Over 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.
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 At night they were withdrawn.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 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
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.