The 15th NJ at Spotsylvania Court House

It was a beautiful day at Spotsylvania Courthouse yesterday on the anniversary of the battle—quite the contrast from the pouring rain of 1864. Someone had brought a wreath to commemorate the action of the 15th New Jersey Infantry, whose monument stands on the Unions side of works at the Bloody Angle.

The 15th New Jersey was part of Brown’s 1st Brigade in Brooks’s 1st Division of Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps (which, by May 12, was commanded by Horatio Wright). After the Union Second Corps broke through the Confederate “Mule Shoe” Salient, the Sixth Corps followed as reinforcements to exploit the breakthrough. As a result, the 15th New jersey found itself thick in the fight.

The following account, written by former National Park Service Historian Donald C. Pfanz, comes from pp. 34-35 of his monument study, History Through Eyes of Stone: A Survey of Civil War Monuments Near Fredericksburg, Virginia (NPS, 2006):

The 1st Brigade, which had been sent to the right of the Union line earlier in the morning, reached the fighting near West Angle at 10 a.m.  Forming a single line, it rushed the opposing earthworks, striking them slightly west of the dreaded bend. The 15th New Jersey constituted the rightmost unit in the brigade.  As it advanced, its men were met not only by a galling fire from rebel defenders in their front, but also by an enfilading fire from unengaged gray units to their right.  Nevertheless, the 15th advanced steadily across the open ground, pushed aside obstructions in its path, and clambered over the Confederate breastworks.  By its own account, the regiment took 100 Confederate prisoners and captured the 14th Georgia’s battle flag.

The soldiers of the 15th New Jersey paid dearly for their success.  As they swept over the enemy works, Confederate troops to the left and right blistered their flanks, while Confederates directly in front of Jerseymen poured “a continuous shower of bullets” into their ranks.  Reluctantly, Penrose ordered his men to abandon the position.  The entire episode lasted just 30 minutes, but in that short time more [Colonel W. H.] Penrose lost more than half his men:  151 in all.  For the 15th New Jersey Volunteers, the name “Bloody Angle” was all too accurate.

Some 350 veterans of the regiment arrived by special train to dedicate the regimental monument on May 12, 1909—the 45th anniversary of the battle. (They also dedicated a second regimental monument at Salem Church to commemorate their action there on May 3, 1863, during the Chancellorsville campaign.) At the dedication ceremony in Spotsylvania, the Jersey veterans returned the battle flag of the 14th Georgia.

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