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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Myer's Hill, Spotsylvania - Only Known Period Image - Dated May 10, 1864

     Today marks the 150th anniversary of an engagement that resides in the category of great "what ifs". In the early morning hours of May 14, 1864, General Grant was about to face another frustration in his efforts to strike down Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. An intended stealth maneuver of the Federal 5th and 6th Corps had literally bogged down in the mud of Spotsylvania County during a night march. The plan was to extend the Federal left and strike at the Confederate right, weakly held near the Courthouse. A scheduled 4 A.M. attack down the Courthouse Road would be an impossibility. At 6:00 A.M., Meade communicated the disappointing news to the General-in-Chief, "Warren reports the head of his column just arrived. The column broken and scattered. He doubts the practicability of getting his command into a condition to do anything today. General Wright has also just reached here, and I have directed him to move over to the Massaponax Church road and mass out of sight of the enemy." 
     A slow, but steady trickle of Union men continued to make its way down the road, and they extended their left across the fields of the Gayle and Beverly farms, the latter being on the south side of the Ni River. In the overcast morning light, Confederates on a slight rise, a mile southeast of Beverly, observed the movement of Warren's men. The southern force consisted of a portion of Chambliss' Cavalry Brigade, supported by McGregor's Battery of Horse Artillery. The property they occupied was known alternately by several names, Bleak Hill, Gayle, Galt, and most correctly for the time, Myer's Hill. The Myer family had acquired it the year before, just as the Chancellorsville Campaign was erupting nine miles to the northwest. The paterfamilias, John Henry Myer, on this morning was stuck in Heth's Salient along with the 40th Virginia Infantry, into which he had been recently conscripted.
     To simplify for this posting, by the time the sun had set on May 14th, the Myer farm would be contested twice. During the second episode, General Meade came close to being killed inside the Myer House by McGregor's guns as they opened fire around 4 P.M.; and while barely escaping toward a crossing on the Ni, he would almost fall into the hands of a bold Confederate Major who reached out to grab him. 
     Four days prior to this action, a special artist for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Joseph Becker, created a two page panoramic sketch of 9th Corps troops advancing down the Courthouse Road, passing over the Gayle farm on the left. In the middle of the scene of the left hand page, the Beverly Fam sits atop a rise beyond Gayle. And, most interestingly, situated on the horizon line, above the Gayle House, is a small annotated detail which depicts the Myer House and surrounding outbuildings. McGregor's guns are identified as "Rebel Bat" to the right of the structures. McGregor and Chambliss had occupied the summit as pickets since the 10th. Click the following images for larger examination.
Detail from the Becker sketch, showing Myer's Hill at left of center horizon line.
Closer detail showing Myer structures and battery. My annotations in red.
The full, left page of Becker's two page panoramic sketch.
Courtesy of the Becker Collection, Boston, MA

Further details of the Becker Collection are available at the following link: http://idesweb.bc.edu/becker/about

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