A Smashing Success!! – Now what?

By 8:15 PM on the evening of May 10, 1864 the fighting in and around Doles Salient was to all intents and purposes over.Of course nervous men, still keyed up from the bitter fighting that had raged for the last several hours still occasionally fired at targets, real or imagined, which crossed their sights. But General Robert E. Lee felt secure enough in the outcome to send an order to his Second Corps commander Lt. General Richard S. Ewell, giving instructions  measures to be carried out prior to a resumption of the fight. These measures he felt would lessen the chances of a federal breakthough similar to what had just occurred.

From Doles works to the right of the farm road the Federals guided on to the wood line.

From behind the works in Doles salient. Just to the right of the farm road the Federals guided out to the wood line which is visible in left center. Notice how quickly the terrain falls away in front. ( also note that woodline is about 50 yards closer today then it was in 1864)

Of course the surviving men of the regiments that Emory Upton had led across the works along Doles Salient the whole affair was viewed differently. While the matter had been decided some time before, they viewed it as a lost opportunity. One that, in their minds at least, could have easily been victory not defeat. Why had the attack which had started out with so much promise, ended with them back at their starting point? Several hours before they had  broken through the Confederate line and created a gap which at one time reached almost from the West McCoull Lane on one flank to the works thrown up by Gordon’s Division on the other. Despite determined Confederate counterattacks they had still clung tenaciously to a small breach in the line even as darkness began to fall.that . But despite requests still no reinforcements had come across the field to their aid. Nor were any more units going to be sent to join these regiments. So despite their having fought their Confederate assailants to a stalemate there was little hope of doing more than hanging on. Therefore Gen. Russell, the division commander responsible, had given orders for the survivors to retire to their own lines.

Despite its ending more or less right back where it started the attack has garnered fame far beyond the number of men who participated or the results achieved. Some historians have labeled it as a “classic infantry attack”. One that became somewhat of a blueprint for breaking fortified lines.That fame, largely misplaced in my opinion, is generally due to the planning and tactics used in the assault not the results.

But really was the attack the “classic infantry attack” that it has been credited as being? Or was that moniker merely used to describe the use of tactics which made the initial success possible but overlooked the totality of the effort. Yet in the overall did it amount to more than another example of men’s lives wasted with no hope of any real positive results? To answer that we need to ask not only what was the goal but what could it have been realistically expected to achieve. To understand that we need to go look at it in the context of the rest of the Federal actions on May 10, 1864.

From in front of the works up the slope to Dole's Salient.

From in front of the works just south of the current parking lot looking up the slope to the crest at the apex of  Dole’s Salient. Farm road of 1864 passed thru the works near the crest and ran down the slope outside of the works. Remains of the road are visible today.

As to  what was it supposed to accomplish its difficult to say. None of the Federal sources really make it clear. They generally focus on the process whereby the point to strike was selected and then the tactics.  My good friend and mentor, the late William (Bill) Matter suggested in his book “If it Takes All Summer” that the combined assaults by Upton and Mott was intended to force the Confederates to abandon the northern leg of the Mule Shoe Salient. And far be it to me to take issue with Bill’s ideas. Yet one has to question whether this, was in fact the goal.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it was  just another in a series of loosely coordinated attacks by the various Federal Corps across the entire front that afternoon. These attacks, which started on the right and spread to the left, were evidently intended to start at around 5 pm.  Despite that fact there doesn’t appear to have been any serious attempt to coordinate the assaults. In fact when permission was given to Warren to launch his attack against Laurel Hill early any chance of cooperation was gone. However all of the various corps did make attacks at somewhere pretty close to the desired time. On the right, a brigade of Birney’s Second Corps division, attacking after the main assault had been repulsed, had actually briefly penetrated the Confederate lines only to be thrown back. It should be noted that his attack bore a lot of resemblance to Upton’s attack further to the left. And the results were roughly the same and for the same reason.  In this case Ward’s Brigade had attacked in a column formation yet only the leading pair of regiments had broken into the Confederate works. The third regiment had halted and laid down out in front of the works, and the following units, exposed to the defenders fire retreated into the woods from which they had launched the attack. Elsewhere the best that could be said was that Burnside’s Ninth Corps and Mott’s small Second Corps division had moved their lines forward closer to the rebel line. In Motts case they had forced the rebel pickets out of the woods in their front and advanced to the vicinity Landrum House. However they could not hold on to the gains and had fallen back to a point in the northern point in the block of woods. They had succeeded in driving the rebel picket line back several hundred yards.This small success would pay big dividends on the 12th.

This would have been the view that the gunners at the guns behind Hardaway had of the Federal position

This would have been the view that the gunners at the guns behind Major Hardaway had of the Federal troops position as they clung to the outside of the works beyond the reentrant line. Major Hardaway estimated that before withdrew they were thirty yards beyond the reentrant line .

Perhaps a few words about the selection of the target for an attack by the  Sixth Corps are appropriate. This as much as anything else led to the ease with which the Confederate line was broken. Throughout the morning, as was their custom, various Union officers were reconnoitering the areas in front of the Union lines looking for opportunities. One of these officers, Lt. Randall S. Mackenzie found what he considered to be a weak point in the Confederate line along the Sixth Corps front. In the early afternoon he reported his find to Gen. Russell, commanding the First Division of the Sixth Corps. Russell visited the site of MacKenzie’s interest and agree to pass the idea up the chain of command to his corps commander Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright. Wright approved the site of the attack and ultimately twelve regiments were detailed to make up the attack force. Col. Emory Upton, an ambitious officer who had done well in a similar attack at Rappahannock Station was given command of the assault force.

The area Mackenzie selected was in the area where the Confederate line, following the contours of a ridge created a small salient in the line. This salient would become known by the Georgia Brigade which held it, commanded by George Doles. The Confederate line having passed this southern most salient (Doles) crossed an open field before crossing the West McCoul Lane and climbing a slight knoll to another salient which would later become famous as the West Angle. The slope of the terrain  discouraged the Confederates from covering the area with artillery. (3)They had however created some impressive rifle trenches with traverses along part of the line and obstacles in front. In addition a farm road crossed the works and ran along part of the front as its connected the various houses in the area. (4) In addition, although unknown to the federals, the junction of Rodes and Johnson’s divisions was out in the field near the center of the swale.

Position of Gun number 4 Smith's Battery

I believe this to be the position of left most gun of Smith’s Battery. Skirmishers from Daniels brigade would have been in the woods to the left. This location allowed it to sweep this part of the field that guns to its right could not.

 

 

When discussing  Upton’s charge It should be noted that was not intended that he attack attack alone. Several other units would be moving forward at the same time.The commander of the  Second Corps division to the north, spanning the gap between the Sixth and Ninth Corps, Gershom Mott, received instructions at 2:00 PM saying that Capt. George H. Mendell of the Corps of Engineers would come over and explain his role in an attack. Not only the role but would assist Mott in selecting the actual point of attack. (1) Of course once that point was selected Mott would have to concentrate his men and make the preparations for an assault.

Further to the left Burnside’s Ninth Corps would press forward in front of the Courthouse and develop any opportunity they found. Burnside was not sure of Grant’s wishes and even questioned whether he should move one of his divisions across the Ni River to support Mott rather than commit his entire force to an assault on the Courthouse. Grant felt that Mott would be all right but left the decision to Burnside whether to support him or not. In any event the decision was left so late that nothing was done. Both Mott and Burnside would advance to the attack as scheduled but neither would accomplish much. Mott’s small division was quickly stopped by the rebel artillery and skirmishers before he even reached the Landrum House. Burnside despite committing his entire corps failed to press the assault home. So timid had his advance been that Confederates  would later remember it as just some artillery firing.

Looking from the center of the Howitzers position toward the apex.

Looking from near the center of  Smith’s battery of the Richmond Howitzers position toward the apex of Doles salient. The apex is behind the cedar tree. The re-entrant line just beyond the cannon. Ramseur’s brigades counterattack did not advance past the reentrant line.

