At Ease: Attacking Myer's Hill & Harris Farm
The Second Week at Spotsylvania
What happened after the assault on the Mule Shoe Salient and the horrific fighting at the Bloody Angle during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House? Another week of fighting as Union General Ulysses S. Grant probed for his next maneuver and the Confederates dug in and later launched a surprise offensive movement.
Today's email highlights some of the events in the second week at Spotsylvania, including Myer's Hill and Harris Farm. (If you're looking for more history, maps, and information about Myer's Hill, be sure to visit our website.)
The 140th New York Regiment at Myer's Hill
Men from the 140th New York’s Company B. Photo Credit: Brian Pohanka
Adapted from an article by Robert Lee Hodge written for CVBT.
The fighting at Spotsylvania Court House was the costliest battle of Union General Grant’s famed and aggressive “Overland Campaign.” Combat swirled for two weeks around the crossroads community, extending for days beyond the infamous Mule Shoe Salient and The Bloody Angle. On May 14, 1864, the Battle of Myer’s Hill exploded on the Confederate right flank as Union troops probed for ways to swing the Army of the Potomac further east and south.
One of the first regiments to engage at Myer’s Hill was the 140th New York Infantry Regiment. This unit marched in the First Brigade, First Division of the V Corps, Army of the Potomac. By May 14, these soldiers recruited from Rochester New York had already been in action for nine days, losing 315 soldiers from 529. They were a hard-fighting, “zouave” unit, wearing fez caps and turbans, short jackets, baggy pantaloons, and leggings, of an Algerian influence – a popular style at the time.
At 8 am on May 14th the 140th New York zouaves and the 91st Pennsylvania attacked Rebel artillery and cavalry on Myer’s Hill. “Forward we go with bayonets,” said 140th Private August Seiser, “Under a rain of bullets.” Company B’s John Wetzel was hit in the left thigh and George Dreschler in the hip. Tim Farrell of Brockport’s Company A took a Rebel bullet in the left foot. John Snyder of Churchville’s Company G was hit by a minie-ball in the finger.
In their initial rush, the 140th took Myer’s Hill from the Confederates. Private Seiser rushed into the Myer House stating, “We reach the top, rush into the building. The rebels take to their heels and quickly we are the possessors.” The 140th set up a defensive position in Myer’s Hill orchard. They were relieved by a Federal brigade (commanded by General Emory Upton) of about 900 men, which was later routed by a strong Confederate counter-attack. In this vicious Rebel assault, General Meade was almost captured while directing a Federal picket line.
After a fierce Federal artillery barrage, Meade ordered the 140th New York, and over ten thousand other Union troops, to attack and retake Myer’s Hill. A Union soldier said, “The rebs were lying on the other side to avoid our shells which were hissing and exploding around the crest . . .”
Then the Federals attacked. “When all was ready the bugle sounded the charge and we broke from cover like quarter-horses and with a volley of cheers mounted the hill. . . when they heard our cheers supposed a mighty force was coming and so they ran like the Devil.” Private Seiser wrote after the Myer’s Hill battle, “Deadly tired we throw ourselves onto the wet ground. . . How is it possible to endure such strain and how long will it still last in this way?”
Former Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, Ed Bearss, once said, “At Myer’s Hill Grant was checked, but he goes back and takes it. The fighting for the hill results in a crucial two-day delay for his army.”
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust has preserved 73.3 acres of Myer’s Hill, thanks to the support of our preservation partners. Work continues toward making this historic property more accessible for study and learning. By preserving battlefield land, it becomes more meaningful to explore the stories of regiments and individual soldiers who fought at these locations, like the 140th New York at Myer’s Hill on May 14, 1864.
Bad Weather, Strong Trenches
Following the fighting at Myer's Hill on May 14, bad weather held the two armies in place for three days. The Confederates spent their time strengthening their earthworks, building stronger fortifications instead of shifting out of their original positions like Grant had surmised they would. Federal attacks on May 18 disastrously proved that the Confederate lines were still strong, prompting the Union generals to begin moving around the Confederate flank again.
The Battle of Harris Farm (see below), prompted by a Confederate offensive, delayed Grant's move for a day, but ultimately did not prevent the maneuver away from Spotsylvania Court House toward the North Anna River.
Battle of Harris Farm
The final, major battle around Spotsylvania Court House occurred on May 19, 1864, at Harris Farm. This short video clip highlights the actions and memorial of the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, a unit that had recently joined the Army of the Potomac, fighting as infantry.
Here's the photograph labeled "Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, vicinity. View from Beverly house." The image was taken by Timothy H. O'Sullivan on May 19, 1864. If you look carefully, you'll spot the V Corps artillery reserve in the background.
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.