LIDAR overlaid with 1916

Thanks to my friend Ted Linton who was able to work his computer magic I think we have a treat for you.

1916 red overlay on LIDAR

1916 Map overlaid onto the LIDAR . Notice the roads that didn’t exist in 1916 which show up on lidar. 

As I have commented in the past there are features  which existed in the Salient area at least as recently as 1916 which are no longer visible. We know this because a map was created for the Battlefield Land Company in 1916 which shows them.

Remember that 1916 was before either the CCC or National Park Service was involved with the property. So it is very doubtful that there were any “improvements” or “enhancements”done. However there were a large number of sawmills scattered about the property. These are clearly shown on the overlay, and give us some idea of the man made activity that was occurring at the time. Also it seems likely that anything in the immediate vicinity was likely damaged or destroyed. The process of getting men, animals, and timber to and from these sites was probably  extremely invasive. And it was likely done with little if any concern to whether damage was done to vestiges of “the war”. By the nature of the business these sites probably existed for quite some time in a multitude of places. Once the timber close to a site was consumed a new site would be opened. To this writer its seems that the timber buisness may have altered the landscape more than the traditional agriculture.


So what you see below is the 1916 map overlaid onto the LIDAR photo from 2014.  There may be some slight differences of a few feet either way because of referencing. Unfortunately you may have to look closely to see the newer features, as only they will not be covered by the 1916 map. Also keep in mind that the 1916 map is of the property owned by the Battlefield Land Co. That company did not own the entire battlefield so does not cover the entire page.


(1) the jog in the line no longer exists. This is probably where Jones battery was and perhaps a brigade boundary. (2) either agricultural needs or the CCC cut a gap in the works here. Colonel Alexander tablet? (3) notice when the west McCoull lane cuts thru the works it jogs left then goes straight before turning right toward the Landram House.


errors, or perhaps the 1916 map is slightly off. But see how things have changed .


(1) the east McCoull lane . The likely routeat least for  part of the way for Page’s guns on the morning of May 12.


in its entirety. (4) is an area of interest. Today a shallow line of works straddles the walkway leading out from Doles Salient to this line of works. In 1916 the road went past the end of the works. Which made sense because it avoided the drain. So the walkway has been moved.


Enjoy. It has come to my attention that viewers using an Android phone or tablet can tap on the photographs and zoom in to get a better view. Unfortunately Windows users can not. That’s something I need to work out with WordPress. My apologies.


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, Johnson's Division, May 12, Overland Campaign 1864, Richmond Howitzers, Upton's Charge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dont move until the infantry does”


Of all the events during the Overland Campaign of 1864 those of May 12 at Spotsylvania stand out. Perhaps the only true rivals for the title of the most significant event of the campaign are Grant’s decision not to turn back from the Wilderness and his bloody repulse at Cold Harbor on June 3.


Looking from the Confederate works toward the Landram House site in the distance. Carrington thought that guns should be moved in the night to cover this ravine.

The events of that have been discussed ever since. First by the participants themselves, primarily on the Confederate side, later by historians as well as enthusiasts. Most people accept the premise that it was the weakness of the defense near the apex of the Salient that morning which gave the Federals the opportunity. A weakness primarily because the artillery, present until just the evening before, had been withdrawn on Lee’s instructions. (1) General Lee himself took the blame on himself for making that decision. Post war many Confederates officers publicly echoed that opinion. Many claimed that if the artillery had been in place the Federals would have suffered a bloody repulse that morning. Thomas Carter, who had overseen the battalions which were withdrawn,  offered perhaps the strongest view of what he felt would have happened. Writing to Major John W. Daniel on October 11, 1904 he stated “I never saw a long line of artillery with open ground in front as much as 400 yards, for double canister to have its full sway, and put in its perfect work, carried by front attack. No matter how many lines of battle came against it: and my belief is that it would be as impregnable against front attack as the Rock of Gibraltar with a pocket pistol”. (2)

What is seldom mentioned is that there was artillery in the area that morning. However, it was not positioned to successfully contest the assault. How they came to be there and the decisions that were made regarding them is one that needs to be told.