 

So now all the intended attacks had been made and repulsed, but Upton had still not attacked. His attack was also scheduled for 5 PM, but sometime after 3:45 the decision had been made to postpone the assault until 6:00 that evening. Who made the decision is unclear, although a staff officer of Gen. Wright remembered delivering a note to that effect to Gen. Russell. If this order was intended for Wright’s entire Corps as well as Mott not everybody got the word. At least one artillery battery would open fire and Mott’s division would attack as scheduled at around 5 o’clock.. But Upton’s men would not move forward.

In my opinion this was an attack that should not have been launched. Certainly it should not have been launched at that time of day anyway. If you look at Upton’s instructions to his regimental commanders he obviously was not expecting his attack to be a decisive one. Rather it was clearly his intent to penetrate the rebel lines, create a lodgement or bridgehead, and expand it to right and left as much as possible. Since  he would only have three regiments to push deeper into the salient he must have intended then hold on until other troops could arrive. These other forces, whoever they might be, would exploit his success. The hard part of his job would be to hold on against the inevitable Confederate counterattacks until these reinforcements could arrive.

2013-07-20 17.28.54

From behind the Confederate works to the right of the re-entrant line. Looking out across the field towards the area covered by  Smith’s battery. Note how that area covered by the left gun is not visible from this position.

Was there to have been an exploitation force? If so who was it to have been?There does not appear to have been anyone alerted to exploit a break though. Certainly no troops were massed to quickly take advantage of any success achieved. There is evidence that some few Sixth Corps regiments may have attacked along with Motts troops. Additionally, at least two regiments did apparently join Upton’s men. These units advanced, without orders it seems, at some undetermined point to join Upton’s men. Otherwise , other than some artillery support, Upton’s men were on their own. Remember there were only a couple of hours of daylight remaining when Upton’s men stepped off. Could this attack deliver a meaningful defeat to Lee’s army before darkness brought action to a close? Was possession of this ridge during the night possible? Could reinforcements have been brought up and the salient expanded during the night? Or would Upton be expected to hold on through the night so that reinforcements could come up at dawn? Unless Lee withdrew his men during the night Federal reinforcements could well be pummeled by Lee’s defenders before they could even reach Upton’s men. Regardless the men clinging to the lodgement would be in a precarious situation when the sun rose over the Mule Shoe on May 11.

2013-07-20 17.41.54

Again from about the center of Smith’s battery position. This time looking toward where the reentrant line runs back through the trees toward the second line. The Federals came down behind the line toward us.

In short would it have been better, given the negatives, to wait until morning to launch the assault? That way, if the attack were successful, there would be a opportunity to exploit any success that might be gained. At a minimum there would be time to organize a force to be ready to advance as support.

 

Maybe the truth is that once the plan had been approved nobody knew how to stop it. Maybe they didn’t expect it to succeed in the first place. Or, maybe Upton saw this as an opportunity to advance his own cause. Maybe nobody wanted to be the one to suggest not attacking.

Regardless in my opinion the real benefit to the Federal cause was not that it was a “classic infantry attack”. Rather it prompted the Confederates to take actions that alnost led them to ruin less than 48 hours later.

 

 

(1) So as of 2:00 only Upton’s point of attack had been selected. They had only selected Mott as support because he was to the left of Upton.What the criteria that Mendell would use to select Mott’s point of attack is not known.

(2) Whether this was because of the defenders fire or orders from the commander is not clear. Regardless the following units dd not reach the works.

(3) Artillery of the time wanted two things. A level platform due to the crude sighting devices of the day. And a direct view of the target. accurate indirect fire was beyond the limits of the technology of the time. The sloping nature of the confederate line ruled out the level platform.  Thus the only Confederate artillery close by at the beginning of the action was Smith’s battery. They however would lose sight of Upton’s men when they got close to the works.

 

(4) The road from the Harrison House crossed the works, and just in front of the trenches split. One fork went  roughly straight out from the works to the Shelton House. The other leg ran in front of Doles and the left of the Stonewall Brigade before meandering toward the Landrum house.

