Hand to hand fighting at the “Bloody Angle” of the Mule Shoe salient of the Confederate lines May 12, 1864.  Troops of Gen. Cadmus Wilcox fought here and to the southeast at Heth’s Salient where Tennesseans repelled two Union assaults upon their position. 


Major General John B. Gordon rushed the brigades of his Division into the “Mule Shoe Salient” to counterattack the oncoming Federals. Following Gordon’s men were those of Brig. Gen. Sam McGowan.  While deploying his South Carolina brigade of Maj. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox’s Division, McGowan was severely wounded.  Nex came two brigades of Lieutenant General Richard Anderson’s Division. The first of Anderson’s units to go into action was the Alabama Brigade Gen. Wilcox had commanded the first two years of the war.  (Upon Wilcox’s promotion to division commander, his Alabama unit was officially designated “Wilcox’s Old Brigade.” 

Leading the Alabamians that day was Brigadier General Abner Perrin; he was shot dead leading his men into battle.  Nathaniel Harris’ Mississippi Brigade followed the Alabamians. Melding together, these troops were successful in pushing the Federals outside of the fortified line.  The Confederates occupied the interior of the earthwork with grim determination but were unable to drive the Yankees from the opposite side of the parapet.  Wilcox wrote:

 “The firing continued on (Lieut. Gen. Richard) Ewell’s front after dark and continued until 4 a.m. the next morning.  During the (afternoon and early) night a line of pits was constructed in rear of the salient and our men fell back to it. The enemy also, about the same time, retired. 

     McGowan’s Brigade had been under close musketry fire from 9 a.m. till 4 a.m. the next morning (without the firing once ceasing); during much of this time it had rained violently, so as to fill the pits with water, and more than once they had to remove the dead to make room for the living, the water being reddened with the blood of their fallen comrades.”

From that time on veterans would refer to the “Mule Shoe” as “Bloody Angle.”  The tremendous force and leaden hail of Yankee bullets fell several trees.  Major Jos. A. Engelhard, Adjutant of Wilcox’s Division, recalled “a red oak tree, 24 inches in diameter, that was cut down by the infantry fire of the enemy, falling upon and killing some of the members of the 1st South Carolina Regiment.”  Engelhard and Lieut. M. M. Lindsey (Aid-de-Camp on Wilcox’s Staff) used Wilcox’s sword to measure the diameter of one of the stumps.

Gen. Wilcox was at the brick kiln on the Confederate line east of the “Bloody Angle” when he ordered the brigades of Brigadier Generals’ James Lane’s and Edward L. Thomas back from their pursuit of the Federals west of the “Bloody Angle.”  Brigadier General John B. Gordon and General Robert E. Lee were with Wilcox.

Fighting shifted to the right of the Confederate lines.  East of the “Bloody Angle,” was a second outward prolongation of Confederate works known as “Heth’s Salient.” Following the restoration of the lines on Ewell’s front,  Wilcox’s remaining brigades were deployed in this sector, Brigadier General Alfred Scales on the right on the Fredericksburg Road; Thomas on the left and Lane on the right of Heth’s Salient.  Major General Henry Heth’s Division occupied this well-fortified section of Lee’s lines.  Heth’s salient was occupied by two of his brigades, Brigadier General Henry H. Walker’s and Colonel Robert M. Mayo’s, both under command of Mayo.  During the battle, Walker’s Brigade (formerly Jas. J. Archer’s) was the only brigade in Lee’s army containing regiments from the Volunteer State: the 1st Provisional, 7th and 14th Tennessee regiments, along with two Alabama units, the 5th Battalion and 13th Regiment.  These men were subjected to artillery fire throughout the morning as well as pelting rain.

To be continued.

Lisa DeLancey is a staff writer for The Leader, focusing on education. She is a 2016 graduate of The University of Memphis.