Chapter 22: battle of Chancellorsville
After the battle of Fredericksburg
we returned to the same encampments which we had left to cross the Rappahannock
, and on January 27, 1863, orders from the President
, dated the day before, placed our “Fighting Joe Hooker
” in command of the army.
, and Franklin
For a few days General Couch
went to take Sumner
's place over the grand division.
This gave me command of the Second Corps.
But very soon, among the changes made by Hooker
, the grand division organization was broken up, and I returned to the second division of the corps.
It would have been very wise if Hooker
had gone a step further in simplifying, and had consolidated his eight corps into four-three of infantry and artillery and one of cavalry, with its horse batteries.
Notwithstanding misgivings respecting General Hooker
, whose California
record had been ransacked, and whose private conduct had been canvassed, the army received him kindly.
He had been a little hard, in his camp conferences, upon McClellan
, and for poor Burnside
he had shown no mercy.
My own feeling at that time was that of a want of confidence in the army itself.
The ending of the peninsular work, the confusion at the termination of the seeond
battle of Bull Run
, the incompleteness of Antietam
, and the fatal consequences of Fredericksburg
did not make the horizon of our dawning future very luminous.
We had suffered desertions by the thousands.
I brought two commissioned officers about that time to trial for disloyal language, directed against the President
and the general commanding.
Mouths were stopped, but discontent had taken deep root.
, however, by his prompt and energetic measures, soon changed the whole tone of the army for the better.
Desertions were diminished, and outpost duty was systematized.
The general showed himself frequently to his troops at reviews and inspections, and caused the construction of field works and intrenchments, which, with the drills, occupied the time and the minds of the soldiers.
The cavalry became a corps, and Stoneman
was put in command of it. The artillery reserve, given to General Hunt
, was brought to a high degree of efficiency.
In truth, during February, March, and April, the old cheerful, hopeful, trustful spirit which had carried us through so many dark days, through so many bloody fields and trying defeats, returned to the Army of the Potomac; and Hooker
's success as a division and corps commander was kept constantly in mind as an earnest of a grand future.
As soon as General Sickles
, who was then my junior in rank, was assigned to the Third Corps, feeling that I had been overlooked, I wrote a brief letter to General Hooker
, asking to be assigned according to my rank.
Immediately I was ordered to take command of the Eleventh Army Corps, which General Sigel
had just left.
I assumed command at Stafford Court House, where General Carl Schurz
was in charge.
My coming sent Schurz
his division and Schimmelfennig
back to his brigade.
The corps was then, in round numbers, 13,000 strong.
It had about 5,000 Germans and 8,000 Americans
Two divisions were under the German commanders, Von Steinwehr
and Carl Schurz
, and one under Devens
One of Devens
's brigades was commanded by Colonel Von Gilsa
, a German officer, who at drills and reviews made a fine soldierly appearance.
Outwardly I met a cordial reception, but I soon found that my past record was not known here; that there was much complaint in the German language at the removal of Sigel
, who merely wanted to have his command properly increased, and that I was not at first getting the earnest and loyal support of the entire command.
But for me there was no turning back.
I brought to the corps several tried officers: for example, General Barlow
, to command one brigade in Von Steinwehr
's division, and General Adelbert Ames
to take a brigade.
I had the command drilled and reviewed as much as could be done in a few weeks.
On April 8th the corps of Couch
, and Sedgwick
were reviewed by President Lincoln
, accompanied by General Hooker
There was a column of about 70,000 men, and it must have taken over two hours and a half for them to pass the President
It was the largest procession until the last review before President Andrew Johnson
in 1865. Mrs. Lincoln
came down from Washington
, and the President
's two sons were at the grand review.
The smaller, Tad, rode a beautiful pony, and was noticeable for his ability to manage him.
On the 10th Mr. Lincoln
came to review my corps.
The German pioneers had fixed up my tent and its surroundings with everything that evergreens
and trees could do to make them cheerful.
Of all this Mr. Lincoln
took special notice and expressed his admiration.
My salute and review were satisfactory.
Up to April 25th General Hooker
had managed to keep his plans in his own bosom.
True, inferences were drawn by everybody from the partial movements that were made up and down the river.
For example, April 13th, Stoneman
, started up the Rappahannock
with his cavalry corps, except Pleasonton
's brigade, ostensibly to go to the Shenandoah Valley.
It was my part to send Bushbeck
's infantry brigade of Von Steinwehr
's division in his support as far as Kelly's Ford
But the flooding rains again began, and had the effect of detaining the whole of Stoneman
's force for some days in that neighborhood.
Just what he was to do we did not then know.
April 21st, Doubleday
, of Reynolds
's (First) Corps, also started down the river, and went as far as Port Conway
He here made sundry demonstrations which indicated a purpose to try and effect a crossing.
Colonel Henry A. Morrow
with his Michigan
regiment (Twenty-fourth) made another display near Port Royal
The Confederate commanders believed them to be but feints.
These demonstrations had, however, the effect of causing Lee
to send troops down the river to watch our proceedings.
went thither in command.
On April 25th I was instructed to send knapsacks and other supplies to Bushbeck
at Kelly's Ford
, and to see that his men had on hand eight days rations in knapsacks and haversacks.
The instruction ended with this sentence: “I am directed to inform you confidentially, for your own information and not for publication,
that your whole corps will probably move in that direction as early as Monday A. M.”