 

 

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One seldom noted sentence (updated 12/23)

” I had protested against this line all the day before to Genl Ewell & Genl Lee thought it extremely objectionable but Rodes & Johnson having made their breastworks insisted they could hold it” (puntuation, or lack thereof, is as it was written)

Those words were written by Col. Thomas Carter to his wife in a letter written on May 24, 1864. He was describing how on the 11th of May he had complained to General Ewell about how defective the salient line was. Also that General Lee felt the same way. He went on to add that the shape of the line was so bad that when Upton broke thru on the 10th he had had to move guns out in front of the works. Otherwise he was unable to bring guns to bear on Upton’s men during the famous attack that bears his name.

The interesting point is that he mentions Generals Rodes and Johnson as the main proponents of holding the existing line. Typically we hear of General Ewell as being the chief advocate for holding the line, not the division commanders. Also that the line was considered safe with artillery support. Yet here we clearly have the commander of the artillery within the salient not just criticizing the line but his ability to support the line. (1) In truth I believe that he was referring to his ability to support certain portions of the line. Surely the area around the apex of the salient was well covered by artillery. Yet the Federals had located the point that he could not effectively support and exploited it.

Anyway another interesting tidbit to digest. Unfortunately Carter does not make clear the time of the conversation or meeting where the division commanders expressed their views. My personal feeling is that there were several throughout the day, and this is likely early in the day. And did they just express those views to Carter? Or did they also expess them to Ewell and/or Lee as well?  There have been, to my knowledge, no documents uncovered to specify the time.   But again its an interesting sentence which challenges our understanding of the events.

Little was Carter to know it at the time of his complaining, but his words would have consequences the following day.

(1) In fairness it must be pointed out that Carter wrote in the same letter: “Had they been in position they would have driven back the enemy as was done the day the day before at the same point”.

 

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“Pop, Pop, Pop”

IMG_00000024spotsy13

“Pop, Pop, Pop,” those words were written by Brig. Gen. James Walker, commander of the Stonewall Brigade in May of 1864. What the General was evidently attempting to explain at least partly explain the ineffectiveness of the Confederate defense the morning of May 12, 1864. To do so he was describing  the sound that he had heard during the moments, perhaps minutes, before the Federal troops poured over the Confederate earthworks in the Salient. The distinctive sound was made by the misfiring of the muskets of the Confederate infantry. This was supposedly due to the dampness of the weather that had persisted throughout the night and into the morning. As a result of this dampness despite the primer cap exploding it failed to ignite the black powder behind the ball. Therefore the  weather had such an effect on the weapons that it supposedly virtually disarmed the men and left them powerless to repel the overwhelming numbers of Federals approaching then coming over the works.

Those words then became the basis for one of the most enduring stories regarding the events of the morning of May 12, 1864. The events of that day  made up what was at the same time one of the darkest, and most glorious days of Robert E. Lee’s army. And since it is such an enduring story lets take a look at it.

Gen. Walker’s actually statement was: ” Then the moment for the Confederate fire had come, and the men, rising to their full height, leveled their trusty muskets deliberately at the halting column, with a practiced aim which would have carried havoc into their ranks. But the searching damp had disarmed them, and instead of the leaping line of fire and the sharp crack of the muskets came the pop! pop! pop! of exploding caps as the hammer fell upon them. Their powder was damp, and with their muzzle-loading muskets their was no help for them. A few, very few, pieces fired clear; but fresh caps on most of them only produced another failure. A muzzle-loading musket with damp powder behind the ball is as useless to a soldier in an emergency like that as a walking cane. (1)

view from eastern leg of the salient

View today from artillery position at the extreme right of the Eastern leg of the salient

