The shifting about of troops in the Federal
lines, on the 11th, led Lee
to the conclusion that Grant
was about to draw back from the Spottsylvania Court House
field of combat; so he made preparations to meet any new movement he might attempt by ordering all the artillery, placed in difficult positions, to be withdrawn to where it could be quickly assembled for marching.
Obeying this order, General Long
withdrew the guns from the northern portion of the great salient, so that Edward Johnson
's division, at its apex, was left on guard with only muskets and two pieces of artillery.
Near midnight, of the 11th-12th of May, Johnson
discovered, through the dense foggy mist then prevailing, that the Federal
troops were massing in his front, and asked General Ewell
to have the supporting artillery returned.
Not fully realizing the importance of time under the existing conditions, Ewell
gave orders, not for the immediate return of the guns, but that they should be returned at daybreak of the 12th.
Before that time arrived, Hancock
's superb corps, in solid mass, rushed upon the apex of the salient, expecting to carry it by assault.
's command, a mere remnant of the division that had stormed Culp's hill
, at Gettysburg
, was on the alert and met this attack bravely; but musketry alone was not sufficient to drive back Hancock
's many, massed battalions, which swarmed over the log breastworks and captured Johnson
and 2,800 of his men. Just then, the batteries that had been ordered back came forward at a gallop, but only in time to fall into Hancock
's hands and add their twenty cannon to his captures.
Flushed with victory, the Federal
columns prepared to continue their assault, by dashing forward, through the salient, to the southward; but Lane
's brigade, on Ewell
's right, which had not been involved in the capture, as had Steuart
's on its left, faced about, and, pouring a rapid and well-directed fire upon Hancock
's advancing left flank, forced it to recoil.
Promptly forming his men across the base of the salient, and taking direction from the noise of the advancing fire of the Federals
made ready to go forward and meet and drive back the Federal
At this juncture, Lee
, roused from his quarters in the rear of the salient, by the mighty roar of the conflict in progress, came riding rapidly to Gordon
's line and quietly took position to lead it forward.
, in a tone clear, but not loud, spoke out: ‘This is no place for General ’