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Chapter 12:

  • South Carolinians in the Chancellorsville campaign
  • -- service of Kershaw's and Mc-Gowan's brigades -- a great Confederate victory.

After the defeat of General Burnside's attempt to drive the Confederate army from its position in rear of Fredericksburg, both armies went into winter quarters, and remained inactive until about the middle of April, 1863. In January, General Burnside was removed from command, and Gen. Joseph Hooker, who had commanded the center grand division of Burnside's army, was placed in command of the army of the Potomac, and charged with the task of capturing Richmond. Upon assuming command, General Hooker published his general orders, No. 1, in which he contrasted the merits of his army with those of General Lee's in the following sentences: ‘In equipment, intelligence and valor the enemy is our inferior. Let us never hesitate to give him battle, wherever we can find him.’ It is hardly possible that such language could have disparaged the character of General Lee's army in the estimation of the Federal soldiers who had so often felt the force of its ‘equipment, intelligence and valor.’

President Lincoln was not willing to give General Hooker so great a trust without warning and serious admonition, which he embodied in the following letter, under date of January 26, 1863:

General: I have placed you at the head of the army of the Potomac. Of course, I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I [214] believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which within reasonable bounds does good rather than harm. But I think that during General Burnside's command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong both to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain success can set up as dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear the spirit you have aided to infuse into the army of criticising their commander and withholding confidence from him will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now beware of rashness—beware of rashness; but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and gain us victories.

Yours very truly,

How far the anxious President's candid letter influenced the generalship of the new commander may be seen by what follows in description of his unhappy experiences in ‘finding the enemy’ and testing his ‘inferior equipment, intelligence and valor.’

On April 30, 1863, the Federal army under Hooker had 133,708 men ‘actually available for the line of battle,’ organized in seven corps; the First under Reynolds, the Second under Couch, the Third under Sickles, the Fifth under Meade, the Sixth under Sedgwick, the Eleventh under Howard, the Twelfth under Slocum. The artillery included 370 guns, of all calibers. The cavalry force outnumbered General Lee's three to one. [215]

General Lee's army was numerically not as strong as at the battle of Fredericksburg, Longstreet having been sent south of the James with the divisions of Hood and Pickett, and Hampton's cavalry brigade having been sent into the interior to recruit its horses. Lee's army confronting Hooker numbered of all arms, on the 1st of April, 53,303, with 170 pieces of artillery. McLaws and Anderson commanded the divisions of Longstreet's corps present, and Early, A. P. Hill, Rodes and Colston commanded Jackson's divisions; W. H. F. Lee and Fitzhugh Lee commanded the two brigades of cavalry under Stuart, and General Pendleton the artillery battalions of Alexander, Crutchfield, R. L. Walker, Brown, Carter, Andrews and McIntosh. McGowan's brigade, on April 29th, occupied the same position it held in the battle of December 13th.

By the 29th of April, three of Hooker's corps, the Fifth, Eleventh and Twelfth, had marched up the Rappahannock, crossed at Kelly's ford, and were marching for Germanna and Ely's fords on the Rapidan, on Lee's left flank. The Second corps crossed at the United States ford on the 30th, and at night Hooker was at Chancellorsville with four corps of his army, covering all approaches to that position. On the same day he ordered up the Third from in front of Fredericksburg, and by noon on May 1st he was in position around Chancellorsville with five army corps. General Sedgwick, with the remaining two corps, the First and Sixth, had crossed below Fredericksburg, and was demonstrating as if for attack. General Hooker was so much elated by the success of this concentration, that he published a field order congratulating his army on its ‘brilliant achievements,’ and declared that General Lee must ‘ingloriously fly’ before such a combination, else ‘certain destruction awaits him, should he give us battle on our own ground.’ Nous verrons.

On the 29th of April, General Lee had decided that [216] Hooker's main attack was to be expected from the troops marching on Chancellorsville, and that the operations in his front at Fredericksburg were only demonstrations in force to deceive him. He made his dispositions at once, and leaving Early and Barksdale and the reserve artillery for the defense of the position at Fredericksburg, with the main army marched to meet Hooker at Chancellorsville. The divisions of Anderson and McLaws were advanced on the main approaches, the plank road and old turnpike, and became engaged with Hooker's advance on both roads, early on the 1st of May, about 4 miles from General Hooker's headquarters. Jackson, with his three divisions, was in supporting distance, and in immediate charge of the advance. Pressing forward, on both roads, the Federals were driven back upon the line immediately around Chancellorsville, in which they were strongly protected by natural and prepared defenses.

On the evening and night of the 1st, General Lee put his troops in position across the plank road and fronting General Hooker's line. Lee's right extended as far as the mine road, and his left was in front of and beyond the Catherine furnace. General Hooker's line extended as far as the river on his left, and on his right along the road to Germanna's ferry (the old turnpike) for a distance of 3 miles. This line was covered from end to end by a vast forest, which hid its extent from observation, and was protected by abatis of fallen timber, riflepits, breastworks of logs, earthworks, etc. The forest also hid General Lee's line, and by the activity of the cavalry on his flanks, General Hooker was led to magnify both its strength and its length.

