“There is no enemy in reach that way” Artillery at the West Angle – Part One

View from the West Angle

View from the West Angle - looking to the right front

The last of the Second Corp’s five battalions of artillery to arrive in the vicinity of  Spotsylvania Courthouse was Cutshaw’s. His three batteries arrived late in the morning of May 10th, having trailed the battalions of Hardaway and Nelson along the route via Terry’s Bridge. The remaining battalions of Page and Braxton had accompanied the infantry as it marched from the Wilderness battlefield.

Upon their arrival Hardaway and Nelson had replaced the battalions of Braxton and Page which, had been in the line since the Corps had taken up its positions during the night of the 8th. This would set the pattern for the artillery during its time at Spotsylvania. Units would be rotated out of the line for rest every few days. On their return they generally, but not always would take a new position.

Because of the closeness of the terrain there were few positions where artillery could take advantage of its range capability. As a result they would generally take positions in the line where they could be used like large shotguns, augmenting the infantry muskets with their canister.  As the last to arrive there were no obvious positions for Cutshaw’s men to take anywhere along the Corps front. After a period of fruitless searching Cutshaw had to have them wait until positions could be found. In his instructions to Garber he would tell Capt. Garber to “wait until I can find a position as there is no place in the line for you” While he searched for positions the batteries took what shelter they could from stray shots from the Federal batteries. Eventually Cutshaw was able to find suitable positions  for only two of the batteries. As no position could be found for them  Carrington’s battery was ordered to return to the battalion camp. Before the  batteries of Garber and Tanner could start for the new positions, the right of Rode’s division was broken by a sudden attack by the Federals under Upton.

Reacting to the breakthrough the Confederate’s quickly moved to seal off the breakthrough. Infantry units were hurried against both shoulders of the penetration.  To help prevent a deeper penetration the  two batteries of the battalion, still nearby , Garber’s and Tanner’s (1) were placed across the head of the Federal breakthrough. Garber in his words “was ordered I was ordered up at double quick, to come into battery and double shot with canister to resist an advance of the enemy, who had broken through our lines. ” (2)We can assume that Tanner’s men received the same ordersBefore the Federals appeared within range however the situation changed. The Federal thrust had lost its momentum, and they were now trying to hold on to the gain they had made. The Confederates had recaptured the lost guns of the 3rd Company of the Richmond Howitzers and were now attempting to drive Upton’s men back out of the captured works. The position they had taken was near the field headquarters of Gen. Lee thus:  “While standing in that position, with lanyards in hand, ready to pour it into them, several officers rode up and reported to General Lee, that the enemy had charged over the 3rd Richmond Howitzers and that the cannoneers had been killed, scattered and captured; that the enemy had been driven back, but it was very important that the recaptured guns should be manned. (3)
Looking around for gunners Lee spotted Garber and his battery , rose over to him and ordered that he leave his guns in charge of his drivers and take his cannoneers and man the recaptured guns. Acknowledging his orders, Garber placed his senior Lieutenant in charge of the guns and immediately ordered his men forward.  Arriving at the recaptured guns of the 3rd Company Richmond Howitzers they joined an ad hoc band that Maj. Robert Hardaway had collected and which was working the guns. Shortly they were joined by Maj. Cutshaw who joined in with the crew which  was serving the guns.

At roughly the same time that Garber was ordered forward, other staff officers were  was sent back to the battalion camp to gather more men for the guns. Capt. Carrington’s was ordered to collect as many of his men as possible to go forward and assist in manning the recaptured guns. His solution was to ask the men to volunteer for the mission. There was some reluctance among the men to join in this task. According to one, “We  were told that the cannoneers ran when the enemy charged them, and that they would not return to their guns, after the infantry had driven the enemy back and that General Long had asked for volunteers from our battery, whoever would be willing, and could be relied upon. They were expecting another attack on it. ” (4) Like most veterans the men listened quietly to the appeal and thought as one recalled;  “I knew it was a pretty hot place, but I determined never to volunteer to go in such places, but never refused to go when asked.” (5) Initially not enough men volunteered, but finally by various means, enough were persuaded to go. “I did not volunteer, for I knew that  (the 3rd Howitzers) was a good company, and if they could not stand it, we could not, but they could not get volunteers enough to go and one of our Lieutenants asked me to go, so I went, 38 of our  men went.” (6)

The detail started on foot for the position of the Howitzers, but had only reached the vicinity of the Harrison House and Lee’s headquarters by late night.  There they were stopped and told they were no longer needed to man the Howitzers guns. (7) Rather than return to camp the men decided to wait till morning and join the battery when the guns would be certainly brought forward.

  The detail waited there near the Harrison House  until day,when General Long informed  Lieutenant Massie, who was in charge  that the guns of the Howitzers had been taken away and he had no use for them. They were instead to return to their own battery.

So the detail started back to camp, got about a mile, when again their orders were changed. “Our Major  sent to Lieutenant Massie (commanding us) to get volunteers from us (eight privates and one corporal) to take a gun belonging to a battery near the position held by the Howitzers. They had lost some of their men and could not get enough, we were very tired and they could not get enough volunteers again.” (8) So again Lieutenant Massie had to appeal to the men’s sense of duty to get enough volunteers. Finally however he was able to get enough men to fulfill the requirement.

  So once again the detail started forward, but when they arrived they found that the Captain of the battery  would not give them a gun, but wanted to scatter them about in his battery. The Corporal refused to go in his  battery in that way, and took his men back to their own battery.brought us back. (9)

Meanwhile, the battery had been ordered forward to take up a position in the line. But as so often happens, the march wasn’t without drama. What should have been a simple road march from the camp to the area below McCoull’s had its share of problems. The guide who was to show them the route, lost his way and led the column down a path which led to a dead-end. In the words of Private Corey Maupin: “the courier, or whoever gave the order from our Chief of Artillery, while under taking to show us our position blundered, and conducted us along a “blind” road sometimes called a “woods road” which, as these roads generally do, ended abruptly. So we were in a pickle so to speak, being under fire and lost in the woods. But with our axes we cleared space enough to turn the guns, went back, and finally found our position in what is known in history as the “Bloody Angle.” (10)

Major Cutshaw assigned the battery a position almost at the apex of a bend in the line. This position was in a piece of woods near a point made the fortifications. This bend in the line would the next day go down in history as the West, or, “Bloody” Angle.  Just as the battery was starting to take up its position it was at last rejoined by the detail which had refused to join the other battery.

Ever since Upton’s attack the Confederates had been making efforts to prevent a similar occurrence. Col. Thomas Carter, commanding the artillery in the salient, had been very vocal to Gen. Ewell about his inability to support the area where Upton had broken the line. Gen. Lee himself had said as early as May 9th, that it was a wretched line and he did not see how it could be held.  But Gen. Ewell, was persuaded by his division commanders, Rodes and Johnson, that with the line entrenched and artillery support they could hold it. As a result the three batteries of Cutshaw’s battalion was placed along that section of the line which Upton had broken. Garber’s battery remained in the position previously held by the Third Company of the Richmond Howitzers. The remaining two batteries were placed along some high ground just to the right of the West McCoull Lane. From there they could fire across the works and take under fire the route used by Upton. The first to go in was Carrington’s battery with its Napoleons, followed shortly afterwards by Tanner’s battery with four 3 inch rifles. (11)

Intended field of fire Carrington's RH gun under Sgt. Maj. Davis

Field of fire, the field Upton had charged across in the distance

Taking stock, the men found that they weren’t very happy with the position (12). Along the west face of the salient they were 300-400 yards from the actual apex of the salient which was to their right.  Between them and the apex were the guns of the three batteries of Nelson’s Battalion. To the left, there was an open space – within the breastworks as well as without – extending back to the McCoull farmhouse and its outbuildings.  This was a sort of valley or depression, and on the farther slope of it near and on the top there was woods again. Across the depression and up the slope and into the woods the breastworks ran in a straight line.  It was on that crest 300 yards or more to the left that Upton had broken the line. In front of the position was an open field perhaps a little more than two hundred yards in width. (13) Sgt. Maj. Davis described the position in front of the battery thusly. “In front there was open space, not perhaps much over a hundred yards in width – sloping downward, and shut in by a dense body of wood – into which we could not see many yards. “(14) Just in the edge of these pines the Federal sharpshooters were stationed and kept up a continued fire. One of the infantrymen stationed nearby remembered it was worth a man’s life to attempt to go for water.

Because of Upton’s success it was expected that the Federals would try that tactic again. As a result the battery was deployed to prevent that occurrence. Two of the guns were in the breastworks in the corner of a right angle of broken woods – which extended unbroken to the right extending all the way to the apex of the muleshoe. The guns were in short sections of the works with traverses on either side,  the muzzles just over the breastworks. (15) A large Oak stood at the end of the traverse just to the left of the right-hand gun. (16) These guns were intended to fire straight down the front of the breastworks rather than to the front or right. (17)

The other section of guns was placed at right angles to the main work, and between 20-40 yards behind it. These guns were placed just inside a thick patch of  pine woods. The woods would provide both protection and concealment for the position. The guns themselves were placed so that they could fire over the depression and enfilade Dole’s Salient. In the words of Frank who was at one of these guns ” These two  were fixed to fire in a small field  to the left over the traverse nearly straight down the fortifications. They were not intended to fire to the front or right.” (18)

Trees obscure the secene today but note the field over which Upton charged

Trees have grown up to slow erosion, but one can still see the field in front of Doles Salient.

Along with the gun an ammunition chest had been dismounted from the limber and placed near the gun as ready ammunition. Once this was done, the horses along with all the vehicles were removed to a place of safety behind the second line. Of course the ammunition chest on the caisson were not dismounted at this time.

The position occupied by the battery was near the left of the Stonewall brigade commanded by General James Walker, which was the left most brigade of Johnson’s Division.(19) Just to the right was the 4th Virginia commanded by Colonel Terry. (20) To the left was the West McCoull lane. Just on the other side of it a second line of breastworks ran across the depression and almost to the top of the hill. This line however did not extend to their side of the lane.

Being veteran soldiers the men had a eye for the ground around them. Sgt. Maj. Davis had ridden through the woods that afternoon and  remembered the “very unusual conformation of the ground there – as if from the hand of man, though it was in the woods, and I think carpeted with tags (pine). Yet the woods immediately around our guns were not pine at all, I think, certainly not predominantly so.” (21) Others while confident of their ability to defend the position, did not like the fact that they were exposed to a crossfire from the Federal guns. Even the officers felt that some mistake had been made in the orders.  (22) However they were the orders and there was no choice but to obey.

This feeling was not improved with the arrival of the battalion’s last battery, Tanner’s Henrico Artillery. This unit which had 4 -3 inch rifles was placed, by General Long’s order to the rear of Carrington’s rear section. Again they were on the same side of the lane as Carrington’s men. Tanner’s (23) guns were also supposed to fire over the field which Upton had charged over. His position was considered extremely bad by both Maj. Cutshaw and Brig. Gen. Walker. Both men objected and wanted the guns moved, in Cutshaw’s words “further in the offset”. (24) Their objections were overruled however and the guns went into position as they were directed. The horses and vehicles were removed as Carrington’s had been to a place of safety.

Throughout the afternoon the men, when not firing worked on strengthening the emplacements for the guns. Pvt. Maupin at one of the guns in the main line remembered the construction of the works at his position as being made of “oblong pens of logs, filled with earth, with openings left for the guns.

While the work continued there was a flurry of activity within the artillery positions along the line. To the right the battalions of Nelson and Page began to pull out of their positions and start to the rear. Shortly Gen. A. E. Long rode up and had a meeting with Maj. Cutshaw. His directions were that the horses of the battalion were to be brought up from their positions behind the second line and placed near the guns. (25) Gen. Johnson’s division would be moving and Cutshaw’s battalion would march with it. Cutshaw was admonished however that he was not to move before Johnson’s infantry did. Long then left and joined Gen. Lee.

