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The campaign of Chancellorsville — by Theodore A. Dodge, United States army.

A Review by Colonel William Allan, Late of Jackson's Staff.
Colonel Dodge has given us a most excellent book. Amidst the mass of rubbish yearly printed about the war, it is refreshing to find an author more anxious to get at the truth than to glorify comrades, or vilify his foes; an author with the honesty, intelligence and patience to pick out the facts from the confused and often conflicting testimony, and the ability to state them clearly and fairly. Colonel Dodge is entitled to the thanks of all fair-minded men belonging to both sides in the late war, for an intelligent and comprehensive discussion of the Chancellorsville campaign, in which the merits and failures of the respective combatants are stated with impartiality, the plans of the opposing leaders criticized in a fair spirit, and the skill and gallantry of Confederate and Federal alike recognized. This book is a valuable contribution to history, and is one of the best, if not the very best result so far, of the labors of the Massachusetts Military Historical Society.

It is because of the high merit of the book, and because of our own conviction that it is destined to hold a permanent place, that we are the more anxious to point out what we consider imperfections in it.

Some criticism might be made upon certain negligences of style which more become the soldier than the scholar, but so clear and straight-forward is the narrative, so interesting from its very simplicity, that minor defects are lost in the general excellence.

One is struck throughout by the severity of Colonel Dodge's criticism of General Hooker. Indeed, the whole book is an arraignment of that [463] officer's mode of conducting operations, and at times too much space is given to discussing the exact measure of responsibility which attached to him for various failures. This, too, has diverted the author's attention from shortcomings of others that might fairly have come in for a larger share of blame than is assigned to them; not that we think Colonel Dodge is unjust to General Hooker; he is simply not generous. Nor, it must be confessed, has General Hooker, in this matter, any claim to generous treatment. General Hooker proved his ability and courage on many fields, and left behind him a reputation that may well be dear to his friends. But the Chancellorsville campaign, in which, having assumed the offensive at his own time and place, he allowed himself to be thrown upon the defensive, and then beaten by an army less than half as numerous as his own, was a demonstration of incapacity for the chief command of a large army, which needed no additional illustrations to make it satisfactory. His taste, too, was as faulty as his judgment. For his proclamations were as bombastic as his performance was impotent. General Hooker makes an altogether higher and more reputable figure in history than General John Pope, but his orders and despatches during the Chancellorsville campaign often recall the rare series with which Pope illustrated his too brief career in Virginia the preceding summer. This, however, was a small matter, compared with selfish and ungenerous efforts that Hooker always made to throw the blame of his failure on any shoulders other than his own, and which have properly provoked severe treatment from many of his comrades.

But if Colonel Dodge has criticised General Hooker not more severely than he deserved, he has been very kind, to say the least, towards General Sedgwick, and far too lenient, in view of the facts, to General Howard. The manner in which Sedgwick's slowness is explained, and the hesitation with which he is blamed for his feeble handling of the strongest corps in the Federal army is hardly fair. Much less so is the failure to criticise Howard for his mismanagement of the Federal right flank, a mismanagement which placed his own corps, at the very onset of the struggle, hors du combat, which initiated a panic whose disastrous effects were probably only checked by the fall of Jackson, and which led, more than any other one thing, to Hooker's subsequent defeat.

General Hooker's outlook, at the beginning of the Chancellorsville campaign, was highly favorable. He had over 130,000 well-drilled and well-equipped soldiers, the mass of them trained to war in the great struggle of 1862. He lay on the north side of the Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg, within a dozen miles by railroad of the Potomac and his depots of supply. In his front, on the south side of the [464] river, was General Lee, with less than 55,000 men (see official reports in Taylor's Four years with General Lee, and General Fitzhugh Lee's address before the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, on Chancellorsville); his only avenue of supply the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroad, sixty miles in length, already in so worn-out a condition that it was impossible to accumulate more than a few days' supplies ahead. Limited means of transportation from the South, and the exhaustion of supplies near at hand had reduced his army to short rations, and the want of food sufficient in quantity and variety was already telling on the health of the Confederate troops. The supply of arms and ammunition in the Confederacy had never been adequate, and it was found in the fall of 1862 that the consumption greatly exceeded the capacity of the Confederate arsenals to supply. Hence much anxiety was felt in regard to the approaching campaign, and the most stringent measures had to be taken to stop waste and needless consumption. Want of forage compelled General Lee to send most of his cavalry to the rear to recruit, so that he had but 2,700 cavalry present to protect his flanks and guard his communications, against the 10,000 or 12,000 Federal cavalry which Gen. Hooker had ready to use.

The Rappahannock formed but a slight barrier to the advance of the Federal army. Commanding the river with his artillery, Burnside had, with no great difficulty, forced a crossing the preceding December in the face of the Confederate army. He had then attempted to carry Lee's lines in his front by main force, and had met with disastrous repulse. But it was easy to turn the Confederate position by crossing above or below it, thus forcing Lee to a battle outside of his lines, or to a retreat, to cover his communications. Hooker decided to turn the Confederate left flank by crossing the Rapidan and Rappahannock above their junction. He first sent forward his splendid body of cavalry about the middle of April, intending that they should cross in advance of the infantry, and, sweeping round to the Confederate rear, do all the damage possible to Lee's depots, and the railroads on which he depended for supplies. Stoneman, with the cavalry, reached the Upper Rappahannock, met with a rain-storm, and some opposition from the Confederates, and then went deliberately into camp near the Rappahannock, and along the Orange and Alexandria railroad. The river was past fording for some time, and Stoneman was allowed to waste two weeks in looking at it, when a day's march would have placed him high enough up the stream to have crossed without difficulty, where only scouts and pickets could have opposed him. At length, on April 27th, Hooker (after having for some days made demonstrations down [465] the Rappahannock, opposite Lee's right, in order to deceive his enemy,) began his movements in earnest. Three corps--Eleventh, Twelfth and Fifth--were moved up the river to Kelly's Ford. Here they crossed on the 29th, and proceeded towards Germanna and Ely's fords, on the Rapidan. Stoneman, with the mass of his cavalry, set out on the same day from Kelly's, on his way to the Confederate rear. By 2 P. M., on Thursday, April 30th, the three infantry corps had reached Chancellorsville, where they were joined the same evening by two-thirds of the Second corps, which had crossed at United States ford. The Third corps was next ordered up from Fredericksburg, and reached Chancellorsville before midday on Friday, May 1st. Thus Hooker was rapidly concentrating over seventy thousand men at Chancellorsville, on Lee's flank. Meantime, the First and Sixth corps, and Gibbons's division of the Second, had been left at Fredericksburg under Sedgwick, to make demonstrations and distract the enemy. Pontoons had been laid down at Burnside's old crossing places, and troops thrown over the river on the 29th, and the First and Sixth corps, comprising over forty thousand men, there threatened the Confederate lines in front.

Lee's situation was one of great difficulty and danger. With but little over fifty thousand men, he had in front over forty thousand under Sedgwick, while Hooker was gathering seventy thousand on his flank, and Stoneman with ten thousand cavalry was in his rear. To oppose this last force, he had only eight or nine hundred troopers that could be spared. By the night of Thursday 30th, the inaction of Sedgwick, and the rapid advance of large bodies to Chancellorsville, of whose movements Stuart had kept him informed, convinced General Lee that the main attack was to proceed from that quarter. Leaving eight thousand or nine thousand men under Early to hold the lines in front of Fredericksburg, and keep Sedgwick in check, he decided to move out at once with the remainder of his army and give Hooker battle.

Anderson's division was already on Hooker's front. McLaws was ordered to move to Anderson's support, followed by Jackson. The troops were moving during the night of Thursday, and by 8 A. M. Friday Jackson had reached the Confederate front near Chancellors-ville, and assumed command until General Lee, at a later hour, reached the field. As soon as the Confederates met the advancing Federals they were formed in line and ordered forward. The Federal skirmishers were driven in, and the heads of the Federal columns attacked with vigor, and after a short and not severe fight, General Hooker ordered a retreat to Chancellorsville. This was a great blunder, and it seems to have been entirely Hooker's. He had reached Chancellorsville on [466] Thursday. He did not move out towards Fredericksburg until 11 A. M., Friday, thus wasting nearly a day. He had not proceeded over two miles when he met the advancing Confederates, who had marched ten miles to meet him since the night before. Lee's attack was vigorous, but Hooker knew well his adversary's inferiority in numbers, and without any fair trial of strength, he deliberately abandoned his aggressive movement, and with 70,000 men, fell back before less than 45,000. Much is said by General Hooker, and other Federal officers, of the unfavorable ground, covered as it was for the most part with dense woods, and of the difficulty of bringing troops into action in such a wilderness. The difficulty was, no doubt, great, but it was no greater for Federals than for Confederates; and yet, Lee and Jackson, in the next two days, attacked and defeated forces vastly superior to their own, in this very wilderness.

General Lee followed close upon the Federal retreat, and during the afternoon felt Hooker's lines in his front, to see if they presented any favorable point of attack. He found the Federal centre and left flank too strongly posted to invite assault, and on Friday night directed Jackson to move the next day around the Federal army, and attack its right flank and rear. Jackson began this manoeuvre in the early morning, taking some 26,000 infantry, while General Lee retained Anderson's and McLaw's divisions, amounting to 16,000 or 17,000 men, opposite Hooker's center and left wing. All day was consumed by Jackson in moving around the front of the Federal army, and in getting into position beyond and to the rear of its right flank. The distance was twelve or fifteen miles, and the route a narrow defile through a dense wilderness. Though conducted with all possible rapidity, secrecy and skill, this movement was discovered early in the day by Sickles, whose corps (Third) was next to Howards (Eleventh), the latter constituting the extreme Federal right flank. Soon after 8 A. M., Sickles was aware of the movement of a strong column across his front. At half-past 9 Hooker ordered Slocum and Howard to look well to the right flank, as the enemy was moving in that direction. Sickles was authorized to push two divisions of his corps to the front, and cut the Confederate column. He did so, captured part of a regiment, and knew with certainty, at 2 P. M., that Jackson, with a large force, was moving towards the right flank of the Federal army. He proposed to attack the rear of this force, and was supported by one of Slocum's divisions and a brigade from Howard, who was himself present. Sickles's movements were feeble in the extreme, for Jackson's rear, composed of a few batteries and two small brigades (subsequently replaced by two brigades [467] from Anderson's division) was sufficient to keep this large force in check; and the only result of the whole day's manoeuvring, to the Federals was, that Sickles was out of supporting distance of Howard when the Eleventh corps was attacked at 6 P. M. Howard, Sickles, Hooker himself, became possessed with the notion that Lee was retreating, and irrational as this supposition was, seem to have acted upon no other during the afternoon. Thus Hooker despatches Sedgwick at 4 P. M.: “We know the enemy is flying, trying to save his trains; two of Sickles's divisions are among them.” Two hours later Jackson attacks the Federal right, under Howard, with his usual impetuosity. Though Jackson's movement had, for ten hours, been known to the Federal commander; though constant skirmishing had indicated the general direction of his march; though Hooker had warned Howard early in the day to be on his guard from a possible flank attack; though pickets and scouts had informed Howard in the middle of the afternoon that the Confederates were in force on the Orange Plank-road, entirely on his flank, yet, at 6 P. M., in broad daylight, Howard is completely surprised, his lines taken in flank and rear, while his men are for the most part at supper, with arms stacked. The first division met with (Devon's) is quickly routed. Colonel Dodge says he “lost 1,600 out of 4,000 men, and nearly all his superior officers, in a brief ten minutes.” Schutz's division is next overwhelmed, and adds to the fearful panic. Bushbeck's brigade, of Steinwher's division, attempts to stay the rout, but is soon carried away. In an hour Howard's 10,000 men have been scattered in disgraceful flight, and without the semblance of organization, are carrying dismay in every direction through the Federal army. Colonel Dodge seems to think that Hooker was chiefly responsible for this disaster, and but mildly blames Howard. Surely history affords few instances of greater incapacity on the part of a corps commander. Hooker has enough to bear without being held responsible for the surprise and dispersion of a body of 10,000 men, whose commander, though entrusted with the protection of the right flank of the army (in a wilderness where attack was so difficult and defense so easy that Hooker was unwilling the day before to move to the attack against half his numbers), though warned of the danger, though aware of the movement of the enemy, allows himself, in broad day, to be so completely surprised as to be beaten before he can form a line of battle.

