Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Diary of 2nd Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Friday, May 13, 1864

My prayer for Lee's withdrawal last night was granted. Our Division moved to the “Bloody Angle” this morning; it virtually joined our regiment's left last night. The enemy abandoned the angle during the night after three days' desperate fighting. No pen can fully describe the appearance of the battlefield — and yet our wounded and dead have been cared for, and some of the enemy's, by us and such are mostly out of view. The sight of the enemy's dead is something dreadful. There are three dead lines of battle a half mile more or less in length — men killed in every conceivable manner. The wounded are fairly bound in by the dead. Lee abandoned his works leaving most of his wounded, and all his dead in our hands unburied. Several pieces of artillery were taken. Prisoners say that General Lee fought in person as it meant the loss of his army if his line was broken here, as well as Richmond.

No wonder from its present appearance this place has been christened the “Bloody Angle” and the “Slaughter Pen.” For several hundred yards — fully a half mile or more — in the edge of the heavy oak forest of immense trees skirting an open field, the enemy's works are faultlessly strong of large oak logs and dirt shoulder high with traverses fifty feet back every sixty feet or so. This breastwork is filled with dead and wounded where they fell, several deep nearly to the top in front, extending for forty feet more or less back gradually sloping from front to rear, to one deep before the ground can be seen. The dead as a whole as they lie in their works are like an immense wedge with its head towards the works. Think of such a mass of dead! hundreds and hundreds piled top of each other! At the usual distance in rear of these breastworks — about ninety feet — are two more complete dead lines of battle about one hundred feet apart the dead bodies lying where the men fell in line of battle shot dead in their tracks. The lines are perfectly defined by dead men so close they touch each other. Many of the bodies have turned black, the stench is terrible, and the sight shocking beyond description. I saw several wounded men in the breastworks buried under their dead, just move a hand a little as it stuck up through the interstices above the dead bodies that buried the live ones otherwise completely from sight. Imagine such a sight if one can! It is indescribable! It was sickening, distressing and shocking to look upon! But, above all, think if one can of the feelings of the brave men who, regiment after regiment, were marched up in line of battle time and again for several days to fight with such a sight confronting them! Could anything in Hades be any worse? Only the misery I imagine, of an uneasy conscience at some great wrong done an innocent person could exceed it. It seems like a horrible nightmare! Such intrepidity is worthy of a better cause. Was there ever before such a shocking battlefield? Will the historian ever correctly record it? No pen can do it. The sight of such a horror only can fully portray it.

The First and Second Divisions of the Sixth Corps and Hancock's men have done most of the fighting today at the “Bloody Angle.” The Sixth Corps has lost eight hundred and forty wounded and two hundred and fifty killed. The loss of our army at Spottsylvania Court House has been five thousand two hundred and thirty-three of which number nine hundred have been killed. Our Division has lost in this fight to-day twenty-three killed and one hundred and twenty-three wounded. I examined this forenoon an oak tree fully eighteen inches in diameter felled by being cut off by minie bullets at the apex of the “Bloody Angle” occupied by the enemy. I could hardly believe my eyes, but there stood the stump and the felled tree with the wood for two feet or more all eaten away by bullets.*

*The stump of this tree is on exhibition at the War Department in Washington, D. C, or was a few years since — L. A. A.

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 57

EDITOR'S NOTE: The "Spotsylvania Stump" is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, Behring Center, in Washington, D.C.: Catalog #: 4435    Accession #: 20209

No comments: