The Heart of Hell

The Soldiers' Struggle for Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle

By Jeffry D. Wert

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 halftones, 11 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6842-0
    Published: July 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6843-7
    Published: April 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6290-7
    Published: April 2022

Civil War America

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Awards & distinctions

2023 Richard Barksdale Harwell Award, Atlanta Civil War Round Table

2023 Dan & Marilyn Laney Book Prize, Austin Civil War Roundtable

Finalist, American Battlefield Trust Book Prize for History

The struggle over the fortified Confederate position known as Spotsylvania's Mule Shoe was without parallel during the Civil War. A Union assault that began at 4:30 A.M. on May 12, 1864, sparked brutal combat that lasted nearly twenty-four hours. By the time Grant’s forces withdrew, some 55,000 men from Union and Confederate armies had been drawn into the fury, battling in torrential rain along the fieldworks at distances often less than the length of a rifle barrel. One Union private recalled the fighting as a "seething, bubbling, soaring hell of hate and murder." By the time Lee's troops established a new fortified line in the predawn hours of May 13, some 17,500  officers and men from both sides had been killed, wounded, or captured when the fighting  ceased. The site of the most intense clashes became forever known as the Bloody Angle. 

Here, renowned military historian Jeffry D. Wert draws on the personal narratives of Union and Confederate troops who survived the fight  to offer a gripping story of Civil War combat at its most difficult. Wert’s  harrowing tale reminds us that the war’s story, often told through its commanders and campaigns, truly belonged to the common soldier.

About the Author

Jeffry D. Wert is author of many previous books, including most recently Civil War Barons: The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation.
For more information about Jeffry D. Wert, visit the Author Page.


“This is micro-battlefield history at its best.”—Virginia Magazine of History & Biography

“This is a rich work, vivid, and quite often simultaneously tinged with humor and horror, reflecting the complexities of such a bloody, awful, and awe-inspiring event. The Heart of Hell is a readable, balanced, and information look at Spotsylvania, with excellent maps, and is highly recommended.”--NYMAS Review

The Heart of Hell offers a superb and at times graphic account of the events of May 12. . . . Wert’s study elevates the fighting at the Mule Shoe beyond merely one of the many brutal engagements of the Overland campaign and succeeds in capturing Civil War combat at its very worst.”–Journal of Southern History

“Wert has produced a beautifully written and dramatically detailed narrative of the fighting at the Mule Shoe. Grounded in impressive research into the primary sources, The Heart of Hell goes deeper than any other book before it.”—Caroline E. Janney, author of Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army after Appomattox

“Jeff Wert’s latest masterpiece is the most complete treatment of the fighting on May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania Court House ever written. Mining an extensive volume of eyewitness accounts, Wert’s narrative puts readers in the midst of Spotsylvania’s bloody trenches—indeed, in the heart of hell.”—A. Wilson Greene, author of A Campaign of Giants—The Battle for Petersburg