Thanks to my friend Ted Linton who was able to work his computer magic I think we have a treat for you.
As I have commented in the past there are features which existed in the Salient area at least as recently as 1916 which are no longer visible. We know this because a map was created for the Battlefield Land Company in 1916 which shows them.
Remember that 1916 was before either the CCC or National Park Service was involved with the property. So it is very doubtful that there were any “improvements” or “enhancements”done. However there were a large number of sawmills scattered about the property. These are clearly shown on the overlay, and give us some idea of the man made activity that was occurring at the time. Also it seems likely that anything in the immediate vicinity was likely damaged or destroyed. The process of getting men, animals, and timber to and from these sites was probably extremely invasive. And it was likely done with little if any concern to whether damage was done to vestiges of “the war”. By the nature of the business these sites probably existed for quite some time in a multitude of places. Once the timber close to a site was consumed a new site would be opened. To this writer its seems that the timber buisness may have altered the landscape more than the traditional agriculture.
So what you see below is the 1916 map overlaid onto the LIDAR photo from 2014. There may be some slight differences of a few feet either way because of referencing. Unfortunately you may have to look closely to see the newer features, as only they will not be covered by the 1916 map. Also keep in mind that the 1916 map is of the property owned by the Battlefield Land Co. That company did not own the entire battlefield so does not cover the entire page.
errors, or perhaps the 1916 map is slightly off. But see how things have changed .
Enjoy. It has come to my attention that viewers using an Android phone or tablet can tap on the photographs and zoom in to get a better view. Unfortunately Windows users can not. That’s something I need to work out with WordPress. My apologies.
Of all the events during the Overland Campaign of 1864 those of May 12 at Spotsylvania stand out. Perhaps the only true rivals for the title of the most significant event of the campaign are Grant’s decision not to turn back from the Wilderness and his bloody repulse at Cold Harbor on June 3.
The events of that have been discussed ever since. First by the participants themselves, primarily on the Confederate side, later by historians as well as enthusiasts. Most people accept the premise that it was the weakness of the defense near the apex of the Salient that morning which gave the Federals the opportunity. A weakness primarily because the artillery, present until just the evening before, had been withdrawn on Lee’s instructions. (1) General Lee himself took the blame on himself for making that decision. Post war many Confederates officers publicly echoed that opinion. Many claimed that if the artillery had been in place the Federals would have suffered a bloody repulse that morning. Thomas Carter, who had overseen the battalions which were withdrawn, offered perhaps the strongest view of what he felt would have happened. Writing to Major John W. Daniel on October 11, 1904 he stated “I never saw a long line of artillery with open ground in front as much as 400 yards, for double canister to have its full sway, and put in its perfect work, carried by front attack. No matter how many lines of battle came against it: and my belief is that it would be as impregnable against front attack as the Rock of Gibraltar with a pocket pistol”. (2)
What is seldom mentioned is that there was artillery in the area that morning. However, it was not positioned to successfully contest the assault. How they came to be there and the decisions that were made regarding them is one that needs to be told.
On the morning of May 10, 1864, a rotation of artillery units along the fronts of Rodes and Johnson’s divisions was performed. Braxton’s and Page’s battalions had marched with the infantry from the Wilderness. The remaining three battalions had been withdrawn to a staging area at Verdiersville the night before the army marched. They then moved by a separate route before rejoining the infantry outside Spotsylvania Courthouse. Braxtons battalion was withdrawn from the line and placed in reserve. Hardaway’s battalion, or 3 batteries of it, took positions along the line of Rodes’s division. Pages battalion moved from Rodes line into position along the right of Johnson’s division. Nelson’s battalion upon its arrival near Johnson’s center or along the left of the apex of the salient. Cutshaw’s battalion began arriving near the Courthouse.
One of the fascinating things about the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse and its aftermath is the amount of things that we have no answers to.
One of them is a simple straight forward question. Who was Colonel Alexander? Now of course most of the men who fought here did so anonymously. So what prompts me to ask the question?
In 1916 a map was prepared by Mr. E. H. Randall who was City Surveyor of Fredericksburg and Deputy Surveyor for Spotsylvania County. The map, certified on 16 March, 1916 showed “The McCoull and Fairchild Land owned by the Battlefield Land Company.”
While interesting in its own right its true significance in my opinion is it shows us things which are now lost. For example a jog in the Confederate line between Doles Salient and Brock Road which is no longer visible, even with LIDAR. Sawmill seats, as well as other smaller breastworks. Certainly worthy of a careful study.
But if one looks at the point (which I have circled in red) on the scan above we see a mystery Mr. Randall left us. At the junction of the re-entrant line and the Confederate second line is the note “Col. Alexander wounded”. So who was Col. Alexander? How would the surveyor know that he was wounded there? And why would it have been included on his map?
The most reasonable explanation is that someone had previously placed some type of marker there. There was such a marker on the east face of the salient, placed by two officers from the 10th Virginia, noting where General Steuart was supposedly captured. Is this something similar? And if so who placed it?
Note that on the map, even though the tablet identified its purpose, it simply says “Tablet”. What is different? One would think that if both spots had markers they would be shown similarly.
Mr. Noel Harrison, a very knowledgeable historian and veteran of the National Park Service, suggests that perhaps “Colonel Alexander” is a corruption of the name of General Alexander Webb. General Webb was seriously wounded in front of the second line on the morning of May 12th, 1864. This certainly cannot be ruled out, although if true the placement does appear to be a little close to the Confederate line.
We don’t know which side Colonel Alexander fought for, nor what day he was wounded. After all in addition to the constant sharpshooting, this ground was fought over on at least three different occasions. On May the 10th, Upton’s charge surged across this sector, then was thrown back by Confederate counterattacks. On the 12th the Federals charged up this hill from their breakthrough near the apex of the salient, before falling back. Several Confederate brigades as well as artillery batteries moved across this field as they moved to the attack or in support. Lastly on the 18th Federal troops moving forward to attack Lee’s final line crossed this area. So in short it could have happened at any point during the battle.
Then of course, it could simply have been a case of post war self promotion, or veteran organization rank.
To borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, “the ground doesn’t lie”. By that he meant that while people leave accounts, sometimes accurate, sometimes contradicted by others, participants or not, they can’t change what was done to the ground.
One of the more interesting accounts is one by an unidentified Confederate officer. His account was published in an article titled EXTRACTS FROM THE DIARY OF AN OFFICER OF GENERAL LEE’S ARMY. (1)
In his account the officer describes his role in the counterattack to oust Upton’s men from the captured Confederate positions on the evening of May 10, 1864. His role, being an artillery officer, battalion commander to whom Smith’s battery belonged, was to facilitate returning the captured guns to action as they were recaptured. He described the action as follows.
” Stopped at S’s (2) fourth gun a Napoleon, which I loaded with canister, and Lieut. R. (3) fired it. After firing seven or eight rounds I found some of the cannoneers had returned. Told Lt. R. (2) to work the Napoleon, and I would work another of the pieces. Got three infantry men to put down their muskets, and help me work a three-inch rifle. The dead were so thick around the other Napoleon we could not work it. The Yankees were firing at us from behind our breastworks on our right, and from pens put up by ambulance men about sixty yards on our right.”
After describing the gallantry of other officers and men, both infantry and artillery, he went on to say.
“Sometimes had to cease firing, and take my men all back to the caissons to search for ammunition. Much of the time had only three men and an infantry man to sit behind the breastworks and hold friction primers for us, as the implements were gone and we had to find the extra implements that were necessary. our works about thirty yards to the right had a second line run back to the rear about eighty yards long, to protect the hollow through which the Yankees broke in. (4) When our men from Ramseur’s brigade and the left advanced down our works to the right they stopped at this offset, and allowed the Yankees to hold our works until charged by Johnson and Gordon later at night. The occupation of this offset made it very difficult for us to fire upon the Yankees behind our line without striking our men on the offset, and the blast from the nearest gun on my left , (5) being pointed very obliquely to the right, blew off my hat twice and seemed as if it would blow off my head.
As this was recently the subject of a between a friend of mine and myself I thought I would reblog it.
Remember these are MAXIMUM numbers for the participants.
Ever since May 13, 1864 the story has been that the reason for the Federal armies initial success the previous day was the defenders lack of artillery support. This it was said had allowed the Federals to quickly smash through the defenses and not only capture 20 pieces of artillery, but annihilate one of the premier divisions in Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia. Certainly there were other factors mentioned, wet powder for example, or poor visibility. Nevertheless most sources claims all go back to the lack of artillery. That it was Lee’s decision to withdraw the artillery which led to the Federals being able to quickly break thru the defenses of the Salient on May 12.
But is that the real story? Or, is it just the quick answer to a more complex problem? One that is indicative of a complete misinterpretation of the situation by the…
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Recently I was back out at Spotsylvania with the camera. If you’re like me, fascinated by the earthworks, and the story they can tell us, the Stonewall Brigades line across the McCoull field is quite interesting. At first glance it appears to be no more than a line of dirt connecting two more famous places.After all it runs in an almost perfectly straight line. At its southern end we have Doles Salient, famous for its part in Upton’s charge on May 10, 1864. At the other end we have the west McCoull Lane and the “Bloody Angle”. So what is there of interest here?
First, its quite accessible, right alongside the park road which runs between Doles Salient and the vicinity of the West Angle. But yet for most of the year little but the parapet is really visible. Certainly most of the details that a self proclaimed “trench nerd” are hidden by the vegetation. Mainly because of the fact that its poorly drained, water stands in the low spots there, and once things start to grow its quickly concealed by tall grasses
The area shown in the picture above depicts the junction between Rodes right hand brigade, Doles and the left, Stonewall, Brigade of Johnson’s division. Such spots are generally viewed as weak points in a defense because of command and control problems as well as tendency to “let the other guys do it”. Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes or his engineers evidently felt that way about this point. Particularly so as the disposition of the artillery did not provide any coverage of this ground, at least not until the 11th. So they had to find an alternative way to provide security for his flank. The solution was to construct a reentrant line on the plateau near where the ridge came to an end. Roughly perpendicular to the main line the trench ran back about 80 yards in a slight curve to follow the crest.
When the units of Rodes division settled into position on the evening of the 8th they generally speaking followed a ridge which went northward roughly perpendicular to the Brock road and in front of the Harrison House. This ridge came to an end in front of a large pine grove. This grove was dissected by a farm lane which ran out to a point in front of the grove of pines. There it forked. The left fork leading roughly westward toward the Shelton House, the right running northward until it to was joined by a lane leading from the McCoull House to the east. The combined lane then continued to run northward toward the Landran House.
After Rodes went into position the units of Johnson’s division marched northward to uncover themselves from Rodes line. The lead elements of this division found that after about 400 yards they climbed onto another low ridge which, despite some slight bends generally ran northward as well. They followed this ridge until the entire division was able to, by making a left face form a continual line. Of course minor adjustments had to be made but basically the line was formed.