If It Takes All Summer: The Battle of Spotsylvania

If It Takes All Summer: The Battle of Spotsylvania

If It Takes All Summer: The Battle of Spotsylvania

If It Takes All Summer: The Battle of Spotsylvania


The termination of the war and the fate of the Union hung in the balance in May of 1864 as Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac clashed in the Virginia countryside first in the battle of the Wilderness, where the Federal army sustained greater losses than at Chancellorsville, and then further south in the vicinity of Spotsylvania Courthouse, where Grant sought to cut Lee's troops off from the Confederate capital of Richmond.

This is the first book-length examination of the pivotal Spotsylvania campaign of 7-21 May. Drawing on extensive research in manuscript collections across the country and an exhaustive reading of the available literature, William Matter sets the strategic stage for the campaign before turning to a detailed description of tactical movements. He offers abundant fresh material on race from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania, the role of Federal and Confederate calvary, Emory Upton's brilliantly conceived Union assault on 10 May, and the bitter clash on 19 May at the Harris farm. Throughout the book, Matter assesses each side's successes, failures, and lost opportunities and sketches portraits of the principal commanders.

The centerpiece of the narrative is a meticulous and dramatic treatment of the horrific encounter in the salient that formed the Confederate center on 12 May. There the campaign reached its crisis, as soldiers waged perhaps the longest and most desperate fight of the entire war for possession of the Bloody Anglea fight so savage that trees were literally shot to pieces by musket fire. Matter's sure command of a mass of often-conflicting testimony enables him to present by far the clearest account to date of this immensely complex phase of the battle.

Rigorously researched, effectively presented, and well supported by maps, this book is a model tactical study that accords long overdue attention to the Spotsylvania campaign. It will quickly take its place in the front rank of military studies of the Civil War.


This work is an account of the tactical military operations conducted in the vicinity of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, between May seventh and May twenty-first, 1864. These operations were the second in a series of confrontations between Union and Confederate forces north of Richmond during the initial phase of the 1864 campaign in Virginia.

Following these actions the armies continued to march and fight their way southward, crossing the James River, and confronting each other by mid- June near Petersburg, where siege operations were initiated by the Federals. It is hoped that someone will provide an account of the operations between Spotsylvania and Petersburg.

Using material from official reports and correspondence and other published and unpublished sources, I have attempted to present an account that is as complete as possible. Much of the source material proved to be vague, incomplete, conflicting, or unreliable. For example, Federal battle reports were written three, four, or five months after the event, with much marching and fighting occurring between. Many of the officers who would have submitted these accounts had become casualties in the interim, and the information was composed by surviving junior officers. Most of the few surviving official Confederate reports were composed after 1864. As a result, there are blank spots in the picture. Such usually identifiable factors as times or routes of march remain mysteries in some cases. Thus, I have been obliged to revert occasionally to conjecture, but I inform the reader when doing so. Such words as "possibly," "probably," and "approximately" appear often. I regret their use but believe that the alternatives of omitting episodes from the narrative altogether because of the dearth of precise information or of boldly presenting the interpretation of an event as being factual without mentioning the uncertainty involved are less satisfactory.

This work does not address such questions as, for example, whether or not Ulysses S. Grant should be considered a "heads down" frontal-attack general who relied upon attrition to defeat his opponents. I believe that, before addressing such issues, one should completely understand not only the decisions made back at the headquarters tents but also the conditions in the front lines and the details of the fighting there. This work, it is hoped, will supply some of this information for a two-week period in May 1864.

I hope that the narrative will enhance the reader's appreciation of the devotion to duty and personal courage exhibited by the American soldier, North and South, during the nation's Civil War. Generals are awarded praise and promotion, but not without enlisted men.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.