Our army at that time numbered for duty about 130,000--First Corps, Reynolds
; Second, Couch
; Third, Sickles
; Fifth, Meade
; Sixth, Sedgwick
; Eleventh, Howard
; Twelfth, Slocum
; cavalry corps, Stoneman
; reserve artillery, Hunt
The Confederate army opposite numbered about 60,000: four divisions under under Stonewall
, two (Anderson
's and McLaws
's) acting separately, and Stuart
brought the reserve artillery under one head.
's and McLaws
's belonged to Longstreet
's corps, but the remainder over and above these two divisions was at this time absent from the Army of Northern Virginia.
's forces occupied the Fredericksburg Heights
and guarded all approaches.
His cavalry, with headquarters at Culpeper
, watched his left flank from his position to the Shenandoah Valley.
The plan of operation determined upon by General Hooker
, which began to be revealed to his corps commanders little by little in confidential notes, was, first, to send his whole cavalry corps, except one division, to raid around by our right upon Lee
's communications; second, to make a crossing, a feint, and possibly an attack, by his left wing at and below Fredericksburg
; third, to start the right wing up the Rappahannock
to the upper fords, cross them, and push rapidly to and over the Rapidan
to the heights near Banks's Ford; fourth, to follow up this movement with his center; to throw bridges across and below the mouth of the Rapidan
at the United States Ford
, or wherever convenient, and reinforce his right wing.
The plan was well conceived, except the sending
off of his entire cavalry force.
But for that there is little doubt that, humanly speaking, Lee
would have been defeated.
would have curtained our movements, occupied the attention of Stuart
, guarded our right flank, and let General Hooker
and his corps commanders know what maneuvers of Lee
were in progress before the wilderness and its deceptive wilds had been reached.
But at the outset we were divorced from this potential helpmate.
's brigade, which was left to Iooker, was too small to subdivide, so that we were usually left to skirmishers, scouts, and reconnoissance from the infantry arm to ascertain what the enemy was about.
From this one mistake arose a dozen others, which contributed to our final discomfiture.
The orders of April 27th made the left wing to consist of the First, Third, and Sixth Corps, Sedgwick
According to instructions, Reynolds
took his command (the First Corps) to the lower place, near Pollock's Mills Creek.
The Sixth Corps undertook Franklin
's old crossing just below the mouth of the Deep Run
With some little delay and after overcoming the enemy's pickets, Wadsworth
's division of Reynolds
's corps was firmly established on the other shore, and the remainder of that corps held at hand.
The Sixth Corps was equally successful, and Brooks
's division, aided by a battery, held a stone bridgehead below Fredericksburg
and kept the way open for his corps.
The preliminaries to all this work --Hunt
planting the helpful artillery and Benham
bringing up his bridges, and the concentration of the troops — were thoroughly provided for and executed with secrecy and dispatch; yet General Lee
assistants soon let him know what was going forward.
He got ready for a possible attack, but when Wednesday passed away and then Thursday with no further effort on Sedgwick
's part beyond the preparations which I have named, Lee
rightly concluded that Hooker
's main attack was not to be undertaken at that point.
The right wing, which at the time most concerned me in these movements, was to be constituted from the Eleventh, Twelfth, and Fifth Corps.
Monday morning at 5.30, April 27th, my command left its camp near Brooke's Station, on the Aquia Creek Railroad, and took the most direct road by the way of Hartwood Church toward Kelly's Ford
We made a fair march (fourteen miles) the first day, and went into camp a little beyond that church.
Everything was then in good order, the men in fine health and spirits, glad of any change which relieved the monotony and tedium of their winter quarters.
Our orders were very strict to keep down the trains to the smallest number for ammunition and forage only.
I found that on that march several of my subordinate commanders had been very careless in not carrying out these instructions to the letter.
and his staff passed my trains during the march, and said to me: “General Meade
has done better than you.”
Of course I had issued the orders, but field officers would here and there slip in an extra wagon till there were many; for where were they to get their meals if ration wagons were all left behind?
This condition I quickly corrected, but it was my first mortification in this campaign.
Some of the American
officers were as careless as some of the foreign in the matter of orders-glorious in eye service, but conscienceless when out of sight.
Our main trains were
parked not far from Banks's Ford.
My corps was followed by Slocum
's, and his by Meade
The next day (Tuesday) we were on the road by 4 A. M., and accomplished our march to the neighborhood of Kelly's Ford
by four in the afternoon; trains as well as troops were closed up and all encamped by that early hour.
I had hastened on ahead of my command to visit General Hooker
, who had transferred his headquarters to Morrisville
, a hamlet some five or six miles north of Kelly's Ford
Here he received me pleasantly, gave specific instructions, and carefully explained his proposed plan of attack.
After this interview I returned to my troops and began to execute my part.
, of the engineers, who had graduated from West Point
in the class following mine, was on hand to lay a bridge, for this ford was too deep for practical use. By 6 P. M. the bridge was commenced.
The bridge layers were detailed mainly from my corps.
Four hundred of Bushbeck
's brigade seized the boats, which they put together, put them into the stream, and pushed for the south bank.
The enemy's pickets stopped to fire one wild volley and fled.
There was then quick work.
The bridge was done before ten o'clock and the crossing well covered by picket posts far out. Immediately I broke camp and took my command over the bridge.
, with the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, reported to me for temporary duty.
With his force we extended our outposts and patrolled the country around our new bivouac, but owing to the ignorance of our guides of the character of the country and to the pitchy darkness, the troops were not in position until near daylight.
Still, as Slocum
was now to lead the column, we had
time for a short rest before resuming the march.
Soon after getting upon the road to Germania Ford we could hear firing on Slocum
's front, and before long shells began to burst over our heads and uncomfortably near to the marching men. Colonel Kellogg
made some attempts to stop this; but as there were with the enemy two field pieces supported by cavalry, it proved too difficult a task.
Just then a brigade of Stoneman
's corps swept along southward in that neighborhood and rid us of the annoyance.
had cleared the Rapidan
, so that by eleven at night of this day (Wednesday, April 29th) my command began to cross the river.
had here no bridge at first and could not wait for one.
Part of his men, supporting each other and cheering, waded the current from shore to shore.
The old bridge, however, was soon repaired and I used it. By four in the morning of Thursday my men were again in camp, except those with the train, including its guard.
On this day (Thursday) we did not delay for rest, but marched at seven o'clock, following Slocum
, coming up abreast of his corps near Dowdall
As soon as my head of column came to this place — a small opening in the wilderness, within which are a few houses and a church — it was halted and I rode over to the Chancellor House
, or Chancellorsville
's command was already there.
Here I met General Slocum
, who was to give me instructions.
His orders were to occupy the right, by Dowdall
's tavern, resting my extreme right flank at a mill, marked as on Hunting Creek
, or a tributary.
He promised me to cover the whole ground from Chancellorsville
I went back at once and in person reconnoitered
the right, riding through the woods and small gladelike openings.
I could find no mill in that neighborhood, but I posted the command as directed, drawing back my right across the pike, and having considerable reserve.
I had hardly got into position before I found three-quarters of a mile more of space between me and Slocum
's nearest division, and I was obliged, to my sorrow, to use up most of my reserve to fill this vacancy.
At this time, though there was an interval on my right, Pleasonton
's cavalry, with some artillery, remained at the place where the Ely Ford road crosses Hunting Creek
, and I sent him two companies of infantry for support; this, with such cavalry pickets as Pleasonton
would naturally throw out on all the roads which led to him, afforded me a good outpost of warning to my right rear.
But there was no cavalry placed on the Orange
plank road, nor on the old turnpike, which near Dowdall
's tavern passes off to the north of west, making a considerable angle with the plank road.
As soon as Meade
had crossed the Rapidan
's two Confederate brigades were drawn back from the United States Ford
; the bridges were immediately laid and all but Gibbon
's division of the Second Corps (Couch
's) came to join us at Chancellorsville
, too, with the Third, had been taken from Sedgwick
and was (Thursday night) in bivouac near the United States Ford
, just across the river.
, with a portion of his staff, had already come up and taken his headquarters at Chancellorsville
Our troops had skirmished all along with Stuart
's cavalry, and exchanged some shots with Anderson
's division in front of Slocum
's center and left, yet thus far everything had worked well.
We had entered
upon a vigorous offensive campaign.
We had reached the enemy's vicinage, and were but a few miles from his left flank, with no natural or artificial obstruction in our way. Such was the situation Thursday evening.
Friday morning at dawn Sickles
completed his march and joined us on the front line.
He took post on my left, relieving some of Slocum
's thin line and some of Steinwehr
's, near Dowdall
I thus obtained Barlow
's excellent brigade for my general corps reserve.
These, with a few reserve batteries, were held in hand, in echelon, to cover my extreme right flank in case of such need.
Let us notice again, on that Thursday night, how favorable matters looked, when General Hooker
was so jubilant and confident and full of the purpose of pushing on to the heights near Banks's Ford.
He had then 50,000 men well concentrated at Chancellorsville
and more within easy support.
His left wing, under Sedgwick
, had thus far occupied enough the attention of the Confederates
to keep them in its front at Fredericksburg
It was not, then, strange that the sanguine Hooker
caused to be issued and sent to us that night, to be read at our camp fires and to be published to our commands, as speedily as possible, a congratulatory order.
(For full order, see Appendix.)
intended to push for Lee
's left flank and assail him there in position.
move upon Sedgwick
with all the force which he could make available for that purpose, he would probably no more than get well at work before Hooker
's right wing would be upon him.
The alternative for Lee
was to leave as small a force in his works before Sedgwick
as possible, with
instructions to keep Sedgwick
back, while he himself, with the main Confederate army, Napoleonlike, hurried to join Anderson
beyond Salem Church, whose skirmish line boldly fronted Hooker
's at Chancellorsville
, and promptly gave battle.
This plan had been matured from the first, and was already well understood by all the Confederate brigade and division commanders.
Their brigades were large and corresponded very well to our divisions — for they made no mistake in consolidating their troops.
However much of a disturbance or panic in the rear our cavalry under Stoneman
was creating, Lee
did not send his cavalry force under Stuart
to try and head us off, but simply let his son, General W. H. F. Lee
, with his small cavalry division, watch, follow, fight, or do whatever he could, while he retained Stuart
with two-thirds of that corps with himself.
His 1,800 cavalrymen, with some horse artillery, were never better employed.
's division of Stonewall Jackson
's corps and Barksdale
's brigade, with a part of the reserve artillery, to be commanded by Pendleton
, were selected for the defense of the works in front of Sedgwick
already had in our front at Chancellorsville
five infantry brigades, in all nearly 11,000 men. At midnight of Thursday, while we were sleeping near Chancellorsville
, in that wilderness, McLaws
's division joined Anderson
with some 6,000 men. On Friday morning at dawn Stonewall Jackson
(who was now at Fredericksburg
) with all his command, except Early
, followed McLaws
had three divisions, numbering about 26,000 men, besides 170 pieces of artillery.
He reached Anderson
's lines by eight o'clock Friday morning (May lst) and, as was his wont, took command and prepared to advance.
a goodly force-upward of 43,000 men of all arms, well organized, well drilled and disciplined, and under that best of Southern leaders, the redoubtable Stonewall Jackson
The troops fell into position on their arrival.
went to the right of Anderson
and put his forces on high ground in front of a country road which crosses from the river road to the “Old mine” road.
crossed the Old Mine road and the turnpike, while Jackson
's men were upon the plank roadway and the new railway route.
's regiment of Confederate cavalry made the first reconnoissance, and by 11 A. M. this movement was followed up by other forces.
As revealed in his orders to Sedgwick
Thursday evening, General Hooker
's confident purpose still was to push on from Chancellorsville
, drive back Anderson
, and seize and occupy the high ground near Banks's Ford.
But for the delay of Chancellorsville
, as if that was our real destination, Hooker
would have easily gained his point.
Probably he waited first for Couch
, and afterwards for Sickles
Still, after a personal scout of observation and examination of his front, Hooker
issued his instructions for the execution of his proposed plan: First, Meade
, using two divisions, was to take the river road and get to a designated position opposite Banks's Ford by 2 P. M.; second, Sykes
, supported by Hancock
's corps, was to take the same direction on the old Fredericksburg turnpike, move up abreast of Meade
, both columns having deployed their skirmishers and lines so as to connect, and to fight any enemy that might be found there; third, Slocum
, with the Twelfth Corps, was to march out on the plank road eastward to Tabernacle Church and mass his corps there.
It was a point on the same general line as those to be attained
I, with the Eleventh, was to follow Slocum
and post my command a mile in rear of him. All these movements were so regulated as to be completed by two in the afternoon.
As a grand support to our whole wing, Sedgwick
, below Fredericksburg
, was directed to make a demonstration in force against the enemy's intrenchments at Hamilton's Crossing
This was ordered to be undertaken at 1 P. M. But Sedgwick
did not get the orders till four hours later.
's chief of staff was at Falmouth
, and had constant telegraphic communication with him, the wretched failures in the transmission of orders and messages between Chancellorsville
have never been understood.
The other columns lost no time.
They started out on their respective roads.
True, there was some clogging at the Chancellorsville
crossroads, for many troops passed that one point, and the result of this clogging was that Sykes
got considerably ahead of Hancock
, and Slocum
's appearance at Tabernacle Church was delayed-still, Slocum
came forward and I, with my corps, supported him. Meade
reached his point in fine style, but did not succeed in connecting with Sykes
on his right; neither did Slocum
reach out far enough to touch Sykes
's right flank.
Yet very soon Hancock
was on hand in his rear for support.
Both of the armies were now in rapid motion in comparatively open ground.
had a shorter front than we, and produced unity by commanding the whole line.
We had four detached columns-those of Meade
, and French-feeling out experimentally for a line of connection beyond the ground already passed by Jackson
; and our common
commander unfortunately was not, like Jackson
, at the front, where he could make the corrections now of vital importance.
's skirmishers occupied the heights in sight of the coveted Banks's Ford.
with deployed troops on the very hills he was directed to occupy.
He did not hesitate an instant, but moved forward at double quick and attacked with all his might, driving back the brigades before him, and seized the strong position.
This position Sykes
continued to hold.
He was outflanked; but, with General Hancock
close at hand, Sykes
did not propose to retire nor fear to hold his ground.
It was just the instant to reinforce him. Behind Hancock
was all of Sickles
But, to everybody's sorrow, our commander had changed his mind
at that moment, and the orders of Hooker
came to Sykes
to return to Chancellorsville
at once and take the old position.
had encountered the brigades of Wright
, but the action had hardly begun when the same orders came to him; the same also to Meade
, as he was getting ready to give Sykes
a strong support on his left.
My command had gotten in readiness and gone out two miles, and a brigade of Sickles
's had come to watch at Dowdall
's toward the west, as French was doing toward the south at Todd
We all received the orders of retreat with astonishment: “Go back to the old position!”
It gave to our whole army the impression of a check, a failure, a defeat.
It was a sudden change from a vigorous offensive to the defensive, into a position not good at all to resist a front attack, and one easily turned; for our right had no river or swamp or other natural obstacle on which to rest, and the whole position was enveloped in a vast and difficult forest, of
which we knew little.
Such maps of the roads as we had we subsequently found to be wholly incorrect.
During the confusion of the changes of troops at Dowdall
's tavern some female members of a family there, taking a basket of provisions with them, escaped from our lines and informed some Confederate officer of the situation, carrying accurate information of how we occupied that position.
On the other hand, our retreat was counted a great victory for the Confederates
They gained the morale
which we had lost.
They became jubilant and were confident of our final defeat.
in motion was a great lion in their way, but now he had decided to lie still, and they, anticipating his fatal spring, would creep upon him and slay him.
Had General Hooker
been at the front with Sykes
or with Iancock at the time of Sykes
's attack, he would have seen that his ability to concentrate there was greater than he dreamed.
, and Slocum
were already out of the forest and my corps was just emerging from it when he ordered us to retire.
The old position which we resumed was as follows: A stream called Mineral Spring Run, rising perhaps a half mile west of Chancellorsville
, runs northeast and joins the Rappahannock
at right angles.
stretched his command along the western crest of this run, and, resting his left not far from the Rappahannock
, faced toward Fredericksburg
The whole of Meade
's line ran through an unbroken forest; its extent was about three miles. Couch
continued the line, but was obliged to bulge out for a half mile to cover the Chancellorsville house
's division of this corps made a right angle, the apex being on the
's division covered the space between Hancock
, being substantially in reserve.
's corps was next.
's and Williams
's divisions, abreast of Hancock
's foremost men, carried the line along some high ground to a second knoll, called Hazel Grove
, making an obtuse angle with Slocum
's front, filled the space between Slocum
's right flank and the small open field which embraces Dowdall
This he did with Birney
's division; the remainder of his corps was in reserve, located between Dowdall
's and Chancellorsville
My own corps (the Eleventh) occupied the extreme right.
As this position became subsequently of special interest, I will describe it. First, the old plank road and the old turnpike coming from the east are one and the same from Chancellorsville
to and across Dowdall
's opening; there the road forked, the plank continuing west, making an angle of some twenty degrees with the pike.
North of the plank, in the Dowdall
's opening, is the Wilderness Church
; Hawkins's house is in the small gladelike space, about a quarter of a mile north of the church, and Dowdall
's tavern, where Melzie Chancellor
's family lived, was southeast of the church and also south of the main road.
Here were my headquarters and Steinwehr
's before the battle of Saturday.
The next opening to Dowdall
's, westward, situated between the forks-i. e., between the plank road and the turnpike — was called Tally Farm.
The highest ground was at Tally
's, near the pike, and at Hawkins's house; there was only a small rise at Dowdall
's. These elevations were but slight, hardly as high as Hazel Grove
Except the small openings, the forest was continuous and nearly enveloping.
Generally the trees were near together,
with abundant entanglements of undergrowth.
Now, beginning with Sickles
's right and facing south, General Steinwehr
, commanding my second division, deployed two regiments of Bushbeck
's brigade, some 100 yards, more or less, south of the plank road; the remainder of that brigade he deployed or held as a reserve north of the road-holding all of the ground to the Wilderness Church
and to the forks of the roads.
, in charge of the 3d division, took up the line and carried it to a crossroad, and then, making a right angle, ran back along this crossroad to the turnpike, and thence farther, just south of and parallel with the pike.
He kept about half of the brigades of Krzyzanowski
in reserve, holding his reserves in the Dowdall
's opening north of the church.
The next division (the first) under General Devens
, was deployed in the extension of Schurz
's line, first along the turnpike westward, with similar reserves.
He drew back one brigade, Colonel Von Gilsa
's, and a small part of another, nearly at right angles to the turnpike, and extended this line well out into the woods, facing it toward the northwest.
There was a country road behind him, so that he could easily reinforce any part of his line.
The artillery was distributed along the lines in favorable positions-two pieces near Devens
's right, the remainder of Heckman
's battery on Devens
's left; Dilger
's fine battery of six guns at the crossroads, and Wiedrich
's four guns at Steinwehr
's right and three at his left.
Besides, I had three batteries in reserve.
I had a line of intrenchments made off against the little church, extending across the opening into the woods, and facing toward our extreme right and rear.
I put the reserve heavy guns in position there to protect that
flank, and supported them by my general reserve of infantry, viz., Barlow
's large brigade.
My whole front was covered with rifle pits or barricades, constructed under the constant inspection of Major Hoffman
, the chief engineer
(May 2d) General Hooker
, with Colonel Comstock
, his engineer officer, visited my corps and rode with me along my front line.
He frequently exclaimed: “How strong l” and made no criticism.
At one point a regiment was not deployed, and at another was an unfilled gap in the thick forest.
advised me to keep these spaces filled, even if I had to shorten my front.
I made the changes suggested.
Further, the whole command was covered with a good line of skirmishers.
The first commotion in my front occurred Friday evening. It was apparently a force of infantry with a battery of artillery, sent by General Lee
and moving along the lines from our left toward our right.
The force went no farther than Schimmelfennig
He had marched out a battalion, had suddenly assailed the reconnoiterers, and driven them off.
During the next day frequent reconnoissances were made from my front.
Individual scouts pushed out under the cover of the woods, and at one time a company of Pennsylvania
cavalry undertook to patrol the various roads outward from the vicinity of my command.
During the morning of this Saturday it was evident to us that the enemy was doing something-most probably preparing for a general attack.
's angle, or that between Slocum
, were most favorable points.
I sent out my chief of staff more than once to see if my line was in shape and to order the command, through the division commanders, to keep
on the alert.
Once my staff officer, Major Whittlesey
, rode over the entire picket line to see that the front was well covered with skirmishers.
He went from the left to the extreme right and made his report.
I speak of this to show what unusual precautions I took because of the forest and of the uncertainty of the enemy's movements.
Doubtless other corps commanders did the same.
The officers, during Saturday, frequently discussed the situation at my headquarters.
Every iota of information which I received I sent at once by mounted orderlies to General Hooker
I did not think General Lee
would be likely to move around our right, because our whole force was much larger than his. He had already been compelled to divide his army in order to hold back Sedgwick
and come against us. He could not afford to divide again, for, should he attempt that, certainly Hooker
would attack his separate bodies and conquer him in detail.
So I reasoned, and so did others.
Again, if my flank should be turned, it appeared plain, from the roads on our maps, that Lee
would have to make a large detour.
To withstand this, Reynolds
's corps, recently come up from Falmouth
, was on hand, besides the artillery and the reserves of the other corps stationed near Chancellorsville
Further, should an attack by any possibility reach us, Devens
was to hold on as long as he could, using his reserves to support the points most threatened; Schurz
was to hold his regiments that were free from the line, ready to protect the right flank.
He preferred, he said, to hold them en masse
, so as to charge in column.
And last, as I have said, I put my reserve artillery in position and supported it by Barlow
's men, facing the right, so that, should the troops of the right be dislodged, they could be drawn back beyond his line,
and still the fight continue till help came.
Was not Sickles
's whole corps at hand Would not he simply face about and reenforce met Once in the West
, a year later, with the Fourth Corps, I was situated in the same manner, but by using all corps reserves and reinforcements that I sent for, the enemy's brigades were met in time and driven back with great loss.
says: “Early on the next morning of the 2d (Saturday, May 2, 1863), General Jackson
marched by the Furnace
's road; his movement being effectually covered by Fitz Lee
's cavalry under Stuart
This direction was nearly parallel with our front line from east to west till, opposite Sickles
, the road which Jackson
took turned suddenly toward the south and kept on for several miles away from us toward Spottsylvania
Then, intersecting a road running northwest, the column turned up that one and kept on to the plank beyond, and massed under the cover of the thick forest.
This march took nearly all day. General Lee
, as he knew how to do, with McLaws
, kept Meade
, and Slocum
busier still near the Furnace
as soon as Jackson
's guns were heard.
There was a point at the Furnace
clearing where the moving troops of Jackson
were seen by some of Sickles
This was reported to Sickles
, and by him to General Hooker
A strong reconnoissance was made.
's battery, well supported, was put in position, and fired upon the Confederate
This firing forced the enemy to abandon the road, and the whole force appeared at first to retire rapidly eastward and southward toward Spottsylvania
The Twenty-third Georgia Regiment, left behind, deployed toward Sickles
to hold the corner where
the road changed direction.
This resistance caused Sickles
, with Hooker
's consent, to send forward two and a half miles Birney
's entire division, supporting it by other troops.
This command worked along slowly through the woods, bridging streams, sending out Berdan
's sharpshooters as skirmishers, and pressing forward.
Considerable resistance was encountered, but the Twenty-third Georgia was, after a while, captured by the sharpshooters.
In brief, the circumstances seemed to warrant the conclusion that Lee
was moving off-probably to Orange Court House
— in retreat.
Assuming this to be the case, Hooker
to support Sickles
's left, and I received orders by Captain Moore
, of Hooker
's staff, to support Sickles
's right with my reserve troops, while he vigorously attacked the flank or rear of Stonewall Jackson
As an attack in that direction was to be made by our troops and by those near me, and as my general reserve was taken away to support it, I deemed it of sufficient importance to go myself and see what further should be done.
accompanied me. We saw our men in position on the right of Sickles
, over two miles south of us, but not finding the engagement very active in that quarter we hastened back to my headquarters at Dowdallts Clearing.
We were again at the tavern.
Our horses had been unsaddled for their evening meal.
There was no news for me, except what the scouts brought and what General Devens
had frequently reported, that Lee
's column had been crossing the plank road obliquely between two and three miles ahead, and apparently aiming toward Orange Court House
Had I then been familiar with the routes as I am now I should have distrusted the
, who had more sources of information than I, thought Lee
He so telegraphed to Sedgwick
about the time of Sickles
He ordered all the troops toward the Furnace
in that belief.
I had then the same conviction.
When Stonewall Jackson
began his march, Anderson
watched us closely.
He reported: “At midday Sickles
's corps, Birney
's division, appeared in some force at the Furnace
's brigade was sent to dislodge him and was soon engaged in a warm skirmish with him.”
This combat became so lively and Posey
was so hard pressed that he called for help.
's brigade from the line and sent it to the support of Posey
Hardaway's artillery was added to that of Lieutenant Colonel Brown
Both of these large brigades of Posey
with artillery were here, deployed in as long a line as possible; they fought by increasing their skirmishers till night, and intrenched as soon as they could.
This all shows that Hooker
's attack upon Stonewall Jackson
's flank at the Furnace
was not really made.
It was General Lee
himself, who, during Jackson
's wonderful march, by means of Anderson
and part of his artillery, took care of Sickles
's whole line.
's movement toward the Furnace
carried away from my flank all immediate support to be expected from Barlow
, and Slocum
; and, further, these troops were looking, moving, and fighting in an opposite direction.
They were engaged, not as Hooker
telegraphed, with Lee
in full retreat, but with Lee
himself staying behind after Jackson
He was then controlling the smaller wing of his army.
took great risks as he did at Gaines
Mill before Richmond
, where 25,000 men only held in check the whole of McClellan
's army, while he himself crossed the river and defeated Porter
and all the supports that McClellan
dared send him. This time Lee
took the smaller force himself.
continued his march until he ordered a temporary halt.
At this halt Fitzhugh Lee
, who from a wooded knoll had discovered my flank, returned to Jackson
and asked him to go and see. The two generals then rode to the wooded knoll.
took a good look at our right flank and then, without a word, went back and marched his command still farther, at least half a mile beyond the “Old Turnpike.”
The lines of battle were there formed about 4 P. M. The divisions were in line 100 yards apart.
Should they preserve the order of arrangement indicated, Jackson
's flank would be beyond our General Devens
's waiting line of battle-beyond his right battery and Von Gilsa
's supporting brigade.
Still, with ten minutes notice or fifteen minutes hard fighting, Devens
could have held or extended his line.
It was already six o'clock. Hearing the sound of a skirmish toward Devens
's position, I mounted with my staff and rode toward a high ridge not far from my reserve batteries.
With a little more than 8,000 men at hand and with no other troops now nearer than Chancellorsville
, I heard the first murmuring of a coming storm — a little quick firing on the picket line, the wild rushing of frightened game into our very camps, and almost sooner than it can be told the bursting of thousands of Confederates through the almost impenetrable thickets'of the wilderness and then the wilder, noisier conflict which ensued.
It was a terrible gale!
the rush, the rattle, the quick lightning from a hundred
points at once; the roar, redoubled by echoes through the forest; the panic, the dead and dying in sight and the wounded straggling along; the frantic efforts of the brave and patriotic to stay the angry storm I One may live through and remember impressions of those fatal moments, but no pen or picture can catch and give the whole.
A few words of detail will make clearer to the reader the situation.
said that at 5 P. M. the order was given the Confederates
If his time was right it must have taken him an hour to work forward “through the very thick woods.”
He first encountered our skirmishers who were so obstinate that it required his main line to drive them back; then his men were “subjected to a very heavy musket fire, with grape, canister, and shell.”
Immediately his line assailed our barricades and intrenchments, drove our defenders off, and seized our batteries.
's Union brigade was supporting two guns; Dole
's left regiment broke through the interval between Von Gilsa
and the remainder of Devens
's division, while Rodes
's brigade faced Von Gilsa
in front and so the greater part of Iverson
's long line reached beyond Von Gilsa
and the troops to his immediate left were quickly driven from their intrenchments, and they rolled along down Devens
's line and created a panic in all that front.
But there was another line to encounter after the first real resistance made by Devens
's reserve regiments and part of Schurz
's division, which was on a side hill in an open field east of Hawkins's house.
Against this line the Confederates
had come and succeeded in dislodging it, capturing one rifle gun; then they pushed on rapidly 300 yards more over an open field.
During this movement
they faced another severe fire from musketry and batteries on the crest of a hill which commanded their field of approach.
Our infantry was there in considerable force and protected by rifle intrenchments.
We had filled these intrenchments, which had been prepared for Barlow
's brigade, with fragments of regiments and individual men in retreat, who had volunteered to stay and help.
In the outset of the conflict I instantly sent a staff officer (Colonel Asmussen
) to see that all was right in the direction of the firing.
After Colonel Asmussen
left me I had proceeded some 200 yards toward my reserve batteries, when the louder firing reached my ears and I saw Von Gilsa
's men running back from their position.
Immediately I made an effort to change the front of part of Devens
's and all of Schurz
The rush of the enemy made this impossible.
To render matters worse for me personally my horse got crazy, like some of the panic-stricken men, and plunged and reared and left me on the ground.
Of course, I was soon mounted, but this hindered and delayed my personal work.
, who was always at hand, at this juncture brought me two regiments.
For a time the reserve artillery at that point fired steadily and did well.
It took the Confederates
twenty minutes to take that place.
It was taken too soon, because the instant that the fire became severe our men, who were separate from their companies, ran back in panic and four cannon were captured, but some of the batteries were withdrawn in good order.
's, for example, kept up its fire all along the Chancellorsville
Behind the reserve batteries near Dowdall
's tavern Steinwehr
had his men spring over their breastworks and hold
on, firing as soon as they could.
One brigade of his (Bushbeck
's) was kept quite entire and faced the enemy through the whole retreat.
's and a part of Krzyzanowski
's brigades moved gradually back to the north of the plank road and into the eastern border of Dowdall
They, too, kept up their fire.
The whole center, as well as Devens
's right, seem to have been seized with a blind indescribable panic.
Several staff officers were near me and one of General Hooker
's staff-Colonel Dickinson
We worked hard to stay the panic-stricken --officers as well as men.
“It's of no use,” they would sing out. One colonel said: “I have done what I could” and continued his flight.
What artillery we kept was for a time well served, but we could only fight for time.
The next stand I attempted was at the forest's edge, but when that position was outflanked by Jackson
, I rode back to the first high plateau to which we came on the Chancellorsville
Here I met General Hiram G. Berry
, of Maine
He said: “Well, general, where now?”
I replied: “You take the right (north) of this road and I will take the left and try to defend it.”
All of my batteries were joined to others already there and placed on the brow of the plateau.
I here brought all the troops of the Eleventh Corps which I could collect and faced them to the rear in support of the batteries.
The enemy reached us with his fire.
Some of our officers misbehaved even here, so much had our defeat disheartened them; but many were still resolute and helpful.
, of the Third Corps, put his men into line and marched off to hold back the advancing masses, till he fell mortally wounded.
, returning from Hooker
movement, used his troops and some batteries effectively from the opening at Hazel Grove
, southeast of Dowdall
's, and succeeded in stopping some troops of Jackson
's which were pursuing beyond our now left flank the fugitives who had taken that direction in their flight.
