On May 9, 1864 Gen. Robert E. Lee rode along his line and commented “This is a miserably weak line, I don’t see how it can be held.” Many times this statement has been used to show that Lee disagreed with the construction of the salient which has been labeled “the Mule Shoe”.
But, and I believe it is an important But. The Mule Shoe may not have existed at the time Lee made his comment! At daybreak on the 9th the line ran in a generally straight line from the Brock Road north westerly to the vicinity of the Landrum House. It was not until the Third Corps under Jubal Early took up positions astride the Fredericksburg Road that things changed. In order to connect the line the right of Johnson’s Division would have to reorient its line.
According to Capt. McHenry Howard of Steuart’s Brigade, the brigade was half finished with construction of their line of breastworks when the engineers ordered them to stop. Rather than complete the line they were ordered to move the left of the line forward and connect with Jone’s Brigade on the left, at the same time they were to swing the right of the line back at right angles to the original. This, while it would run the line in the direction of the Third Corps on the right given the available men it would not reach that Corps line. To prevent it providing cover for an attacker the original line was to be leveled.
While we do not know at what time the order to build a new line was given it probably was well into the day. According to Howard it was midday on the 10th before the new line was considered adequate to provide protection. The salient was completed when Johnson’s pioneers constructed an extension to Steuart’s line which ran down to the McCoull Branch.
So perhaps the flaws in the line went beyond the obvious one of it being a Salient?