Artillery dispositions morning of 5/11/64. (1) Page’s battalion (3) Nelson’s battalion (4) Garber’s battery (5) Braxton’s battalion in reserve (6) 3 of Hardaway’s batteries in reserve or refitting (7) 2 of Cutshaw’s batteries not yet committed (8) Jone’s battery of Richmond Howitzers, Hardaway’s battalion off photo toward the Brock Road

On the morning of May 10, 1864, a rotation of artillery units along the fronts of Rodes and Johnson’s divisions was performed. Braxton’s and Page’s battalions had marched with the infantry from the Wilderness. The remaining three battalions had been withdrawn to a staging area at Verdiersville the night before the army marched. They then moved by a separate route before rejoining the infantry outside Spotsylvania Courthouse. Braxtons battalion was withdrawn from the line and placed in reserve. Hardaway’s battalion, or 3 batteries of it, took positions along the line of Rodes’s division. Pages battalion moved from Rodes line into position along the right of Johnson’s division. Nelson’s battalion upon its arrival near Johnson’s center or along the left of the apex of the salient. Cutshaw’s battalion began arriving near the Courthouse.

Posted in 1864, American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Carrington's Battery, Cutshaw's Battalion, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Johnson's Division, May 12, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Richmond Howitzers, Tanner's Battery, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who was Colonel Alexander? (updated 5/31/17 and 6/10/17)

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 the mapmaker marked the spot at the junction of the re-entrant and second lines. Why?

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.


(1) section of trench on Daniels left which is shown on 1916 map, no longer visible (2) heavily eroded, or perhaps partially leveled trench. Probably Ramseur’s Brigade area. (3) left of Gordon’s line

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?


This section of the 1916 map shows the wooded tablet placed by officers of the 10th Virginia. Meant to commemorate the spot where General Steuart was captured. Note that it is simply marked “Tablet”.

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.


Taken from the second line just to the right of where the note “Colonel Alexander wounded” was placed. Note how far down the reverse slope. This ground was heavily fought over on the 10th , 12th, and to a lesser extent the 18th.

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.


Posted in American Civil War, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Johnson's Division, May 12, Mule Shoe, Muleshoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Richmond Howitzers, Upton's Charge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pens put up by ambulance men


To borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, “the ground doesn’t lie”. By that he meant that while people leave accounts, sometimes accurate, sometimes contradicted by others, participants or not, they can’t change what was done to the ground.


(1) the area of the line which was occupied by Smith’s Battery of the Richmond Howitzers. (2) the area of Daniels, and perhaps some of Doles line where the “pens” were. (3) the reentrant line which Hardaway was referring to. (4)  a postwar excavation, possibly a quarry or CCC “burn pit”. Sometimes called “Edwards Hole” for the individual who pointed it out.

One of the more interesting accounts is one by an unidentified Confederate officer. His account was published in an article titled EXTRACTS FROM THE DIARY OF AN OFFICER OF GENERAL LEE’S ARMY. (1)

In his account the officer describes his role in the counterattack to oust Upton’s men from the captured Confederate positions on the evening of May 10, 1864. His role, being an artillery officer, battalion commander to whom Smith’s battery belonged, was to facilitate returning the captured guns to action as they were recaptured.  He described the action as follows.

” Stopped at S’s (2) fourth gun a Napoleon, which I loaded with canister, and Lieut. R. (3) fired it. After firing seven or eight rounds I found some of the cannoneers had returned. Told Lt. R. (2) to work the Napoleon, and I would work another of the pieces. Got three infantry men to put down their muskets, and help me work a three-inch rifle. The dead were so thick around the other Napoleon we could not work it. The Yankees were firing at us from behind our breastworks on our right, and from pens put up by ambulance men about sixty yards on our right.”

After describing the gallantry of other officers and men, both infantry and artillery, he went on to say.

“Sometimes had to cease firing, and take my men all back to the caissons to search for ammunition. Much of the time had only three men and an infantry man to sit behind the breastworks and hold friction primers for us, as the implements were gone and we had to find the extra implements that were necessary. our works about thirty yards to the right had a second line run back to the rear about eighty yards long, to protect the hollow through which the Yankees broke in. (4)  When our men from Ramseur’s brigade and the left advanced down our works to the right they stopped at this offset, and allowed the Yankees to hold our works until charged by Johnson and Gordon later at night. The occupation of this offset made it very difficult for us to fire upon the Yankees behind our line without striking our men on the offset, and the blast from the nearest gun on my left , (5) being pointed very obliquely to the right, blew off my hat twice and seemed as if it would blow off my head.

Posted in 1864, American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Richmond Howitzers, Upton's Charge | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Could it have also have been because of a lack of muskets? (updated)

As this was recently the subject of a between a friend of mine and myself I thought I would reblog it.
Remember these are MAXIMUM numbers for the participants.

