at times on the 12th the trenches, like these for the Stonewall Brigade, would have been an uncomfortable place to fight.
Sometimes when we read about history it seems that everybody did the right thing, and at exactly the right time. And generally that it was a perfect plan, brilliantly executed by super humans. It was only the fact that somebody else came along and screwed it up beyond redemption.
However anyone who has been a part, whether major or minor, in a large organization probably suspects that that may not be entirely true. And if you have been in the military, one of Dylan’s “Universal Soldiers”, you flat know that it really didn’t happen that way.
So I wanted to give a quick hit of how things don’t always get done correctly. People make mistakes, or sometimes open their big mouth at the wrong time. All are from Spotsylvania, May 1864. Of course these generally aren’t included in the books. If you are
- Not all the artillery action was on the Confederate Second Corps line. Cabell’s battalion was engaged during the Federal assaults on the First Corps line near Laurel Hill on May 12th. There one of its smooth bore guns had a major problem. Somehow or another a round became stuck in the tube. Evidently the round was slightly oversize, and when rammed it lodged partway down the tube. Feverish attempts to seat the round only made matters worse. Then despite the best efforts of the gun crew the ball could not be dislodged. Obviously until it could be removed the gun was useless, only providing a target for its opponents.
So the gun was withdrawn from the line and sent to the rear. But, rather than being taken to the 1st Corps trains, it was instead sent to the 2nd Corps Ordnance camp. (1) There Col. William Allan, chief of ordnance, took charge of the effort to remove the obstruction so that the gun could be returned to service. A sergeant and his men were instructed to bring the gun to a selected spot near a large tree. There they took apart all the bolts and clamps locking the tube to the carriage. Than a rope harness was prepared so that the tube could be hoisted from the carriage. Also it was adjusted so that when lifted, the tube would assume a muzzle down attitude. The free end of the rope was then tossed over a sturdy limb, and the tube lifted from its carriage. Once clear the carriage, horses, and all nonessential personnel were removed to a safe distance. Then, the tube being suspended a short distance in the air , it was dropped, muzzle first, onto the ground below. After a series of drops, the repetitive shock was sufficient to safely dislodge the ball. The tube was, then examined to make sure there would be no further problems. It was then remounted onto its carriage, and the gun returned to service with its battery that same morning.
A similar event happened in the 2nd Company of the Richmond Howitzers in Hardaway’s Battalion. In this case however the cause was entirely different, as was the outcome.
- On the morning of May 18th, Grant again launched an attack against the section Of the Confederate line held by the Second Corps. This position, taken up after the Mule Shoe was evacuated early on the 13th, was along what we today call “the Final Line”. On the left it joined with the First Corps line near the Brock Road, and running along a low ridge behind the Harrison House, intersected with the Third Corp line above Meadow Run on the right. Thinking that Lee had shifted a significant portion of his troops to match his shifting toward the east Grant would test the strength of this line.
Two complete Federal Infantry Corps, a larger force than Hancock had broken Lee’s line with on the 12th were designated to make the attack. Again under the immediate command of Hancock they returned to the area on the evening of the 17th, staging in the area around the Landrum House. Evidence of the battle of only a few days before was clearly visible. Federal artillery, like on the 12th took up positions in the immediate vicinity of the house. The next morning after a preliminary bombardment the infantry of both corps went forward. They quickly advanced across the vacant earthworks which had been so fiercely contested on the 12th. A scene where many of the dead were still unburied, and advanced across the McCoull and Harrison fields toward the waiting Confederate lines.
Unlike the previous assault this attempt would be met by a enemy who was, in every way prepared to meet him. Although battered the Second corps had used all the available time to reorganize its command structure, and, where possible, make good the loses of equipment which had been suffered. In addition they had taken to heart the lessons learned. The works they stood behind were arguably the strongest field fortifications either side built during the war.
When the advancing federals reached the appropriate range, out near the McCoull House, orders were called out, lanyards, already pulled tight, were jerked and projectiles from all twenty nine guns positioned along the Confederate line opened fire. Although the main Confederate infantry force did not become engaged they were supported, at least to some degree by long range rifle fire from the skirmishers. But so effective was the artillery alone that no Federal infantry breached the abatis anywhere along the line. Despite the fact that the repulse was complete and relatively easy as such things go it was not without its drama.
out in front of the west angle behind the Federal line. West McCoull Lane passed through the works near the fence and intersected the road which ran from the Harrison House.
A gunner in the Second Company of the Richmond Howitzers stood by his 3 inch rifled gun overlooking the swale in front of the hill on which the Harrison House stood. Since they were receiving no return fire he had time between rounds to watch the Federal columns as they advanced towards them. One of the things he recalled was that during the action :
” Any way in the height of the action while firing at the advancing Yankee Columns Mann put a percusheon [sic] shapnell [sic] (shrapnell [sic] is a shell loaded with powder & iron bullets the percusheon [sic] cap causing it to explode on impact with any hard object or upon a sudden stop. Mann on the hurry put the shell in with point in base out & shoved it so far in that he could not extract it saying out instant(ly) “My goodness or My I have put the shell in wrong end foremost.” Whereupon Pleasants the chief excitedly exclaimed “What in the h–L did you do that for” Bill Mann despite the Yankees were charging ran towards Pleasants saying “Dont you ask me what h–l or I’ll knock your head off” Pleasants was a large powerful man – Bill undersized & thin. I said “go on back Bill & lets knock the yankees heads off”. I threw the gun breech up muzzle down with the aid of Boster & with a jar dumped the shell out. The next shot was double cases of canister & later on we sent the same shell after them when they had regained the woods & were running to reach our old abandoned breast works.”