While Gen. Walker’s account is the most widely known he did have at least some support from others who were in the Salient that morning. Lieutenant W.S. Archer of the 48th Virginia, Witcher’s Brigade was out on the picket line that morning.  While not directly in the path of Hancock’s advance his regiment saw that the picket line near the Landrum House had been quickly overwhelmed. Seeing the odds against them, Col. Witcher, (2) led Archer  along with most of his regiment on a circuitous route back to the salient. Entering somewhere to the east of the East angle he led his men back up the interior of the salient toward the regiments original position. (3) Looking back on the experience Lieutenant Archer wrote: “The fire of Steuart’s men in line of battle did not have the force of a hotly contested skirmish. The penetrating mist which had been falling all night had wet the powder in the tubes, and the guns could not be fired.”  (4)

Later in Gen. Walker’s account where he lamented the Stonewall Brigades malfunctioning weapons he said: “This statement as to of the failure of the muskets of our men to fire is true as to that portion of our line between the Stonewall Brigade and the salient, which was as far as my vision extended, but I have been informed by officers of Jones Brigade that the right of that brigade had been more careful or more fortunate, and their muskets were in good order, and that the enemy was repulsed in front of that portion of our lines with great loss, and that they held their position, until the enemy’s troops, who had crossed to their left, had swung round in the rear and came up behind our lines.” (5)

In the 3rd North Carolina of Steuart’s Brigade, one of the company commanders took the precaution of having his men disassemble and clean  their weapons while waiting for the suspected attack.

Perhaps such difficulties extended beyond the infantry. In a letter to his former battalion commander, Wilfred Cutshaw, Samuel H. Hawes wrote: ” They were within about 15 or 20 steps of us, when I ordered our Parrott gun turned upon them (inside our works) and gave them canister in their faces at head of column. The smoke from the gun fell and obscured everything! Before it fairly lifted they were upon us and we were prisoners. We only had time for one shot from that gun! I called upon the infantry lying in the trenches to “get up and shoot”, which they refused to do! Lieut D. at the gun on our right, fired a shot from his gun at another body of the enemy, but in trying for another his gun was choked”. (6)


 

While these officers told a story of helplessness and frustration they were far from being the majority.  In fact when reading accounts of the battle remarkably few if any of the rest of the participants  mentioned any difficulties with the weapons. A small sample of the accounts are given below.

Lieutenant Thomas Doyle of Co. E, 33rd Va. wrote in his memoirs that: ” About 12 P.M. it commenced to rain and continued all night making the trenches a most uncomfortable place, but thanks to the excellent tent-flies so abundantly supplied by the 6th Federal Corps in the Wilderness, the men were ably to keep tolerably dry. Orders were given during the night to all the company officers to be on the alert and in the event of an attack……”

Robert Barton, a staff officer in the Stonewall Brigade,  wrote that he and Gen. Walker slept side by side the night of the 11th/12th. He added: “A heavy mist overhung everything and through it we could hardly see one hundred yards. But succeeding the cheers, we, little by little perceived the advancing line, rather a broken line, but still an ugly rush. Our men opened a vigorous fire, and all along the line from our left and centre up to the right, where the fatal salient stood, some three hundred yards distant, the crack of musketry kept up.”

James L. McCown , 5th Virginia Infantry, Stonewall Brigade wrote : “We were ordered to reserve our fire until near enough to tell on them with effect. Then how warmly we gave it to them.”..

Pvt. William P. Snakenburg, of Co. K, 14th Louisiana Inf which was between the Stonewall and the East Angle wrote : “About the time we were ready to start for the skirmish line, those on the line commenced firing very fast and soon came running into the works, saying that the enemy was advancing. We went into the works but on account of the very heavy fog we could not for some time see anything, but waited until all the skirmish line had got in our works and the enemy had come near enough to be seen , we commenced firing on them.” (7)

Snakenberg added: ” I was on the parapit and fired a number of times, as those of my company behind me kept loading and passing up their guns.”

Part of the reason for the unevenness of the fire of Steuart’s Brigade may rest with Steuart himself. He mistook the advancing Federals for his skirmishers returning. As a result he actually ordered the artillery of Reese’s battery to cease-fire. How much this effected the infantry is unknown.

Equally telling is the deafening silence about the matter from the Union side. The men of Hancock’s strike force had first to endure a miserable march from the right of the line to the assembly area around the Brown House. Then the lay out in the woods and fields without fires for hours awaiting the orders to fall in and step off to the attack. Certainly they had time to prepare but even so they were at least as exposed to the elements as the Confederates, probably more so. Yet, in none of their accounts is there a mention of malfunctioning firearms.

So were the firearms the factor that Gen. Walker claimed?  Given the number of Confederates captured that morning perhaps we don’t have a good sample of the participants. Or, perhaps once a soldier was able to fire the first shot it was no longer a issue. Therefore would be forgotten, lost in the events of the day. Yet there would seem to be major reason to  doubt that the weapons were a major problem. However if not then what was the source of the sound that Gen. Walker describes? Almost certainly it was the firing of primers only. Why primers only?

First lets ask what would be the standard practice for troops in a defensive position with a picket line well out, 800 yards in this case, in front. They were probably not in the trenches during the hours of darkness as there was no threat from sharpshooters. We know, for example,that the Stonewall was relatively dry, sleeping in tents captured at the Wilderness.  Others, veterans of sleeping in the open would have fashioned means of keeping dry. The trenches of course would have slowly become mud holes a very uncomfortable pace to be. Would the men’s weapons even have been loaded? With a picket line out front there was no immediate danger. And loaded weapons always increase the likelihood of accidents. So perhaps the weapons weren’t loaded during the night.

If the weapons hadn’t been loaded overnight than what about the sound? A standard practice for clearing a musket of the time would be to place a cap on the nipple and pull the trigger. The flash from the exploding primer would travel through the nipple into and up the barrel. The heat and force would dry and expel any moisture or residue in the barrel. The soldier could then load and fire the weapon as normal.  Since the standard of performance was 3 rounds per minute for a trained soldier this was obviously no great effort. In 20 seconds an approaching enemy would not travel more than about 50 yards.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that the General did not say that HIS men had a problem. Rather it was down towards the East Angle, where the Louisianians and Witcher’s left should have been. Also it is worth remembering that Gen. Walker was severely wounded in the arm relatively early that morning and left the field.

So, is it possible that an abnormal number of weapons did misfire that morning. Certainly it is possible, but I leave it to the reader to decide whether it was the issue that it has been made out to be.

(1)  SHSP vol 22 page 235: Brig. Gen. Walker has taken up a position on a traverse beside the right hand gun of Carrington’s Battery. From there he could see not only down the line toward the East Angle but observe the advancing Federals as well. Walker was wounded shortly afterward as he was talking to Capt. Carrington. The gunshot wound in his arm incapacitated him and he was taken from the field.

(2) Col. William Witcher was commander of the 48th Va. of Jones Brigade. However when Col. John C. Higginbotham, of the 25th Va., was killed during Upton’s attack on the 10th as senior regimental commander Witcher assumed command.  It seems odd that a Brigade commander, even an acting one, would be on the picket line rather than in the trenches. Did this absence prevent the remaining Virginians from spreading out along the line that morning? There is no evidence either way, other than comments about gaps in the line near the east Angle.

(3) Archer and the 48th Virginia were out on the picket line that morning. He and most of the regiment were able to make, by a circuitous route, back into the salient. How far along the eastern face is uncertain. Some writers place them as coming back through Heth’s line. Perhaps some of them did. However for Archer to have time to get back almost to the regiments original position before the Federals poured over the works make this appear doubtful. Coming back up the salient got allegedly within about 70 yards of the regiments former position in the line. So he had already seen the size of the Federal force.

(4) The initial engagement appears to be between the right of Jones/Witcher and Steuart’s brigades and the extreme left of Barlow’s Federals. These men had missed  the apex of the salient and passed across the Confederate front. They were met by both musketry and artillery.

(5) Lieutenants Hawes and Deas commanded the two 3 inch rifles of Fry’s battery that returned to the salient that morning. The other two guns and Captain Fry had been detached as escorts of a wagon train. Lt. Deas was shot and severely wounded that morning. The letter from Hawes to Maj. Cutshaw was written Oct. 7, 1905.

(6) Memoirs of W.P. Snakenberg, Wilson, North Carolina Private, Louisiana Tigers”. The 14th La. had been part of Stafford’s Brigade until his death at the Wilderness. They were consolidated with Hay’s Brigade en route to Spotsylvania. On the 11th Hay’s original Brigade was moved to Dole’s Salient. Evidently the gap was not filled until the remaining Louisianan’s were ordered to spread out while the Federals were advancing on the Salient. Whether they, or for that matter Witcher’s men on the other side of the East Angle, actually did so is not known. With the movement of Haye’s/Monaghan’s Brigade to Doles Salient the previous day, at least one of Stafford/York’s Louisiana regiments on picket, three of Witcher’s regiments out of the line plus the artillery there were precious few Confederates in the trenches that morning.

 

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

A Prophetic Dispatch

View in front of the Confederate lines between the East and West Angles. Probably the Louisiana Brigades area.

View in front of the Confederate lines between the East and West Angles. Probably the Louisiana Brigades area.

Doing some much-needed sorting this morning and I noticed a dispatch that in hindsight can be viewed as ironic, or perhaps prophetic. While not about the Mule Shoe directly I thought I would share it.

Headquarters,                                                                                                                                           May 7, 1864 – 10:30 a.m.

Lieut. Gen. R. S. Ewell,                                                                                                                                                        Commanding, &c.:

GENERAL: General Lee directs me to say that the Richmond Dispatch, of yesterday, contains extracts from a Northern paper which state that the United States Government has acceded to the demand of the Pennsylvania troops to be discharged at the expiration of three years from the date of their muster into the State service, instead of the United States service, and that 5,000 men will thus be lost to Grant’s army. It is said that the time of their discharge is to-day, but the general does not know certainly. Some two-years men were captured at Chancellorsville last year whose term of service expired a few days after the battle, and it may be that the three-years men enlisted at the same time. The general thinks it best to bear this in mind, to avoid being mislead by movements to the rear. I inclose the latest from General Stuart.                                                                                                             very respectfully, your obedient servant,                                                                                                                                                                C. Marshall                                                                                                                       Lieutenant-Colonel and Aide-de-Camp.

OR Series I, Vol. 36

Interesting that a few days later General Lee himself would be mislead by wagons and ambulances on their way to Fredericksburg

 

 

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“Walker’s and Long’s are exhausted”

Following along with the last post on the Confederate ammunition supply here is another item from the same period. Please excuse the quality of the scan.

Letter from Pendelton to Alexander evening of May 18, 1864.

Letter from Pendelton to Alexander evening of May 18, 1864.

The interesting point here is that Alexander is being called on to move guns to support the Third Corps. Pendelton expressing the opinion that both the Second and Third Corps reserves are exhausted. Also that if Alexander couldn’t find Lindsey Walker, he could go directly to the battalion commander in the area, Richardson and work out the details.

Also that the artillery commanders of all the corps, along with Martin Smith, were cooperating at least to some extent on the defenses.

An interesting document which tells us a bit about the stress the army was under during those days.

 

Posted in artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Artillery used like shotguns – the Confederate Ammunition Supply at Spotsylvania

View from the left of the East Angle.

A peaceful view today. The view the Louisiana troops would have had from these works.

It has been said that at Spotsylvania the Confederates used their artillery like giant shotguns. Short ranges and the need to add power to the infantry line necessitated just that. The guns by and large were in the trenches, firing against massed infantry at generally only a few hundred yards.

Perhaps the records can shed some light on this one way or another. Below is a table, taken from the Official Records, showing the amount of artillery ammunition remaining in the ANV ordnance trains on May 18, 1864.

What is interesting about this table is the distribution of rounds, by type, remaining in each Corps trains. Remember this is not the number at the actual batteries. We can assume that the ammo chests for those guns were kept as full as possible. We can also assume that each battalion had a supply of sorts on hand. What that supply consisted of,if it existed at all, we do not know. But once those rounds were fired, whats listed in this table is all that’s available until a new supply arrived from Richmond.