Soon, with Berry
's division, the cannon on our hill, Pleasonton
's help and that of various other detachments swinging into a line perpendicular to the one thoroughfare — the plank roadwe were able to check Jackson
What a roar of cannon pouring their volleys into the forest, now black with the growing night!
It was in that forest that the brave, energetic, and successful Southern leader fell.
's death was more injurious to the Confederate
cause than would have been that of 10,000 other soldiers, so great was the confidence he had won, so deep was the reverence of citizen and soldier for his character and ability!
It has been customary to blame me and my corps for the disaster.
The imputations of neglect to obey orders; of extraordinary self-confidence; of fanatical reliance upon the God of battles; of not sending out reconnoissances; of not intrenching; of not strengthening the right flank by keeping proper reserves; of having no pickets and skirmishers; of not sending information to General Hooker
, etc., etc., are far from true.
My command was by positive orders riveted to that position.
Though constantly threatened and made aware of hostile columns in motion, yet the woods were so dense that Stonewall Jackson
was able to mass a large force a few miles off, whose exact whereabouts neither patrols, reconnoissances, nor scouts ascertained.
The enemy crossing the plank road, two and a half miles off, we all saw. So the turning
at the Furnace
was seen by hundreds of our people; but the interpretation of these movements was certainly wrong.
Yet, wherein did we neglect any precaution?
It will be found that Devens
kept his subordinates constantly on the qui vive;
so did Schurz
Their actions and mine were identical.
The Eleventh Corps detained Jackson
for over an hour; part of my force was away by Hooker
's orders; part of each division fought hard, as our Confederate enemies clearly show; part of it became wild with panic, like the Belgians at Waterloo
, like most of our troops at Bull Run
, and the Confederates
, the second day, at Fair Oaks
I may leave the whole matter to the considerate judgment of my companions in arms, simply asserting that on the terrible day of May 2, 1863, I did all which could have been done by a corps commander in the presence of that panic of men largely caused by the overwhelming attack of Jackson
's 26,000 men against my isolated corps of 8,000 without its reserve-thus outnumbering me 3 to 1.
There is always a theory in war which will forestall the imputation of blame to those who do not deserve it. It is to impute the credit of one's great defeat to his enemy.
I think in our hearts, as we take a candid review of everything that took place under General Hooker
in the blind wilderness country around Chancellorsville
, we do, indeed, impute our primary defeat to the successful effort of Stonewall Jackson
, and our other checks to General Robert E. Lee
Certainly those are wrong who claim that I had no skirmishers out at Chancellorsville
, for every report shows that the whole front was covered with them, and they are wrong who declare that there were no scouts or reconnoissancesfor scouts, both cavalry and infantry, were constantly
sent out, some of whom reported back to Devens
, to me, and to General Hooker
The reconnoissance made by Schimmelfennig
's brigade was as bold and as effective as it could be in such a forest.
Or again, that there were no intrenchments; for under Major Hoffman
, the faithful engineer officer, the front and the batteries were fairly covered; and the woods, in places barricaded and obstructed, occupied by the right brigade of the corps, and afforded also a natural protection.
The extraordinary precaution of a cross intrenchment extending over the open ground and into the woods in rear of our right where were all the reserve artillery and Barlow
's division to support it, should not be forgotten.
If there were any axes, picks, or shovels obtainable which were not used, then I was misinformed.
The order from the commanding general addressed to General Slocum
and myself jointly, cautioning me to look to my right flank, etc., must have been made prior to the visit of Generals Hooker
, for General Sickles
's corps had already replaced General Slocum
's on my left and certainly General Hooker
would not have sent away all of Sickles
's corps and all of my general reserve on the very day of the battle, if he had deemed those masses necessary for the strengthening of his right flank.
Neither the commander, the War Department, nor Congress ever saw fit, by any communication to me, to hold me accountable for the dislodgment of the Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville
That General Hooker
should have believed General Lee
to have been in full retreat, as he telegraphed to Sedgwick
, was not unnatural or confined to him alone; upon that theory the move he made of Sickles
, and Barlow
during Saturday was not bad. And, indeed, my conduct
in this battle was in no respect different from that in other engagements.
The Eleventh Corps was soon reorganized and marched to relieve the Fifth Corps, under General Meade
, on our extreme left.
Here it held an intrenched or barricaded line till the end of the Chancellorsville campaign
For the operations of the next day; the work of Sedgwick
's command at Fredericksburg
; his fighting near and crossing the Rappahannock
; the unjust aspersions cast upon him by pretentious writers; the grand council of war, where, mostly, the general officers voted to fight, and the final withdrawal, I wish to call attention to the good accounts of the Comte de Paris
and to the more exhaustive handling of Chancellorsville
by a brother officer-Major Theodore A. Dodge
was a dreadful field.
The dead were strewn through forest and open farms.
The wounded had often to wait for days before succor came.
Sometimes it never came.
One officer on my personal staff, Captain F. Dessaur
, was killed while near me beside Barlow
's intrenchments, endeavoring to rally the panic-stricken men. His young wife had besought him to resign and come home to Brooklyn, N. Y.
, before this battle commenced.
He tendered his resignation, explaining the peculiar circumstances of the case.
But we were before the enemy, and soon to be engaged in battle, so that I wrote my disapproval upon his application.
Poor fellow, he was slain, and my heart was deeply pained at his loss and in sympathy with his stricken family.
is an example of that dreadful sacrifice made in the cause of our national unity and of human liberty.