement.
Worth mentioning here, I think, because it exemplifies the gruesome nature of that battle, and is all the more remarkable on account of the fact that it’s hardly more than a footnote in the narrative of that fighting.
Six days after the climactic and monstrously bloody battle of the 12th, Federal troops were deployed in another attack over much the same ground. This time the rebels were ready, the earthworks well supported by a large array of artillery, prepared and waiting to reap their harvest.
The yankees were pinned down in the abatis and slaughtered by artillery fire, so much so that the confederate infantry were hardly engaged.
In a short time, the attack was called off and hundreds of yankee dead, wounded and dying were left in what can best be described as a festering Golgotha. The Federal Medical Director reported that only 552 wounded were brought into the hospitals, displaying wounds of horrific severity, a large proportion being caused by shell and canister. How many more of his men were left in front of the enemy works is a matter of guesswork, but it might be that two thousand union casualties were suffered in all that day.
The Confederate artillery officer E. Porter Alexander wrote of the Federals advancing over the same ground that they had traversed on the 12th, and emphasised that the stench which arose from the unburied dead was absolutely sickening.
A federal chaplain, wrote " It seems almost incredible what a change .....a little less than a week has wrought......The hair and skin had fallen from the head and the flesh from the bones - all alive with disgusting maggots. Many of the soldiers stuffed their nostrils with green leaves. Such a scene does seem too revolting to record, yet, how else convey any just conception of what is done and suffered here ? "
Another Union veteran recalled :
" I never expect to be believed when I tell what I saw of the horrors of Spotsylvania, because I should be loath to believe it myself were the case reversed. "
How very redolent of the trench warfare that was to afflict France and Flanders half a century later.
And now in the 21st century the fields and trenches of Ukraine.
"American parachutists-devils in baggy pants..." German officer, Italy 1944.
“If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.” Lord Ernest Rutherford