Artillery positions transferred to Google Earth

Surviving Artillery positions shown on Google Earth

Having given the instructions for the horses to be brought forward, Maj. Cutshaw went in search of Gen Johnson to coordinate the expected movement. Meeting the General, he asked for information on when he expected to be moving his division.. Not having been at the meeting where Lee and the second Corps leaders discussed the Federal movement toward Fredericksburg, Johnson could give no answer. Since no movement appeared eminent, Maj. Cutshaw asked for permission to return his horses and sick men to the battalion camp. With no reason to object Johnson gave his permission for the movement. (26) Leaving the General, Maj. Cutshaw then visited each one of his battery commanders and gave them their instructions for the evening. Sgt. Maj. Davis recalled that “I remember hearing him tell Captain Carrington, after mounting to leave, that in all probability orders would come to him (Carrington) before day to move. The direction of the movement would probably be on a road across the breastworks toward our front or right.” It was not yet dark when Cutshaw left Carrington and his men.

In Carrington’s battery Sergeant Major Davis, thinking that there would soon be some action requested permission from Capt. Carrington, to trade places with Sergeant Hunter. As Sgt. Maj., Davis had no place when the battery was in action, merely acting as an aide to the Battery Commander. With the exchange, Davis would take over Hunters gun during action. Capt. Carrington seeing no problem with the proposal approved the switch. Hunter’s gun at this time happened to be in the main line, and was the right hand gun in that section. Hunter, who was expecting his commission momentarily, would lead the horses, drivers and caissons along with several sick men back to the battalion camp across the Brock Road on the Trigg Farm. (27) Only the cannoneers and officers would remain with the guns in the works. (28) 

As darkness began to fall on Spotsylvania County, May 11, 1864 everything was quiet.

In the second part we will explore the events of the night of May 11th as well as the battle of May 12th.

(1) Tanner’s Henrico Artillery, was actually commanded by its senoir 1st Lieutenant Benjamin C. Maxwell.  Capt. William Tanner had been wounded and left behind at Bristow Station

General Pendleton in his report misidentified the two batteries. He said Garber and Crenshaw’s batteries. Obviously in error.

(2) Asher Garber -Southern Historical Society Papers Volume 33

(3)

(4)

(5)

(6)

(7) Pvt. Herndon Fife:

(8) Frank

(9)

(10) Pvt. Herndon Fife

(11) Maj. Wilfred Cutshaw in a letter to Capt. Carrington in 1905.  Original in Daniels Collection, Alderman Library UVA.

(12) Sgt. Maj. Davis recalled the feeling amongst the men was that the position was a “mean” one.

(13) Capt. James McDowell Carrington

(14) Sgt. Maj. Wilbur Fiske Davis.

(15)

(16)

(17) Frank

(18) Frank

(19) There is some disagreement here as to which flank of the Stonewall Brigade the battery was on. Maj. Cutshaw said the Stonewall was on the left, Capt. Carrington the right. The author thinks they were about midway, slightly to the left of center of the Brigade.

(20) Carrington remembered Terry’s regiment as the 5th Va. It of course was the 4th.

(21) Wilbur Fiske Davis – evidently he had had to run errands that afternoon which allowed him to travel through the salient. That would not be unusual for a Sgt. Maj. or First Sergeant.

(22) Pvt. Corey Maupin

(23) Tanner’s Battery was actually commanded at this time by its senoir 1st LieutenantBenjamin C. Maxwell. Capt. William Tanner had been wounded so severely at Bristow Station that he had been left behind when the Confederates withdrew. At this time he was imprisoned at Capitol Prison in Washington DC. Maxwell had graduated from Medical College of Virginia in 1861 but enlisted in the Henrico Artillery at its organization. Elected Sergeant, he had risen up thru the ranks, been commisioned and when Tanner fell he took over as next in command.’

(24) Cutshaw –

(25)

(26)

(27) Wilbur Fiske Davis

(28)

(29) Frank –

(30) Wilbur Fiske Davis – it was suspected that these men were spies, but Davis did not recollect having seen them. Were there Federal spies, or as they were then called scouts, within the Confederate lines that night. Seems entirely possible but there is no way to verify it here.

(31)

(32) If Carrington’s account is accurate it merely confirms that Nelson’s battalion had been in the Salient on the afternoon of the 11th.

(33) Because of the tangled nature of the interior of the salient moving the guns by hand in the dark would have been difficult. Imagine the number of tree stumps, brush and general debris that would have clogged the route. As to who Johnson communicated that is a mystery. Cadmus Wilcox in his review of Walter Taylor’s book said that Johnson simultaneously requested of Ewell and an anonymous “Colonel of Artillery” that the guns are returned. Unlikely that it was actually a Colonel.

