Chancellorsville and Gettysburg - Campaigns of the Civil War - VI
by Abner Doubleday
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse










In writing ths narrative, which relates to the decisive campaign which freed the Northern States from invasion, it may not be out of place to state what facilities I have had for observation in the fulfilment of so important a task. I can only say that I was, to a considerable extent, an actor in the scenes I describe, and knew the principal leaders on both sides, in consequence of my association with them at West Point, and, subsequently, in the regular army. Indeed, several of them, including Stonewall Jackson and A. P. Hill, were, prior to the war, officers in the regiment to which I belonged. As commander of the Defences of Washington in the spring of 1862, I was, owing to the nature of my duties, brought into intimate relations with the statesmen who controlled the Government at the time, and became well acquainted with President Lincoln. I was present, too, after the Battle of Gettysburg, at a very interesting Cabinet Council, in which the pursuit of Lee was fully discussed; so that, in one way and another, I have had better opportunities to judge of men and measures than usually fall to the lot of others who have written on the same subject.

I have always felt it to be the duty of every one who held a prominent position in the great war to give to posterity the benefit of his personal recollections; for no dry official statement can ever convey an adequate idea to those who come after us of the sufferings and sacrifices through which the country has passed. Thousands of men—the flower of our Northern youth—have gone down to their graves unheralded and unknown, and their achievements and devotion to the cause have already been forgotten. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us, who were their comrades in the field, to do all in our power to preserve their deeds from oblivion.

And yet it is no easy task to relate contemporaneous events. Whoever attempts it must be prepared for severe criticism and the exhibition of much personal feeling. Some of this may be avoided, it is true, by writing a colorless history, praising everybody, and attributing all disasters to dispensations of Providence, for which no one is to blame. I cannot, however, consent to fulfill my allotted task in this way, for the great lessons of the war are too valuable to be ignored or misstated. It is not my desire to assail any of the patriotic men who were engaged in the contest, but each of us is responsible for our actions in this world, and for the consequences which flow from them; and where great disasters have occurred, it is due both to the living and the dead that the causes and circumstances be justly and properly stated.

Richelieu once exclaimed, upon giving away a high appointment: "Now I have made one ingrate and a thousand enemies." Every one who writes the history of the Great Rebellion will often have occasion to reiterate the statement: For the military critic must necessarily describe facts which imply praise or censure. Those who have contributed to great successes think much more might have been said on the subject, and those who have caused reverses and defeats are bitter in their denunciations.

Nevertheless, the history of the war should be written before the facts have faded from the memory of living men, and have become mere matters of tradition.

In a narrative of this kind, resting upon a great number of voluminous details, I cannot hope to have wholly escaped error, and wherever I have misconceived or misstated a fact, it will give me pleasure to correct the record.

A. D. NEW YORK, January, 1882.










After the great disaster of Fredericksburg, General Burnside, the Commander of the Union Army, was superseded by Major-General Joseph Hooker, a graduate of West Point, who having formerly held a high position on the staff of General Gideon J. Pillow in the war with Mexico, was supposed to be well acquainted with military operations on a large scale. He had subsequently left the army, and had been engaged in civil pursuits for several years. He was a man of fine presence, of great personal magnetism, and had the reputation of being one of our most efficient and successful corps commanders.

When the campaign of Chancellorsville commenced, the Army of the Potomac was posted on the left bank of the Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg, among the Stafford hills, in a position which was considered almost impregnable. It rested upon the Potomac River, and as all of its supplies came by water, they were not subject to delay or interruption of any kind; nor were they endangered by the movements of the enemy.

At the period referred to, General Hooker had under him a force of about 124,500 men of all arms, 11,500 of which were cavalry.

On the opposite side of the river, the Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee, numbered, according to their official reports, about sixty-two thousand men, three thousand of which were cavalry;* but the difference was amply compensated by the wide river in front of the enemy, and the fact that every available point and ford was well fortified and guarded. General Thomas J. Jackson, commonly called Stonewall Jackson, held the line below Hamilton's crossing to Port Royal. Two out of four divisions of Longstreet's corps were absent. The fourth, under Major-General Lafayette McLaws, was posted from Hamilton's crossing to Banks' Ford. Still farther up and beyond the front of either army, the crossing-places were watched by the rebel cavalry under Major- General J. E. B. Stuart, supported by the Third Division of Longstreet's corps, that of Anderson.

[* Napoleon says 100,000 men on the rolls are only equivalent to about 80,000 muskets in action. It is doubtful if Hooker had over 113,000 men for actual combat. Lieut.-Colonel W. T. Forbes, Assistant Adjutant General, who has had access to the records, after a careful estimate, places the number as follows. First Corps, 16,000; Second Corps, 16,000; Third Corps, 18,000; Fifth Corps, 15,000; Sixth Corps, 22,000; Eleventh Corps, 15,000; Twelfth Corps, 11,000; total infantry and artillery, 113,000; Pleasanton's cavalry, 1,500; total effective force, 114,500. He estimates Lee's army at 62,000, which the Confederate authorities, Hotchkiss and Allan, place as follows: Anderson's and McLaws' divisions of Longstreet's Corps, 17,000; Jackson's Corps, 33,500; Stuart's Cavalry, 2,700; Artillery, 5,000; add 4,000 on engineer, hospital duty, etc. This estimate is exclusive of Stoneman's force.]

Both armies had spent the winter in much needed rest, after the toilsome and exhausting marches and bloody battles which terminated Lee's first invasion of Maryland. The discipline of our army was excellent, and it would have been hard to find a finer body of men, or better fighting material than that assembled on this occasion, in readiness to open the spring campaign. Hooker was justly popular with his troops. They had confidence in his ability as a general, and he had gained their good will by anticipating their wants, and by generously grating furloughs to those who were pining from home- sickness; trusting that old associations and the honor of the men would induce them to rejoin their colors when the leaves of absence had expired. In this way he almost stopped the desertion which had been so prevalent under Burnside. Only one portion of the army was dissatisfied; the position recently occupied by General Franz Sigel, the favorite commander of the Eleventh Corps, had been given to General O. O. Howard. The numerous Germans in that corps were discontented at the change. They cared little for Howard's reputation as the Havelock of the army; an appellation he had gained from his zeal as a Congregationalist. They felt, when their countryman Sigel was deprived of his command, that it was a blow to their nationality, and therefore lost some of the enthusiasm which always accompanies the personal influence of a popular leader.

The rainy season was nearly over, the time had come for action, and it was essential to strike a decisive blow before the term of service of the nine months' and two years' men had drawn to a close. Hooker's plan of campaign was simple, efficacious, and should have been successful. The rebels occupied a long line and could not be strong everywhere. He resolved to make a pretence of crossing with three corps, under Major-General Sedgwick, below Fredericksburg, while the remaining four corps under Major-General Slocum made a detour and crossed twenty-seven miles above at Kelly's Ford. The latter were then to march down the river against the left flank of the rebel army and re-open Banks' Ford; thus re-uniting the two wings of the army and giving a secure line of retreat in case of disaster. When this was accomplished it was proposed to give battle in the open country near the ford, the position there being a commanding one and taking the whole line of rebel works on the heights of Fredericksburg in reverse. Owing to his great preponderance of force, Hooker had little reason to doubt that the result would be favorable to our arms. To carry out this plan and make it a complete surprise to the enemy it became necessary to leave Gibbon's division of Couch's corps behind, for as his encampment at Falmouth was in full view of the Confederate forces on the opposite side, to withdraw it would have been to notify them that some unusual movement was going on. So far the idea was simply to crush the opposing army, but Hooker's plan went farther and involved the capture of Lee's entire force. To accomplish this he directed Stoneman to start two weeks in advance of the main body with ten thousand cavalry, cross at the upper fords of the Rappahannock, and sweep down upon Lee's communications with Richmond, breaking up railroads and canals, cutting telegraph wires, and intercepting supplies of all kinds. As the rebel commissariat found great difficulty in keeping more than four days' rations on hand at a time, Stoneman's raid would almost necessarily force Lee to fall back on his depots and give up Fredericksburg. One column under Averell was to attack Culpeper and Gordonsville, the other under Buford to move to Louisa Court House, and thence to the Fredericksburg Railroad. Both columns were to unite behind the Pamunkey, and in case our army was successful Stoneman was directed to plant his force behind some river in an advantageous position on Lee's line of retreat, where he could detain the rebel army until Hooker could again assail it and compel it to surrender. A brave programme! Let us see how it was carried out.

It was an essential part of Hooker's project that the cavalry should begin operations two weeks before the infantry. If they did their work thoroughly, Lee would be out of provisions, and his retreat would give us all the moral effect of a victory. The rebel cavalry at the time being reduced to about 3,000 men, it was not supposed that Stoneman would encounter any serious resistance. He accordingly started on April 13th to carry out his instructions, but another rain storm, which made the river unfordable, and very bad roads, detained him until the 28th. It has been suggested that he might have crossed higher up, but cavalry officers who were there, tell me that every ravine had become an impassable river. Hooker became impatient and refused to wait any longer; so when the water subsided, all—infantry, artillery, and cavalry—were sent over together. The result was that the battle was ended before Stoneman got fairly to work, and his operations had little or no effect in obstructing Lee's movements.

To confuse the enemy as much as possible, demonstrations had been made at both ends of the line. On April 21st a small infantry force was sent to threaten Kelly's Ford. On the same day, I went with part of my division down the river to Port Conway, opposite Port Royal, twenty miles below Fredericksburg, made a pretence of crossing in pontoons, and built fires in every direction at night, to give the impression of a large force. On the 24th General Wadsworth went on an expedition to the same place, and two regiments under Colonel Morrow, 24th Michigan, crossed over in boats, and returned. Those movements caused Jackson to strengthen his force in that quarter. On the 27th, the storm having abated, Meade's corps (the Fifth), Howard's corps (the Eleventh), and Slocum's corps (the Twelfth), the whole being under the command of General Slocum, left camp for Kelly's Ford, each accompanied by three batteries. A detachment was thrown over, in boats, on the evening of the 28th, which dispersed the picket guard; and by the next morning the entire force was across the river and on their way to the Rapidan, the Fifth Corps taking the direction of Elley's Ford and the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps that of Germania Ford. Stoneman's cavalry crossed at the same time with the others, and moved to Culpeper, where he halted for a time to reorganize his force, and get rid of surplus horses, baggage, etc., which were sent to the rear. The next day Averell kept on to Rapidan Station with 4,000 sabres, to engage W. H. F. Lee's rebel brigade, so that it could not interfere with the operations of the main body, which moved southeast across Morton's Ford and Raccoon Ford to Louisa Court House, where the work of destruction was to begin. Stoneman's further movements will be related hereafter. One small brigade of three regiments with two batteries was placed under the command of General Pleasonton and directed to report to General Slocum, to precede the infantry on the different roads.

Stuart, who commanded two brigades of rebel cavalry, under Fitz Hugh Lee and W. H. F. Lee, and whose duty it was to watch these upper fords, received news of the crossing at 9 P.M., on the 28th.

The turning column reached Chancellorsville with but little opposition, as both Lee and Stuart thought it was making for Gordonsville and the Virginia Central Railroad. In consequence of this miscalculation, Stuart planted himself at Brandy Station. When he found that he was out of position and that it was too late to prevent the crossing at Germania Ford, he made a circuit with Fitz Hugh Lee's brigade to get between Slocum and Lee, and sent W. H. F. Lee's brigade to impede Stoneman's operations. The passage of Germania Ford turned Elley's Ford and United States Ford, and Mahone's and Posey's brigades, who were on guard there, retreated on Chancellorsville, where Anderson had come up with Wright's brigade too late to prevent the crossing.

By 6 P.M. on the 30th, Hooker found himself in command of four corps at Chancellorsville, with another—that of Sickles—near at hand. Anderson fell back to Tabernacle Church as our troops advanced, and began to fortify a line there. Stuart sent Fitz Hugh Lee's brigade, which was very much exhausted, to Todd's Tavern for the night, while he started with a small escort, to explain the situation to General Lee at Fredericksburg. On the road, not far from Spottsylvania, he came unexpectedly upon one of Pleasonton's regiments, the 6th New York Cavalry, numbering about 200 men, which was returning from a reconnoissance it had made in that direction. He avoided the encounter and sent back to Todd's Tavern, at first for a regiment, but subsequently for the entire brigade. When there reinforcements came up a furious cavalry contest took place, with charges and counter-charges, and hand to hand combats. It was not without an element of romance, in that lonely spot, far from either army, under the resplendent light of the full moon; recalling, in the words of a Southern chronicler, some scene of knightly glory. Our troops were surrounded, but cut their way out with the loss of their gallant commander, Lieutenant-Colonel McVicar, who led them in the charge.

Meanwhile the other portion of the contemplated movement had also been going forward. On the 28th, the Sixth Corps, under Sedgwick, and the First Corps, under Reynolds, were moved down near the river, three or four miles below Fredericksburg, and bivouacked there in a pouring rain. As it was possible that the two corps might be attacked when they reached the other side, the Third Corps, under Sickles, was posted in the rear as a reserve.

The next day two bridges were laid down at Franklin's old crossing for the Sixth Corps, and two more a mile below for the First Corps. Men in rifle-pits on the other side impeded the placing of the pontoons for a while, but detachments sent over in boats stormed their intrenchments, and drove them out. Brooks' division of the Sixth Corps and Wadsworth's division of the First Corps then crossed and threw up tete du ponts. The enemy made no other opposition than a vigorous shelling by their guns on the heights, which did but little damage. A considerable number of these missiles were aimed at my division and at that of General J. C. Robinson, which were held in reserve on the north side of the river; but as our men were pretty well sheltered, there were but few casualties.

It soon became evident that the enemy would not attack the bridge heads, they being well guarded by artillery on the north bank, so Sickles' corps was detached on the 30th and ordered to Chancellorsville.

Sedgwick used the remainder of his men to great advantage by marching them back and forth among the hills in such a way as to lead Lee to suppose that a very large force confronted him. As, however, Sedgwick did not advance, and more accurate reports were furnished by Stuart in relation to what had taken place up the river, Lee saw, on the night of the 30th, that the movement in front of Fredericksburg was a feint, and his real antagonist was at Chancellorsville. He had previously ordered Jackson's corps up from Moss Creek and now advanced with the main body of his army to meet Hooker, leaving Early's division of Jackson's corps and Barksdale's brigade of McLaws' division of Longstreet's corps to hold the heights of Fredericksburg against Sedgwick. Jackson, who was always prompt, started at midnight, and at 8 A.M. the next day stood by the side of Anderson at Tabernacle Church. McLaws' division had already arrived, having preceded him by a few hours.

The error in the movement thus far made is plain. It is a maxim in war that a single hour's delay, when an enemy is strengthening his position or when reinforcements are coming up, will frequently cost the lives of a thousand men. In the present instance it was simply suicidal for Hooker to delay action until Anderson had fortified his lines and Lee had come forward with the main body to join him. Hooker should have pressed on immediately to seize the objective. Banks' Ford was almost within his grasp, and only a portion of Anderson's division barred the way. The possession of that ford would have brought Sedgwick twelve miles nearer to him, and would have forced Lee to fight at a great disadvantage both as to position and numbers. Hooker knew from a captured despatch which Pleasonton placed in his hands, that Lee was still in Fredericksburg on the 30th, uncertain how to act; for he did not know the strength of Sedgwick's column, and feared that the main attack might come from that direction. The four corps at Chancellorsville amounted to about forty-six thousand men; and 18,000 more were close at hand under Sickles. The troops had made but a short march, and were comparatively fresh. Four miles further on lay the great prize for which Hooker was contending. He had only to put out his hand to reach it, but he delayed action all that long night and until eleven o'clock of the next morning. When he did make the effort the line he was about to occupy was well fortified and held by all but one division and one brigade of Lee's army.


There are two excellent roads leading from Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg—one a plank road, which keeps up near the sources of the streams along the dividing line between Mott Run on the north and Lewis Creek and Massaponax Creek on the South, and the other called the old turnpike, which was more direct but more broken, as it passed over several ravines. There was still a third road, a very poor one, which ran near the river and came out at Banks' Ford.

On May 1st, at 11 A.M., Hooker moved out to attack Lee in four columns.

Slocum's corps, followed by that of Howard, took the plank road on the right.

Sykes' division of Meade's corps, followed by Hancock's division of Couch's corps, went by the turnpike in the centre.

The remainder of Meade's corps—Griffin's division, followed by that of Humphreys—took the river road.

Lastly, French's division of Couch's corps was under orders to turn off and march to Todd's Tavern.

Each column was preceded by a detachment of Pleasonton's cavalry, which, in fact, had been close to Anderson's pickets all the morning.

Before these troops started, Sickles' corps arrived, after a short march, from Hartwood Church, and were posted in rear of the Chancellorsville House as a reserve, with one brigade thrown out to Dowdall's Tavern, otherwise known as Melzi Chancellor's house. Another brigade was left at the Ford to guard the passage against Fitz Hugh Lee's cavalry.

Hooker, who was a very sanguine man, expected to be able to form line of battle by 2 P.M., with his right resting near Tabernacle Church, and his left covering Banks' Ford. It did not seem to occur to him that the enemy might be there before him and prevent the formation, or that he would have any difficulty in moving and deploying his troops; but he soon found himself hampered in every direction by dense and almost impenetrable thickets, which had a tendency to break up every organization that tried to pass through them into mere crowds of men without order or alignment. Under these circumstances concert of action became exceedingly difficult, and when attempts were made to communicate orders off the roads, aids wandered hopelessly through the woods, struggling in the thick undergrowth, without being able to find any one. It was worse then fighting in a dense fog.* The enemy, of course, were also impeded in their movements, but they had the advantage of being better acquainted with the country, and in case they were beaten they had a line at Tabernacle Church already intrenched to fall back upon. The ravines also, which crossed the upper roads at right angles, offered excellent defensive positions for them.

[* One brigade of Griffin's division was out all night trying to find its way through the thickets, and did not reach the main army until 4 A.M. Wilcox's brigade, which came the next day from Banks' Ford to reinforce the enemy, had a similar experience.]

McLaws, who had advanced on the turnpike, managed to form line of battle with his division on each side of the pike, against Sykes, who had now come forward to sustain his cavalry detachment, which, in spite of their gallantry—for they rode up and fired in the faces of the enemy—were driven in by the 11th Virginia Infantry of Mahone's brigade. Jackson on his arrival, had stopped the fortifying which Anderson had commenced, and according to his invariable custom to find and fight his enemy as soon as possible, had moved forward; so that the two armies encountered each other about two and half miles from Chancellorsville. Sykes indeed, met the advance of McLaws' division only a mile out, and drove it back steadily a mile farther, when it was reinforced by Anderson's division, and Ramseur's brigade of Rodes' division. Anderson gave Sykes a lively fight and succeeded in getting in on his flanks; for, owing to the divergence of the roads, neither Slocum on the right nor Meade's two divisions on the left were abreast with him. He tried to connect with Slocum by throwing out a regiment deployed as skirmishers, but did not succeed. As the enemy were gaining the advantage he fell back behind Hancock, who came to the front and took his place. Slocum now formed on the right, with his left resting on the plank road, and his right on high ground which commanded the country around. Altogether the general line was a good one; for there were large open spaces where the artillery could move and manoeuvre, and the army were almost out of the thickets. The reserves could have struggled through those in the rear, and have filled the gaps, so that there is no reason to suppose our forces could have not continued to advance, or at all events have held the position, which, from its elevation and the other advantages I have stated, was an important one, especially as the column on the river road was in sight of Banks' Ford, which it could have seized and held, or have struck the right flank of the enemy with great effect. The troops had come out to obtain possession of Banks' Ford, and all the surplus artillery was waiting there. To retreat without making any adequate effort to carry out his plans made the General appear timid, and had a bad effect on the morale of the army. It would have been time enough to fall back in case of defeat; and if such a result was anticipated, the engineers with their 4,000 men, aided by Sickles' corps, could easily have laid out a strong line in the rear for the troops to fall back upon. General Warren, the Chief Engineer on Hooker's staff, thought the commanding ridge with the open space in front, upon which Hancock was posted, a very advantageous position for the army to occupy, and urged Couch not to abandon it until he (Warren) had conferred with Hooker. After the order came to retire, Couch sent to obtain permission to remain, but it was peremptorily refused. Hooker soon afterward changed his mind and countermanded his first order, but it was then too late; our troops had left the ridge and the enemy were in possession of it. There was too much vacillation at headquarters. Slocum, who was pressing the enemy back, was very much vexed when he received the order, but obeyed it, and retreated without being molested. It is true, Wright's brigade had formed on his right, but the advance of the Eleventh Corps would have taken that in flank, so that the prospect was generally good at this time for an advance. The column on the river road also retired without interference. As Couch had waited to hear from Hooker, Hancock's right flank became somewhat exposed by the delay, but he fell back without serious loss. French also, who had started for Todd's Tavern, returned. He encountered the enemy, but was ordered in and did not engage them.

That portion of the country around Chancellorsville within the Union lines on the morning of May 2d, may, with some exceptions, be described as a plain, covered by dense thickets, with open spaces in the vicinity of the houses, varied by the high ground at Talley's on the west and by the hills of Fairview and Hazel Grove on the south, and terminating in a deep ravine near the river. Our general line was separated from that of the enemy by small streams, which principally ran through ravines, forming obstacles useful for defensive purposes. This was the case on the east and south, but on the west, where Howard's line terminated, there was nothing but the usual thickets to impede the enemy's approach.

As the narrative proceeds, the position of the Confederate army, who held the broken ground on the other side of those ravines, will be more particularly described.

After all, a defensive battle in such a country is not a bad thing, for where there are axes and timber it is easy to fortify and hard to force the line; always provided that free communications are kept open to the central reserve and from one part of the line to another. It must be confessed that the concealment of the thickets is also favorable to the initiative, as it enables the attacking party to mass his troops against the weak parts without being observed. Hooker probably thought if Lee assailed a superior force in an intrenched position he would certainly be beaten; and if he did not attack he would soon be forced to fall back on his depots near Richmond for food and ammunition. In either case the prestige would remain with the Union general.

The rebels followed up our army closely, and it is quite possible that a sudden attack, when it was heaped up around Chancellorsville, might have been disastrous to us. Gradually, under the skilful guidance of Captain Payne of the Engineers, who had made himself well acquainted with the country, the different corps took the positions they had occupied on the previous night, and order came out of chaos. The line, as thus established, covered all the roads which passed through Chancellorsville. The left, held by Meade's corps, rested on the Rappahannock, near Scott's Dam; the line was then continued in a southerly direction by Couch's corps, facing east, French's division being extended to a point near to and east of Chancellorsville, with Hancock's division of the same corps holding an outpost still further to the east. Next came the Twelfth Corps under Slocum, facing south, and then, at some distance to the west, in echelon to the rear along the Plank Road, Howard's corps was posted. The Third Corps under Sickles was kept in reserve, back of the mansion. The next morning two brigades and two batteries of Birney's division were interposed between Slocum and Howard, with a strong line of skirmishers thrown out in front. The 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry picketed the roads and kept the enemy in sight. The thickets which surrounded this position were almost impenetrable, so that an advance against the enemy's lines became exceedingly difficult and manoeuvring nearly impracticable, nor was this the only defect. Batteries could be established on the high ground to the east, which commanded the front facing in that direction, while our own artillery had but little scope; and last, but most important of all, the right of Howard's corps as "in the air," that is, rested on no obstacle.

Hooker was sensible that this flank was weak, and sent Graham's brigade of Sickles' corps with a battery to strengthen it; but Howard took umbrage at this, as a reflection on the bravery of his troops or his own want of skill, and told Graham that he did not need his services; that he felt so secure in his position that he would send his compliments to the whole rebel army if they lay in front of him, and invite them to attack him. As Hooker had just acquiesced in the appointment of Howard to be Commander of the Eleventh Corps, he disliked to show a want of confidence in him at the very beginning of his career, and therefore yielded to his wishes and ordered the reinforcements to return and report to Sickles again.

Chancellorsville being a great center of communication with the plank road and turnpike heading east and west, and less important roads to the south, and southeast, Hooker desired above all things to retain it; for if it should once fall into the hands of the enemy, our army would be unable to move in any direction except to the rear.

General Lee formed his line with Wickham's and Owens' regiments of cavalry on his right, opposite Meade's corps, supported by Perry's brigade of Anderson's division; Jackson's line stretched from the Plank Road around toward the Furnace.

Before night set in, Wright and Stuart attacked an outlying part of Slocum's corps and drove it in on the main body. They then brought up some artillery and opened fire against Slocum's position on the crest of the hill. Failing to make any impression they soon retired and all was quiet once more.

The enemy soon posted batteries on the high ground a mile east of Chancellorsville, and opened on Hancock's front with considerable effect. They also enfiladed Geary's division of Slocum's corps, and became very annoying, but Knap's battery of the Twelfth Corps replied effectively and kept their fire down to a great extent.

As the Union army was hidden by a thick undergrowth, Lee spent the rest of the day in making a series of feigned attacks to ascertain where our troops were posted.

When night set in, the sound of the axe was heard in every direction, for both armies thought it prudent to strengthen their front as much as possible.

The prospect for Lee as darkness closed over the scene was far from encouraging. He had examined the position of the Union army carefully, and had satisfied himself that as regards its centre and left it was unassailable. Let any man with a musket on his shoulder, encumbered with a cartridge-box, haversack, canteen, etc., attempt to climb over a body of felled timber to get at an enemy who is coolly shooting at him from behind a log breastwork, and he will realize the difficulty of forcing a way through such obstacles. Our artillery, too, swept every avenue of approach, so that the line might be considered as almost impregnable. Before giving up the attack, however, Stuart was directed to cautiously reconnoitre on the right, where Howard was posted, and see if there was not a vulnerable point there.


At dawn of day General Lee and General Jackson were sitting by the side of the plank road, on some empty cracker boxes, discussing the situation, when Stuart came up and reported the result of his reconnoissance. He said the right flank of Howard's corps was defenceless and easily assailable. Jackson at once asked permission to take his own corps—about 26,000 muskets—make a detour through the woods to conceal his march from observation, and fall unexpectedly upon the weak point referred to by Stuart. It was a startling proposition and contrary to all the principles of strategy, for when Jackson was gone Lee would be left with but a few men to withstand the shock of Hooker's entire army, and might be driven back to Fredericksburg or crushed. If the Eleventh Corps had prepared for Jackson's approach by a line properly fortified, with redoubts on the flanks, the men protected in front by felled timber and sheltered by breastworks, with the artillery at the angles, crossing its fire in front, Jackson's corps would have been powerless to advance, and could have been held as in a vise, while Lee, one- half of his force being absent, would have found himself helpless against the combined attack of our other corps, which could have assailed him in front and on each flank.

There was, therefore, great risk in attempting such a manoeuvre, for nothing short of utter blindness on the part of the Union commanders could make it successful.

Still, something had to be done, for inaction would result in a retreat, and in the present instance, if the worst came to the worst, Jackson could fall back on Gordonsville, and Lee toward the Virginia Central Railroad, where they could reunite their columns by rail, before Hooker could march across the country and prevent the junction. Jackson received the required permission, and started off at once by a secluded road, keeping Fitz Hugh Lee's brigade of cavalry between his column and the Union army to shield his march from observation.

At 2 A.M., Hooker sent orders for the First Corps, under Reynolds, to which I belonged, to take up its bridges and join him by way of United States Ford, and by 9 A.M. we were on our way.

The first sound of battle came from some guns posted on the eminence from which Hancock had retreated the day before. A battery there opened fire on the army trains which had been parked in the open plain in front of the Chancellorsville House, and drove them pell mell to the rear.

At dawn Hooker rode around, accompanied by Sickles, to inspect his lines. He approved the position generally, but upon Sickles' recommendation he threw in a division of the Third Corps between the Eleventh and Twelfth, as he thought the interval too great there.

As soon as Jackson was en route, Lee began to demonstrate against our centre and left, to make Hooker believe the main attack was to be there, and to prevent him from observing the turning column in its progress toward the right. A vigorous cannonade began against Meade, and a musketry fire was opened on Couch and Slocum; the heaviest attack being on Hancock's position, which was in advance of the main line.

In spite of every precaution, Jackson's column as it moved southward was seen to pass over a bare hill about a mile and a half from Birney's front, and its numbers were pretty accurately estimated. General Birney at once reported this important fact at General Hooker's headquarters. It is always pleasant to think your adversary is beaten, and Hooker thought at first Jackson might be retreating on Gordonsville. It was evident enough that he was either doing that or making a circuit to attack Howard. To provide for the latter contingency the following order was issued:


I am directed by the Major-General Commanding to say that the disposition you have made of your corps has been with a view to a front attack by the enemy. If he should throw himself upon your flank, he wishes you to examine the ground and determine upon the positions you will take in that event, in order that you may be prepared for him in whatever direction he advances. He suggests that you have heavy reserves well in hand to meet this contingency. The right of your line does not appear to be strong enough. No artificial defences worth naming have been thrown up, and there appears to be a scarcity of troops at that point, and not, in the General's opinion, as favorably posted as might be.

We have good reason to suppose that the enemy is moving to our right. Please advance your pickets for purposes of observation as far as may be safe, in order to obtain timely information of their approach.

(Signed) JAMES H. VAN ALLEN, Brigadier-General and Aide-de-camp.

For what subsequently occurred Hooker was doubtless highly censurable, but it was not unreasonable for him to suppose, after giving these orders to a corps commander, that they would be carried out, and that minor combats far out on the roads would precede and give ample notice of Jackson's approach in time to reinforce that part of the line.

When the enemy were observed, Sickles went out with Clark's battery and an infantry support to shell their train. This had the effect of driving them off of that road on to another which led in the same direction, but was less exposed, as it went through the woods. A second reconnoissance was sent to see if the movement continued. Sickles then obtained Hooker's consent to start out with two divisions to attack Jackson's corps in flank and cut if off from the main body.

Sickles started on this mission at 1 P.M. with Birney's division, preceded by Randolph's battery. As Jackson might turn on him with his whole force, Whipple's division of his own corps reinforced his left, and Barlow's brigade of the Eleventh Corps his right. He was greatly delayed by the swamps and the necessity of building bridges, but finally crossed Lewis Creek and reached the road upon which Jackson was marching. He soon after, by the efforts of Berdan's sharpshooters, surrounded and captured the 23d Georgia regiment, which had been left to watch the approaches from our lines. Information obtained from prisoners showed the Jackson could not be retreating, and that his object was to strike a blow somewhere.

Birney's advance, and the capture of the 23d Georgia were met by corresponding movements on the part of the enemy. A rebel battery was established on the high ground at the Welford House, which checked Birney's progress until it was silenced by Livingston's battery, which was brought forward for that purpose. Pleansonton's cavalry was now sent to the Foundry as an additional reinforcement. Sickles' intention was to cut Jackson off entirely from McLaws' and Anderson's divisions, and then to attack the latter in flank, a plan which promised good results. In the mean time Pleasonton's cavalry was sent forward to follow up Jackson's movement. Sickles requested permission to attack McLaws, but Hooker again became irresolute; so this large Union force was detained at the Furnace without a definite object, and the works it had occupied were vacant. While Sickles was not allowed to strike the flank, Slocum's two divisions under Geary and Williams were sent to push back the fortified front of the enemy in the woods; a much more difficult operation. Geary attacked on the plank road, but made no serious impression, and returned. Williams struck further to the south, but was checked by part of Anderson's division. A combined attack against Lee's front and left flank, undertaken with spirit earlier in the day, would in all probability have driven him off toward Fredericksburg and have widened the distance between his force and that of Jackson; but now the latter was close at hand and it was too late to attempt it. As the time came for the turning column to make its appearance on Howard's right, a fierce attack was again made against Hancock with infantry and artillery, to distract Hooker's attention from the real point at issue.

Pleasonton, after dismounting one regiment and sending it into the woods to reconnoitre, finding his cavalry were of no use in such a country, and that Jackson was getting farther and father away, rode leisurely back, at Sickles' suggestion, to Hazel Grove, which was an open space of considerable elevation to the right of the Twelfth Corps. As he drew near, the roar of battle burst upon his ears from the right of the line and a scene of horror and confusion presented itself, presaging the rout of the entire army if some immediate measures were not taken to stem the tide of disaster.


Notwithstanding Hooker's order of 9.30 A.M. calling Howard's attention to the weakness of his right flank, and the probability that Jackson was marching to attack it, no precautions were taken against the impending danger. The simple establishing of a front of two regiments toward the west when half his command would hardly have been sufficient, unless protected by works of some kind, was perfectly idle as a barrier against the torrent about to overwhelm the Eleventh Corps. So far as I can ascertain, only two companies were thrown out on picket, and they were unsupported by grand guards, so that they did not detain the enemy a moment, and the rebels and our pickets all came in together. Great stress has been laid upon the fact that Howard did have a reserve force—Barlow's brigade of 2,500 men—facing west, which Hooker withdrew to reinforce Sickles; but is not shown that Howard made any remonstrance or attached any great importance to its removal. Even if it had remained, as there were not strong intrenchments in front of it, it is not probable that it would have been able to resist Jackson's entire corps for any length of time. There was no reason other than Howard's utter want of appreciation of the gravity of the situation to prevent him from forming a strong line of defence to protect his right flank. If made with felled timber in front and redoubts on the flanks, Jackson could not have overleaped it, or even attacked it without heavy loss. If he stopped to do so, Sickles' corps and Williams' division of the Twelfth Corps, with the reserve forces under Berry and French, would soon have confronted him. If he had attempted to keep on farther down to attack the United States Ford, he would have met the First Corps there, and would have permanently severed all connection between himself and Lee, besides endangering his line of retreat. The apathy and indifference Howard manifested in relation to Jackson's approach can only be explained in the supposition that he really believed that Jackson had fled to Gordonsville, and that the demonstrations on his front and right proceeded merely from Stuart's cavalry; and yet why any one should suppose that Lee would part with half his army, and send it away to Gordonsville where there was no enemy and nothing to be done, is more than I can imagine. Jackson was celebrated for making these turning movements; besides, it was easy, by questioning prisoners, to verify the fact that he had no surplus trains with him. Nothing, in short, but ammunition wagons, and ambulances for the wounded; a sure indication that his movement meant fight and not retreat.

From 10 A.M., when Hooker's order was received, to 6 P.M., when the assault came, there was ample time for Howard to form an impregnable line. His division commanders did not share his indifference. General Schurz pointed out to him that his flank was in the air, but he seemed perfectly satisfied with his line as it was, and not at all desirous of changing it in any particular. Schurz, of his own volition, without the knowledge of his chief, posted three regiments in close column of division, and formed them in the same direction as the two regiments and two guns which were expected to keep Jackson back, but the shock, when it came, was so sudden that these columns did not have time to deploy. Devens, having two reserve regiments, also faced them that way, of his own accord, behind the other two, but having no encouragement to form line in that direction it is probable both generals hesitated to do so.

Jackson, having debouched from the country road into the plank road, was separated from Lee by nearly six miles of pathless forest. He kept on until he reached the turnpike, and then halted his command in order that he might reconnoitre and form line of battle. He went up on a high hill and personally examined the position of the Eleventh Corps. Finding that it was still open to attack, and that no preparations had been made to receive him, he formed Rodes' and Colston's divisions two hundred yards apart, perpendicular to the plank road, with the road in the centre, and with Hill's division both on the plank road and turnpike as a support to the other two. Fitz Lee's brigade of cavalry was left on the plank road to menace Howard from that direction.

It will be seen by a glance at the map that his lines overlapped that of the Eleventh Corps for a long distance, both in front and rear. The first notice our troops had of his approach did not come from our pickets—for their retreat and his advance were almost simultaneous—but from the deer, rabbits, and other wild animals of the forest, driven from their coverts by his advance. It is always convenient to have a scape-goat in case of disaster, and the German element in the Eleventh Corps have been fiercely censured and their name became a byword for giving way on this occasion. It is full time justice should be done by calling attention to the position of that corps. I assert that when a force is not deployed, but is struck suddenly and violently on its flank, resistance in impracticable. Not Napoleon's Old Guard, not the best and bravest troops that ever existed, could hold together in such a case, for the first men assailed are—to use a homely but expressive word— driven into a huddle; and a huddle cannot fight, for it has no front and no organization. Under such circumstances, the men have but a choice of two evils, either to stay where they are and be slaughtered, without the power of defending themselves, or to run; and the only sensible thing for them to do is to run and rally on some other organization. The attempt to change front and meet this attack on such short notice would have been hopeless enough, drawn up as Howard's men were, even if they had been all in line with arms in their hands; but it is a beautiful commentary on the vigilance displayed, that in many cases the muskets were stacked, and the men lounging about some playing cards, others cooking their supper, intermingled with the pack-mules and beef cattle they were unloading. It will be remembered that in the order previously quoted, Howard was directed "to advance his pickets for the purpose of observation," in order that he might have ample time for preparation. The object of this injunction is plain enough. It was to make sufficient resistance to Jackson's advance to delay it, and not only give time for the Eleventh Corps to form, but enable Hooker to send his reserves to that part of the line. The pickets, therefore, should have been far out and strongly backed with a large force which would take advantage of every accident of ground to delay the rebel column as long as possible. Howard seemed to have no curiosity himself, as he sent out no parties; but Sickles and Pleasonton had their spies and detachments on the watch, and these came in constantly with the information, which was duly transmitted to Howard, that Jackson was actually coming. Schurz also became uneasy and sent out parties to reconnoitre. General Noble, at that time Colonel of the Seventeenth Connecticut Infantry, two companies of whose regiment were on the picket line there, writes as follows: "The disaster resulted from Howard's and Devens' utter disregard and inattention under warnings that came in from the front and flank all through the day. Horseman after horseman rode into my post and was sent to headquarters with the information that the enemy were heavily marching along our front and proceeding to our right; and last of all an officer reported the rebels massing for attack. Howard scouted the report and insulted the informants, charging them with telling a story that was the offspring of their imaginations or their fears."

If this be true, there has been but one similar case in our annals, and that was the massacre of the garrison of Fort Sims, by the savages, in 1813, near Mobile, Alabama; soon after a negro had been severely flogged by the commanding officer for reporting that he had seen Indians lurking around the post.

Adjutant Wilkenson, of the same regiment, confirms General Noble's statement and says, "Why a stronger force was not sent out as skirmishers and the left of our line changed to front the foe is more than I am able to understand."

General Schimmelpfennig, commanding a brigade of Schurz's division, says he sent out a reconnoissance and reported the hostile movements fully two hours before the enemy charged.

The Germans were bitterly denounced for this catastrophe, I think very unjustly, for in the first place less than one-half the Eleventh Corps were Germans, and in the second place the troops that did form line and temporarily stop Jackson's advance were Germans; principally Colonel Adolph Buschbeck's brigade of Steinwehr's division, aided by a few regiments of Schurz's division, who gave a volley or two. Buschbeck held a weak intrenched line perpendicular to the plank road for three-quarters of an hor, with artillery on the right, losing one-third of his force. His enemy then folded around his flanks and took him in reverse, when further resistance became hopeless and his men retreated in good order to the rear of Sickles' line at Hazel Grove where they supported the artillery and offered to lead a bayonet charge, if the official reports are to be believed. Warren says he took charge of some batteries of the Eleventh Corps and formed them in line across the Plank Road without any infantry support whatever.

In reference to this surprise, Couch remarks that no troops could have stood under such circumstances, and I fully agree with him.

An officer of the Eleventh Corps who was present informed General Wainwright, formerly Colonel of the 76th New York, that he was playing cards in the ditch, and the first notice he had of the enemy was seeing them looking down upon him from the parapet above.

As for Devens, who was nearest the enemy, it is quite probable that any attempt by him to change front to the west previous to the attack would have been looked upon by Howard as a reflection upon his own generalship and would have been met with disfavor, if not with a positive reprimand. The only semblance of precaution taken, therefore, was the throwing out two regiments to face Jackson's advance. Devens could not disgarnish his main line without Howard's permission, and it is not fair, therefore, to hold him responsible for the disaster. As it was, he was severely wounded in attempting to rally his men. The only pickets thrown out appear to have been two companies of the 17th Connecticut Infantry.

Just as Jackson was about to attack, a furious assault was made at the other end of the line, where Meade was posted. This was repulsed but it served to distract Hooker's attention from the real point of danger on the right.

It would seem from all accounts that nothing could vanquish Howard's incredulity. He appeared to take so little interest in Jackson's approach that when Captain George E. Farmer, one of Pleasonton's staff, reported to him that he had found a rebel battery posted directly on the flank of the Eleventh Corps, he was, to use his own language, "courteously received, but Howard did not seem to believe there was any force of the enemy in his immediate front." Sickles and Pleasonton were doing all they could to ascertain Jackson's position, for at this time a small detachment of the Third Corps were making a reconnoissance on the Orange Court House Plank Road, and Rodes states that our cavalry was met there and skirmished with Stuart's advance. Farmer said he saw no Union pickets, but noticed on his return that Howard's men were away from their arms, which were stacked, and that they were playing cards, etc., utterly unsuspicious of danger and unprepared for a contest. Notwithstanding the reports of Jackson's movement from spies and scouts, Howard ordered no change in his lines.

An attempt has been made to hold Colonel Farmer responsible for this surprise, on the ground that he should have charged the battery and brought in some prisoners, who would give full information; but there had been warnings enough, and prisoners enough, and as Colonel Farmer had but forty men, he would have had to dismount half of them to make the assault, and with part of his force holding the horses, he could only have used about twenty men in the attack, which is rather too few to capture guns supported by an army. Besides, Farmer was sent out by General Pleasonton with specific instructions, and was not obliged to recognize the authority of other officers who desired him to make a Don Quixote of himself to no purpose.

If the two wings of the rebel army had been kept apart, the small force left under Lee could easily have been crushed, or driven off toward Richmond. The commander of the Eleventh Corps, however, far from making any new works, did not man those he had, but left his own lines and went with Barlow's brigade to see what Sickles was doing.

The subsequent investigation of this sad business by the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War was very much of a farce, and necessarily unreliable; for so long as both Hooker and Howard were left in high command, it was absurd to suppose their subordinates would testify against them. Any officer that did so would have soon found his military career brought to a close.

Howard was in one or two instances mildly censured for not keeping a better lookout, but as a general thing the whole blame was thrown on the Germans. Hooker himself attributed the trouble to the fact that Howard did not follow up Jackson's movements, and allowed his men to stray from their arms.

A great French military writer has said, "It is permissible for an officer to be defeated; but never to be surprised."

It is, of course, only fair to hear what Howard himself has to say in relation to this matter.

He writes in his official report of the battle as follows:

"Now as to the cause of the disaster to my corps.

"First.—Though constantly threatened, and apprised of the moving of the enemy, yet the woods were so dense that he was able to move a large force, whose exact whereabouts neither patrols, reconnoissances, nor scouts ascertained.

"He succeeded in forming a column opposite to and outflanking my right.

"Second.—By the panic produced by the enemy's reverse fire, regiments and artillery were thrown suddenly upon those in position.

"Third.—The absence of General Barlow's brigade, which I had previously located in reserve, and in echelon with Colonel Von Gilsa's, so as to cover his right flank."

The first proposition implies that Howard did not know Jackson intended to attack his right, and therefore did not prepare for him in that direction, but as his front was well fortified, and his flank unprotected, it was plainly his duty to strengthen the weak part of his line. To suppose that Jackson would run a great risk, and spend an entire day in making this long circuit for the purpose of assailing his enemy in front, is hardly reasonable; for he could have swung his line around against it at once, had he desired to do so.

The fierce rush of the rebels, who came in almost simultaneously with the pickets, first struck General Von Gilsa's two small regiments and the two guns in the road, the only force that actually fronted them in line.

Von Gilsa galloped at once to Howard's Headquarters at Dowdall's Tavern to ask for immediate reinforcements. He was told, "he must hold his post with the men he had, and trust to God;" information which was received by the irate German with objurgations that were not at all of an orthodox character.

Devens' division, thus taken in flank, was driven back upon Schurz's division, and the being unable to form, was heaped up after some resistance on Steinwehr's division, in the uttermost confusion and disorder. Steinwehr had only Buschbeck's brigade with him; the other—that of Barlow—having been sent out to reinforce Sickles; but he formed line promptly, behind a weak intrenchment, which had been thrown across the road, and with the aid of his artillery kept Jackson at bay for three-quarters of an hour. Howard exerted himself bravely then, and did all he could to rally the fugitives; but Rodes' division, which attacked him, was soon reinforced by that of Colston, and the two together folded around his flanks, took his line in reverse, and finally carried the position with a rush; and then Buschbeck's brigade retired in good order through the flying crowd, who were streaming in wild disorder to the rear past Hooker's headquarters.

And now, with the right of our line all gone, with a yawning gap where Sickles' corps and Williams' division had previously been posted, with Lee thundering against the centre and left, and Jackson taking all our defences in reverse, his first line being close on Chancellorsville itself, it seemed as if the total rout of the army was inevitable.

Just before this attack, Hooker had decided to interpose more force between the wings of the rebel army, in order to permanently dissever Jackson from the main body. If Sickles had been allowed to attack the left flank of the enemy opposite the Furnace, as he requested permission to do earlier in the afternoon, this co-operative movement could hardly have failed to produce great results; afterward it was too late to attempt it. As already stated, Williams' division struck Anderson in front on Birney's left, and Geary attacked McLaws across the Plank Road to the right of Hancock. Geary found the enemy strongly posted, and as he made no progress, returned to his works. When the rout of the Eleventh Corps took place, Williams also hastened back, but was fired upon by Jackson's troops, who now occupied the intrenchments he had left. Sickles thinks if this had not occurred several regiments of the enemy would have been cut off from the main body.


The constantly increasing uproar, and the wild rush of fugitives past the Chancellorsville House, told Hooker what had occurred, and roused him to convulsive life. His staff charged on the flying crowd, but failed to stop them, and it became necessary to form a line of fresh troops speedily, as Jackson was sweeping everything before him. It was not easy to find an adequate force for this emergency. The whole line was now actively engaged, Slocum being attacked on the south, and Couch and Meade on the east. Fortunately, Berry's division was held in reserve, and was available. They were true and tried men, and went forward at once to the rescue. Berry was directed to form across the Plank Road, drive the rebels back, and retake the lost intrenchments; an order easy to give, but very difficult to execute. The most he could do, under the circumstances, was to form his line in the valley opposite Fairview, and hold his position there, the enemy already having possession of the higher ground beyond.

Before Berry went out, Warren had stopped several of the Eleventh Corps batteries, and had formed them across the Plank Road, behind the position of the infantry. Winslow's Battery D, of the 1st New York, and Dimick's Battery H, of the 1st United States, were already there, with Hooker in person, having anticipated the movement. These guns were very destructive, and were the principal agent in checking the enemy. As soon as they had formed in line, Warren gave orders to Colonel Best, Chief of Artillery to the Twelfth Corps, to post more batteries on the eminence called Fairview, to the rear and left of the others.

Few persons appreciate the steadiness and courage required, when all around is in flight and confusion, for a force to advance steadily to the post of danger in front and meet the exulting enemy. Such men are heroes, and far more worthy of honor than those who fight in the full blaze of successful warfare.

The thickets being unfavorable to cavalry, Sickles had sent Pleasonton back to Hazel Grove with two mounted regiments, the 8th and 17th Pennsylvania and Martin's battery, while the 6th New York was scouting the woods on his right, dismounted. Upon reaching the open space which he had left when he went to the front, Pleasonton found the place full of the debris of the combat—men, horses, caissons, ambulances—all hurrying furiously to the rear. To close the way he charged on the flying mass, at Sickles' suggestion, who had ridden in advance of his troops, which were still behind at the Furnace. Sickles ordered Pleasonton to take command of the artillery, and the latter took charge of twenty-two guns, consisting of his own and the Third Corps batteries. The latter had already been rallied and formed in line by Captain J. F. Huntington, of the Ohio battery. As senior officer present he assumed command of the Third Corps artillery. Unfortunately there was not time to load or aim, for the rebels were close at hand, and their triumphant yells were heard as they took possession of the works which Buschbeck had so gallantly defended. This advantageous position, which was on an eminence overlooking Chancellorsville and the Plank Road, and which was really the key of the battle-field, was about to be lost. There was but one way to delay Jackson, some force must be sacrificed, and Pleasonton ordered Major Peter Keenan, commanding the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, to charge the ten thousand men in front with his four hundred. Keenan saw in a moment that if he threw his little force into that seething mass of infantry, horses and men would go down on all sides, and few would be left to tell the tale. A sad smile lit up his noble countenance as he said, "General, I will do it." Thus, at thirty-four years of age, he laid down his life, literally impaled on the bayonets of the enemy, saving the army from capture and his country from the unutterable degradation of slave-holding rule in the Northern States. The service rendered on that occasion is worthy to be recorded in history with the sacrifices of Arthur Winckelried in Switzerland, and the Chevalier d'Assas in France.*

[* Major J. R. Carpenter, one of the officers who headed this charge, asserts that Keenan made it without orders, his only instructions being to report to General Howard to assist in rallying the Eleventh Corps. Pleasonton's testimony, however, is positive on the subject, and is supported by that of his aide, Colonel Clifford Thompson. Perhaps Carpenter did not hear all the conversation that passed between Pleasonton and Keenan.]

