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

innerline0404

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.

labeledoriginalline

(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.

IMG_20170324_1443204

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.

IMG_20170411_1333547

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.

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 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Second Line of Confederate Works near the McCoull Lane – washing away

In March of 2014 I was exploring the area adjacent to the West McCoull Lane looking for the elusive traces of the location of Tanners Battery May 11-2, 1864. This battery had been very near Carrington’s battery that day. In fact had been the last of Cutshaw’s batteries to be put into position.

secondlinenearmcCoulllane

The area of the main line and second line adjacent to the West McCoull Lane. Tanner’s battery should have been in this area.

Despite feeling that I knew where they should be I wasn’t comfortable with what I had found previously. While there are several small positions on the Confederate left of the West McCoull Lane nothing that looks like a lunette. So once more I went out looking in this wooded area. But what I found was not Tanner’s position but perhaps something more important. I got a look at what is happening to the remains of the second line. This line, which was finally dug on this sector on the afternoon of May 11th, ran behind the Stonewall Brigades line. On the left it connects with the line which Rodes people had dug earlier. This culminates in the reentrant line which terminates at the main line to the right of the 3rd Howitzers position.

IMG_00000130

the second line trench below the culvert. You can clearly see the water coming in from the uphill and the damage already done to the works here. Also notice what appears to be a balk between the two pools of water.

IMG_00000131

A excellent view of the second line ditch and parapet as it runs in almost a straight line behind the Stonewall Brigades line. Some of Gordon’s men would have come int these trenches in the early morning of May 12. Fortunately they would be withdrawn before being overwhelmed.

IMG_00000132

almost directly below the culvert you can see where water has broken through the parapet. But you can also see that the trench  is different depths. Dug that way or has the tree naturally collected debris as it runs “downstream”?

When the current road was built through the park it passed close behind the Confederate main line which ran from where the West McCoull Lane toward Doles Salient.  In doing so they had built the road bed up which prevented the water from running out of these works. So a culvert was run under the road to alleviate the problem. Unfortunately it runs down through some small positions, foxholes and the like, before washing up against the parapet of the second line. There it has cut through in several places, and those places will over time expand.

Posted in 1864, American Civil War, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Carrington's Battery, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, May 12, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Tanner's Battery, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Valley of the Shadow

During the trip to shoot the video “Was this really a Federal Line” I also took a couple of other pictures. This was in an effort to (a) see if the outer or main line was infantry only and (b) in the inner of “cut-off” was Confederate how did this impact the outer line.

IMG_20170404_1223018

An obvious gun position in the outer or main Confederate line. Sited to cover the little valley which had excellent coverage all the way out to the Landrum House. Also enfilading anyone approaching the original line which ran down to the river, marked by the tree line on the right.

 

IMG_20170404_1223092

Another gun position just a few yards to the left off the one shown above. This could sweep the valley as well as cover the entirety of the Landrum House road which the Confederate picket line as just on the other side of.

outerlinegunpositions

This close up of the LIDAR used in the article “Was this really a federal Line” shows the two gun positions in the outer line pictured above. A close look at the inner line will show similar positions behind them.

Obviously they did have guns in the outer line at some point. Equally obvious from the video of the inner line was that they had artillery there as well.

But what is not apparent from these photos is that this section of the line is invisible to the inner line behind it. Below the crest and sheltered from friendly fire.

One of the nuances of the battlefield at Spotsylvania.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Was this really a Federal Line?

innerline0404

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. They would have incorporated it into the main Confederate line which they had turned, particularly on the East Face.

However I believe, much more so having shot the video that it was originally Confederate, built on the higher ground to overcome some of the disadvantages of the original line. The video was shot on the fly, and is unscripted, which is painfully obvious.

Before we can accept the fact that it is Confederate there are a couple of questions that need to be answered. First and foremost perhaps is the lack of traverses, particularly on the southern end. The men of Steuart’s brigade along the east face were so troubled by Federal artillery on their left that they built walls on the rear and created little forts side by side along their line. Yet  there are none here, why?

Secondly if it is Confederate when was it built? Before or after the outer or “main” line? Since there are no gaps in this line, no vehichles would have crossed it after it was built. So that would imply that it was built when the line was refused on the instruction of the engineers. Or, perhaps after Upton’s success and the inspection by Lee and martin Smith the following day. At this point we have no information to tell us either way.

Posted in American Civil War, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Bloody Angle, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Steuart's Brigade, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caissons in the Low Ground

Apexofsalientlidar

LIDAR of the area of the East Angle. The flattened U shaped line behind the Confederate main line is referred to in the article as the “cut-off line.” Most of the pictures below are taken in the low ground to its right, behind the independent line shaped like an inverted crescent.

IMG_20170324_1426467

One of the things that has interested me as long as I have been walking across the Mule Shoe is where did the artillery batteries place the limbers and/or caissons.  While the horses would have been too valuable to expose to hostile fire, ammunition would have been necessarily kept close by.

One of the exciting things about walking the battlefield is how just a slight difference in the way you approach something, or look at something can reveal a entirely different opinion. During a recent visit to the area of the East Angle a friend and I looked at this interesting arrangement of pits in the low ground behind  the “cut-off” line behind the apex of the salient. Multiple pits, of roughly the same size, on the reverse slope where they would be sheltered from incoming fire. As you can see from the attached LIDAR photo, they were all angled toward the Landrum House site, which tells you where they felt the threat would be from.

My apologies for the “pile of leaves” photos. But look closely you can see what’s there.

IMG_20170324_1425472

old park road bed visible to the left. Confederate “cut-off line” runs across the crest ahead. One lunette visible in the foreground. Notice how it is dug on the interior in a crescent shape which leaves a raised platform in the center.

IMG_20170324_1425387

slightly different angle to the same feature as shown above.

Posted in 1864, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Bloody Angle, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Smashing Success!! – Now what?

By 8:15 PM on the evening of May 10, 1864 the fighting in and around Doles Salient was to all intents and purposes over.Of course nervous men, still keyed up from the bitter fighting that had raged for the last several hours still occasionally fired at targets, real or imagined, which crossed their sights. But General Robert E. Lee felt secure enough in the outcome to send an order to his Second Corps commander Lt. General Richard S. Ewell, giving instructions  measures to be carried out prior to a resumption of the fight. These measures he felt would lessen the chances of a federal breakthough similar to what had just occurred.

From Doles works to the right of the farm road the Federals guided on to the wood line.

From behind the works in Doles salient. Just to the right of the farm road the Federals guided out to the wood line which is visible in left center. Notice how quickly the terrain falls away in front. ( also note that woodline is about 50 yards closer today then it was in 1864)

Of course the surviving men of the regiments that Emory Upton had led across the works along Doles Salient the whole affair was viewed differently. While the matter had been decided some time before, they viewed it as a lost opportunity. One that, in their minds at least, could have easily been victory not defeat. Why had the attack which had started out with so much promise, ended with them back at their starting point? Several hours before they had  broken through the Confederate line and created a gap which at one time reached almost from the West McCoull Lane on one flank to the works thrown up by Gordon’s Division on the other. Despite determined Confederate counterattacks they had still clung tenaciously to a small breach in the line even as darkness began to fall.that . But despite requests still no reinforcements had come across the field to their aid. Nor were any more units going to be sent to join these regiments. So despite their having fought their Confederate assailants to a stalemate there was little hope of doing more than hanging on. Therefore Gen. Russell, the division commander responsible, had given orders for the survivors to retire to their own lines.

Despite its ending more or less right back where it started the attack has garnered fame far beyond the number of men who participated or the results achieved. Some historians have labeled it as a “classic infantry attack”. One that became somewhat of a blueprint for breaking fortified lines.That fame, largely misplaced in my opinion, is generally due to the planning and tactics used in the assault not the results.

But really was the attack the “classic infantry attack” that it has been credited as being? Or was that moniker merely used to describe the use of tactics which made the initial success possible but overlooked the totality of the effort. Yet in the overall did it amount to more than another example of men’s lives wasted with no hope of any real positive results? To answer that we need to ask not only what was the goal but what could it have been realistically expected to achieve. To understand that we need to go look at it in the context of the rest of the Federal actions on May 10, 1864.

From in front of the works up the slope to Dole's Salient.

From in front of the works just south of the current parking lot looking up the slope to the crest at the apex of  Dole’s Salient. Farm road of 1864 passed thru the works near the crest and ran down the slope outside of the works. Remains of the road are visible today.

