The Battle of Spotsylvania: Tuesday, May 10, 1864
Upton's Advance

Upton's LaneOver the next few days, the blue clad soldiers would dig in opposite their gray and butternut foes. On May 10, two days after General Warren's clash with Ewell's Corps, a young Union Colonel would lead his brigade through the dense forest towards a portion of the long gray line. Late on that afternoon, Colonel Emory Upton, former commander of the 121st New York, advanced a brigade of men from Pennsylvania, New York and Maine along a thin woodland path to a location only yards from the unsuspecting Confederate lines.

In his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant would offer, "Wright also reconnoitred his front and gained a considerably advanced position from the one he started from. He then organized a storming party, consisting of twelve regiments, and assigned Colonel Emory Upton, of the 121st New York Volunteers, to the command of it. About four o’clock in the afternoon the assault was ordered, Warren’s and Wright’s corps, with Mott’s division of Hancock’s corps, to move simultaneously. The movement was prompt, and in a few minutes the fiercest of struggles began. The battle-field was so densely covered with forest that but little could be seen, by any one person, as to the progress made. Meade and I occupied the best position we could get, in rear of Warren.

Upton's view of Doles' Salient.Warren was repulsed with heavy loss, General J. C. Rice being among the killed. He was not followed, however, by the enemy, and was thereby enabled to reorganize his command as soon as covered from the guns of the enemy. To the left our success was decided, but the advantage was lost by the feeble action of Mott. Upton with his assaulting party pushed forward and crossed the enemy’s intrenchments. Turning to the right and left he captured several guns and some hundreds of prisoners. Mott was ordered to his assistance but failed utterly. So much time was lost in trying to get up the troops which were in the right position to reinforce, that I ordered Upton to withdraw; but the officers and men of his command were so averse to giving up the advantage they had gained that I withdrew the order. To relieve them, I ordered a renewal of the assault. By this time Hancock, who had gone with Birney’s division to relieve Barlow, had returned, bringing the division with him. His corps was now joined with Warren’s and Wright’s in this last assault. It was gallantly made, many men getting up to, and over, the works of the enemy; but they were not able to hold them. At night they were withdrawn. Upton brought his prisoners with him, but the guns he had captured he was obliged to abandon. Upton had gained an important advantage, but a lack in others of the spirit and dash possessed by him lost it to us. Before leaving Washington I had been authorized to promote officers on the field for special acts of gallantry. By this authority I conferred the rank of brigadier-general upon Upton on the spot, and this act was confirmed by the President. Upton had been badly wounded in this fight."

General Emory UptonGeneral Lee would state this more simply in his report of the several Union assaults on the 10th. "The last, which occurred after sunset, was the most obstinate, some of the enemy leaping over the breast-works. They were easily repulsed, except in front of Doles' brigade, where they drove our men from their position and from a four-gun battery there posted. The men were soon rallied, and by dark our line was re-established and the battery recovered."

General Burnside, who lead the 9th Corps with the Army of the Potomac, also gained some measure of success on the 11th but, due to the problems with coordinating movements in the dense woodland, was ordered to give up what he achieved. "Burnside on the left had got up to within a few hundred yards of Spottsylvania Court House, completely turning Lee’s right. He was not aware of the importance of the advantage he had gained, and I, being with the troops where the heavy fighting was, did not know of it at the time. He had gained his position with but little fighting, and almost without loss. Burnside’s position now separated him widely from Wright’s corps, the corps nearest to him. At night he was ordered to join on to this. This brought him back about a mile, and lost to us an important advantage. I attach no blame to Burnside for this, but I do to myself for not having had a staff officer with him to report to me his position."

Despite the failure to secure the ground initially gained, Grant saw a glimmer of hope. [9]