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

Howard writing in Recollections of a Confederate Soldier page 286 wrote. “”When the breastworks of Steuart’s Brigade, which were nearly a continuation of the line on the left, were half made the engineer officers of the army came along and ordered us to destroy them and construct a new line. About fifty or seventy-five yards to the front of the left of the line we had been making the ground rose to a point or ridge off which there was some open country, giving a good range for artillery and this was made a part of the new line. Jones’s Brigade, or its right, being advanced a little so as to connect with it. But the new line of Steuart’s Brigade, instead of being a continuation of that of Jones and the rest of the division, and so parallel with and in advance of our old line, turned back from this elevated point or ridge at a right angle with Jones, thus making a salient in  the works. I asked the engineers if our half constructed breastwork could not remain as it could do no harm, being completely enfiladed by our new line, and might be of service but they said no, it must be demolished, and so we half leveled it.”


This photo taken from near the point where the inner line and the outer line join shows vividly the slope and join how much the Confederates adjusted their line.

But what impact did this have on the Confederate defenses? The most obvious impact would have been on the artillery. From the positions around the apex they could dominate the fields around the them.  They would have commanded an arc from just in front of today’s foot bridge, around to the Landram House, then down in front of the entire East Face.


from right behind the inner line looking across the field in the direction of the Landram House.

Another bit of evidence that it was not exclusively a Federal line was the Duane Map of the battlefield. Here you can clearly see that he clearly shows this as a Confederate line which had been captured and turned.Duaneshippet While Duane and Michler made mistakes, this combined with the other evidence seems to help validate the thought that it was originally a Confederate line.

That being said however, it is possible that the Federal troops who were congregated in large numbers around the apex 0n May 12 could have built it. And since they were there in large numbers for most of the day it could have been built relatively quickly. We can imagine work parties removing the revetments and other wood from the Confederate works behind them. Then it would have been a matter of carrying them a short distance, laying out the line by piling them on the ground. Work gangs could have then quickly created a parapet by digging on the side facing the Confederates and tossing the dirt onto the rails. When not under fire this is the generally accepted way of creating a breastwork. Troops are reluctant to do it however when under fire as it leaves them completely exposed and defenseless.

For the Confederates, another negative is that it would have been difficult to get vehicles or heavy objects across this line to the relocated line in front. So that may be why when Pages guns came back up to the salient on the morning of May 12 the batteries were assigned the positions they were. Carter to go to the apex, while Montgomery about a hundred yards to the left of the apex. A position I believe would have placed him just at the point where the line deflects. (note the red circles on the LiDAR next to the point A)

That would have allowed him much more coverage than if he were to take up position along this line.

In short, we have no definitive answer as to who built the line, or when. A convincing argument can be made from several points of view. My opinion is that the Confederates of Johnson’s division began it on the evening of May 8, 1864, and abandoned it as their main line of defense sometimes during May 10 when Steuart’s and Jones’s brigades shifted their position. It remains a fascinating part of the story of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. One that has been standing in plain sight for over a hundred and fifty years.


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 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.

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