Thursday, May 12, 1864
At 11:00 P.M. on May 11 the Twentieth Massachusetts quietly left their breastwork entrenchments at Laurel Hill under the cover of darkness and began a night march to an vulnerable portion of the Confederate line known as the "Muleshoe salient," a bulge that exposed both flanks of the line to enfilade fire. General Ulysses S. Grant observed this weakness in the Confederate position and decided to throw the Second and Ninth Corps in a simultaneous two-pronged attack on the salient.
At 4:35 A.M. the Second Corps began their attack in the early morning fog. The Twentieth Massachusetts, led by their brigade commander General Alexander Webb, began to race at the double-quick toward the salient. The Confederates were so surprised to see the rapid advance of Union soldiers toward their works that few shots were fired. The Second Corps took the salient with bayonets and clubbed muskets, resulting in the fiercest hand-to-hand combat of the war. As the morning fog lifted and rain began to fall the bloody results of the vicious engagement were visibly apparent to all. General Winfield S. Hancock of the Second Corps remarked that the combat was a "terrible and ghastly spectacle of dead."
The Confederates mounted a counterattack to recapture the salient. Regimental formation broke apart on both sides as fierce and bloody hand-to-hand fighting continued for hours. At 9:00 A.M. the Twentieth Massachusetts was rotated from the front line to skirmish duty and later returned to front line activity in the afternoon. Intense fighting ensued until late in the evening when gunfire finally ceased and the day's long battle ended. The Twentieth reported approximately forty casualties in the bloody battle. Among the wounded was Private Oliver Stanton Bates of Company A.1
1Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 356-62.