Dawn came with a misty drizzle over Spotsylvania today. 152 years ago, day broke with similar weather, a “chill, misty, first early dawn.” The night’s rain had eased for a bit, and the fog had begun to dissipate. The rain would pick up later though even as the battle intensified. For twenty-two straight hours, the armies grappled with each other in the rain and mud and blood. It was “a seething, bubbling, roaring hell of hate and murder,” one soldier said. To walk this beautiful landscape today, one would hardly know.
Tonight, I will have the privilege to share the story of the battle of Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle with the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable. Sharing the story of those men of both sides is my way of honoring them, to be sure they are not forgotten.
That is why I come here each year when I can to walk this ground on the anniversary of the battle. I have come in the pouring rain and in the scorching heat and, today, in the fine mist. Being connected to the ground means being connected to the story that took place here. It is among the most peaceful landscapes I have ever walked, but because I know what happened here all those years ago, I can see the story in the land itself. I can feel it.
I don’t mean to sound all mystical. It’s just that I have come to understand the connection between the ground and the story and our own memories. That’s why I visit. That’s why I write. That’s why I share.
The chalky white clouds that blocked out the sky this morning never lifted as day ticked by, but the rain did stop. It was a good day to walk and remember.
Although it’s one of the most recognizable monuments on the battlefield, few visitors take the time to read the back of the coffin-shaped McGowan monument.
The Confederates had to close a gap on this side of the works that stretched as far as the eye could see, and then fight their way uphill even as Federal reinforcements pushed back at them. The struggle!
The leftover rain from today pooled in one of the traverses, providing a meager yet somehow poignant reminder of how flooded these clay trenches were 152 years ago. Imagine fighting in water and mud that was up to your knees….
Imagine the swale, filled with men…carpeted with bodies….