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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

 Brig. Gen. Samuel McGowan was wounded at Spotsylvania Court House, but his men held firm at the Bloody Angle.
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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.


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Until yesterday, there was no marker to the valor of the South Carolina men who held off wave after wave of Union attackers at Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864.

To seal a gap in the Confederate defenses that threatened to tear apart his army, Gen. Robert E. Lee tried to lead forward the Mississippi Brigade until they persuaded him to return to the rear.

Nearby, South Carolina Brig. Gen. Samuel McGowan's brigade also surged ahead. About 80 yards from the front line, McGowan was wounded and knocked out of action.

Under fire and without its leader, the brigade kept going, dislodging the 26th Michigan and retaking trenches the Northern men had seized.

Still the attack raged on, with waves of Union troops emerging from a gully to close within yards of the Southerners.

Hand-to-hand combat ensued, with the desperate fighting lasting 18 to 20 hours.

Across a 200-yard-long stretch of earthworks, writes historian Mac Wyckoff, "soldiers shot, clubbed, stabbed and hacked at their foe through rain and mud. Not even lightning strikes and darkness put an end to the struggle."

The actions of McGowan's men--which cost the brigade some 450 casualties, more than a third of its total strength--"saved Lee's army," Wyckoff said.