I stood today at Spotsyvlania’s Bloody Angle, at the site of the 22-inch oak tree felled by small-arms fire. Rain fell, as it did on this date in 1864 during most of the battle. For twenty-two hours, the fight raged across the Mule Shoe. Today, all I could hear was the sound of raindrops on the boughs of the oak tree I stood beneath.
Here’s what a few of the soldiers had to say about the weather that day:
“[T]he roads were simply awful, rained continuously and mud was almost knee deep in places,” said Capt. George A. Bowen of the 12th New Jersey. “The rain continued to fall all day and it has been the worst day I have as yet seen.”
A member of McGowen’s brigade said, “The rain poured heavily.” Another South Carolinian elaborated. “We marched in a torrent of rain, and through mud knee deep, and under a hail storm of shells and grape for a part of our way of a mile and a half,” he wrote. “It rained constantly and often copiously, and we were laid in mud kneed, and as soft as molasses, rising and firing as we could load.”
The weather had similar effect on the Federal side of the works. “The incessant firing in connection with the prevailing rain-storm soon choked and fouled our heated muskets till they were almost unserviceable, and as the line could not be relieved, weapons were exchanged with a regiment which marched up in the rear, and without a break the merciless fire was kept up. . . .” wrote James Bowen of the 37th Massachusetts. “[A]nd this in the midst of a continuous rain-storm.”
“The rain fairly poured down this forenoon,” wrote Henry Keiser, 96th Pennsylvania, in his diary, “but we kept up the fire and we were covered with mud from head to foot.”
The rain played havoc on the cannons, too. “In consequence of the mud caused by the rain which was falling nearly all day, it was exceedingly difficult to move and serve Artillery,” complained II Corps artillery comander John C. Tidball, who lamented “the miry nature of the ground, softened as it was by the falling rain.”
After the fight, Fred Larue of the 110th Ohio commented on the grisly result of the fight in such foul weather: “The face and parallel ditches were filled with water and blood, and the dead, from the rains, were bleached and ghastly.”
And look, today, how beautiful it was….