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The Civil War Month by Month: May 1864

CW - 150

Civil War 150th anniversary

The Civil War 150th Anniversary

Interesting facts, links, and suggested books for each month of the Civil War.

May 1864

This Month's Events

  • This month the spring campaign begins as the Army of the Potomac under Grant crosses the Rapidan River in Virginia. Meanwhile other Union forces push into Georgia.
            General Hoke's troops in North Carolina, including the 49th North Carolina, abandon their attack on New Bern and head for Virginia where reinforcements are needed.

  • 5-7 May. Battle of the Wilderness. This first conflict in Grant's campaign is fought in an overgrown area in central Virginia. Lee hopes that this terrain will cut down the Union advantage of more men and more artillery. A brush fire starts between the two armies' lines during the night and wounded soldiers left on the field die screaming as they are burned alive in front of their comrades.
            As the second day of fighting begins Grant tells a reporter who is returning to Washington, "If you see the president, tell him for me that, whatever happens, there will be no turning back." The battle is sometimes described as a draw. The Confederates lose an estimated 8,000 men while the Union losses are said to be 17,000 or more. While Union casualties are heavier, the Union can better afford them and they don't stop Grant's move to the south. Years later Grant, remembering these days, would say "more desperate fighting has not been witnessed on this continent."

  • 7 May. The weekly Mercury in Raleigh publishes a story, "The Refugee's Niece" by Pvt. William D. Herrington, 3rd N. C. Cavalry CSA. It is the first of 4 stories by Herrington set in the Kinston area. Two will be published later as "novelettes". [See below in the book list.] In February 1865 Herrington will be captured, appear on a list of prisoners in Washington D. C., and swear allegiance to the Union. Then he disappears from history. Where he went and why, no one knows.

  • 9 May. As Union troops attempt to destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, they clash with Confederates in the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain. The Union victory results in the destruction of the New River bridge at Dublin, Virginia. One of the Union brigades is led by a future president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes.

  • 8-21 May. Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia becomes the center of a huge battle. From the 8th through the 21st, the armies slug it out, generating 9,000 to 10,000 Confederate and about 18,000 Union casualties. Grant sends a dispatch on May 11 declaring, "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." Neither side wins a clearcut victory. Lee succeeds in tying up Union troops, but the cost to his own waning forces is high.

  • 11 May. General Jeb Stuart is mortally wounded in Virginia fighting cavalry led by General Philip Sheridan.

  • 12 May. Near Spotsylvania, at the "Mule Shoe", Ramseur's Brigade, made up of the 2nd, 4th, 14th and 30th North Carolina regiments, stops an advancing Federal corps with a charge described as an "act of unsurpassed gallantry". The "Mule Shoe" becomes known as the "Bloody Angle". Ramseur is wounded. A week later he writes home to reassure his wife. [See The Civil War in North Carolina : soldiers' and civilians' letters below.] On May 27, Ramseur is promoted to major general.

  • 15 May. At the Battle of New Market Virginia, a unit of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (ages probably 15 to 24 although most were 17 to 21) lead a charge on the Federal guns. Their casualties number 10 dead and 57 wounded out of 257. The day after the battle a general stops to congratulate them. "Boys, the work you did yesterday will make you famous." A young soldier yells back, "Fame's all right, General, but for God's sake, where's your commissary wagon?"

  • 18 May The Raleigh Standard reports that Confederate soldiers in the western counties including Catawba, Ashe and Wilkes for the "purpose of recruiting cavalry and artillery horses" are "maltreating" and terrorizing the local citizens.

  • 22 May. After years of effort, the 40-mile railroad line from Greensboro, North Carolina to Danville, Virginia finally opens, linking this area with the line to Richmond.

  • 27 May. The age for Confederate military service is lowered to 17. On this day, boys from Gaston and Lincoln Counties, with James Q. Holland as captain, leave to become Co. C, 2nd Regiment, North Carolina Junior Reserves.

This Month's Fiction

Adult Fiction

Wilderness Run, by Maria Hummel, pub. 2002, 339 p. Hummel creates solid characters while capturing the day-to-day reality of military life during the Civil War, and her well-paced, elegant prose turns especially poignant at the end when Laurence is gravely wounded and saved at Chancellorsville. Sending a young rich man to war is a time-worn plot device, but Hummel is a solid writer who inserts enough intriguing turns in her narrative to keep things interesting.

Young Adult Fiction

Children's Fiction

This Month's Non-Fiction

Adult Nonfiction

Children's Nonfiction

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