Some facts to ponder about the march back to the Salient

If you were to ask a group of a hundred people what was the most important single thing that effected the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse I believe that overwhelmingly you would get one answer. The fact that the artillery which had been in the Salient as late as the evening of May 11 had been withdrawn on General Lee’s order. A variant on that being that it was slow to return.

In the almost twenty years that I have been researching the events  which occurred in the Mule Shoe this topic has taken an inordinate amount of time. And I quickly learned that what I did not know about the artillery and the tactical as well as the technical aspects could fill volumes.

Fortunately I was able to make contact with a gentleman who was involved in reenacting with Civil War artillery who could provide some of the answers. These have stood me in good stead over the years. So below I am going to provide a copy of this email thread we engaged in, edited only for clarity.

I hope you will find it illuminating and helpful in understanding what may have happened. I know I did. Just remember this is a conversation by email from the year 2000.

Randy & Jeb

Thank you for your input. I completely agree that practice makes perfect. Unfortunately the time line for that evening is confusing and promotes questions. I present what we know for your input.

  • On the evening of the 11th the battalion is withdrawn from the salient. Memoirs say about a mile to a mile and a half. Local lore recently uncovered puts it at 3/4 to 1 mile.
  • Horses are unhitched and rubbed down. Such tents as are available are set up.
  • At 1 AM (est) General Ewell endorses order to have the artillery returned.
  • Order is sent by courier to Corps Artillery Commander. Ewells HQ is 1/2 mile closer to the battalions position than their original start point.
  • Colonel Thomas Carter who was near the Corps Artillery commander endorses receipt of his orders at 3:40 AM
  • Major Page (battalion commander) is awakened by corps arty commander staff officer
  • Major Page and Colonel Carter confer while battalion is preparing to march.
  • (note that one battery commander left an intriguing account that said he was hitched up and waited an hour before recieving the hurried order to move out)
  • Page said battalion moved out with great rapidity. Arrived in salient about 5-5:15 am. (EST)
  • The gunners obviously walked but i see two problems. The amout of time from Ewell’s signing the order to Carters receipt. Secondly the amount of time from Carters receipt until the arrival back in the salient.
  • your thoughts.

Dear Russ

Attached are excerpts from Longs and Pendelton’s reports from the OR’s. One is in WP8 format. The other in Richtext.

Two things jump out at me. One that it was a dark and foggy night, and Long’s batteries had been withdrawn down a narrow road. Another interesting point is the fact that when the guns were in the trenches, the chests were taken off the caissons and placed in the trenches. Not that it is relevant to your question, but it is an interesting insight into trench warfare. Alexander kept his guns in the trenches and apparently did not withdraw.

  • Cutshaw’s battalion had three 4 gun batteries, Carrington’s, Garber’s and Tanner’s with a total of twelve guns.
  • Page had four batteries, Fry’s, Carter’s, Reese’s and Pages’s (correction Montgomery’s) with 14 guns. 14 guns with caissons gives 28 units. A six up team, limber and gun (or limber and caisson) is going to use up about 40 linear feet of road space. Add 10 feet between units and you will have roughly 50 feet per unit or 1400 feet of road space.
  • If the road were narrow, it would indicate you could not advance in column of sections, but singly, so you would have more than a quarter of a mile or better of guns trying to to get to the front.
  • If the road were too narrow to have the cannoneers march alongside the guns, and you had to put them between the pieces, you would add another 50% to the column. So it would now be almost a  4 tenths of  a mile long column.
  • Even if you had an adequate park to form up in, trying to funnel guns one at a time down a narrow road on a dark and foggy night would make a preacher cuss.
  • The waiting for an hour for orders might better be reflected as waiting for an hour to get into the column.
  • It seems to me the problem was not in harnessing and getting moving but rather in getting that many guns down down a dark road.
  • At night you would not be able to trot your horses for fear of injury.
  • If they were a mile back, it would take a good twenty minutes for a single gun to cover that distance. Add in the darkness and a narrow road, and it would seem they did make good time in getting there in slightly over an hour.

Hope this helps. Are you working on an article? Just curious, I am from Texas and we do Douglas’s Texas Battery.


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 American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Carrington's Battery, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Richmond Howitzers, Tanner's Battery, West Angle and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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