I have a few ancestors that fought in the 48th VA Infantry Regiment, most of whom were captured at Mule Shoe during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

The Mule Shoe was a half-mile long, mile-deep bulge in the Confederate lines held by Johnson's division . The Mule Shoe itself was attacked twice, first on May 10th and later taken by the Union on May 12th. Around 3,000 Confederates were captures during this second battle.

Spotsylvania Court House May 10

Why were Lee's lines positioned in such a way to have this bulge in the first place? Why didn't he reposition his lines following the first attack if he knew it was a weak spot?

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    Interestingly, it appears it was taken (twice) by the Civil War equivalent of an infantry column (AKA: "French Column") charge.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 14:07
  • Oh, it also appears that Mule Shoe was a thing over multiple days (May 10th and 12th in particular, but the battle itself was from the 8th to the 21st), but this question seems to be asking about a particular day. Could that be clarified?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 14:19
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    I tried to clarify it. I hope it's better but I'm not terribly used to asking questions.
    – Gremer
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 14:29
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    Nah, it was good to start with, honestly. My only concern (without having dug that far into it) was that it seemed likely it was eventually fortified, which kind of made it look like this question might have been asking about a particular day, not the entire battle period. Thank you for the clarification.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 14:51
  • It was fortified, in my preliminary research I read Wikipedia wrong. Sorry, I'll take that out.
    – Gremer
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


You can do a certain amount of analysis of the general causes of salients. Salients exist when there are two conditions:

  1. One of the sides wants to occupy or continue to occupy a specific piece of ground despite it being in a more advanced position than the troops around it.
  2. The other side is unwilling or unable to dislodge them from that position.

In the case of Mule Shoe, Wikipedia writes:

There was only one potential weakness in Lee's line—the exposed salient known as the "Mule Shoe" extending more than a mile (1.6 km) in front of the main trench line. Although Lee's engineers were aware of this problem, they extended the line to incorporate some minor high ground to Anderson's right, knowing that they would be at a disadvantage if the Union occupied it.

That Mule Shoe was high ground is confirmed by the available battlefield maps.

In other words, for Lee to have conceded the high ground at Mule Shoe would have put them at a disadvantage. Lee was therefore willing to expend resources to keep the enemy from doing that, even though the troops defending it would be exposed.

Secondly the Union side, recognising the weakness of the position, made several assaults on it but were unable to dislodge Lee's troops (until May 12th).

This combination resulted in the salient's continued existence.

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    It being high ground was indeed my prime suspicion (was looking for good elevation maps, but failed). If that's the case, then letting the Union have it would have enabled them to fire into the middle of the Confederate line from high ground. That certainly explains why the confederates bothered to take it back not once but twice.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 19:39

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