The Federal attack on the Mule Shoe salient at Spotsylvania quickly won success, but the attack soon stalled. A rapid advance could only be maintained so long, and the Federals were not prepared for this rapid success and did not have troops on hand to quickly follow up. The Confederates did their best to use this respite. John B. Gordon commanded Ewell's reserve division, and he formed a line to close the salient, and prepared to counterattack to regain the lost works. Lee rode to the site of the crisis, and after approving Gordon's plans, quietly rode to the front of the line. It was apparent that he planned to lead the charge. One Confederate officer recorded what happened next:
Just then the gallant Gordon spurred to his side, seized the reins of his horse, and exclaimed, with deep anxiety: "General Lee, this is no place for you! Do go to the rear. These are Virginians and Georgians, sir -- men who have never failed -- and they will not fail now. Will you boys? Is it necessary for General Lee to lead this charge?" Loud cries of "No! no! General Lee to the rear! General Lee to the rear! We always try to do just what General Gordon tells us, and we will drive them back if General Lee will only go to the rear!" burst forth from the ranks. While two soldiers led General Lee's horse to the rear, Gordon put himself in front of his division, and his clear voice rang out above the roar of the battle, "Forward! Charge! and remember your promise to General Lee!Gordon's men charged, and with hard fighting drove back the disordered Federals. Parts of the Mule Shoe were recaptured, but many Federals clung tenaciously to the entrenchments. More rebels charged in, but the fight soon ground to a standstill.