The Breakthrough Trail
— Pamplin Historical Park —
The Confederate troops who defended this portion of the works belonged to Brigadier General James H. Lane's North Carolina Brigade. These Tarheels assumed responsibility here on March 30 after McGowan's Brigade moved several miles west to plug a gap in the overstretched Southern defenses.
Lane's four regiments, perhaps 1,200 men on the morning of April 2, protected about half a mile of entrenchments, part of their old sector to the northeast plus McGowan's former front. The soldiers stood some three or four feet apart in a single rank with no reserves. Along the entire Sixth Corps battlefront of a little more than one mile, 14,000 Bluecoats faced 2,800 Confederates.
The outmanned Southern infantry had an important ally in their artillerists. Gun crews manning cannons in prepared positions such as this two-gun redan, fired scores of rounds across the shelterless ground. Most of the nearly 1,100 casualties suffered by the Sixth Corps on April 2, 1865, occurred on the naked fields in front of the fortifications, although the hand-to-hand combat on the works themselves claimed its share of victims. While exact Confederate casualties during the battle are unknown, the Sixth Corps reported capturing some 3,000 prisoners throughout the course of April 2, many surrendering during the Breakthrough itself.
Civil War artillery fired several type of ammunition designed to defend against massed attacks at relatively close range, hurling their fragments at enemy soldiers. More effective was spherical case, invented in the 18th century by an English artilleryman named Henry Shrapnel. This iron cannonball was filled with smaller iron or lead balls which exploded and scattered at a range of 500 to 1,500 yards. The most deadly anti-personnel round in the Civil War was canister. Essentially a tin can packed with 48 iron balls surrounded by sawdust, canister turned cannons into giant shotguns at short distances. Multiple rounds of canister could annihilate a line of battle at a distance of less than 600 yeards.
Brigadier General James Henry Lane a Virginian who moved before the Civil War to teach in North Carolina's military institute, was 31 years old at the time of the Breakthrough. Lane rose to brigade command in 1862 and earned the respect and affection of his troops, who called him "The Little General." Lane suffered three wounds during the war and his brigade fought with distinction in all the army's campaigns. One of his regiments, the 16th North Carolina, fired the volley that wounded "Stonewall" Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. The 16th defended this portion of the works during the Breakthrough.