Artillery Ammunition in ANV Ordnance trains May 18, 1864.

Artillery Ammunition in ANV Ordnance trains May 18, 1864.

In addition remember that this table is for May 18th. At dawn of that day, the Federals launched an attack with two army Corps against the Second Corps new line behind the Harrison House. This attack was quickly repelled almost entirely by the artillery. We can imagine that the 29 guns employed by General Long that morning used up a significant amount of ammunition.  At the same time the Third Corps guns had a substantial artillery duel with their opposite numbers on the Federal side. Whether this table was made before or after the batteries sent back for resupply after those actions we do not know.

Regardless, what we can surmise from looking at this table is not the number, but the type of ammunition that was being used during the battle. For the sake of argument we will assume that each Corps  started out with roughly the same number of say, Napoleon shot, when the campaign began. So what would cause a difference between Corps in the number of rounds remaining? The most logical answer would be either the terrain, shorter ranges mean more canister, or the preference of the Commander for one type over another..

The Second Corps numbers could be skewed by the loss of so many guns and their ammunition on May 12, but that would mean fewer guns to consume ammo afterwards. Also its worthwhile to note that those guns were predominantly 3 inch rifles, not Napoleons.

The thing that jumps off the page to us is the shortage of canister. 24 rounds of Napoleon canister, all in 1st and 3rd Corps. 54 rounds of 3 inch rifle canister which was all in 3rd Corps.

And of course Alexander in the 1st Corps was a strong proponent of the howitzer, thus the numbers for howitzer ammunition.

Additionally it should be noted that when the Confederates were expecting an attack on their right on the 19th, Alexander was asked to supply guns as support. The reason being that the artillery of both the Second and Third Corps was “fought out.”

I would think that one of the tasks Confederate Artillery commanders had to contend with at this point of the campaign was fire control.  Making sure that the batteries weren’t wasteful of ammunition. How much if at all it effected the battle we will probably never know.

 

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

Artillery used like shotguns – the Confederate Ammunition Supply at Spotsylvania

View from the left of the East Angle.

A peaceful view today. The view the Louisiana troops would have had from these works.

It has been said that at Spotsylvania the Confederates used their artillery like giant shotguns. Short ranges and the need to add power to the infantries line necessitated just that. The guns by and large were in the trenches, firing against massed infantry at generally only a few hundred yards.

Perhaps the records can shed some light on this one way or another. Below is a table, taken from the Official Records, showing the amount of artillery ammunition remaining in the ANV ordnance trains on May 18, 1864.

What is interesting about this table is the distribution of rounds, by type, remaining in each Corps trains. Remember this is not the number at the actual batteries. We can assume that the ammo chests for those guns were kept as full as possible. We can also assume that each battalion had a supply of sorts on hand. What that supply consisted of,if it existed at all, we do not know. But once those rounds were fired, whats listed in this table is all that’s available until a new supply arrived from Richmond.

Artillery Ammunition in ANV Ordnance trains May 18, 1864.

Artillery Ammunition in ANV Ordnance trains May 18, 1864.

What we can surmise from looking at this table is not the number, but the type of ammunition that was being used. For the sake of argument we will assume that each corps  started out with roughly the same number of say, Napoleon shot, when the campaign began. So what would cause a difference in the number remaining?

The Second Corps numbers could be skewed by the loss of so many guns and their ammunition on May 12, but that would mean less guns to consume ammo afterwards.

The thing that jumps off the page to us is the shortage of canister. 24 rounds of napoleon canister, all in 1st and 3rd Corps. 54 rounds of 3 inch rifle canister that was all in 3rd Corps.

And of course Alexander in the 1st Corps was a strong proponent of the howitzer, thus the numbers for howitzer ammunition.

I would think that one of the tasks Confederate Artillery commanders had to contend with at this point of the campaign was fire control.  Making sure that the batteries weren’t wasteful of ammunition. How much if at all it effected the battle we will probably never know.

 

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