Hooker was so strong in front that General Lee determined to attack beyond his fortified line. On the night of the 1st he held a long conference with General Jackson, as a result of which General Jackson was ordered to lead his three divisions early in the morning to the extreme right and rear of General Hooker's line, and assault [217] with vigor. Lee was to stand in Hooker's front with McLaws' and Anderson's divisions, and Early was to keep back Sedgwick. Jackson marched with 26,000 men, and left Lee in front of Hooker with 14,000. The wilderness was his defense. It hid his weakness and screened Jackson's march.

Kershaw's brigade, with McLaws—the Fifteenth, Lieut.-Col. Joseph F. Gist; Seventh, Col. Elbert Bland; Third, Maj. R. C. Maffett; Second, Col. J. D. Kennedy; James' battalion, Lieut.-Col. W. G. Rice, and Eighth, Col. John W. Henagan—was in the second line of battle at Zoar church on May 1st, and next day formed in the front line before Chancellorsville, with thirteen companies thrown forward in the dense woods, under Maj. D. B. Miller, James' battalion, engaged in continually pressing the enemy.

Jackson's three divisions were commanded by Gens. A. P. Hill, R. E. Rodes and R. E. Colston. His South Carolina brigade, in Hill's light division, was now commanded by Brig.-Gen. Samuel McGowan, who was colonel of the Fourteenth South Carolina under the lamented Gregg, and when that gallant and accomplished soldier fell at Fredericksburg, was promoted to take command of the brigade, thenceforth known in the army of Northern Virginia as McGowan's brigade. McGowan's brigade, after being engaged in skirmishing, and under artillery fire on the 1st, moved out with Hill's division early on the 2d. As soon as the First regiment left the cover of the woods, said Col. D. H. Hamilton, it was subjected to the ‘most trying ordeal to which any troops could be subjected. As soon as we reached the open ground, we were exposed in open and full view to the batteries of the enemy, and under a deliberate and annoying fire, we passed those batteries in review. My regiment stood the ordeal well. Projecting hills soon screened us from further annoyance, and our march was rapidly and successfully [218] continued until we reached a position beyond Chancellorsville, in rear of the enemy's line of works.’

By 4 p. m. on the 2d, General Jackson was on the Germanna Ford road, and in rear of the right flank of General Hooker. The forest enveloping him covered his deployments, and his three divisions were put in line of battle, one behind the other, and marched up the road, and actually began the attack from the rear and flank before General Hooker's troops knew that they were being approached by a Confederate force. The Eleventh corps, General Howard, held the Federal right. Jackson's front line was led by Rodes, and so impetuous was the attack, and so complete the surprise, that the divisions of Howard were at once thrown into confusion and soon into rout. Rodes pressed on up the road and through the forest, followed by Colston and then by Hill, the great Jackson directing the advance. It was known that the enemy had a fortified line at the Talley house, and a second at Melzi Chancellor's house. Jackson's order was to carry the position at Talley's, and to move right on against the second at Chancellor's. Both were carried, and the entire right of Hooker's line defeated and driven back to the heights of Chancellorsville. Now, late in the day, General Jackson ordered A. P. Hill's division to relieve the divisions of Rodes and Colston at the Chancellor house. It was at this juncture, while Hill's division was taking position, that General Jackson, he and his staff being mistaken in the darkness for Federal cavalry, was fired upon and mortally wounded. Gen. A. P. Hill was soon afterward wounded, and the command of Jackson's corps devolved upon General Rodes for a time. General Stuart was then summoned, and the night of the 2d was spent by that active soldier in arranging for the morning's attack.

At sunset, McGowan's brigade had reached that part of the field that had been cleared of the enemy by Rodes' [219] division, leaving roads and fields strewn with the Federal dead. Colonel Hamilton's report continues:

Passing beyond, we were drawn up in line, by order of General McGowan, on the plank road, the Fourteenth regiment being deployed, and covering our front as skirmishers. Here we were subjected to a heavy fire of shells, which was annoying, but did not do us much damage. About 11 o'clock orders were given to advance, and the attempt was made, but either in consequence of the impossibility of advancing through the pine thickets, or a change of orders, the order was countermanded. At midnight the brigade was marched to a position in front of the enemy's breastworks, with Brigadier-General Lane on our left and Brigadier-General Archer on our right.

At dawn on the 3d, Stuart's line was arranged for a renewal of battle, and by sunrise he moved forward, Archer's brigade, on the extreme right, being charged with the duty of uniting with General Anderson's left, and so reuniting Lee's separated wings. The battle of Chancellorsville was won by 10 a. m., by the united assaults of the two wings coming together at the center, where the victorious advance of Stuart and Anderson and McLaws swept back the heroic resistance which Hooker's broken forces made around the heights, and drove them from the entire field of battle.

