Lance used by the 6th Pennsylvania cavalry (rush's Lanoers). |
In October, 1876, I accompanied General Hooker
to the battle-fields of Fredericksburg
, and Antietam
,--fields on which he had borne conspicuous parts.
It was the only occasion on which he visited them after the battles.
He had previously placed in my hands his official papers and memoranda for the preparation of a history of the Battle of Chancellorsville
, at the same time requesting me to make this journey with him, that I might have the advantage of a thorough knowledge of the field, and of his interpretation of the manner in which the battle was fought.
At this period he was partly paralyzed from the injury received in the Chancellorsville
battle, and he could move only with great difficulty by the aid of his valet.
After our arrival at Fredericksburg
, General Hooker
was the recipient of many courteous attentions from the leading citizens, and at night he was serenaded, when a great crowd assembled in front of the hotel, to whose repeated cheers he made a brief response, in which he said that he had visited their city but once before, and although his reception now was not nearly so warm as on that former day, yet it was far more agreeable to him,--a conceit which greatly pleased his hearers.
Our drive over the Fredericksburg
field, which we visited on the way, was on one of the most perfect of autumnal days, and at every turn fresh reminiscences of that battle were suggested.
As we approached the flag-staff of the National Cemetery
, on the hill adjoining Marye's Heights
, where more than fifteen thousand of the Union
dead of Fredericksburg
, the Wilderness
, and Spotsylvania
are buried, General Hooker
I never think of this ground but with a shudder.
The whole scene is indelibly fixed in my mind, as it appeared on that fatal day. Here on this ground were ranged the enemy's cannon, and the heights farther to his left were thickly planted with pieces; all the infantry he could use was disposed behind earth-works and stone walls.
How this could have been selected as the point, above all others, for attack, and followed up until four whole divisions had been sacrificed, I cannot comprehend.
As I stand here to-day, the impossibility of carrying this ground by direct assault is no more apparent than it was when I made my observation preparatory to ordering Humphreys's division forward.
But it is evident that General Burnside never forgave me for counseling him on that occasion as I did, for on January 23d he drew up an order, known as General Orders, No. 8, of his series, dishonorably dismissing me from the service, together with three other prominent general officers, at the
same time relieving five other officers from duty.
I was grossly maligned by the press of that day, and it was generally believed by the people at the North that I had not faithfully supported General Burnside in this battle, and that I was aiming thereby to supplant him. If these brave men who are sleeping here beneath our feet could speak, they would bear testimony to my sincerity and fidelity to the cause we were battling for; and though I have suffered in silence, and my reputation has been grossly aspersed, I have rested in the firm belief that my conduct on that day would be justified by the American people.
These Orders, No. 8,1
were prepared on the 23d of January, 1863, and would have been immediately promulgated had not General Burnside
been counseled first to lay them before President Lincoln
, of whom he asked that they be approved, as drawn, or that his own resignation be accepted.
The President refused to accept his resignation, but relieved him of the command of the Army of the Potomac; and so little effect had the order upon the mind of Mr. Lincoln
that he decided to place Hooker
, at whom the shaft was chiefly aimed, at the head of the army.
And yet so strong a hold had this unjust opinion on the public mind that even the President
was tinctured with it, and in his remarkable letter of January 26th to General Hooker
, informing him of his appointment, he said:
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 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 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 successes can set up 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 that the spirit which 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 give us victories.
The caution against rashness may have been suggested to the mind of Mr. Lincoln
by the epithet of “Fighting Joe Hooker
,” which the general never heard without expressing his deep regret that it was ever applied to him. “People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit,” he said; when in fact he was one of the most kindly and tender-hearted of men.
We were accompanied on our ride to the Chancellorsville
field, some ten or twelve miles above Fredericksburg
, by Major George E. Chancellor
, a son of Melzi Chancellor
, whose home at the time of the battle was at Dowdall's Tavern, where General Howard
had his headquarters.
On setting out, General Hooker
suggested that we should take some lunch along with us, as, when he was there last there was very little to eat in all that region.
thought it unnecessary, and, in fact, we were feasted most sumptuously at his father's house.
Upon our arrival at the broad, open, rolling fields opposite Banks's Ford, some three or four miles up the stream, General Hooker
exclaimed, waving his hand significantly:
Here, on this open ground, I intended to fight my battle.
But the trouble was to get my army on it, as the banks of the stream are, as you see, rugged and precipitous, and the few fords were strongly fortified and guarded by the enemy.
By making a powerful demonstration in front of and below the town of Fredericksburg with a part of my army, I was able, unobserved, to withdraw the remainder, and, marching nearly thirty miles up the stream, to cross the Rappahannock and the Rapidan unopposed, and in four days time to arrive at Chancellorsville, within five miles of this coveted ground,3--and all this without General Lee having discovered that I had left my position in his front.
So far, I regarded my movement as a
On the morning of the fifth day my army was astir, and was put in motion on three lines through the tangled forest (the Wilderness) which covers the whole country around Chancellorsville, and in three hours time I would have been in position on these crests, and in possession of Banks's Ford, in short and easy communication with the other wing of my army.
But at midnight General Lee had moved out with his whole army, and by sunrise was in firm possession of Banks's Ford, had thrown up this line of breastworks which you can still follow with the eye, and it was bristling with cannon from one end to the other.
Before I had proceeded two miles the heads of my columns, while still upon the narrow roads in these interminable forests, where it was impossible to manoeuvre my forces, were met by Jackson with a full two-thirds of the entire Confederate army.
I had no alternative but to turn back, as I had only a fragment of my command in hand, and take up the position about Chancellorsville which I had occupied during the night, as I was being rapidly outflanked upon my right, the enemy having open ground on which to operate.
And here again my reputation has been attacked because I did not undertake to accomplish an impossibility, but turned back at this point; and every history of the war that has been written has soundly berated me because I did not fight here in the forest with my hands tied behind me, and allow my army to be sacrificed.
I have always believed that impartial history would vindicate my conduct in this emergency.
Soon after leaving the open ground opposite Banks's Ford we entered the dense forest, or “Wilderness
,” which covers the entire Chancellorsville
battle-ground,--“a dense forest,” says General Warren
, “of not very large trees, but very difficult to get through; mainly of scrubby oak, what they call black-jack there, so that a man could hardly ride through it, and a man could not march through it very well with musket in hand, unless he trailed it.”
Every important position was observed and commented upon by the man who on those fierce battle-days had wielded, on this very ground, an army of a hundred thousand men. On approaching the pine-tree under which Generals Lee
had planned the mode of attack, General Hooker
It was under that tree that the mischief was devised which came near ruining my army.
My position at Chancellorsville was a good one for this monotonous country.
I felt confident when I reached it that I had eighty chances in a hundred to win. To make sure that everything was firm and strong, very early on the 2d of May, the first day of the battle, I rode along the whole line, and personally examined every part, suggesting some changes and counseling extreme vigilance.
Upon my return to Headquarters I was informed that a continuous column of the enemy had been marching past my front since early in the morning, as of a corps with all its impedimenta.
This put an entirely new phase upon the problem, and filled me with apprehension for the safety of my right wing, which was posted to meet a front attack from the south, but was in no condition for a flank attack from the west; for this marching of the enemy's corps, to my mind, meant
a flank movement upon my right.
I immediately dictated a dispatch4 to “Generals Slocum and Howard,” the latter commanding the Eleventh Corps, which stood upon the extreme right, saying that I had good reason to believe that the enemy was moving to our right, and that they must be ready to meet an attack from the west.
This was at 9:30 in the morning. In the course of two hours I got a dispatch from General Howard, saying that he could see a column of the enemy moving westward, and that he was taking the precautions necessary “to resist an attack from the west.”
5 I had previously put Williams's division of the Twelfth Corps on an interior line looking westward, and had it fortified, so that if Howard should give way, this interior line would be for safety, as it afterward proved my salvation.
I sent Sickles to pierce this moving column of the enemy, and made preparations to flank the portion of Lee's army that was still upon my front, in the direction of Fredericksburg, and, sweeping down in reverse, to destroy it if possible.
But a swamp intervened which had to be corduroyed, and a small stream had to be bridged, which consumed time; and though Sickles was successful in breaking in upon the enemy's column and making some captures, yet, before he was in position to make his decisive attack, Jackson, who had led his column by a long circuit, out of sight and hearing, through the dense forest, came in upon my right flank, and by one concentrated blow of his whole corps, some 25,000 men, had crushed and put to flight almost the entire corps of Howard; and it was with the utmost difficulty that I could lead up my reserves to the interior line of Williams, and bring Jackson's victorious forces to a halt.
This failure of Howard to hold his ground cost us our position, and I was forced, in the presence of the enemy, to take up a new one.
Upon investigation I found that Howard had failed properly to obey my instructions to prepare to meet the enemy from the west.
