Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Battlefield Walk - Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania

Three years ago, I visited a number of eastern American Civil War battlefields with a friend.  Before memories of those visits completely slip away, photos from those walks ought to be chronicled.  This time, I recall the Spotsylvania walk.  With this walk, I focus solely on the Mule Shoe salient and the Federal attacks on May 12, 1864.
Thure de Thulstrup's Battle of Spotsylvania

For an excellent account of the battle, I recommend, Rhea's The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern May 7-12, 1864.

To gain a sense of the ground, below is a map of the Mule Shoe showing Confederate and Federal positions.
Mule Shoe Salient
Hancock attacked across the field towards the apex of the salient while Burnside attacked further down on the eastern side of the Mule Shoe.

I generally made my way from the western side around to the eastern side of the Mule Shoe.  The site of the attack on the Mule Shoe was crisscrossed several times to get each combatants' view of the terrain.  These wanderings are illustrated in the series of photos below.  Note the field is black in many of the photos.  Prior to my visit, the Park Service had control-burned off much vegetation covering the field between the two lines.  The burn adds both a sense of desolation and order to this portion of the battlefield.

This way to the Bloody Angle!
Looking east towards western side of Mule Shoe
Monument to 15 NJ
Monument to 49 NY
Monument to 126 OH
Monument to McGowan's BDE (Front)
Monument to McGowan's BDE (Back)
View from Mule Shoe looking towards Howard's attack approach
View from Mule Shoe looking towards Howard's attack approach
Federal trench line looking towards Mule Shoe

View from Federal trenches looking towards Mule Shoe
View Howard had as attack advanced across field towards Mule Shoe
Confederate trench on eastern side of Mule Shoe
Confederate trench line
Confederate trench embankment still nearly five feet in depth

Confederate position (left) along apex of Mule Shoe
Artillery piece on display at Mule Shoe


  1. Good post, Jonathan and thanks for sharing. I used to be an avid ACW reader. From this point forward, the Wilderness Campaign becomes a hard read. It was such a fearsome slaughter and Cold Harbor is the worst. By the end of the campaign, the Union had buried the flower of their army.

    1. Slaughter, yes. It became, in many battles, murder rather than combat. Quite sobering.

      See Gonsalvo's sentiment below that "War is much better waged on the tabletop than in real life!"

      I agree with Peter wholeheartedly.

  2. Really interesting Jonathan, I wish I had thought to see some battlefields when over in North Carolina many years ago.

  3. It something I would like to visit as that truly was a fierce battle indeed!


    1. For me, I get a much more spatial connection to the accounts and 2D maps in a book after having walked the battlefield. I recommend it!

  4. I love the history of the ACW, if not wargaming it. My Grandfather retired back to Virginia, so we had frequent opportunities to tour the many battlefields there. I always come away with a different feel for a battle when I have walked the ground... as well as a sense of awe about the many men who lost their lives in the process.

    War is much better waged on the tabletop than in real life!

    1. For me, nothing compares to walking a battlefield to make the narrative come to life.

      I agree that war is better fought on the tabletop. Is that a Gonsalvian maxim?

    2. Probably not one of El Gran Capitan's, but certainly mine (and HG Wells too, of course). I'm the first male that I know of in my line in 4 generations not to have fought in a war (all vs the Germans/Prussians).... although my sister just retired from the US Army a couple of years ago.

    3. Hi Peter, when I said "Gonsalvian" I meant YOU, of course!

  5. Nice and interesting post Jonathan, thanks for sharing, these battlefields are sometimes far from home!

    1. Phil, yes, for some these battlefields are VERY far from home. Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. Quite sobering to see photos of the actual terrain, and even more so to walk it, I imagine. Thanks for posting.



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