A large part of his command were lost, but the short interval thus gained was of priceless value. Pleasonton was enabled to clear a space in front of him, and twenty-two guns, loaded with double canister, were brought to bear upon the enemy. They came bursting over the parapet they had just taken with loud and continuous yells, and formed line of battle within three hundred yards. All his guns fired into their masses at once. The discharge seemed fairly to blow them back over the works from which they had just emerged. Their artillery, under Colonel Crutchfield, which had been brought up, was almost annihilated by the fire of the battery on the Plank Road. This gave time to reload the guns.

The enemy rallied and opened a furious musketry fire from the woods against Pleasonton and Berry. Both stood firm, and then came two charges in succession which reached almost to the muzzles of Pleasonton's guns, which were only supported by two small regiments of cavalry—the 6th New York, and a new and untried regiment, the 17th Pennsylvania. The whole did not amount to over 1,000 men. Archer's brigade, on Jackson's left, which had not been stayed by Keenan's charge, gained the woods and the Plank Road, and opened a severe enfilading fire. Huntington changed front with his own battery and repelled the assault. The 110th Pennsylvania regiment, of Whipple's division, arrived in time to strengthen the cavalry support, and many of the Eleventh Corps men fell into line also. The last charge of the enemy was baffled by the opportune arrival of Birney's and Whipple's divisions, and Barlow's brigade.

By this time, too (about 9 P.M.), Hays' brigade of French's corps had been posted on the right, in rear and oblique to Berry's second line. The latter had greatly strengthened his position with log breastworks, etc. Captain Best, of the 4th United States Artillery, in the meantime had exerted himself to collect forty or fifty guns belonging to the Twelfth, Third, and some he had stopped from the Eleventh Corps, and had arranged them at Fairview, to fire over the heads of Berry's troops into the thicket where the enemy were posted and along the Plank Road.

Hooker was so disheartened at the unexpected success of the enemy, that when the first shock came he sent word to Sickles to save his command if he could. There is little doubt that at one time he thought of retreating and leaving the Third Corps to its fate; for when the enemy charged there was an awful gap in our lines; Birney's, Whipple's, and Williams' divisions and Barlow's brigade were all absent. Fortunately Jackson was unable to press his advantage. The ardor of the charge, the darkness, the thickets and the abattis in which his forces became entangled, caused Rodes' and Colston's divisions to be all intermingled, creating such disorder and confusion that military organization was suspended, and orders could neither be communicated nor obeyed. Jackson therefore halted his men in the edge of the woods, about a mile and a half from Chancellorsville, posted two brigades on the two roads that came in from the south, and sent for Hill's division, which was in rear and which had not been engaged, to take the front, while the other two divisions fell back to the open space at Dowdall's Tavern to reform their lines. Pending this movement he rode out on the Plank Road with part of his staff and a few orderlies to reconnoitre, cautioning his pickets not to fire at him on his return. When he came back new men had been posted, and his approach was mistaken for the advance of Pleasonton's cavalry. His own troops fired into him with fatal effect. Nearly all his escort were killed or wounded and he received three balls, which shattered both arms. His horse ran toward the Union lines, and although he succeeded in turning him back, he was dashed against the trees and nearly unhorsed. He reached the Confederate lines about the time our artillery again opened up on the Plank Road with a fire that swept everything from its front. Several of his attendants were killed and others wounded. The rebels found the utmost difficulty in keeping their men in line under this tremendous fire. Sentries had to be posted, and great precautions taken to prevent the troops from giving way. General Pender recognized Jackson as he was carried past, and complained of the demoralizing effect of this cannonade, but Jackson replied sharply and sternly, "You must hold your ground, General Pender." He was removed to the Wilderness Tavern, and as General Lee was in some fear that Averell's cavalry, then at Elley's Ford, would make a dash and capture him, he was sent on to Guiney's Station, on the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, where he died on the 10th of May. Whether the rebels killed him, or whether some of his wounds came from our own troops, the 1st Massachusetts or 73d New York, who were firing heavily in that direction, is a matter of some doubt. While leaning over him and expressing his sympathy, A. P. Hill was also wounded by the fire from a section of Dimick's battery, posted in advance in the Plank Road,* and the command of his corps was assigned at his request to the cavalry general, J. E. B. Stuart.

When our artillery fire ceased, Hill's troops took position in front of the others.

[* Young Dimick was the son of a distinguished general of the regular army. Though wounded on this occasion he refused to leave the field. The next day he again sought the post of danger and was mortally wounded while holding the Plank Road.]


Sickles, with his ten thousand men heaped up at Hazel Grove, was still cut off from the main body and could only communicate with Hooker's headquarters by means of bypaths and at great risk. The last orders he received, at 5 P.M., had been to attack Jackson's right flank and check his advance. He determined to do this and force his way back, and with the co-operation of Williams' and Berry's divisions, retake the Plank Road with the bayonet. Ward's brigade was posted in the front line and Hayman's and Graham's brigades a hundred yards in rear. A special column, under Colonel Egan of the 40th New York, was formed on the extreme left. The muskets were uncapped and at midnight the command moved silently against the enemy, and in spite of a terrific outburst of musketry and artillery from the open space at Dowdall's, the Plank Road and the works which Buschbeck had defended were regained. Berry at once moved forward his line to hold them. Many guns and caissons taken from Howard's corps, and Whipple's ammunition train of pack mules were also recovered. The confusion into which the enemy were thrown by this assault against their right, enabled Berry to easily repulse the attack on him, and he continued to hold the position. The result of this brilliant movement was the reoccupation of a great part of the works Howard had lost, and the capture of two guns and three caissons from the enemy. It is said that in this conflict some of Sickles' men, in consequence of the thickets and confusion, finding themselves surrounded, surrendered as they supposed to the enemy, but to their delight found themselves in Berry's division, among their old comrades.

Soon after this fight was over Mott's brigade of the Third Corps, which had been on duty at the Ford, rejoined the main body.

Both sides now rested on their arms and prepared to renew the struggle at daylight. Hooker, in view of a possible defeat, directed his engineer officers to lay out a new and stronger line, to cover his bridges, to which he could retreat in case of necessity.

At sunset the First Corps went into bivouac on the south side of United States Ford, about four miles and a half from Chancellorsville. The men were glad enough to rest after their tedious march on a hot day, loaded down with eight days' rations. General Reynolds left me temporarily in charge of the corps, while he rode on to confer with Hooker. We heard afar off the roar of the battle caused by Jackson's attack, and saw the evening sky reddened with the fires of combat, but knowing Hooker had a large force, we felt no anxiety as to the result, and took it for granted that we would not be wanted until the next day. I was preparing a piece of india- rubber cloth as a couch when I saw one of Reynolds' aids, Captain Wadsworth, coming down the road at full speed. He brought the startling news that the Eleventh Corps had fled, and if we did not go forward at once, the army would be hopelessly defeated. We were soon on the road, somewhat oppressed by the news, but not dismayed. We marched through the thickening twilight of the woods amid a silence at first only broken by the plaintive song of the whip-poor- will, until the full moon rose in all its splendor. As we proceeded we came upon crowds of Eleventh Corps fugitives still hastening to the rear. They seemed to be wholly disheartened. We halted for a time, in order that our position in line of battle might be selected, and then moved on. As we approached the field a midnight battle commenced, and the shells seemed to burst in sparkles in the trees above our heads, but not near enough to reach us. It was Sickles fighting his way home again. When we came nearer and filed to the right to take position on the Elley's Ford road, the men struck up John Brown's song, and gave the chorus with a will. Their cheerful demeanor and proud bearing renewed the confidence of the army, who felt that the arrival of Reynolds' corps, with its historic record, was no ordinary reinforcement.

We were now on the extreme right of the other forces, on the Elley's Ford road, with the right flank thrown back behind Hunting Creek.