The Mule Shoe, Facts and Myths

Ever since May 13, 1864 the story has been that the reason for the Federal armies initial success the previous day was the defenders lack of artillery support. This it was said had allowed the Federals to quickly smash through the defenses and not only capture 20 pieces of artillery, but annihilate one of the premier divisions in Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia. Certainly there were other factors mentioned, wet powder for example, or poor visibility. Nevertheless most sources claims all go back to the lack of artillery. That it was Lee’s decision to withdraw the artillery which led to the Federals being able to quickly break thru the defenses of the Salient on May 12.


But is that the real story? Or, is it just the quick answer to a more complex problem? One that is indicative of a complete misinterpretation of the situation by the…

View original post 1,425 more words

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“Stonewall Brigade” lines out in the McCoull Field – updated 6/01/17

Recently I was back out at Spotsylvania with the camera. If you’re like me, fascinated by the earthworks, and the story they can tell us, the Stonewall Brigades line across the McCoull field is quite interesting.  At first glance it appears to be no more than a line of dirt connecting two more famous places.After all it runs in an almost perfectly straight line. At its southern end we have Doles Salient, famous for its part in Upton’s charge on May 10, 1864. At the other end we have the west McCoull Lane and the “Bloody Angle”. So what is there of interest here?

First, its quite accessible, right alongside the park road which runs between Doles Salient and the vicinity of the West Angle. But yet for most of the year little but the parapet is really visible. Certainly most of the details that a self proclaimed “trench nerd” are hidden by the vegetation. Mainly because of the fact that its poorly drained, water stands in the low spots there, and once things start to grow its quickly concealed by tall grasses


Looking from right to left along the line. Doles salient is at the crest just to the right of the point where the road starts to turn to the left. The roadbed for the park road was raised which gives the illusion that the works were on low ground ALSO NOTE if you look closely it looks like two parapets paralleling each other. The outer one is for the farm lane that ran just in front of the works.

The area shown in the picture above depicts the junction between Rodes right hand brigade, Doles and the left, Stonewall, Brigade of Johnson’s division. Such spots are generally viewed as weak points in a defense because of command and control problems as well as tendency to “let the other guys do it”. Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes or his engineers evidently felt that way about this point. Particularly so as the disposition of the artillery did not provide any coverage of this ground, at least not until the 11th. So they had to find an alternative way to provide security for his flank. The solution was to construct a reentrant line on the plateau near where the ridge came to an end. Roughly perpendicular to the main line the trench ran back about 80 yards in a slight curve to follow the crest.


A= where reentrant intersects the main line. B= where enentrant curves around the back of the pine grove to protect the flank. C= the farm road from the Harrison House toward Landrams which runs in front of the works. D=the Stonewall Brigade line.NOTE the lack of traverses here.  E = the second line, built later probably this portion on the 11th. F. West McCoull lane passing through the works intersects the Harrison House road .



where the reentrant line intersects with the current park road.


further into the woods the line curves back towards the rear. McCoull field and the second line visible through the trees. If you look VERY closely the Ramseur Brigade monument is visible through the trees.

When the units of Rodes division settled into position on the evening of the 8th they generally speaking followed a ridge which went northward roughly perpendicular to the Brock road and in front of the Harrison House. This ridge came to an end in front of a large pine grove. This grove was dissected by a farm lane which ran out to a point in front of the grove of pines. There it forked. The left fork leading roughly westward toward the Shelton House, the right running northward until it to was joined by a lane leading from the McCoull House to the east. The combined lane then continued to run northward toward the Landran House.

After Rodes went into position the units of Johnson’s division marched northward to uncover themselves from Rodes line. The lead elements of this division found that after about 400 yards they climbed onto another low ridge which, despite some slight bends generally  ran northward as well. They followed this ridge until the entire division was able to, by making a left face form a continual line. Of course minor adjustments had to be made but basically the line was formed.

Posted in 1864, American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Bloody Angle, Cutshaw's Battalion, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Johnson's Division, May 12, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Upton's Charge, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It doesn’t always go right. Or “Oh, fudge!”

slightly different view of the same position.

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.”

Posted in American Civil War, artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Battle of the Muleshoe, Bloody Angle, Carrington's Battery, Cutshaw's Battalion, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Hancock's assault on the Muleshoe, Johnson's Division, Mule Shoe, Richmond Howitzers, Tanner's Battery, West Angle | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment