It Wasn’t the Only Time

The perception is that the withdrawal of the bulk of the artillery from General Johnson';s line on the evening of May 11th was a unique event.IMG_00000038However, this is not the case at all. All five of the artillery battalions spent some time along the lines of either Rodes or Johnson’s divisions. Generally speaking after two days they were replaced by another battalion. These reliefs were generally, although not always, made in the early morning hours.

But on the afternoon of May 10th Upton’s attack so threatened Nelson’s battalion,which held positions between the West and East Angles, that the guns were withdrawn during the action to prevent their capture. Even though Upton was repulsed the batteries  went back to the camps behind the Courthouse for the night. The removal of these batteries from their positions while the infantry from Steuart’s and Jone’s Brigades were simultaneously being moved from the right of the Salient to positions near or along the McCoull Lane caused a lot of confusion and delay.

The following morning the batteries returned to their original positions.

One has to wonder whether the experience played a part in the decision to withdraw the two battalions out that afternoon before Johnson’s infantry moved.

Posted in 1864, American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, May 12, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Page's Battalion, Steuart's Brigade, Upton's Charge, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Statement that has kept me up at night. (slight clarification)

In all my studies of Spotsylvania there is one statement that I keep returning to. Two sentences that could unlock so much, yet never will. They were written in a letter from Wilfred Cutshaw to James McDowell Carrington in 1905. You will remember that Carrington commanded the Charlottesville Artillery in Cutshaw’s battalion. His battery along with Tanner’s,  both of which were in Cutshaw’s battalion, was along the line of Johnson’s division on the morning of May 12.

Looking down the works at the Mule Shoe.

Looking down the works at the Mule Shoe.

So lets see what Cutshaw had to say.

“Why only one Battalion was ordered back after 12 o’clock at night and why they did not go there until the enemy was just about to break over the works it is difficult to say. There are points which could be discussed if we were together that might account for this, but it is not possible to clear it up in the brief comment on the account as you have it.”

So there you have it. He is of course referring to the fact that two battalions, Page’s and Nelson’s were withdrawn from the center and right of Johnson’s line, yet only one, Page’s was ordered to return. And that in took far too long for it reach its intended positions.

Obviously he knew something about the causes, but apparently he carried it to his grave. All of his superiors except Thomas Carter, as well as most of his peers, of the time had already died, and Cutshaw himself would die in 1907.

 

Posted in 1864, American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Carrington's Battery, Cutshaw's Battalion, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Tanner's Battery, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charlottesville Artillery aka Carrington’s Battery

Contrary to what some people may think there were actually two batteries left along the line of Edward Johnson’s division on the night of May 11/12, 1864. Both Carrington’s battery and Tanner’s battery were with Cutshaw’s battalion and had been placed in the line on the afternoon of May 11. Unfortunately neither battery was in a position to bear on the Federals as they assaulted on the morning of the 12th.

The Sergeant Major of Carrington’s battery left us a sketch of his batteries position that morning. If you visit the battlefield today you can find the remains of most of these positions to the right of the McCoull Lane.

scan0005

You may note that like many of the participants he identified the East Angle as the “Bloody Angle”. We today of course call the West Angle by that title.

The sketch shown is printed here with the permission of the University of Virginia Library system.

Posted in artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Carrington's Battery, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Johnson's Division, May 12, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Tanner's Battery, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just a Look

One of the things that makes the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse so fascinating is the contradictions. So as a hint of an upcoming article I give you this excerpt from a well-known work.

The threatening attitude of Hancock’s attacking column, as indicated by the noise of the preparations going on in front of the salient during the night, had not been communicated to General Lee. The announcement of the disaster was the first news which came to him of this movement of the enemy.

entiresalientline

This is from “General Lee in the Wilderness Campaign” by Charles S. Vernable, Lieutenant-Colonel, C.S.A., of General Lee’s Staff

Of course Col. Vernable would have wanted to protect Gen. Lee’s reputation, but how does it fit with the story of that fateful 24 hours?

In the article we will probably notice more conflicting accounts.

 

Posted in American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, May 12, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Page's Battalion, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It is right here. (Updated)

Over the last few posts I have shown various videos of a line of works out in front of the area between the west Angle and Doles Salient. These works, to the right of Upton’s trail, have evidently escaped mapping at least as far back as 1916.

So in an effort to put a location with the video, I have included this scan of the “Surviving Earthworks on Spotsylvania Battlefield” map. If you will notice between the area of the Shelton house, to the left of center midway up the page, and the Confederate line, marked Daniels, Hays, Walker, etc, you will see a circle drawn on the map. Inside there is a short line drawn with blue pen denoting the approximate location of this line.

scan0003

Please note the use of blue pen is not to signify that it was Federal, but rather to make it stand out from the other works in red.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MccRHXf2bzo

Above  is again the last video taken of those works. Now to see if we can find some more information on them .

After looking at the GPS plot on the map, it appears that this stretch of line (approx 217 feet in length) was actually aligned with the section on the other side of the trail. And that perhaps the reason for the bend on the end is to incorporate it into the spur which leads from the Federal line and across the park road. That is just a hypothesis at this point however. If so why was the spur down slope? The reason which jumps to mind is for shelter from Confederate fire from the area near the West Angle. The Confederates themselves, remarked that it was worth a mans life to go for water on the 11th.

Posted in American Civil War, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Bloody Angle, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Uncategorized, Upton's Charge | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Well isn’t that interesting? (Updated 2/05/15)

Perhaps its just me, but every trip to the battlefield seems to answer some questions. However for every question answered two more are raised. And that is what happened on a recent trip to Spotsylvania.

UPDATED with new video. Today we did validate that this section of line was not shown on either the 1916 nor the Surviving earthworks maps.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MccRHXf2bzo

From a 1916 map of the property owned by the Battlefield Land Co. Done by the Chief Surveyor of the city of Fredericksburg.

From a 1916 map of the property owned by the Battlefield Land Co. Done by the Chief Surveyor of the city of Fredericksburg.

Above you see a section of the map done in 1916. An examination of this map shows earthworks which, sadly, no longer exist. In addition it shows the roads which existed at the time as well as saw mill seats. So in effect we have a snapshot of what was done during the war as well as development since. A snapshot not taken in the heat and confusion of a battle.

Now I had always believed, and been led to believe that there was only one surviving section of Confederate picket line out in front of Doles Salient. A short section just about 20 yards or so inside the historic wood line of 1864. This section was just to the left of the trail and ran along a low ridge until it petered out on the high ground overlooking a “dry weather branch”. And if memory serves that it was supposedly built after Upton’s charge on May 10.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOjg3RylEm8

The late Bill Matter and I didn’t do much exploring out there in front of the works but we did find a few remnants, all to the left of the road. Again we believed that there was nothing to the right of the trail.

Well, not so fast. On this last trip one of my goals was to shoot a video of the entrenched line left of the road. Having done that, on a whim, I decided to look one more time to the right of the trail. And lo and behold, hiding in plain sight was a line of works about 30 yards further into the woods, along the trail, and on its right side!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG_AL6QRrEk

You perhaps can see that these works are ditched on the side toward the Confederate line as you would expect. What you wouldn’t expect is that the extreme right hand end, from the Confederate point of view, curls forward toward the Federal line. So now we have a line which extended further across the Confederate front than we previously believed.

HOWEVER, I draw your attention again to the 1916 map at the top of this article. Find the road which leads out from the Confederate works at Doles Salient. Then follow it away from the works until just before you reach a dogleg in the road at a saw mill seat. Notice that there is a line of Breast works running perpendicular to the road on its left side. Also note that there is nothing shown on the right hand side.

So, did the map maker and his team miss that line of works all together? Or is the real question the location of the road?

And of course the obvious question which is who built both lines, when were they built, and why they don’t line up with each other?

What do you think?

Posted in Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Johnson's Division, May 12, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Upton's Charge | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Confederate Second Line today

Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes division arrived in the vicinity of Spotsylvania Courthouse during the late afternoon of May 8, 1864. It immediately went into position on the right of Kershaw’s 1st Corps division which was in danger of being outflanked.

At first they were successful in driving the Federals back, but in the growing darkness confusion reigned and some units blundered into Federals losing quite a few men taken prisoner. As a result Rodes ordered his men to fall back several hundred yards to the crest of a ridge. There they aligned themselves and began to dig in.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQWRs8DKaNQ

 

Sometime later, probably the following day it became apparent that a swale on the divisions right would be a weak point. This was also the junction of Doles Georgia Brigade and the Stonewall Brigade of Johnson’s Division. So to support that point, work was begun a second line of works. This line would begin on the crest of the ridge, then loop back and cross the McCoull field behind Doles line.

When Upton’s command broke Rodes line at Doles Salient on the 10th his men continued on into the mcCoull field for several hundred yards. They also expanded the breach to both the right and left. In doing so they broke over the second line where it intersects the main line. Today we call that the reentrant line. When the Confederates counterattacked they regained their works as the second line. However they were unable to go any further against fierce Federal opposition. However shortly after nightfall the Federals withdrew and the Confederate position was restored.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQeZAsl969o

Whether the line originally extended on behind the Stonewall’s line at this point is questionable. We know that the Stonewall had two regiments, the 2nd and the 33rd, in the field from the evening of the 8th until they were overrun on the 12th. A lieutenant in the 33rd would write that a line of rifle pits was constructed at 2 pm on the 11th. This was probably meant to mean extending the line behind his regiment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTcMOGzFNzg

During the battle of May 12th the Federals captured virtually all of the Second line other than today’s reentrant line. Their success was short lived however as disorganization and a series of counterattacks by various Confederate brigades, led by Ramseur’s North Carolinian’s quickly drove them back to the main line. With that the line probably became a control point for the Confederates the rest of the day, as well as the Federals in their abortive attack on Lee’s Final Line on the 18th.

Regardless, the line has survived, with the exception of a gap of say 50 or so yards to this day. That gap was made sometime after a 1916 map, which shows the line intact, was drawn. Who created that gap is currently unknown but we can speculate that it was the CCC. Regardless it exists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbpm7rDGF8s

So follow us as we walk the second Confederate line, which played such an important role in the battles of May 10th and May 12th.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfW6jhsRKJ4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUqpAxHy25U

So there you have it. A look at the second line entrenchment as it exists today. I invite comment on whether you find this format useful.

 

 

Posted in artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Richmond Howitzers, Uncategorized, Upton's Charge | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments