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”.



About Russ

Avid student of military history as well as amateur historian. Has a keen interest in archaeology. Founded his company in 2004.
This entry was posted in 1864, American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Johnson's Division, May 12, Overland Campaign 1864, Uncategorized, West Angle and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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