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The Bullet-Shredded “Spotsylvania Stump”

Posted on May 15, 2014 by in The OFI Blog

Until May 12, 1864, this piece of wood was part a large oak tree in a meadow lined by rolling, parallel ravines just outside Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia. Early that morning, entrenched Confederates, the front line of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, awaited the assault of thousands of Union troops. Some twenty hours of sustained fighting later, the once-peaceful field became had become the scene of some of the war’s worst horrors. The same fury that destroyed thousands of combatants tore away all but twenty-two inches of the tree’s trunk. Soldiers remembered the moment the tree fell, sometime during the grisly night of May 12th, for years.

Jesse Gant is a predoctoral fellow at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) and a Ph.D. Candidate in History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Spotsylvania, he shared the story of the “Spotsylvania Stump” on the NMAH “O Say Can You See?” blog.

On May 12, 1864, the combined fire of Union and Confederate guns near the “Bloody Angle” at the Battle of Spotsylvania managed to annihilate this tree, leaving a bullet-riddled stump. Many have spoken on the stump’s significance as a symbol of the war’s carnage. What most commentators have neglected to point out, however, is that without the help of an anonymous tip from an African American waiter, it might never have made its way to the Smithsonian.

To read more on this artifact click here.