Was this really a Federal Line? – REWRITTEN April 11 and April 21, May 5.


Went out on Monday morning and shot a video of the inner of the two lines shown in the screen grab above. This line has been historically considered to be a line built by the Federals sometime during their occupation of the area after the initial charge of May 12. The belief being that it was built to span the gap between the portions of  the main Confederate line on each face of the salient which they held after the Confederate counterattacks had retaken the majority of the lost works. The Federals had turned, particularly on the East Face those works they held adding traverses which are still visible today. And the configuration of this line does appear to be well suited for the purpose of spanning the gap, running along the crest of the ridge  between the two opposing faces of the salient lines which the Federal troops occupied.


(A) is I believe the deflection point. (B) where the line was adjusted when Steuart’s brigade was swung back (C) the point where all the various lines intersect. (D) Where I believe Steuart refused his original line to cover his flank. (E) Point where the refused flank of Steuart’s original line ends.

However I believe, much more so having shot the video, that it is more likely that the line was originally Confederate, built on the higher ground when the lead brigades of Johnson’s division  took position along the ridge on the evening of May 8th.  Capt. W.W. Old of Johnson’s staff described how they followed the ridge as they moved forward.

” When Rodes had gotten his men in line, and the head of our column had reached his right, upon which we were to form, it was nearly dark. Rodes right rested on the edge of the woods, and to extend his line, we had to go through the woods. We had no guides and no lights, and General Johnson, at the head of his division, in column of four, or double file, I think the latter, began to get his men in line, as best he could. I was riding by his side, and soon we entered the woods, with the division following, we came upon a thicket, mostly pine, so thick that the darkness was almost impenetrable.

I remember well that I kept my hands before my eyes, which were really of no use to me at that time, to protect them, and that more than once I was nearly dragged off my horse by the trees with which I came in contact. Our progress under such circumstances, was necessarily very slow. We knew nothing of the topography of the country, but soon we came to the end of the thicket through which we had been passing for formation, and saw camp fires before us, almost directly in the line of our march. what Federal campfires would have been visible?-ED

This was the first light which we had seen. The ground was examined and General Johnson found we were on the brow of a ridge, which turned somewhat shortly to the right. The camp fires in our front seemed to us to be considerably below the plane of our position, as they were in fact. It was now quite late in the night, and General Johnson deflected his line (A) and followed the ridge, so far as it could be determined in the darkness. Up to the point of deflection, there was room for walker’s Brigade, our left, the Louisiana brigade, and the greater part of Jones’ brigade, so that Steuart’s brigade which occupied our right, extended to the right of this turning point. If it had been extended in a straight line, Steuart’s right would have been very close to, and rather in front of the camp fires which we had seen.” Trees Whittled down at Horseshoe, Capt. W.W. Old SHSP Vol 33 page 20-21.


the point where Jones brigade line deflects from a straight line to follow the ridge. Currently a foot bridge spans the works there. The curvature of the ridge bends the line slightly to the left as it goes away from the camera. The lefthand parapet is for the adjusted line latter the following afternoon. (B)

“When daylight came General Johnson found his division was on the ridge, and except some slight changes in Steuart’s formation, it so remained,” Trees Whittled down at Horseshoe, Capt. W.W. Old SHSP Vol 33 page 21.[The changes in Steuart’s line were more than slight as his line was bent back at a right angle to the main line as was Jones’ right. This necessitated the rest of Jones’ brigade being moved forward off the ridge to reduce the amount of dead ground as well as taking in the high ground for the artillery to be posted there.]

This video of this line was shot on the fly, and is unscripted, which is painfully obvious.

Before we can accept the fact that this the what Old was talking about when he said Johnson deflected his line there are a couple of questions that need to be answered. First and foremost perhaps is the lack of traverses on the Confederate side, particularly on the southern end. Virtually everywhere else along Johnson’s line we see traverses behind the Confederate works.  The brigades along the west face were targeted by the artillery of Wright’s corp almost from the time the Federal guns took up position along the high ground overlooking their lines. However the traverses on the western face of the salient were built in anticipation not only of artillery but another breaking of the line like Upton had done.  Near the apex and along the eastern face of the salient the reason was somewhat different. The men here, and particularly of Steuart’s brigade along the east face were so troubled by the overshots from the Federal artillery who were effectively in their rear, that they added walls to the rear spanning the gap between the  traverses they had built perpendicular to the works. The effect was that they  created little forts, or rooms side by side along their line.  Also Federal sharpshooters were much closer on the left of the divisions line than in front of the apex. Yet there are virtually no traverses along this line, why?  There do seem to be several along the center and northern section, but certainly nothing like what we see elsewhere. Was it was simply a matter of the Federal artillery not being a threat to anyone occupying these works? Probably not. The line was built when the troops moved into position the night of the 8th. Then the following morning, before the line was adjusted, the Federal artillery in Wright’s corps had not become a nuisance or a danger. The Confederates solved the problem when they moved the line forward. They were then at a point where they, being below the crest, or in defilade, were out of the line of fire.  Anything clearing the crest behind them probably sailed harmlessly out into the field.

McHenry Howard commented on the adjustment to the line. He was most likely speaking about this portion of the line as well.


Looking southwest along the line, notice the remains of the park road bed on the left, the pedestrian footbridge visible in the background. a possible gun position just on the near side of the trees. The fact that we are on the ridge apparent by the slope to the right.

About Russ

Founded Roadraceparts.com in 2004. Started with used parts and now have a full service parts business specializing in parts for the tube frame TransAm and GT cars. We supply both new and used parts. In addition build and sell Gt cars. Avid amateur historian and has a keen interest in archaeology.
This entry was posted in 1864, American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Jone's Brigade at Spotsylvania Courthouse, May 12, McHenry Howard, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Steuart's Brigade and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s