“A Small Offset” (updated with results of field visit 3/15/14)

Sketch of area described in post

Sketch of area described in post. Area of interest is left of McCoull Lane

“Tanner’s battery was placed into the line being in a small offset”. The words of Wilfred Cutshaw who commanded the battalion. For more time than I am willing to admit I have tried to fit those words into what I see on the ground.

Finally the answer. In an article he wrote for a Richmond newspaper Maj. Robert Hardaway answered my question. When describing the action involving the recapture of Smith’s guns on the evening of May 10 he said “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. When our men from Ramseur’s brigade and left advanced down our works to the right they stopped at this offset…….”.

So there we have it. While Hardaway was describing the re-entrant line at Dole’s Salient, there must have been a somewhat similar line or projection on the other end of the second line.

Now to try and find it.

Field Visit 3/15/14

Yesterday I went out and looked for evidence of gun positions in the second or reserve line in the salient. Specifically in the second line to the left or south of Carrington’s positions at and around the West Angle. The results I’m afraid were inconclusive, although interesting.

To the left, or south, of the McCoull Lane there is a section of the  reserve trench that has possibilities. Along most of its length it appears to be a typical rifle trench, although not far from the McCoull Lane it has a pair of places wide enough to accommodate the trail of a cannon. Both of theses places have intrench traverses on their right hand side. In addition there is another section of the trench slightly further to the left where for about 20 yards where the rear is opened enough to allow guns to have been there. Unfortunately my pictures aren’t good enough to shown the detail.

Note in trench traverse

Section of the second line Left of McCoull Lane, note in trench traverse

water standing in a low portion of the second line.

Another look at the second line. Standing water of course defines a low point in the trench.

Another section of the second line.

Another section of the second line.

One thing that makes this section of the line difficult to interpret is the runoff. Not only the natural runoff down the trench from the rise to the left, but also from two culverts put in by the CCC back in the thirties. Water from one of these as well as natural flow has cut through the reserve line on its way to a natural watercourse which flows toward the McCoull Spring.

There is another very interesting feature found along this section of the second line. There are four wide baulks found in the trench. Separated by about 15-20 yards they appear to be  wide enough to pass a vehicle across the trench.  Certainly men could have walked over. While it is entirely possible that they were done during postwar logging another explanation seems more likely. In addition similar baulks are not found right or north of the McCoull Lane.

When the second line was completed up to the McCoull Lane the troops in the main line were cut off from a direct route to the rear. Regardless they still  needed supplies of water, food, and ammunition to be brought up and wounded men evacuated. So how would it have been done? Once the line was completed to the McCoull Lane either they had to go around and cross the Lane or cross the works.  These wide baulks would conceivably enable men, animals, and vehicles to walk or roll over the line as easily as along the lane. Or if Cutshaw really meant “in a small offset” to mean between the lines, the guns could  have been brought into that area over these baulks. Admittedly this thought did not occur to me until I had left for the day. Would they have required a ramp on the front side? Or was the parapet low enough men and animals carrying a load could step up or down? Some thing for next trip.

Note wide balk to the left of the picture.

Note wide balk to the left of the picture.

There are several  features in that area which could be possibly been a location of ammo chests, or officers locations. Two medium-sized crescent-shaped positions exist, one of them shown below is near the field behind Dole’s line. However there are none of the large positions we find behind the West Angle.

Crescent shaped feature between the lines. Note how close to the field.

Crescent shaped feature between the lines. Note how close to the field.

It is surprising that the feature pictured above has survived at all. There is ample evidence of postwar work, either agricultural or logging , encroaching toward the lane almost to the wet area between the two lines. Any wartime features would have most likely been eradicated by such work.

Second Line: I walked the entire length of the second line yesterday looking for traces of artillery. With the exception of the features described above there is little to distinguish it. On the slight rise immediately to the left of the section discussed above there are some fairly typical in trench traverses. However nowhere near the wide baulks I have already described. There may be one of those still further to the left however.

Also it appears that perhaps that this line could have been built-in stages, or perhaps by different units. Beginning at its intersection with the re-entrant line (btw there is a shallow scrape that appears to be evidence that this reserve line actually began to the south of this intersection point by at least some 30 yards or so) the line curls around the back side of the small ridge. Along this section there are a series of 5 holes, each around three feet behind the rear wall of the ditch. Perhaps for officers, or ammunition is difficult to tell. However the spacing and closeness to the trench almost certainly means that they were built by the occupants of the line.These holes are reminiscent  however of what we see at Cold Harbor, although not as large or well defined.

Midway across the field the line makes an abrupt turn to run almost directly to the McCoull Lane. From that turning point the line runs almost straight northward finally crossing the McCoull lane. Nowhere along that entire stretch do we see  more of the pits or holes just a typical rifle trench. There are however several traverses along the relatively flat section behind the new pine woods. This would have been behind area where the right of Rodes and the left of the Stonewall Brigade connected.

Conclusion: Tanner’s battery was most likely in the main line just south of the McCoull Lane. Ammunition was staged between the two lines while the caissons were behind the second line in the direction of the McCoull spring. Although it must be said that there is no surviving construction behind the second line south of the McCoull Lane. But they definitely had a way to cross the works when they wished.

An interesting area to explore, one that has seen little research to date.


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 Spotsylvania Courthouse, Bloody Angle, Cutshaw's Battalion, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Johnson's Division, Overland Campaign 1864, West Angle and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “A Small Offset” (updated with results of field visit 3/15/14)

  1. Ron Brookings says:

    Thank you Russ, I look forward to lots of enjoyable reading. Ron Brookings


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