Monument Honors Brigade’s Sacrifice

Descendants of South Carolina troops place monument to state’s courageous soldiers at Spotsylvania Court House battlefield’s Bloody Angle

Date published: 4/11/2009

By Clint Schemmer

It didn’t come with a bow or wrapping paper, but a very big gift was presented to the nation on Good Friday near Spotsylvania Courthouse.

South Carolinians arrived early yesterday on the most storied part of the Civil War battlefield, bearing a 61/2-ton present from their home.

The volunteers, aided by a couple of Virginians, loosened the ties on a 9-foot-tall monument they trucked 470 miles from Laurens, S.C. A crane carefully swung and lowered the granite onto a pre-made concrete bed, decorated with a Confederate battle flag for the occasion.

Their handiwork, set between a path and a tree line, will be the first thing that visitors see when they tour the Spotsylvania battlefield’s famed Bloody Angle–scene of what the National Park Service says was the most prolonged hand-to-hand combat of the whole war.

"If you have any Southern ancestors that fought for the Confederacy, it’s something that everybody is going to be proud of," said Gary Davis, an officer of the Sons of Confederate Veterans camp in Laurens that created the monument.

"It wasn’t just South Carolinians. There were North Carolinians, Louisianians, Mississippians all the way down through here," Davis said, motioning back and forth toward the sector’s well-preserved trench lines, now part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

"It’s a rarity to get a monument put in a national park these days, and we’ve done that."


 

The imposing new memorial honors the South Carolina brigade–five regiments, with some 1,300 troops–commanded by Brig. Gen. Samuel McGowan during the fierce fighting there on May 12, 1864.

Davis’ SCV camp is named for the general, a Laurens County native wounded as 2,500 Confederates rushed to plug the breach a Union attack blew in a mule-shoe-shaped bulge in the Southerners’ line.

Fighting without relief or support for 18 to 20 hours, McGowan’s Brigade repelled the Northerners and held the earthworks at what became known as the "Bloody Angle" until Gen. Robert E. Lee could create a second defensive line.

The brigade "saved Lee’s army," writes historian Mac Wyckoff, recently retired from the park’s staff. Wyckoff, author of two books on South Carolina units, is among those who have long thought there should be a monument to McGowan and his men.

"We are pleased that descendants of soldiers who fought here still want to honor their ancestors’ sacrifice, and that we can allow that to happen in a tangible way," park Superintendent Russ Smith said yesterday.

"McGowan’s Brigade played a key role in blunting the Union attack at the Bloody Angle. In doing so, it participated in the most horrific stand-off of the Civil War."

All of the money for the monument, some $25,000, was raised privately. The South Carolina legislature supported the project politically, asking the U.S. Department of the Interior to permit the marker.

National Park Service policy bars new monuments at most national battlefields. But when Congress created the Fredericksburg-area park in 1927, it expressly allowed states to place monuments on its four battlefields, said Erick Mink, the park’s cultural resources officer.

Third-generation stonecutter Charles Wilson of Laurens and his family delivered the monument that he spent four months carving from blocks of Georgia granite, then inscribing by hand.

The marker–the first to Southern troops to be placed near the Bloody Angle–lists each of McGowan’s five South Caroline regiments and briefly describes their gallant actions.

On its base, a band of deep-red granite is notched to catch rainwater, which will look like blood–reminiscent of the battleground’s nickname, Davis said.

Copyright 2009, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg, Virginia,

On The Web:  www.fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2009/042009/04112009/458698