After Emory Upton's temporary breakthrough of the Confederate line, Grant had decided to make another attack on the Confederate lines at Spotsylvania, and it went forward at 4:30 am 150 years ago today. The Federal troops headed through the misty predawn darkness towards the part of the Confederate line dubbed the Mule Shoe. It was the center of the Confederate line, and curved on both sides to form a horseshoe shape. This position was inherently weak, as it could be attacked on both sides, but Confederate engineers believed that the risk was necessary to hold a piece of elevated ground. The Confederate troops manning the position were of the Stonewall Division. Once commanded by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, it was now under Allegheny Johnson.
|Map of Grant's Attack|
The position was worsened by a critical decision on the Confederate side. The previous day Lee interpreted some intelligence he received to mean that Grant was abandoning his position and on the move again. Therefore he ordered that the artillery be removed from the Mule Shoe in preparation for a Confederate movement. This supposition would turn out to be mistaken. Allegheny Johnson knew that his position would be weak without the guns, and he requested that the cannon be returned. Corps commander Richard Ewell approved the request, but the order was delayed and the artillery units had just started as the Federal attack came forward.
The troops of the Stonewall Division were awoken by a smattering of musketry from the pickets, giving warning of the Union advance. They hurried to get in position but surprised, greatly outnumbered, and without artillery support, they did not put up much of a defense. Within seconds the Yankees were over the parapet and driving back the Confederates in disarray. The Union troops rounded up hundreds of fleeing soldiers including Allegheny Johnson himself. The Confederate center was crushed. It was one of the greatest successes the Army of the Potomac had won in the entire war.