Battlefield Guide Services

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rebuilding The Salient - 2004. Looking back six years.

     One of my most rewarding personal experiences was designing and directing the construction of a quarter mile section of reproduction trench for the 140th anniversary re-enactment of the battle of Spotsylvania in 2004. At the time I was serving on the fledgling Spotsylvania Courthouse Tourism and Special Events Commission. Up till that time Spotsylvania County had not been host to a large commemoration of the battle near the Courthouse, and the Board of Supervisors was eager to see it done right on home soil.
     In 1994 I had worked with Hanover County to put on a similar event, replete with a reconstructed section of Lee’s inverted “V” trench line on the North Anna River, also of my design.
     For Spotsylvania we had the good fortune of holding our event in connection with the fine folks of Belvedere Plantation, near the Caroline County line on Route 17, south/east of Fredericksburg.
In late February, with a drawing in hand I made during a pedestrian survey of the actual “Muleshoe Salient”, I paced out and marked the guideline the County backhoe would follow to prepare the rough ditch that would become our “Muleshoe”. Every so often along the length we would add a “traverse” trench.
     The top image in this posting was taken at 8:30 AM on February 23, 2004 as the first scoops of earth were turned. The view is looking west. The work was done by the Spotsylvania County Department of Public works, under the veteran supervision of Mr. Ed Carneal.
     Later in the day, noted re-enactor/preservation spokesman, Robert Lee Hodge arrived and posed on the earth moving equipment in full Confederate uniform, as seen below. Wide Awake Films, (of which until recently Hodge was a partner) had been hired on by the County in part to create three promotional videos the County could use for the future promotion of tourism. To this day, unfortunately, Spotsylvania County has yet to utilize to any appreciable degree, the wealth of raw footage created, nor the three video deliverables expertly produced by the Wide Awake crew.

     Over the next two months (March/April 2004), the Public Works Department labored many long days to install log revetments to provide a finished touch to the trench. Again, Ed Carneal and his men did a fantastic job.

     The picture at bottom shows a completed section, as well as a traverse. This labor of love provided an extra touch of realism for the May 7-9 event, that prior to then, had been rarely attempted. My personal experience at previous events during the 125th Anniversary cycle and beyond, provided little more than “ditch witch” channels cut across the event landscapes. In closing this posting, I must once again commend the Public Works Department and Mr. Ed Carneal for going the extra length that made the 140th Spotsylvania a special event for those who “fought” over our salient.


Anonymous said...

Loved the earthworks... but it was also "mud bowl 2004". The thing that irked me most about the reenactment was moving out into the lines before dawn... and not being able to partake in the battle. We pretty much sat there and did nothing while we were overrun. It was one of those silly reenactment politics situations between the ANV and Longstreet's Corps. Totally kills the "bubble" and shouldn't be a part of reenacting.

John Cummings said...

At least the mud was not as much an issue as it could have been in the trench itself. The soil out at Belvedere is mostly sand and gravel and it drained well after the Friday night storm.
As for reenacting politics, it seems to be getting worse the closer we get to the Sesquicentennial. There are far too many "Generals" jockeying for position as to who will be the BMOC for the four years. Many of the older folks look at the 150th as their last hurrah, and the young guys want to make their mark as the saviors of the hobby. The whole deal is being compounded by the downturn in the economy. Local and state governments that were thought to be the money bags of the upcoming big events are withdrawing or are about to. Poor planning did not see tourism as a realistic revenue stream to these localities, so now it takes the ax.
Private enterprise has been demonized by the hobby on the other side of the coin, and even that ends up being a significant part of the power grab going on.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think my last reenactment was about 2-3 years ago. Became totally ill with the "greater command" who had us in such a pinch that in reality, our line would have broken and ran. Our brigade was nearly enveloped, with the exception of the retreat rout to the rear. It's just an example of how the hobby has lost its charm because of too many all-knowing weekend battlefield "commanders."

The reenactment scene has changed significantly over the past decade. There seemed to be hope back during the 135 and the 140 events, and then it just got worse. I loved the 135th Gettysburg. That said, the 140th Gburg Pickett's charge was a joke.

Anonymous said...


What do the works look like today? It would be interesting to see and would give us a snapshot of what the real works may have looked like in the 1870s.

John Cummings said...

Sadly, there is only a small section of the "apex" left intact from the re-enactment's trenchline. Most of the area where the battle and spectators were has been mined for sand and gravel. Numerous properties along the nearby river have sold off their resource in a like manner over the years. Once the motherload has been extracted, the property is reclaimed by returing the carefully stored topsoil. Often the land ends up becoming a subdivision. It will be many years before the mining operation ends at Belvedere.
I will try to get a photograph of the remaining corner for a futre posting.
Thanks for the good question.