Document Type



The fighting on May 12, 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House evokes thoughts of the furious combat at the Bloody Angle. However, there is another aspect of the fighting on May 12, that is, incidentally, at another salient. The then-independent command of Ambrose Burnside’s Ninth Corps spent the day fighting on the east flank of the Mule Shoe, and charging against the Confederate right flank at Heth’s Salient.

This paper has two parts: the first half analyzes the complexities and problems of Burnside’s return to the Eastern Theater since his disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg in 1862, starting in April 1864 and culminating with the opening moves of the Overland Campaign. In the second half the paper examines the fighting on May 12—tactically how and why Burnside was repulsed, while strategically it examines the larger repercussions of the fighting on May 12, including the pivotal position of Heth’s Salient in defending Lee’s flank and reserve line.

I would like to acknowledge the staff and volunteers at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park for their help with this paper. Especial thanks are due to Peter Maugle, Eric Mink and Rebecca Capobianco for their assistance in a last-minute request locating Henry Heth’s official report.