In this, the final and crowning assault of that great battle, the two South Carolina brigades, under McGowan and Kershaw, bore an honorable and memorable part. Kershaw on the right with McLaws, and McGowan on the left with Stuart, were in the front lines of advance, and carried their troops to the extreme limit of the great victory. The sacrifice which Carolina offered at Chancellorsville was costly, indeed. Over 550 of her sons were killed and wounded in the battle of the 3d, and that at Salem church on the 4th, in which last engagement General Lee defeated Sedgwick and drove him over the Rappahannock, turning upon his advance toward Chancellorsville with the divisions of Anderson, McLaws and Early. [220]

Of the part taken by McGowan's brigade, General Heth, commanding Hill's division, said:

I ordered Generals McGowan and Archer to move forward. . . . The light division forming the front line, opened the battle of Chancellorsville. . . . Lane's brigade, supported by part of Heth's brigade, and McGowan's brigade advanced and charged the enemy behind his breastworks and supported by twenty-nine pieces of artillery. I cannot conceive of any body of men ever being subjected to a more galling fire than this force. The brigades, notwithstanding, drove the enemy from his works and held them for some time.

Passing beyond the breastworks, the brigade soon became very hotly engaged, but on account of the oblique movement of Archer's brigade on their right, that flank was exposed and they were compelled to hold the line of works they had taken. Here, in the midst of a desperate fight, General McGowan and his able and gallant adjutant-general, Capt. A. C. Haskell, were severely wounded. Col. O. E. Edwards, of the Thirteenth, assumed brigade command, but this heroic soldier, exposing himself with characteristic intrepidity, was soon mortally wounded. Col. D. H. Hamilton, of the First, then took charge of the brigade. Here, also, the brigade suffered an irreparable loss in the fall of the accomplished Col. James M. Perrin, of the First rifles, who was mortally wounded at the breastworks. Among the gallant dead of McGowan's brigade were Lieuts. E. C. DuBose and C. P. Seabrook, of the First; Lieut. H. L. Fuller, of the Thirteenth, and Lieut. J. H. Fricks of the First rifles. Sergt. L. A. Wardlaw, Color-bearer G. S. Bell and Private T. R. Puckett, of the Rifles, were wounded bearing the colors. Maj. G. McD. Miller, of the Rifles, was severely wounded. The total loss of the brigade was 46 killed and 402 wounded. Col. Abner Perrin commanded the Fourteenth, and was in command of part of the brigade in the last charge. The Twelfth was not engaged.

The advance of Kershaw's brigade, early on the 3d, [221] suffered the loss of its gallant leader, Capt. G. B. Cuthbert, Second regiment, who fell with two wounds that caused his death. About 9 o'clock, General Kershaw reported, ‘the whole line advanced to the attack of Chancellorsville, and by 11 o'clock our troops were in possession of the position, the skirmishers only having been engaged. Moving over to the turnpike road to form a new front, under orders from the major-general commanding, I was directed by Gen. R. E. Lee to move with General Mahone toward Fredericksburg, to check the advance of a column of the enemy reported coming up from that point, along the plank road.’ This movement brought Kershaw's brigade into the battle of Salem Church, in which the Third regiment and part of James' battalion were engaged, on the right of Wilcox's brigade. Late in the evening of the 4th, the brigade took part in the engagement at Banks' ford, driving the enemy across the river. They spent all the night beating the thickets for Federals, finding only straggling prisoners; bivouacked at 4 a. m., arose at sunrise, and gathered over 800 stand of arms. About noon they marched to a point near the United States ford, and relieved Heth's brigade, and on the 6th, after the heavy rain had ceased, advanced and found there were no Federals on the south side of the Rappahannock.

Colonel Henagan's regiment was with General Jackson from the 2d. The loss of Kershaw's brigade was not great, 11 killed and 89 wounded; but the death of Captain Cuthbert and Capt. C. W. Boyd, of the Fifteenth, who fell together before Chancellorsville, par mobile fratrum, was deeply mourned. They were young men of the brightest promise, of commanding talents, high social position, and most attractive personality.

General Hooker's loss at Chancellorsville was greater than Lee's. The former lost in both wings, according to his statement before the committee on the conduct of the war, 17,197; by the returns in the War Records, 1,575 [222] killed, 9,559 Wounded, 5,711 prisoners or missing. General Lee's loss was 1,581 killed, 8,700 wounded. Both generals lost artillery, Lee eight pieces and Hooker thirteen, with 1,500 rounds of ammunition. General Lee gathered from the field, besides tents and army stores of various kinds, 19,500 rifles and muskets, and over 300,000 rounds of infantry ammunition.

After the battle, in his general orders of congratulation, General Lee recommended that the troops ‘unite on Sunday next, in ascribing to the Lord of Hosts the glory due unto His name,’ and quoted the following letter from President Davis:

General Lee: I have received your dispatch, and rev-erently unite with you in giving praise to God for the success with which He has crowned our arms. In the name of the people I offer my thanks to you and the troops under your command for this addition to the unprecedented series of great victories, which your army has achieved. The universal rejoicing produced by this happy result, will be mingled with general regret for the good and brave who are numbered among the killed and wounded.


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