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Chapter 15: Chancellorsville

  • Winter quarters.
  • -- rations reduced. -- Hays's Louisiana brigade. -- officers' servants. -- Hooker's reorganization. -- Confederate organization. -- Hooker's plan of attack. -- Lee's proposed aggressive. -- Hooker crosses. -- Hooker's fatal mistake. -- Lee's prompt action. -- the Wilderness. -- Hooker advances. -- Lee's advance. -- Hooker Retreats. -- Hooker Intrenches. -- Lee Reconnoitres. -- Lee's plan of attack. -- Jackson's march. -- the movement discovered. -- Sickles advances. -- Jackson Deploys. -- Jackson attacks. -- Colquitt's blunder. -- Dowdall's Tavern. -- casualties. -- at Hooker's headquarters. -- defensive measures. -- Jackson Pauses. -- a cannonade. -- wounding of Jackson. -- Stuart in command. -- formation for attack. -- Sickles's midnight attack. -- Hooker's interior line. -- Hooker abandons Hazel Grove. -- Stuart attacks. -- assaults repulsed. -- Hazel Grove guns. -- Federals withdraw. -- Lee and Stuart meet. -- Sedgwick's advance. -- Wilcox on Taylor's Hill. -- assaults renewed. -- Early falls back. -- Salem Church. -- casualties. -- Early's division. -- Lee organizes an attack. -- Sedgwick driven across.

Soon after the battle of Fredericksburg, Lee placed his army in winter quarters. Jackson was extended along the river, below the town, as far as Port Royal, his own headquarters being at a hunting lodge on the lawn of a Mr. Corbin, at Moss Neck, 11 miles below Fredericksburg. Longstreet was encamped from a little above Fredericksburg to Massaponax Creek. Lee established his headquarters in a camp a short distance in rear of Hamilton's Crossing. Most of the artillery was sent back to the North Anna River for convenience of supply. My own battalion occupied a wood at Mt. Carmel church, five miles north of Hanover Junction, the horses being sheltered in an adjoining pine thicket. On the occasion of Burnside's Mud March, we marched about halfway to Fredericksburg, but were then allowed to return. The infantry generally did not leave their camps, as there was nowhere any fighting. [318]

Although so near to Richmond, the army was inadequately clothed, shod, and fed, in spite of Lee's earnest efforts. As far back as April 28, 1862, the meat ration had been reduced from 12 to 8 ounces, and a small extra allowance of flour (two ounces) was given. It was claimed that but for this reduction, the supply of meat would not have held out throughout the fall. On Jan. 23, 1863, a further reduction was ordered, by the commissary-general, to four ounces of salt meat with one-fifth of a pound of sugar. Lee wrote of the situation on March 27:—

‘The men are cheerful, and I receive but few complaints, still I do not consider it enough to maintain them in health and vigor, and I fear they will be unable to endure the hardships of the approaching campaign. Symptoms of scurvy are appearing among them, and, to supply the place of vegetables, each regiment is directed to send a daily detail to gather sassafras buds, wild onions, garlic, lamb's quarter, and poke sprouts; but for so large an army the supply obtained is very small.’

Some idea of the situation is given in the following extracts from a letter of a staff-officer of Hays's La. brigade to his representative in Congress:—

Among 1500 men reported for duty there are 400 totally without covering of any kind for their feet. These men, of course, can render no effective service, as it is impossible for them to keep up with the column in a march over frozen ground. There are a large number of men who have not a single blanket. There are some without a particle of underclothing, having neither shirts, drawers, nor socks, while overcoats, from their rarity, are objects of curiosity.

The 5th regiment is unable to drill for want of shoes. The 8th regiment will soon be unfit for duty from the same cause; and indeed, when shoes are supplied, the men will be unable to wear them for a long while, such is the horrible condition of their feet from long exposure.

This destitution, in the way of clothing, is not compensated by close shelter or abundant food, for the troops have no tents, and are almost totally unprovided with cooking utensils for the petty rations they receive. . . .

‘Troops from other States are supplied, indeed, in a great degree by individual contributions from their homes, while we of Louisiana have received nothing whatever, since the fall of New Orleans, with the exception, I believe, of a company of the 9th regiment.’

Troops from the more distant States suffered many more privations, both in food and clothing, than those near home. [319] Some of the State governments also did much toward the clothing of their own troops, and private families, too, sent largely both of food and clothing to their members in the armies.

Without such help, Confederate officers would often have suffered for food. Early in the war, officers received no rations, but were allowed to purchase from the commissaries, for themselves and servants. But as rations became scarce, the privilege of purchase was taken away, and a ration was given each officer. Nothing, however, was allowed for a servant. Thereafter, officers had to divide with their servants and supply the deficiency as best they could.

Personally, my mess received constant supplies of bacon and peas from our country homes in S. C. and Ga., and other articles giving the most nourishment in the least space.

Our scarcities were due entirely to insufficient railroad transportation. Before the war, our roads had but a light traffic. They were now loaded with a very heavy one, and as cars, engines, and rails wore out, they could not be replaced. When complaint was made to the commissary-general of insufficient supplies, he would answer, ‘Stop running passenger trains, and I can run more freight trains and supply you.’

The great need of rations for the coming summer led the War Dept. to send Longstreet with two divisions for a campaign in the vicinity of Suffolk. Its object was to collect forage and provisions from counties near the Federal lines. The campaign was not initiated by Lee, and he thought that one division would have been sufficient, as the result showed. For the little fighting done was unnecessary, being initiated by the Confederates. And, although Lee at Chancellorsville repulsed Hooker's attack, it was poor policy to take the risk of battle against enormous odds, with one-fourth of his infantry absent.

As might have been expected, under the difficult circumstances attending our transportation either by wagon or by rail, Pickett's and Hood's divisions could not be gotten back in time for the battle, and our victory was the product of lucky accident combined with sublime audacity, desperate fighting, and heavy losses.

Hooker proved himself a good organizer. When placed in command, the army was much discouraged and desertions were [320] numerous. Hooker abolished the grand divisions; devised a system of furloughs as a check to desertion; improved the transportation and supply departments, and organized his cavalry into a corps. In addition, he instituted the system of badges, showing at a glance the corps and division to which the wearer belonged. It was simply a piece of flannel, sewed on the top of the cap, whose shape designated the corps, and its color the division. A circle indicated the 1st corps; a trefoil the 2d; a lozenge the 3d; a Maltese cross the 5th; a Latin cross the 6th; a crescent the 11th; and a star the 12th. These shapes cut from red flannel were worn by the 1st divisions; from white flannel by the 2d; from blue flannel by the 3d, and from green flannel by the 4th divisions, should there be so many. Discipline, drill, and instruction were well maintained, supplies of all kinds abundantly furnished. The spirit of the men revived with the consciousness of their immense superiority in numbers and equipment, and it was with good show of reason that Hooker spoke of his army when it took the field, as ‘the finest army on the planet.’ His organization was as follows, with the strength of each corps present for ‘duty equipped’ on April 30.


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