As to  what was it supposed to accomplish its difficult to say. None of the Federal sources really make it clear. They generally focus on the process whereby the point to strike was selected and then the tactics.  My good friend and mentor, the late William (Bill) Matter suggested in his book “If it Takes All Summer” that the combined assaults by Upton and Mott was intended to force the Confederates to abandon the northern leg of the Mule Shoe Salient. And far be it to me to take issue with Bill’s ideas. Yet one has to question whether this, was in fact the goal.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it was  just another in a series of loosely coordinated attacks by the various Federal Corps across the entire front that afternoon. These attacks, which started on the right and spread to the left, were evidently intended to start at around 5 pm.  Despite that fact there doesn’t appear to have been any serious attempt to coordinate the assaults. In fact when permission was given to Warren to launch his attack against Laurel Hill early any chance of cooperation was gone. However all of the various corps did make attacks at somewhere pretty close to the desired time. On the right, a brigade of Birney’s Second Corps division, attacking after the main assault had been repulsed, had actually briefly penetrated the Confederate lines only to be thrown back. It should be noted that his attack bore a lot of resemblance to Upton’s attack further to the left. And the results were roughly the same and for the same reason.  In this case Ward’s Brigade had attacked in a column formation yet only the leading pair of regiments had broken into the Confederate works. The third regiment had halted and laid down out in front of the works, and the following units, exposed to the defenders fire retreated into the woods from which they had launched the attack. Elsewhere the best that could be said was that Burnside’s Ninth Corps and Mott’s small Second Corps division had moved their lines forward closer to the rebel line. In Motts case they had forced the rebel pickets out of the woods in their front and advanced to the vicinity Landrum House. However they could not hold on to the gains and had fallen back to a point in the northern point in the block of woods. They had succeeded in driving the rebel picket line back several hundred yards.This small success would pay big dividends on the 12th.

This would have been the view that the gunners at the guns behind Hardaway had of the Federal position

This would have been the view that the gunners at the guns behind Major Hardaway had of the Federal troops position as they clung to the outside of the works beyond the reentrant line. Major Hardaway estimated that before withdrew they were thirty yards beyond the reentrant line .

Perhaps a few words about the selection of the target for an attack by the  Sixth Corps are appropriate. This as much as anything else led to the ease with which the Confederate line was broken. Throughout the morning, as was their custom, various Union officers were reconnoitering the areas in front of the Union lines looking for opportunities. One of these officers, Lt. Randall S. Mackenzie found what he considered to be a weak point in the Confederate line along the Sixth Corps front. In the early afternoon he reported his find to Gen. Russell, commanding the First Division of the Sixth Corps. Russell visited the site of MacKenzie’s interest and agree to pass the idea up the chain of command to his corps commander Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright. Wright approved the site of the attack and ultimately twelve regiments were detailed to make up the attack force. Col. Emory Upton, an ambitious officer who had done well in a similar attack at Rappahannock Station was given command of the assault force.

The area Mackenzie selected was in the area where the Confederate line, following the contours of a ridge created a small salient in the line. This salient would become known by the Georgia Brigade which held it, commanded by George Doles. The Confederate line having passed this southern most salient (Doles) crossed an open field before crossing the West McCoul Lane and climbing a slight knoll to another salient which would later become famous as the West Angle. The slope of the terrain  discouraged the Confederates from covering the area with artillery. (3)They had however created some impressive rifle trenches with traverses along part of the line and obstacles in front. In addition a farm road crossed the works and ran along part of the front as its connected the various houses in the area. (4) In addition, although unknown to the federals, the junction of Rodes and Johnson’s divisions was out in the field near the center of the swale.

Position of Gun number 4 Smith's Battery

I believe this to be the position of left most gun of Smith’s Battery. Skirmishers from Daniels brigade would have been in the woods to the left. This location allowed it to sweep this part of the field that guns to its right could not.

 

 

When discussing  Upton’s charge It should be noted that was not intended that he attack attack alone. Several other units would be moving forward at the same time.The commander of the  Second Corps division to the north, spanning the gap between the Sixth and Ninth Corps, Gershom Mott, received instructions at 2:00 PM saying that Capt. George H. Mendell of the Corps of Engineers would come over and explain his role in an attack. Not only the role but would assist Mott in selecting the actual point of attack. (1) Of course once that point was selected Mott would have to concentrate his men and make the preparations for an assault.

Further to the left Burnside’s Ninth Corps would press forward in front of the Courthouse and develop any opportunity they found. Burnside was not sure of Grant’s wishes and even questioned whether he should move one of his divisions across the Ni River to support Mott rather than commit his entire force to an assault on the Courthouse. Grant felt that Mott would be all right but left the decision to Burnside whether to support him or not. In any event the decision was left so late that nothing was done. Both Mott and Burnside would advance to the attack as scheduled but neither would accomplish much. Mott’s small division was quickly stopped by the rebel artillery and skirmishers before he even reached the Landrum House. Burnside despite committing his entire corps failed to press the assault home. So timid had his advance been that Confederates  would later remember it as just some artillery firing.