(34) Carrington

(35) Carrington, Wilbur Fiske Davis

(36). James McD. Carrington: General Walker on several occasions afterwards when in Congress here in Washington talked with me  about it, and asked me if I remembered whether he fell, stating that the shock was so great that I could give him no information on the subject, except such as I have written above.

(37) Wilbur Fiske Davis –  In the words of DavisIt turned out that Preston was himself shot down with the loss of an arm – before finding  Funk. I knew him in 1890 in Culpeper, where he was teaching.

(38)

About Russ

Avid student of military history as well as amateur historian. Has a keen interest in archaeology. Founded his company Roadraceparts.com in 2004.
This entry was posted in Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Carrington's Battery, Cutshaw's Battalion, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Muleshoe, Tanner's Battery, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “There is no enemy in reach that way” Artillery at the West Angle – Part One

  1. Robert Moore says:

    Great stuff! Especially enjoyed a “return” to Carrington’s Battery, having been in the manuscripts of several of the battery members so many years back when writing for the Virginia Regimental Histories Series.

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    • Russ says:

      Robert, thank you. If I remember correctly I spoke with you years ago about Carrington’s Battery. I hope that you find the second part even better than the first. And of course the third and final part is coming shortly.
      Tanner’s Battery, near Carrington that night, was commanded by an ancestor of mine, 1st Lt. Benjamin C. Maxwell. He like Carrington survived the battle, was part of the “Immortal 600” and lived to return to Henrico Co. Virginia. However there are no surviving documents to tell what happened to his battery which was only a few yards away that morning. Or at least none that anyone has found to this point.
      Don’t know if you are aware, but one of the oddities of Spotsylvania is that the interior of the Salient has NEVER BEEN MAPPED! Many people know that some of the lunettes and earthworks are there, but for whatever reason from 1864 to the latest 2004 GPS study by the NPS it wasnt done. I did it in March of this year but my GPS is far from NPS quality.
      I am attempting to organize a field trip by interested and knowledge people in November, to finally look at these works and interpret them individually. This should allow to conclusively determine the Confederate defense plan and how its failings contributed to the Federal victory. For example we easily can find all of Carrington’s lunettes but doubt remains as to Tanner’s. Did he not dig in? Or did his men and Carrington’s use a different technique?
      Don’t know if you would find that interesting but I extend an invitation if you are interested.
      Thanks again.
      Russ Edwards

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      • Robert Moore says:

        It has been quite some time since those regimental days, but I do recall speaking with you, I believe. The best part of working with the letters of members from the Chvl Arty was blending the stories into one narrative. I also remember walking behind the main earthworks, back in the woods, trying to find the positions of the guns as the sergeant major had mapped them out. Not exactly as he recalled, but I was sure that I found them.

        The subject of the Confederate guns at Spotsy, near the Mule Shoe, never fails to catch my attention. I look forward to reading more. I’ve also added you to my blog roll.

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      • Russ says:

        Robert
        I agree with you regarding the Charlottesville Arty. There are enough accounts to make it fun. Yes, Carrington’s guns are relatively easy to find, although not surprisingly they don’t match the survivors accounts. Tanner’s are somewhat of a SWAG as I have not found any accounts, even Maxwell didn’t write about it in his wartime prison diary and died in ’72 long before Carrington wrote.
        But thats why I trying to get as much ooomph out there in Nov. as I can, to put this thing to bed finally. Perhaps you can join us.
        You know one of the things that mystifys me is why Cutshaw took Carrington’s, and I assume Tanner’s and Garber’s horses to the rear if they were expecting a move early in the morning? Don’t know if Hardaway did the same, but it seems almost like disobeying his orders to me, but I suppose a good lawyer would say since he didnt/couldn’t move it was OK.

        Thanks for the blog roll. I will be happy to reciprocate if you would like.
        Russ Edwards

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      • Russ says:

        Robert
        I added you to my blogroll hope that is OK with you.
        Russ

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  2. Robert Moore says:

    Absolutely; and thanks!

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