In this connection the following extracts from a letter to Hooker
(who subsequently gave General Hooker
leave to print it) will be read with interest:
When we arrived at the Chancellor House
(which is all there is of Chancellorsville
), where General Hooker
had his headquarters, and where he received the hurt that came near proving mortal, General Hooker
said, “I was standing on this step of the portico on the Sunday morning of the 3d of May, and
was giving direction to the battle, which was now raging with great fury, the cannon-balls reaching me from both the east and the west, when a solid shot struck the pillar near me, splitting it in two, and throwing one-half longitudinally against me, striking my whole right side, which soon turned livid.
For a few moments I was senseless, and the report spread that I had been killed.
But I soon revived, and, to correct the misapprehension, I insisted on being lifted upon my horse, and rode back toward the white house, which subsequently became the center of my new position.
Just before reaching it, the pain from my hurt became so intense that I was likely to fall, when I was assisted to dismount, and was laid upon a blanket spread out upon the ground, and was given some brandy.
This revived me, and I was assisted to remount.
Scarcely was I off the blanket when a solid shot, fired by the enemy at Hazel Grove
, struck in the very center of that blanket, where I had a moment before been lying, and tore up the earth in a savage way.”
As he ended this recital General Hooker
turned to Major Chancellor
, who was standing by, and said, “Ah, Major
Your people were after me with a sharp stick on that day.”
A short distance from the Chancellor House
, in the direction of Dowdall's Tavern, our carriage was halted, and, dismounting, Major Chancellor
led us a few paces out of the road, along a faint cart-path, when he said, “This is the place where Stonewall Jackson
received the wounds that proved mortal.”
“I have always been struck,” observed General Hooker
, “with the last words of General Jackson
, evincing how completely he was absorbed in the progress of the battle.
In his delirium he was still upon the field, and he cried out, ‘Order A. P. Hill
to prepare for action — pass the infantry to the front rapidly — tell Major Hawks
--’ when he stopped with the sentence unfinished.
After a little his brow relaxed, as if from relief, and he said, ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees,’--and these were his last words.”
Arriving at Dowdall's Tavern, General Hooker
pointed out the excellent position here afforded for Howard
's corps to have made a stout defense.
's brigade of that corps,” said he, “did wonders here, and held the whole impetuous onset of the enemy in check for an hour or more, which gave me opportunity to bring my reserves into position.
The loss of this ground brought me into so cramped a condition that I was. obliged to take up a new position, which I successfully accomplished.
I now ordered Sedgwick
, who commanded the Sixth Corps, the largest in my army, some 22,000 men,
Retreat of the Union army across the Rappahannock at United States Ford.
From a War-time sketch. |
which had been left to demonstrate in front of Fredericksburg
, to cross the river and move rapidly up to my left.
The effect of so heavy a body of fresh troops coming in upon the enemy's flank I calculated would be decisive.
was dilatory in moving,7
which gave the enemy time to concentrate and stop him before he had moved over half the distance, and I consequently got no help from him.”
I ventured to ask why he did not attack when he found that the enemy had weakened his forces in the immediate front and sent them away to meet Sedgwick
“That,” said he, “would seem to have been the reasonable thing to do. But we were in this impenetrable thicket.
All the roads and openings leading through it the enemy immediately fortified strongly, and planted thickly his artillery commanding all the avenues, so that with reduced numbers he could easily hold his lines, shutting me in, and it became utterly impossible to manoeuvre my forces.
My army was not beaten.
Only a part of it had been engaged.
The First Corps, commanded by Reynolds
, whom I regarded as the ablest officer under me, was fresh and ready and eager to be brought into action, as was my whole army.
But I had been fully convinced of the futility of attacking fortified positions, and I was determined not to sacrifice my men needlessly, though it should be at the expense of my reputation as a fighting officer.
We had already had enough grievous experience in that line.
I made frequent demonstrations to induce the enemy to attack me, but he would not accept my challenge.
Accordingly, when the eight days rations with which my army started out were exhausted, I retired across the river.
Before doing so I sent orders to General Sedgwick
to hold his position near
Banks's Ford, on the south side of the stream, and I would bringmy whole army to his support; but the order failed to reach him until he had already recrossed the river.8
Could I have had my army on the open grounds at that point where I could have manoeuvred it properly, I felt assured that I could have gained a decisive victory.
But this, my last chance, was frustrated.”9
Foraging in the Wilderness. |
Feeling the enemy, from a War-time Sketoh. |