Cast of supporting characters


Portrait of Maj. Gen. Emory Upton, officer of the Federal Army. Taken between 1860 and 1865. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)
Col. Emory Upton

The brilliant, young Union commander came up with the idea for a surprise, mass assault on rebel positions outside Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 10, 1864. Although the attack ultimately failed, Union commander Gen. Ulysses S. Grant liked the idea and tried it on a larger scale on May 12. As with Upton’s attack, Grant’s initially succeeded, then faltered. After the war, Upton advanced through the ranks. In 1881, while stationed in California, he shot and killed himself after suffering from what may have been a brain tumor.

Joseph E. Davis

The fourth of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s six children, Joseph had just turned 5 when he fell about 15 feet while climbing on the bannister of a portico at the Confederate White House in Richmond on April 30, 1864. The child’s body was found on the brick pavement by a servant. “The most beautiful and brightest of my children,” his mother, Varina, remembered. “He died a few minutes after we reached his side.” Amid the tragedy of the war, and the South’s flagging fortunes, this was a cruel blow. Varina wrote: “This child was Mr. Davis’ hope and greatest joy in life.” Afterward, Jefferson Davis had the portico taken down.

Gen. J.E.B. Stuart

The legendary Confederate cavalry commander who had ridden circles around the Union army for years was wounded in an engagement with the cavalry of not-yet-famous Union commander George Armstrong Custer on May 11, 1864. During the fight, near a place called Yellow Tavern, Stuart was astride his horse, wearing his plumed hat, when a Yankee private shot him in the abdomen with a pistol. Stuart was taken to Richmond, where he died the next day.

Col. Thomas E. Rose

A Union officer who had been captured at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863, Rose headed one of the most spectacular and successful prison escapes of the Civil War. On the night of Feb. 9 and the morning of Feb. 10, 1864, he and 108 other Union prisoners used a tunnel to escape from Richmond’s Libby Prison. Fifty-nine got away; 48, including Rose, were recaptured; and two drowned in the James River. Rose was later exchanged for a captured Confederate officer and returned to duty.

Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick

The beloved Union commander known as “Uncle John” to his troops was killed by a sniper on May 9, 1864, before the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. He was realigning some of his men’s position when he began to draw enemy fire. When aides began to duck, Sedgwick jested: “What are you dodging at? They couldn’t hit an elephant at that distance.” A moment later, a bullet struck him just below the left eye, killing him almost instantly. He is believed to be the highest ranking Union military casualty of the war.

Raphael Semmes

The captain of the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama Semmes had captured scores of Union merchant vessels across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the first years of the war. But on June 19, 1864, the Union warship USS Kearsarge caught up with the Alabama and the two ships battled outside the French port of Cherbourg. The Alabama was sunk, but Semmes and many of his sailors were rescued by a British yacht and taken to England. The North rejoiced that the Alabama had been sunk. The South rejoiced that Semmes had escaped.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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