One of the fascinating things about the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse and its aftermath is the amount of things that we have no answers to.
One of them is a simple straight forward question. Who was Colonel Alexander? Now of course most of the men who fought here did so anonymously. So what prompts me to ask the question?
In 1916 a map was prepared by Mr. E. H. Randall who was City Surveyor of Fredericksburg and Deputy Surveyor for Spotsylvania County. The map, certified on 16 March, 1916 showed “The McCoull and Fairchild Land owned by the Battlefield Land Company.”
While interesting in its own right its true significance in my opinion is it shows us things which are now lost. For example a jog in the Confederate line between Doles Salient and Brock Road which is no longer visible, even with LIDAR. Sawmill seats, as well as other smaller breastworks. Certainly worthy of a careful study.
But if one looks at the point (which I have circled in red) on the scan above we see a mystery Mr. Randall left us. At the junction of the re-entrant line and the Confederate second line is the note “Col. Alexander wounded”. So who was Col. Alexander? How would the surveyor know that he was wounded there? And why would it have been included on his map?
The most reasonable explanation is that someone had previously placed some type of marker there. There was such a marker on the east face of the salient, placed by two officers from the 10th Virginia, noting where General Steuart was supposedly captured. Is this something similar? And if so who placed it?
Note that on the map, even though the tablet identified its purpose, it simply says “Tablet”. What is different? One would think that if both spots had markers they would be shown similarly.
Mr. Noel Harrison, a very knowledgeable historian and veteran of the National Park Service, suggests that perhaps “Colonel Alexander” is a corruption of the name of General Alexander Webb. General Webb was seriously wounded in front of the second line on the morning of May 12th, 1864. This certainly cannot be ruled out, although if true the placement does appear to be a little close to the Confederate line.
We don’t know which side Colonel Alexander fought for, nor what day he was wounded. After all in addition to the constant sharpshooting, this ground was fought over on at least three different occasions. On May the 10th, Upton’s charge surged across this sector, then was thrown back by Confederate counterattacks. On the 12th the Federals charged up this hill from their breakthrough near the apex of the salient, before falling back. Several Confederate brigades as well as artillery batteries moved across this field as they moved to the attack or in support. Lastly on the 18th Federal troops moving forward to attack Lee’s final line crossed this area. So in short it could have happened at any point during the battle.
Then of course, it could simply have been a case of post war self promotion, or veteran organization rank.