Looking from the center of the Howitzers position toward the apex.

Looking from near the center of  Smith’s battery of the Richmond Howitzers position toward the apex of Doles salient. The apex is behind the cedar tree. The re-entrant line just beyond the cannon. Ramseur’s brigades counterattack did not advance past the reentrant line.

 

So now all the intended attacks had been made and repulsed, but Upton had still not attacked. His attack was also scheduled for 5 PM, but sometime after 3:45 the decision had been made to postpone the assault until 6:00 that evening. Who made the decision is unclear, although a staff officer of Gen. Wright remembered delivering a note to that effect to Gen. Russell. If this order was intended for Wright’s entire Corps as well as Mott not everybody got the word. At least one artillery battery would open fire and Mott’s division would attack as scheduled at around 5 o’clock.. But Upton’s men would not move forward.

In my opinion this was an attack that should not have been launched. Certainly it should not have been launched at that time of day anyway. If you look at Upton’s instructions to his regimental commanders he obviously was not expecting his attack to be a decisive one. Rather it was clearly his intent to penetrate the rebel lines, create a lodgement or bridgehead, and expand it to right and left as much as possible. Since  he would only have three regiments to push deeper into the salient he must have intended then hold on until other troops could arrive. These other forces, whoever they might be, would exploit his success. The hard part of his job would be to hold on against the inevitable Confederate counterattacks until these reinforcements could arrive.

2013-07-20 17.28.54

From behind the Confederate works to the right of the re-entrant line. Looking out across the field towards the area covered by  Smith’s battery. Note how that area covered by the left gun is not visible from this position.

Was there to have been an exploitation force? If so who was it to have been?There does not appear to have been anyone alerted to exploit a break though. Certainly no troops were massed to quickly take advantage of any success achieved. There is evidence that some few Sixth Corps regiments may have attacked along with Motts troops. Additionally, at least two regiments did apparently join Upton’s men. These units advanced, without orders it seems, at some undetermined point to join Upton’s men. Otherwise , other than some artillery support, Upton’s men were on their own. Remember there were only a couple of hours of daylight remaining when Upton’s men stepped off. Could this attack deliver a meaningful defeat to Lee’s army before darkness brought action to a close? Was possession of this ridge during the night possible? Could reinforcements have been brought up and the salient expanded during the night? Or would Upton be expected to hold on through the night so that reinforcements could come up at dawn? Unless Lee withdrew his men during the night Federal reinforcements could well be pummeled by Lee’s defenders before they could even reach Upton’s men. Regardless the men clinging to the lodgement would be in a precarious situation when the sun rose over the Mule Shoe on May 11.

2013-07-20 17.41.54

Again from about the center of Smith’s battery position. This time looking toward where the reentrant line runs back through the trees toward the second line. The Federals came down behind the line toward us.

In short would it have been better, given the negatives, to wait until morning to launch the assault? That way, if the attack were successful, there would be a opportunity to exploit any success that might be gained. At a minimum there would be time to organize a force to be ready to advance as support.

 

Maybe the truth is that once the plan had been approved nobody knew how to stop it. Maybe they didn’t expect it to succeed in the first place. Or, maybe Upton saw this as an opportunity to advance his own cause. Maybe nobody wanted to be the one to suggest not attacking.

Regardless in my opinion the real benefit to the Federal cause was not that it was a “classic infantry attack”. Rather it prompted the Confederates to take actions that alnost led them to ruin less than 48 hours later.

 

 

(1) So as of 2:00 only Upton’s point of attack had been selected. They had only selected Mott as support because he was to the left of Upton.What the criteria that Mendell would use to select Mott’s point of attack is not known.

(2) Whether this was because of the defenders fire or orders from the commander is not clear. Regardless the following units dd not reach the works.

(3) Artillery of the time wanted two things. A level platform due to the crude sighting devices of the day. And a direct view of the target. accurate indirect fire was beyond the limits of the technology of the time. The sloping nature of the confederate line ruled out the level platform.  Thus the only Confederate artillery close by at the beginning of the action was Smith’s battery. They however would lose sight of Upton’s men when they got close to the works.

 

(4) The road from the Harrison House crossed the works, and just in front of the trenches split. One fork went  roughly straight out from the works to the Shelton House. The other leg ran in front of Doles and the left of the Stonewall Brigade before meandering toward the Landrum house.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment