[CIVIL WAR]. GRANT, Ulysses S. (1822-1885), Lieutenant General. Autograph letter signed ("U.S. Grant") with signed postscript ("U.S.G.") to Major General Ambrose Burnside, "Head Qrs Armies of the U.S. Near Spotsylvania", 17 May 1864. 3 pages, 8vo, repair to fold on verso of page 3, otherwise very fine.
GRANT ORDERS ANOTHER ASSAULT AT BLOODY SPOTSYLVANIA AND COMMENTS ON SHERMAN'S APPROACH TO ATLANTA
An important letter directing the movements and attack of General Ambrose Burnside's 9th Corps at Spotsylvania. In May of 1864, General Grant launched the prolonged campaign into the heart of Virginia that eventually forced the surrender of Robert E. Lee. After bitter fighting at the Wilderness on May 5th and 6th, the armies raced to Spotsylvania Courthouse where Lee fortified and protected his lines with extensive breastworks. Ten days later, after what one historian has called "the most vicious bout of sustained combat ever to occur on the continent" (Rhea, The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, p. 6), the Union Army made one last attempt to break Lee's lines on May 18th. Here, Grant sends orders for the early morning assault: "If the Div. of reinforcements under Gen. Tyler arrive tonight as is expected an attack will be made at 4 a.m. tomorrow morning to the left of the position now held by Warren's Corps. Hancock's and Wrights' Corps will commence the attack and Warren's Corps will support batteries which will be established during the night. I want you to hold your command in readiness to move out of their present place at half past three in the morning to move by the left flank to follow up the two attacking Corps and support them. If you move leave your pickets to remain until driven in or recalled. I will let you know in the evening if the attack is to be made. Send out some of your staff officers to reconnoiter the roads over which you will have to pass when you do move, and parties to make such repairs or new roads as may be required."
In a very interesting postscript, Grant comments on Sherman's successful battle at Resaca, Georgia; "I have just rec'd news from Sherman. On the 15th he had whipped J. Johnston with a loss of 3000 men on our side. Sherman was then crossing the Oostenaula. Jo has evidently given up." Sherman's success after Resaca was far from certain as he was forced to fight major battles at New Hope Church and Kennesaw Mountain before he could even consider approaching Atlanta.
Grant's repeated assaults upon the Confederate position at Spotsylvania had ended in horrifically bloody failures to break Lee's lines. Six days before the planned May 18th attack, the fighting around the Bloody Angle was mutually regarded by the combatants as the most vicious of the war; aptly called "a hissing cauldron of death" by one soldier who fought there (Rhea, p. 293). The May 18th attack was likewise a failure. Two days later, Grant ended the stalemate at Spotsylvania by marching his men further south, continuing the campaign that would eventually take him to Petersburg and Richmond. The casualties at Spotsylvania - 18,000 Union soldiers and 10,000 Confederates - were typical of the costly battles that were necessary for Grant to finally break Lee's army. Ambrose Burnside (1824-1881) met with costly defeat earlier in the war at the Battle of Fredericksburg while acting as army commander and, during Grant's campaign, proved equally ineffective as a corps commander.