Sickles is quickly recalled from his fancied attack on Jackson's rear, to protect his own, and Pleasanton makes a brilliant dash of cavalry, and quickly concentrates a mass of artillery on the Confederates. Berry's division is fortunately near Chancellorsville, and is rapidly sent [468] forward to check, if possible, the advancing wave. These dispositions have some effect. More is perhaps due to the impenetrable forest, which renders it impossible for the Confederates to advance any distance in order. Night adds to their difficulties. While they halt to allow the rear line to take the advance, about 8 or 9 P. M., Jackson receives his death wound, and this great misfortune finally, and more than all else, puts a stop to further advance in the darkness.

At dawn the battle is renewed. Stuart, now commanding Jackson's corps, leads it with reckless valor against the Federal lines, which have been strengthened during the night. General Lee throws Anderson and McLaws against the Federal left and centre. Sickles bears the brunt of Stuart's attack, and most gallantly holds the ground for a a time, but is finally driven from his position, as is Slocum, who joins him on the left. Hooker permits the centre of his army to be beaten, while the wings are practically unengaged. Reynolds, with the First corps, had been brought up from Fredericksburg on Saturday, thus making over 90,000 troops in all that had been concentrated at Chancel-lorsville. But Reynolds and Meade, with the First and Fifth corps, are allowed to remain idle on Sickles's right while he is being defeated; and on the left wing of the army, the Eleventh and part of the Second corps have no enemy in front. Thus more than half of the force that Hooker had at hand did little or nothing towards resisting Lee's onset. Meantime, with all these unemployed troops at hand, Hooker was depending upon Sedgwick to advance from Fredericksburg and strike the Confederate rear. Sedgwick, who had with him over twenty thousand men, had been ordered to push Early aside and make a forced march of ten or twelve miles, on the south side of the Rappahannock, during Saturday night and Sunday morning, so as to reach the rear of McLaws, who held the right of Lee's lines. Early, with less than half the force of Sedgwick, a force, too, scattered over a line of several miles in length, succeeded in delaying the latter's march so much that the battle was already raging at Chancellorsville before Sedgwick was ready to move out from Fredericksburg. It was 11 A. M. before Sedgwick was able, by repeated attacks and at heavy loss, to carry Marye's heights, and thus open his way to go to Hooker's assistance, and at this hour Hooker had already been beaten and driven from Chancellorsville to the position which he took up in rear of it. Sedgwick, now opposed by Wilcox with a single brigade, advanced very cautiously up the plank road towards Chancellorsville. At Salem Church, half way between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Wilcox held him in check until McLaws arrived with four brigades, about the middle of [469] the afternoon. These troops had aided in defeating Hooker in the morning, and now put a stop to all further progress on Sedgwick's part, repulsing him with severe loss. Hooker complains bitterly of Sedgwick's slowness, and certainly his whole movement showed, at the least, want of boldness and enterprise. But it is absurd for a commander who was keeping forty thousand men unemployed under his eye, in the crisis of a great battle, to complain of a subordinate who had ten or twelve miles to march, in the face of a determined and skilful, if inferior, foe.

Skill and courage had given the Confederates great advantages on Sunday, but at nightfall Gen. Lee's position was still one of great difficulty. Ten thousand cavalry were making havoc in his rear, to oppose which he could only spare a small brigade of less than one thousand men. A handful of guards was the only protection he could afford to the large mass of transportation he had left at Guinea's Depot, eighteen miles in his rear. His communications and supplies were necessarily exposed to the greatest danger. In his front was an army seriously crippled by his blows, but twice as numerous as his own, the half of which had not been really engaged, while his right was threatened, in addition, by a splendid corps of over twenty thousand men, which had broken through his lines at Fredericksburg, and advanced within a few miles of Hooker. Audacity had so far been successful. Sedgwick's position invited another bold attack. Lee decided to leave Stuart with Jackson's corps, now reduced to twenty thousand men, to watch and hold in check Hooker's seventy-five or eighty thousand, while he concentrated the divisions of Anderson, McLaws and Early, of twenty-two or twenty-three thousand, against Sedgwick. This plan was carried out on Monday. Early came up behind Sedgwick; Anderson and McLaws pressed him from the Chancellorsville side. Much time was occupied in getting the troops into position. McLaws's movements were very slow. But at 6 P. M. Monday Early and Anderson attacked Sedgwick, and by nightfall the Sixth Federal corps had been forced back, with heavy loss, to Bank's Ford, under cover of the batteries on the north side of the Rappahannock. McLaws from his side followed up the retreating enemy, who was glad to escape over the river before morning. Hooker remained in his trenches at Chancellorsville all day, held inactive by Stuart's twenty thousand men, while Lee with half his army was overwhelming Sedgwick but five or six miles off.

This great stroke rendered Lee's further success reasonably certain. Now that Sedgwick was disposed of, he again ordered a concentration [470] of his troops at Chancellorsville, with the intention of throwing his whole available force upon Hooker. On Tuesday Anderson's and McLaws's divisions, which had been marching and fighting since Friday morning, returned to Chancellorsville. Before they reached it a violent rain-storm broke over the battle-field, and, impeded by the storm and the mud, it was late in the day before the wet and weary troops were all in position. The attack had to be postponed to the morrow. Meantime Hooker, unwilling after the defeats of Saturday, Sunday and Monday, to risk the chances of battle further, did the wisest thing within his reach. He retreated under cover of the night and the storm, across the Rappahannock.

The raid of Stoneman's cavalry was a failure. It accomplished, if possible, less in proportion than the main army.

Colonel Dodge has been misled by many Confederate authorities into giving Jackson the entire credit of the flank movement on Saturday. This movement was suggested, as well as ordered, by General Lee. (See, General Fitz. Lee's address before The Army of Northern Virginia, October, 1879.) Colonel Dodge criticizes the rashness of the manoeurvre, but no Captain ever won victories against great odds without exposing himself to criticism of this kind.

Jackson executed the movement, and too much praise cannot be given for the splendid manner of its execution. No breath of rivalry or jealousy ever came between Lee and Jackson. Said Jackson of Lee, “He is the only man I would follow blindfold.” Said Lee, on hearing of Jackson's wound, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.” These two Virginians, worthy representatives of the two stocks that have built up that State, Lee of the English Cavaliers, Jackson of the Scotch Irish, had for each other only feelings of the most generous confidence and affection. Their lives, grand, noble, unselfish; their deaths, such as became soldiers and Christians; their graves within sight of each other in the very heart of the Virginia of their love; their memories, a priceless legacy to future generations; the fame of neither requires enhancement at the expense of the other.

Colonel Dodge's sketch of Jackson is appreciative, and in the main correct. He is mistaken, however, in supposing Jackson “a bad disciplinarian,” and “without even average powers of organization.” He was strict in discipline, and a careful organizer. His judgment of men was often bad, but no one, we believe, ever held subordinates to a stricter accountability, and no one ever obtained more and better work from those under him. To his mind, nothing ever fully excused failure, and it was but rarely that he gave an officer the opportunity of [471] failing twice. Jackson used to say, “The service cannot afford to keep in position a man who does not succeed.” Nor was he ever restrained from change by the fear of making matters worse. His motto was: “Get rid of the inefficient man at once, and trust Providence for finding a better.”

Colonel Dodge well says: “Honesty, singleness of purpose, true courage, rare ability, suffice to account for Jackson's military success. But those alone who have served under his eye know to what depths that rarer, stranger power of his has sounded them. They only can testify to the full measure of the strength of Stonewall Jackson.”

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