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Pure butchery

August 8, 2011 - Lee Smith
Here’s one last trip back to the Civil War, which began 150 years ago this year. While past blogs have noted the honor and courage of men and units who fought, as well as covering some semi-humorous anecdotes, this blog is not so nice. The subject is pure butchery.

There is a 22-inch oak tree stump at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It is a remnant of the battle of Spotsylvania Court House in Virginia in the spring of 1864. The stump looks as if it were attacked by rabid beavers. In fact, the tree was felled by musket fire.

The place where this occurred is referred to as the “Bloody Angle.” On May 12, the fighting there went on for nearly 24 hours straight, as union forces worked to dislodge Confederates from their position. The intensity of the fight and the amount of firepower involved was unlike previous Civil War battles. There was a frenzy to the killing. Survivors could not find words to describe it. They tried, using words like savagery, horror and hellish.

The musket fire was intense, but so too was the hand-to-hand combat. Both sides suffered more than 8,000 casualties that day.

Horace Porter, an aide to Union Gen. Grant, described the Bloody Angle this way: “The appalling sight presented was harrowing in the extreme. Our own killed were scattered over a large space near the “angle,” while in front of the captured breastworks the enemy’s dead, vastly more numerous than our our own, were piled upon each other in some places four layers deep, exhibiting every ghastly phase of mutiliation. Below the mass of fast-decaying corpses, the convulsive twitching of limbs and the writhing of bodies showed that there were wounded men still alive and struggling to extricate themselves from the horrid entombment. ... The place was well named the ‘Bloody Angle.’”

There can be only one bright note in this tale: The Confederacy had trouble replacing its casualties, helping lead to its demise, and an end to the war.


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