Hooker was very much discouraged by the rout of the Eleventh Corps. An occurrence of this kind always has a tendency to demoralize an army and render it less trustworthy; for the real strength of an armed force is much more in opinion than it is in numbers. A small body of men, if made to believe the enemy are giving way, will do and dare anything; but when they think the struggle is hopeless, they will not resist even a weak attack, for each thinks he is to be sacrificed to save the rest. Hence Hooker did not feel the same reliance on his men as he did before the disaster. He determined, nevertheless, to continue the battle, but contract his lines by bringing them nearer to Chancellorsville. The real key of the battle-field now was the eminence at Hazel Grove. So long as we held it the enemy could not advance without presenting his right flank to our batteries. If he obtained possession of it he could plant guns which would enfilade Slocum's line and fire directly into our forces below. Birney's division at this time was posted in advance of Best's guns on the left, Berry was on the right, with Williams' division of the Twelfth Corps behind Birney, and Whipple's division in rear of Berry.

The position of Hazel Grove commanded Chancellorsville, where all the roads met, and which it was vital to Hooker to hold. For if he lost that, he could not advance in any direction, and only his line of retreat to the Ford would remain open to him. Pleasonton spent the night in fortifying this hill, and placed forty guns in position there; but it was of no avail, for it was outside of the new line Sickles was directed to occupy at daylight, and Hooker was not aware of its importance. A request was sent to the latter to obtain his consent to hold it, but he was asleep, and the staff- officer in charge, who had had no experience whatever in military matters, positively refused to awaken him until daylight, and then it was too late, for that was the time set for the troops to fall back to the new line.

At 9 P.M., Hooker sent an order to Sedgwick, who was supposed to be at Falmouth and to have 26,000 men, to throw bridges over, cross, drive away Early's 9,000, who held the heights of Fredericksburg, and then to come forward on the Plank Road, and be ready at daylight on the 3d to take Lee's force in reverse, while Hooker attacked it in front.

This order was given under the impression that Sedgwick had not crossed with his main body, but only with Howe's division, whereas he was at the bridge heads, three miles below Fredericksburg, on the south side of the river. Hooker probably forgot that he had ordered a demonstration to be made against the Bowling Green road on the 1st, and that Sedgwick went over to make it.


The Eleventh Corps were now sent to the extreme left of the line to reorganize. There they were sheltered behind the strong works thrown up by Humphrey's division, and were not so liable to be attacked.

The new line laid out by Hooker's order was on a low ridge perpendicular to the Plank Road, and opposite and at right angles to the right of Slocum's front. It was strongly supported by the artillery of the Third, Twelfth, and part of the Eleventh Corps, massed under Captain Best on the heights at Fairview, in the rear and to the left. Sickles was ordered to fall back to it at dawn of day, Birney to lead the way, and Whipple (Graham's brigade) to bring up the rear. The Plank Road ran through the centre of the position, Birney being on the left and Berry on the right, with Whipple's division on a short line in rear, as a reserve. French's division of Couch's corps was posted on Berry's right, the other division (that of Hancock) remained between Mott Run and Chancellorsville.

When the movement began, Birney's division, on the left of Whipple's, occupied the high ground at Hazel Grove, facing the Plank Road, Graham's brigade being on the extreme left. This was a very aggressive position, since it took every column that advanced against Sickles' new line directly in flank, and therefore it was indispensable for the rebel commander to capture Hazel Grove before he advanced against the main body of the Third Corps, which held the Plank Road. This hill was not quite so high as that at Fairview, but our artillery on it had great range, and the post should have been maintained at all hazards. The cavalry who had so ably defended it fell back, in obedience to orders, to the Chancellorsville House, to support the batteries in that vicinity, and I think one regiment was sent to report to Sedgwick. Whipple commenced the movement by sending off his artillery and that of Birney. Graham's brigade was the rear guard. Its retreat was covered by the fire of Huntington's battery on the right. The moment the enemy saw that Graham was retiring, Archer's brigade of A. P. Hill's division charged, attained the top of the hill, and succeeded in capturing four guns. Elated by his success, Archer pressed forward against Huntington's battery, but was rudely repulsed; for Sickles opened on him also with a battery from Fairview. He managed to hold the four guns until Doles' brigade of Rodes' division came to his aid. The two took the hill, for Whipple had no instructions to defend it. He retired in perfect order to the new position assigned him. Huntington's battery, supported by two regiments sent out by Sickles, covered the retreat, but suffered considerable loss in doing so, as one regiment was withdrawn and the other gave way. Ward's brigade was then sent to the right and Hayman's brigade held in reserve.

Stuart, who was now in command of Jackson's corps, saw at a glance the immense importance of this capture, and did not delay a moment in crowning the hill with thirty pieces of artillery, which soon began to play with fatal effect upon our troops below; upon Chancellorsville; and upon the crest occupied by Slocum, which it enfiladed, and as McLaws' batteries also enfiladed Slocum's line from the opposite side, it seems almost miraculous that he was able to hold it at all.

Simultaneously with the attack against Hazel Grove came a fierce onslaught on that part of Sickles' line to the left of the road, accompanied by fierce yells and cries of "Remember Jackson!" a watch-word which it was supposed would excite the rebels to strenuous efforts to avenge the fatal wound of their great leader. It was handsomely met and driven back by Mott's brigade, which had come up from the Ford, and now held the front on that part of the line. A brilliant counter-charge by the 5th and 7th New Jersey captured many prisoners and colors.

Sickles' men fought with great determination, but being assailed by infantry in front and battered almost in flank by the artillery posted at Hazel Grove, the line was manifestly untenable. After an obstinate contest the men fell back to the second line, which was but partially fortified, and soon after to the third line, which was more strongly intrenched, and which they held to the close of the fight.

McGowan's, Lane's, and Heth's brigades of A. P. Hill's division charged resolutely over this line also; but they suffered heavily from Best's guns at Fairview, and were driven back by Colonel Franklin's and Colonel Bowman's brigades of Whipple's division, which made an effective counter-charge. Whipple's other brigade, that of Graham, had been sent to relieve one of Slocum's brigades on the left of the line, which was out of ammunition. It held its position there for two hours.

While this attack was taking place on the left of the road, Pender's and Thomas' brigades, also of Hill's division, charged over the works on the right; but when the others retreated they were left without support and were compelled to retire also. They reformed, however; tried it again, and once more succeeded in holding temporary possession of part of the line, but were soon driven out again.

French's division of Couch's corps was now brought up, and Carroll's brigade struck the rebels on the left, and doubled them back on the centre, capturing a great many prisoners and confusing and rendering abortive Hill's attack in front. Hill sent for his reserves to come up, and three rebel brigades were thrown against Carroll, who was supported by the remainder of French's division and a brigade from Humphrey's division of Meade's corps, and French's flank movement was checked. Then another front attack was organized by the enemy, under cover of their artillery at Hazel Grove, and Nicholls', Iverson's, and O'Neill's brigades charged over everything, even up to Best's batteries at Fairview, which they captured; but our men rallied, and drove them headlong down the hill, back to the first line Sickles had occupied at daylight. It was a combat of giants; a tremendous struggle between patriotism on the one hand and vengeance on the other.

French now tried to follow up this advantage by again pressing against the Confederate left, but it was reinforced by still another brigade, and he could make no progress.

The struggle increased in violence. The rebels were determined to break through our lines, and our men were equally determined not to give way. Well might De Trobriand style it "a mad and desperate battle." Mahone said afterward: "The Federals fought like devils at Chancellorsville." Again Rodes' and Hill's divisions renewed the attempt and were temporarily successful, and again was the bleeding remnant of their forces flung back in disorder. Doles' and Ramseur's brigades of Rodes' division, managed to pass up the ravine to the right of Slocum's works and gain his right and rear, but were unsupported there, and Doles was driven out by a concentrated artillery and musketry fire. Ramseur, who now found himself directly on Sickles' left flank, succeeded in holding on until the old Stonewall brigade under Paxton came to his aid, and then they carried Fairview again, only to be driven out as the others had been.

The battle had now lasted several hours, and the troops engaged, as well as the artillery, were almost out of ammunition. There should have been some staff officer specially charged with this subject, but there seemed to be no one who could give orders in relation to it.

The last line of our works was finally taken by the enemy, who having succeeded in driving off the 3d Maryland of the Twelfth Corps, on Berry's left, entered near the road and enfiladed the line to the right and left. Sickles sent Ward's brigade to take the place of the 3d Maryland, but it did not reach the position assigned it in time, the enemy being already in possession. In attempting to remedy this disaster, Berry was killed, and his successor, General Mott, was wounded. The command then devolved upon general Revere, who, probably considering further contest hopeless, led his men out of the action without authority—an offence for which he was subsequently tried and dismissed the service.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse