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VIII. the Chancellorsville campaign. April—May, 1863.

I. The Army under Hooker.

In an army composed of citizens of a free country who have taken up arms from patriotic motives in a war they consider just there is a perennial spring of moral renovation. Such armies have constantly exhibited an astonishing endurance, and, possessing a bond of cohesion superior to discipline, have shown their power to withstand shocks that would dislocate the structure of other military organizations.

The Army of the Potomac was of this kind. Driven hither and thither by continual buffets of fortune; losing its strength in unavailing efforts; changing its leaders, and yet finding no deliverance; misunderstood and unappreciated by the people whose battles it was fighting—it was not wonderful that it had sunk in energy. Yet, notwithstanding the untoward fortunes the Army of the Potomac had suffered, it could hardly be said to be really demoralized, for its heart was still in the war; it never failed to respond to any demand made upon it, and it was ever ready to renew its courage at the first ray of hope.

Such a day—spring came with the appointment of General Hooker to the chief command, and under his influence the tone of the army underwent a change that would appear astonishing, had not its elastic vitality been so often proved. [268] Hooker's measures of reform were judicious: he cut away the root of many evils; stopped desertion and its causes; did away with the nuisance of the ‘Grand Division’ organization; infused vitality through the staff and administrative service; gave distinctive badges to the different corps;1 instituted a system of furloughs; consolidated the cavalry under able leaders, and soon enabled it not only to stand upon an equality with, but to assert its superiority over, the Virginia horsemen of Stuart.2

These things proved General Hooker to be an able administrative officer, but they did not prove him to be a competent commander for a great army; and whatever anticipation might be formed touching this had to be drawn from his previous career as a corps-commander, in which he had won the reputation of being what is called a ‘dashing’ officer, and earned the sobriquet of ‘Fighting Joe.’ He had gained a great popularity both in the army and throughout the country—a result to which his fine soldierly appearance and frank manners had much contributed; nor was this diminished by a [269] habit he had of self-assertion, which, however, proved little, since it may be either the manifestation of impotent conceit, or the proud utterance of conscious power. Hooker had shown himself a pitiless critic of his predecessors in command: he was now to be tried in an ordeal whence no man had yet escaped unscathed.

The new commander judiciously resolved to defer all grand military operations during the wet season, and the first three months after he assumed command were well spent in rehabilitating the army. The ranks were filled up by the return of absentees; the discipline and instruction of the troops were energetically continued, and the close of April found the Army of the Potomac in a high degree of efficiency in all arms.3 It numbered one hundred and twenty thousand men4 (infantry and artillery), with a body of twelve thousand well-equipped cavalry,5 and a powerful artillery force of above four hundred guns.6 It was divided into seven corps—the First Corps under General Reynolds; the Second under General Couch; the Third under General Sickles; the Fifth under General Meade; the Sixth under General Sedgwick; the Eleventh under General Howard; and the Twelfth under General Slocum.7

Lee's force was greatly inferior to that of his opponent; for [270] relying on the strength of the line of the Rappahannock, he had, in February, detached two divisions, under Longstreet, to operate south of the James River,8 and the remainder did not exceed an effective of fifty-five thousand men.9 Hooker, therefore, was in a situation to attempt a bold enterprise, and the close of April found him ready to cross the Rappahannock and give battle.

Ii. The passage of the Rappahannock.

The opposing armies had so long faced each other on the banks of the Rappahannock, that it may well be supposed there remained no point in the problem of the attack or defence of that line that had not been thoroughly considered. Since the battle of Fredericksburg and the subsequent attempts to pass the Rappahannock, Lee had extended his purview to the guarding of all the practical crossings of that stream. At the time the operations resulting in the battle of Chancellorsville began, he occupied in force the heights south of the Rappahannock from Skenker's Creek to United States Ford (a distance of about twenty-five miles), having continuous lines of infantry parapets throughout, and his troops so disposed as to be readily concentrated on any given point. Interspersed along these lines of intrenchments were batteryepaulements, advantageously located, for sweeping the hillslopes and bottom-lands over which an assailing force would have to march—the crests of the main hills being from threequarters of a mile to a mile and a half from the river's margin.10 To gain the immediate banks opposite the centre of the enemy's line was, however, practicable in several places where the high ground on the north side approached the stream and enabled artillery to command it; but the prospect of then gaining a footing on the heights was, from past experience, hopeless. The Confederate right flank was so positioned that Lee was secure against attack in that direction; while above his left, at United States Ford, the junction of the Rapidan with the Rappahannock involved the passage of that stream also in any attempt to turn that flank. Indeed, the execution of a movement to turn the Confederate left by the Union army, at such a distance from its base, and with heavy ponton and artillery trains, and in face of means of information such as Lee had at his command, seemed very unlikely, and he gave himself very little concern about it.

Difficult as was the problem in all its aspects, and debarred as Hooker was from making a direct attack, the most promising enterprise was nevertheless an operation against Lee's left. This, after much cogitation, Hooker resolved to execute, and he formed a very bold plan of operation. He determined to make his main movement against the enemy's left by a strong column, that by a wide detour up the Rappahannock to Kelly's Ford (twenty-seven miles above Fredericksburg) should pass round Lee's flank to Chancellorsville; while he resolved to mask this turning operation by forcing the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg with a considerable body, and ostentatiously threatening direct attack. He expected that the successful execution of the turning operation would have the effect to cause Lee to abandon his defences along the Rappahannock, when battle might be given with great advantage. In co-operation with this attack, he prepared a powerful column of ten thousand sabres, destined to operate simultaneously on Lee's railroad communication with Richmond. [272]

The turning column was composed of three corps—the Fifth (Meade), the Eleventh (Howard), and the Twelfth (Slocum). Marching on the morning of Monday, April 27, this force reached the vicinity of Kelly's Ford on the following day. During the night of the 28th, and next morning, the passage of the Rappahannock was made at Kelly's Ford on a canvas ponton-bridge, laid with but slight opposition from a small observing force; and the three corps, being divided into two columns, moving on parallel roads, took up the line of march towards Chancellorsville, to reach which it was necessary first to cross the Rapidan. The right column (Eleventh and Twelfth corps) struck the Rapidan at Germanna Ford,11 the left column (Fifth Corps) at Ely's Ford. The stream proved to be barely fordable; but celerity of movement being an object of the first importance, it was immediately resolved to cross the troops by wading—an arduous and somewhat dangerous feat; for the stream is rapid, and even at the fords came up to the shoulder. The men, however, plunged in—the greater part stripping and carrying their clothes and cartridge-boxes on their bayonets—and amid shouts and scenes of Homeric laughter and gayety waded through the water, which reached to their arm-pits. Such as were carried away by the current were caught by a cavalry picket stationed below. After dark (the crossing being continued all night) huge bonfires were kindled, and by the aid of the lurid light thus cast over the wild scene, the troops filed over the river, and next morning all were across. The soldiers were in the highest spirits; for, acute judges of military movements as the rank and file always are, they knew that the march they had made was one of those pregnant marches that are in themselves victories: so they gayly headed towards Chancellorsville, which was the assigned point of concentration and which they reached in the afternoon of the 30th. [273]

While the three corps, whose movements I have indicated, had passed far up the Rappahannock to Kelly's Ford, the Second Corps under General Couch had moved no further than United States Ford, where it was directed to remain on the north bank of the Rappahannock till the turning column sweeping down the south bank should have uncovered United States Ford, when it was to cross and move also to Chancellorsville. This object was, of course, accomplished the moment the Rapidan was crossed; and the same afternoon, Couch threw a ponton-bridge over the Rappahannock, and marched on Chancellorsville, at which point the four corps bivouacked that night (Thursday, April 30). The same night, General Hooker removed his headquarters to Chancellorsville.12 He had secured a position which took in reverse Lee's entire fortified line, and he held in his hand a puissant force of fifty thousand men.

The remarkable success attending this movement, of which Lee did not become aware till the Rappahannock had been crossed, was the result of a secrecy and a celerity of march new in the Army of the Potomac. To have marched a column of fifty thousand men, laden with sixty pounds of baggage, and encumbered with artillery and trains, thirty-seven miles in two days; to have bridged and crossed two streams, guarded by a vigilant enemy, with the loss of half-a-dozen men, one wagon, and two mules, is an achievement which has few parallels, and which well deserves to rank with Prince Eugene's famous passage of the Adige.

In securing this result, important service was rendered by the skilful manner in which the flank march was masked by General Sedgwick, under whom had been placed for the execution of this duty the First Corps (Reynolds) and the Third Corps (Sickles), in addition to his own Sixth Corps. As soon as the column destined to make the turning movement was well under way, Sedgwick was ordered to cross the river in the vicinity of Fredericksburg for the purpose of making a [274] direct demonstration. Accordingly, before dawn of the 29th, while the flanking force was passing the Rappahannock thirty miles above, ponton-boats, borne noiselessly on men's shoulders, were launched three miles below the town, near the point at which Franklin had made his crossing on the occasion of the battle of Fredericksburg. In these a party passed to the south bank, capturing the small force in observation. Two bridges were then constructed, and two divisions thrown across. This menace immediately engaged the attention of the Confederates, who promptly began intrenching their entire front, as fearing a direct attack.13 Demonstrations as though with that intent were made during the 29th and 30th, and as, by the night of the 30th, the feint had subserved its purpose, and a lodgment had been gained at Chancellorsville, [275] Sickles' corps was directed to join the force at that point-Sedgwick, with two corps, meanwhile remaining below to await developments on the right.

The success that had crowned these operations, which, as they were executed out of sight of the enemy, may be called the strategy of the movement, inspired the army with the highest hopes and greatly elated the commander. On reaching Chancellorsville on Thursday night, he issued an order to tile troops, in which he announced that ‘the enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defences and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.’ This boast, so much in the style of Hooker, was amplified by the whole tenor of his conversation. ‘The rebel army,’ said he, ‘is now the legitimate property of the Army of the Potomac. They may as well pack up their haversacks and make for Richmond; and I shall be after them,’ etc., etc.14 And, indeed, there was much in the aspect of affairs to justify jubilant expectations; for, of the two lines [276] of retreat open to Lee, Hooker already laid hold of that by Gordonsville, and threatened that by Richmond. The former he could not take up; and, if he chose the latter, he would have Hooker with five corps on his flank, and Sedgwick with two corps pressing his rear. The bright promise of these initial operations was beclouded by but one fact—the column which was to cross the Rappahannock on the right of the infantry, and cut Lee's communications at the same time that the infantry was operating on his army, had been so delayed by the rise of the river that it did not cross the Rappahannock till the morning of the 29th, and had thus far made very insufficient progress.

But, instead of ‘ingloriously flying,’ Lee preferred to ‘come out of his defences’ and give battle to Hooker; and, unhappily for that general, the circumstances under which he chose to receive battle, in place of insuring Lee's ‘certain destruction,’ as he had vaunted, resulted in the disastrous termination of a campaign thus brilliantly opened. Now, as these circumstances furnish the key to the right appreciation of the whole action, I shall, in the succeeding chapter, set them forth with some fulness of detail.

Iii. At Chancellorsville--Friday.

When, on Thursday night, Hooker had concentrated his four corps at Chancellorsville, the real character of the movement, which, up to that point, had been so admirably concealed from his antagonist, became fully disclosed. The Confederate leader saw that the demonstrations near Fredericksburg that had engaged his attention were but a mask, and that the turn of affairs called for the promptest action. Lee, with instant perception of the situation, now seized the masses of his force, and with the grasp of a Titan swung them into position as a giant might fling a mighty stone from [277] a sling.15 One division and one brigade—the division of Early and the brigade of Barksdale—were intrusted with the duty of holding the heights of Fredericksburg; and, at midnight of Thursday, Jackson and McLaws, and the rest of his divisions, recalled from Fredericksburg, and from far below Fredericksburg, were put in motion towards Chancellorsville to meet Hooker with a front of opposition, before he should be able, by advancing from Chancellorsville, to seize the direct Confederate communications with Richmond.

If the Confederate commander was able to effect this purpose, it was because the Union commander allowed him so to do; and this voluntary act on the part of the latter devolves upon him the responsibility for all the consequences flowing therefrom.

Chancellorsville, where Hooker had drawn up his forces, lies ten miles west and south of Fredericksburg, with which it is connected by two excellent roads—the one macadamized, the other planked. It stands in the midst of a region extending for several miles south of the Rapidan and westward as far as Mine Run, localized, in common parlance, as ‘the Wilderness’—a region covered with dense woods and thickets of black-jack oak and scrub-pines, and than which it is impossible to conceive a field more unfavorable for the movements of a grand army. But, advancing from Chancellorsville towards Fredericksburg, the country becomes more open and clear as you approach the latter place, and affords a fine field for the use of all arms.

Now, there is evidence that General Hooker did not originally design to allow himself to be shut up in this tangled thicket; and, on Friday morning, May 1st, he began to push forward his columns to gain the open country beyond the bounds of the Wilderness. The two roads running from Chancellorsville to [278] Fredericksburg (the plankroad on the right and the turnpike on the left) unite near Tabernacle Church, about midway between the former two places; and to the left of the turnpike there runs a river road leading along the Rappahannock to Banks' Ford. On the latter road two divisions of Meade's corps were pushed out, while on the turnpike Sykes' division of the same corps was thrown forward, and Slocum's corps was given the same direction on the plankroad. This was a movement to take up a line of battle about two and a half miles in front, preparatory to a simultaneous advance along the whole line, set down for two o'clock in the afternoon.16 I shall trace briefly the experience of each column.

The left column, composed of the divisions of Griffin and Humphreys, moved out on the river road for five miles, and came within sight of Banks' Ford, without encountering any opposition.

The centre column, made up of the division of Sykes, supported by the division of Hancock, advanced on the turnpike, and on gaining the first of a series of ridges that cross the roads between Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, somewhat over a mile in advance of the former place, the mounted men in front were met and driven in by the enemy. This small force resisted handsomely, riding up and firing almost in the faces of the Eleventh Virginia Infantry, which formed the enemy's advance. Thereupon, General Sykes moved forward in double-quick time, attacked the opposing force, and drove it back till, at noon, he had gained the position assigned him.17

The column on the right, composed of Slocum's entire corps, pushed out on the plankroad in the same general direction with the two other columns, and gained a point as far advanced as the others without meeting any opposition of moment. [279]

The position secured by this movement of Friday forenoon was a ridge of some elevation, perfectly commanding Chancellorsville, out of the Wilderness, and giving the debouche into the open country in rear of Fredericksburg, while the left column had practically uncovered Banks' Ford, thus shortening by twelve miles the communication between the main force on the Chancellorsville line, and the two corps near Fredericksburg under Sedgwick. That a position affording such advantages—a position which Lee was then deploying all his energies to secure—would be held at all hazards, and the possession insured by a general advance of the whole force, was what was naturally expected; yet, strange to say, just at this moment the three columns received orders from the commanding general to withdraw back to Chancellorsville. With mingled amazement and incredulity, this command was received by the officers, who sent to beg Hooker to allow the army to push on and hold the front thus gained.18 It was urged in the warmest terms that the occupation of that fine position would uncover Banks' Ford, thus, as I have said, giving easy communication with Sedgwick; that it secured the dominating heights which, if not held, would instantly be seized to his great disadvantage by his antagonist; that it would take the army beyond the densely wooded region in which manoeuvring was impossible, and that it would enable it to command the open country on the posterior slope of the Fredericksburg heights soon to be carried by Sedgwick. It was in vain that these considerations, whose supreme importance must be apparent from a [280] moment's glance at the topography of the region, were urged by his ablest advisers. Hooker had assumed the defensive and was waiting for the enemy to attack him ‘on ground of his own selection.’ From that moment he flung away the initiative with all its mighty gains and far-reaching hopes.

It is difficult to account for a line of action so faulty in a conjuncture of circumstances in which the fitting course was so manifestly marked out. Having studied the case at the time when a spectator of these events, I have returned to its examination in the light of the whole body of evidence since developed, and the riddle remains still unsolved. Till he met the enemy, Hooker showed a master—grasp of the elements of war, but the moment he confronted his antagonist, he seemed to suffer collapse of all his powers, and after this his conduct, with the exception of one or two momentary flashes of talent, was marked by an incomprehensible feebleness and faultiness; for in each crisis, his action was not only bad—it was, with a fatal infelicity, the worst that could have been adopted. It is probable that Hooker never expected that Lee would turn to meet him on that line, but that, disconcerted by the suddenness and success of the primal stroke, he would beat a hasty retreat southward towards Richmond. When, on the contrary, he found his antagonist making a rapid change of front and hurrying forward to accept the gage of battle in the Wilderness, the general whose first stride had been that of a giant, shrunk to the proportions of a dwarf.

The columns that had advanced so handsomely towards Fredericksburg returned to Chancellorsville; and having shown that this was a position relatively inferior to that which had been gained, it remains to add that it was absolutely a bad position. It had been taken up by tired troops, towards the close of the previous day, without any prospect of fighting a pitched battle upon it; it had several commanding positions in its front for the enemy to occupy, and the thicket was so dense as not only to rule out of use the cavalry and artillery arms, but to make the movements of infantry very difficult, indeed almost impossible except by trailing [281] muskets. If it be added that any line drawn thereon would throw the right flank ‘in the air,’ while the woods would form a perfect screen for any hostile movements of the enemy, the military disadvantages of the locality will be fully appreciated.

The withdrawal of the column that had moved out on the right, and that which had moved out on the left, was made without difficulty, though the Confederates followed up with some show of force; but the retirement of Sykes, who had the centre, was an operation of more delicacy, for he had met a considerable body of the enemy, and had gained his position by a smart fight which cost him seventy men; and now the constantly arriving forces of the Confederates began to overlap both his flanks. Hancock's division, however, had moved up to Sykes' support, and, under cover of his line, Sykes was retired, and then Hancock also withdrew, and the enemy followed up, skirmishing, closing, and firing artillery from the crest, which Sykes had been ordered to abandon.19

The force that had been met in this series of simultaneous reconnoissances was the van of Jackson's command, which, on the disclosure to Lee of the real character of Hooker's move, had been recalled from the direction of Fredericksburg, and after marching all Thursday night and Friday morning, had just arrived on the ground. On finding the Union force returning from its advance, Lee pushed forward the heads of his columns rapidly and deployed in front of Hooker's position at Chancellorsville.

Hooker disposed his line of battle, running east and west, along the Fredericksburg and Orange Courthouse plankroad, on which, at the point of intersection of that road with the road from Fredericksburg to United States Ford, stands the Chancellor House—that is, Chancellorsville. Chancellorsville is placed in the middle of a clearing some three hundred yards in extent, and all around are the thickets of the Wilderness. The line of battle, as formed on Friday evening, was [282] about five miles in extent, stretching from a short distance east of Chancellorsville (where the left wing was somewhat refused), westward, in front of the Orange plankroad for about three miles, when the right flank bent sharply back in a defensive crotchet. Meade's corps (Fifth), with one division of Couch's (Second), formed the left; Slocum's corps (Twelfth), and one division of Sickles' (Third), the centre; and Howard's (Eleventh) the right. The other divisions were held in reserve. As General Hooker had concluded to fight a defensive battle, trees were felled in front of the line to form abatis, and rifle-pits were thrown up; and during the whole night the woods resounded with the strokes of a thousand Confederate axe-men engaged at the same work.

Next morning (Saturday, May 2d) Hooker stood on the defensive awaiting battle, and it seemed at first that his opponent had been beguiled into playing into his hands by making a direct attack; for the Confederates began early to make threatening demonstrations. First they felt Couch's line, but it proved to be well intrenched; then they assailed Slocum's front, moving down on the plankroad, and throwing shells into the clearing at the Chancellor House, where Hooker's headquarters were established and the wagons were parked;20 afterwards they menaced the line still further to the right, and these operations they kept up at intervals during the whole day. But Lee had quite another object in view: he knew too well the risks of a direct attack with a force so inferior in numbers as he could dispose of; and while he engaged Hooker's attention with these front demonstrations, he was putting into execution a bold move such as he may have learned, in his military studies, from Frederick the Great. I shall in the following section indicate the nature of this operation, and detail the manner of its execution.


IV. Jackson's flank march—Saturday.

False as was the situation in which the Union commander had placed his force in causing it to assume a defensive attitude at a moment when offensive action promised so much, Lee was, nevertheless, environed with peril. Strategically Hooker's position was a menacing one; tactically, it was unassailable by a front attack. In this dilemma Lee determined on a move which, considering the inferiority of his force, must be accounted astonishingly bold. He resolved by a flank march to assail Hooker's right and rear, with a view of doubling up that flank, taking his line in reverse, and seizing his communications with United States Ford.

This suggestion was, it is said, made to Lee in council during Friday night by Stonewall Jackson, who having, in his independent operations in the Valley, practised with great success the like manoeuvre, now burned to execute, on a grander scale, one of these sudden and mortal blows. The plan, though full of risk, was immediately adopted by Lee, and, as a matter of course, its execution committed to his daring lieutenant, who was destined, in the climax of his power, to end his career in the world and the world's wars in this supreme exhibition of military genius.

The force with which Jackson was to make this movement consisted of his own three divisions, numbering about twenty-two thousand men. Of the Confederate force on the Chancellorsville line there then remained only the two divisions of McLaws and Anderson. These Lee retained in hand to hold Hooker in check.

No man knew better than Jackson the enormous importance of secrecy in the execution of such a design as that he took in hand on Saturday morning; and lie had often repeated to his staff a saying, that was to him a fundamental axiom of war—‘Mystery, mystery is the secret of success.’ Nothing [284] was omitted to secure this indispensable requisite in the task he had undertaken. Hooker's attention was to be engaged and the movement masked by energetic demonstrations of front attack to be made by Lee. Then, as the woods were thick and nearly impenetrable, Jackson hoped that, by taking a road some distance to the south of Chancellorsville, he would be able to pass unobserved; yet he took care, in addition, to throw out Fitz-Lee's brigade of cavalry on the right of his column to screen his perilous flank march across the whole of Hooker's front. Diverging westward from the Fredericksburg plankroad, Jackson pursued his march by a forest-path a couple of miles south of, and parallel with, the Orange plankroad, on which the Union force was planted; and, after passing the point known as the ‘Furnace,’ struck somewhat south by west into the Brock road, and thence northward to seize the Orange plankroad and turn Hooker's right flank.

This movement, skilfully masked as it was, was not made with such secrecy but that those who held the front of the Union line saw that something was going on. And more especially, in passing over a hill near the ‘Furnace,’ the column plainly disclosed itself to General Sickles, who held a position within sight of that point. Now, it happened that the road along which Jackson's column was filing there bends somewhat southward, so that, though the movement was discovered, it was misinterpreted as a retreat towards Richmond on the part of Lee; or, if the idea suggested itself that it might be a movement to turn the right, it was still judged, on the whole, to be a retreat. With the view of determining this, but yet more under the conviction that Lee was withdrawing, Sickles was sent out with two divisions to reconnoitre and attack him.21 At about three o'clock in the afternoon, he advanced [285] through the Wilderness for a mile and a half, or two miles, reached the road on which Jackson had moved, struck the rear of his column, and began to take prisoners. Elated by his success, the result of which he communicated to Hooker, General Sickles asked for re-enforcements; and, at his request, Pleasonton's cavalry and two brigades of infantry were sent him. As one of these brigades was taken from the Twelfth Corps, and the other from the Eleventh Corps,22 holding the right of the general line, it is hardly to be supposed that Hooker would have made the detachment had he thought that flank was to be attacked.

While this manoeuvre, under a false lead, was going on, Jackson was getting into position for his meditated blow. He had already reached the Orange plankroad, on which the Union line was drawn, and near the point at which it is crossed by the road from Germanna Ford; but, ascending a hill in the vicinity, he saw that disposition of the Union force by which its right flank was thrown sharply back in a crochet, extending northward and at right angles with the general line, which ran east and west. He, therefore, perceived that he would have to move further to his left, and further to the north, and, in order to strike the rear of Hooker's defensive position, would have to reach the old turnpike which runs parallel with and north of the plankroad.23 Turning, therefore, after a rapid reconnoitring glance, to one of his aids, he instantly said, ‘Tell my column to cross that road’24 (meaning, thereby, the plankroad, so as to move up and strike the old turnpike).

Reaching the turnpike about five o'clock, Jackson saw the Union line in reverse, and had only to advance in order to [286] crown his perilous operation with complete success. The right of the Union line was, as before stated, held by the Eleventh Corps, under General Howard;25 and, while the major part of this corps formed line of battle along the plankroad, and faced southward, the extreme right brigade26 was ‘refused,’ and made to face westward, from which direction, towards six o'clock, Jackson burst out with resistless impetuosity. The dispositions to meet such an attack were utterly inadequate. The right brigade, after two or three hasty rounds, was forced back; and the next brigade to the left (McLean's), surprised on its flank, broke and fled. The route of retreat of these troops, and that of some artillery caissons that were at the same time galloped off the ground, was down the road on which the entire balance of the corps was posted; so that the confused mass overran the next division:27 to the left, which was compelled to give way before the enemy even reached its position.28 Bushbeck, holding with his brigade the extreme left of the Eleventh Corps, made a good fight, and only retired after both his flanks were turned, and then in good order.29 But the result was, that the whole corps was [287] soon in utter rout. It was now seven o'clock, and growing dark; but Jackson had seized the breastworks, had taken the whole line in reverse, pushed forward to within half a mile of headquarters, and now proceeded to make preparations for following up his success by a blow that should be decisive.

The situation at this moment was extremely critical, for the Eleventh Corps having been brushed away, it was absolutely necessary to form a new line, and it was difficult to see whence the troops were to be drawn; for just at that moment Lee was making a vigorous front attack on Hooker's left and centre, formed by Couch's and Slocum's corps. Hancock's front especially was assailed with great impetuosity; but the attacking column was held in check in the most intrepid manner by Hancock's skirmish line under Colonel Miles.30

The open plain around Chancellorsville now presented such a spectacle as a simoom sweeping over the desert might make. Through the dusk of nightfall, a rushing whirlwind of men and artillery and wagons swept down the road, and [288] past headquarters, and on towards the fords of the Rappahannock; and it was in vain that the staff opposed their persons and drawn sabres to the panic-stricken fugitives. But it chanced that at this moment, General Pleasonton, who had gone out with his cavalry to re-enforce Sickles, was returning, and on learning the giving way of the right wing, he moved forward rapidly, sent his horsemen on the charge into the woods, and, bringing into position his own battery of horse artillery, and such guns, twenty-two in all, as he could collect, he poured double charges of canister into the advancing line. Hooker, too, flaming out with the old fire of battle, called for his own old division, the darling child of his creation, now under General Berry, and shouted to its commander: ‘Throw your men into the breach—receive the enemy on your bayonets—don't fire a shot—they can't see you!’ 31Berry's division, unaffected by the flying crowd streaming past it, hastened forward at the double-quick, in the most perfect order, with fixed bayonets, and took position on a crest at the western end of the clearing around Chancellorsville. Here General Warren with Berry's men, and the artillery of the Twelfth Corps, under Captain Best, and Hay's brigade of the Second Corps, formed a line to check the enemy in front, while Pleasonton and Sickles assailed his right flank; and fifty pieces of artillery, vomiting their missiles in wild curves of fire athwart the night-sky, poured swift destruction into the Confederate ranks. Thus the torrent was stemmed. But, more than all, an unseen hand had struck down the head and front of all this hostile menace. Jackson had received a mortal hurt.

On seeing the success that attended the first blow, Jackson, quick to perceive the immense consequences that might be drawn from this victory, proceeded to make dispositions to press on at once, extending his left so as to cut off Hooker from United States Ford. To relieve Rodes' division [289] which had made the attack, he sent forward A. P. Hill's division; and being intensely anxious to learn the true position of his antagonist, he personally went forward through the dark woods, and with a portion of his staff rode out beyond his own lines to reconnoitre the ground, instructing the troops not to fire, ‘unless cavalry approached from the direction of the enemy.’32 Finishing his examination of the ground, he turned back with his staff to re-enter his own lines; but in the darkness, his troops, mistaking, as it is supposed, the party for a body of Federal cavalry on the charge, fired a volley which killed and wounded several of his staff, and pierced Jackson with three bullets. On being removed to the rear, his arm was amputated, and he seemed in the way of recovery, but pneumonia supervening, he expired at the end of a week. As the dying Napoleon is recorded to have murmured, ‘Tete d'armee,’ so Jackson, his unconscious mind still busy with the mighty blow he was executing when wounded, breathed out his life in the order, ‘A. P. Hill, prepare for action!’33

Thus died Stonewall Jackson, the ablest of Lee's lieutenants. Jackson was essentially an executive officer, and in this sphere he was incomparable. Devoid of high mental parts, and destitute of that power of planning and combination, and of that calm, broad, military intellect, which distinguished General Lee, whom he regarded with a childlike reverence, and whose designs he loved to carry out, he had yet those elements of character that, above all else, inspire troops. A fanatic in religion, fully believing he was destined by Heaven to beat his enemy whenever he encountered him, [290] he infused something of his own fervent faith into his men, and at the time of his death had trained a corps, whose attacks in column were unique and irresistible; and it was noticed that Lee ventured upon no strokes of audacity after Jackson had passed away.

The operation of Jackson, resulting in the doubling up of Hooker's right, made important changes in the line indispensable: so during the night a new front was formed on that flank, with Sickles and Berry. The Eleventh Corps was for the time out of the fight; but Reynolds' corps, which had up to this time been operating with Sedgwick on the left, below Fredericksburg, arrived that evening, and with its firm metal more than supplied the temporary loss. No idea was entertained of retreating; and if Lee did not retire, it was evident that the morrow must bring with it a terrible struggle. But before detailing the events of Sunday, as the action becomes then more complicated, and flames out in a double battle, it will be necessary to indicate what had been passing with that portion of the army under Sedgwick, and to point out the relations between these two parts of one and the same drama.

It was not until after Friday's developments near Chancellorsville, when the reconnoitring columns that went out towards Fredericksburg had met the enemy, and had been recalled, and Lee followed up and drew his lines around Chancellorsville, that Hooker became convinced that Lee was not minded to fall back. Seeing this, he, on Saturday morning, withdrew Reynolds' corps also from the force under Sedgwick, and it reached Chancellorsville late that night. This left Sedgwick with only his own (Sixth) corps; but it was a powerful corps, numbering some twenty-two thousand men.34

Now, it is a question which will present itself to the military [291] student, whether it would not have been better, the moment a lodgment was gained at Chancellorsville, on Thursday, to have at once brought the three corps under Sedgwick up to that point and united the army. Their presence below Fredericksburg, while the turning operation was in execution, was correct; but after that purpose was accomplished, the three corps near Fredericksburg, and the four corps at Chancellorsville, presented the character of a divided army, separated from each other by twenty miles, a river to be twice passed, and the enemy between the two parts. And especially when Friday's developments had proved that Lee would not retreat but offer battle at Chancellorsville was such a junction desirable. Nor was this necessity lessened, but rather greatly heightened by the fact that Hooker's order to withdraw from the advanced position gained on Friday, by forfeiting possession of Banks' Ford (the tenure of which would have practically brought the two parts of his army together), definitively severed Sedgwick from the force at Chancellorsville, and made a junction possible only on one of two conditions: firstly, a detour by the north bank of the Rappahannock, making the passage at United States Ford—but this was one entire day's march; secondly, by a direct march of Sedgwick from Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville, with Lee interposing between him and Hooker.

Now when, on Saturday night, the disruption of the right wing had given a blow to all his hopes, and seriously imperilled his army, Hooker resolved to adopt the latter course, and with a view to relieve the pressure that was upon him, sent, late at night, orders to Sedgwick to put himself in motion immediately, occupy Fredericksburg, seize its heights, gain the plankroad from that place to Chancellorsville, and move out to join the main body, destroying any force he might meet, and reaching his assigned position by daylight the next morning. This was precisely one of those movements which, according as they are wrought out, may be either the height of wisdom or the height of folly. Its successful accomplishment certainly promised very brilliant results. [292] It is easy to see how seriously Lee's safety would be compromised, if, while engaged with Hooker in front, he should suddenly find a powerful force assailing his rear, and grasping already his direct line of communications with Richmond. But if, on the other hand, Lee should be able by any slackness on the part of his opponent, to engage him in front with a part of his force, while he should turn round swiftly to assail the isolated moving column, it is obvious that he would be able to repulse or destroy that column, and then, by a vigorous return, meet or attack his antagonist's main body. For the successful execution of this plan not only was Sedgwick bound to the most energetic action, but Hooker also was engaged by every consideration of honor and duty to so act as to make the dangerous task he had assigned to Sedgwick possible. And now premising that Sedgwick, immediately on receipt of the order at eleven o'clock of Saturday night, put his force in motion from its position three miles below Fredericksburg and moved forward to effect a junction with the main body, I shall return to the recital of events at Chancellorsville at the time the action burst forth anew on Sunday morning.

V. Sunday's action at Chancellorsville

When, some hours before dawn of Sunday, Lee received word of the wounding of Jackson, the messenger who conveyed to him the tidings, added that it had been Jackson's intent, had he been spared, ‘to have pressed the enemy on Sunday.’ ‘These people shall be pressed to-day!’ exclaimed Lee, with deep emotion.35

Stuart had succeeded for the time being to Jackson's command, and forming the corps in three lines, he advanced it at [293] daylight to the attack, with the battle-cry, ‘Charge, and remember Jackson!’36 “Swinging round his right so as to bring it perpendicular with the plankroad, he seized the crest which had the day before been occupied by the left of the Eleventh Corps, got thirty pieces of artillery rapidly into position thereon, and opened a heavy fire on the plain around the Chancellor House.” 37

The attitude of Hooker had not now even the pretence of an offensive character. The line he held, however, on Sunday morning, still covered the angle of roads at the Chancellorsville House. Sickles' corps, and Berry's division of Slocum's corps, and French's division of Couch's corps formed the right, and faced westward to meet Stuart's attack, while the rest of Slocum's corps and Hancock's division of Couch's corps formed the centre and left and covered the two roads from Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg to meet any assault from the remainder of Lee's army, while part of Hancock was thrown back, facing eastward, so as to guard the communications with United States Ford. The corpscom-manders saw that it was only a question of saving what they could of the army's honor, for the army was without a head.38 During the night the engineers had traced out a new line three-quarters of a mile to the rear of Chancellorsville, [294] towards the river, and covering the roads to United States and Ely's fords. To this line Hooker had resolved to retire, and he seemed to be incapable of other resolve.

Sickles and Berry and French made good fight at their position, receiving Stuart's impetuous attacks; but the result was that, after a severe struggle, Sickles was forced from his front line. Carroll, with a few regiments of French's division, assailed Stuart's left flank, and threw it into much confusion, capturing several hundred prisoners,39 but that flank being reenforced, Stuart pressed back French in turn, and his right renewed the attack on Sickles.40

While Stuart was thus bearing down on the right wing, Lee with his remaining divisions attacked the centre and left under Slocum and Hancock. He threw forward Anderson's division on the plankroad connecting Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville to attack Slocum, and assailed Hancock with McLaws' division. The latter was repulsed in the most brilliant manner by the skirmish line of Hancock's division; but Anderson pressed hard on Slocum, and throwing round his left, succeeded in making a connection with Stuart by a thin line. This done, Lee advanced his whole line, when Sickles and Slocum were forced back. The line melted away and the whole front appeared to pass out, and Hancock, with a portion of Slocum's corps under General Geary, alone held the extreme point of the line on the side of the Chancellorsville House towards the enemy.41 Drawing back [295] to the Chancellor House, a struggle was made for a time at the angle of roads; but the line soon began to waver. Detecting this, the Confederates sprang forward, and at ten o'clock seized Chancellorsville.42

A short time before the action thus culminated, General Hooker was thrown down by the concussion of a shot that struck one of the pillars of the Chancellor House, on the balcony of which he was standing. This prostrated him for a brief period, and he instructed General Couch to superintend the withdrawal of the troops to the new line in rear, which had been prepared and fortified during the previous night. This line had the form of a redan thrown forward in the angle between the Rapidan and the Rappahannock—the right flank resting on the former, and the left on the latter stream. The corps of Meade and Reynolds, which had held position on the right in reserve, and had, strange to say, not been called into action during the terrible struggle of the morning, were formed on the new line, where they were joined by the rest of the army falling back from Chancellorsville. Lee, gathering up his forces, was about to renew the attack on this fresh position, when his upraised arm was suddenly arrested by tidings of great purport from Fredericksburg.43


VI. the storming of the heights.

It was towards midnight of Saturday when Sedgwick received his orders to move through Fredericksburg and proceed towards Chancellorsville to unite with the main body. This command found him holding his position on the south bank of the Rappahannock, three miles below Fredericksburg. He immediately put his corps in motion by the flank, and proceeded to the town, skirmishing sharply with the enemy all the way up—the Confederate force falling back slowly.44 Some hours before dawn of Sunday, Sedgwick occupied Fredericksburg, but a small force thrown forward before daylight to seize the enemy's works behind the town was immediately repulsed. Gibbon's division of Couch's corps, which had been holding Falmouth, then crossed to join him.

For the defence of Fredericksburg, General Lee had left behind Early's division of four brigades and Barksdale's brigade of McLaws' division.45 Barksdale occupied the heights immediately in rear of the town, including Marye's Hill and the stone wall at its base, famous in the story of Burnside's attack. Early's own division held the Confederate right below the town. Three companies of the Washington Artillery occupied the crest, and so soon as Sedgwick's movement was disclosed, on Sunday morning, Early sent Hays' brigade to re-enforce Barksdale. As it had required scarcely more than this force to repulse Burnside's successive columns of attack on the 13th of December, Barksdale had probably little doubt of his ability to give a like reception to those now threatening assault. [297]

Sedgwick's first efforts were of a tentative nature. Howe's division, occupying the left of his line, made an effort against the Confederate right with a view to turn the heights. It had no serious character, however, and was not successful.46 Gibbon's division, on the right of Sedgwick, then essayed to move round the left of the Confederate position; but this was foiled by the canal covering that entire flank. A partial attack in front was not more successful. Every action has these periods of prelude, from which the proper course at length discloses itself. That which now presented itself as best suited to the circumstances, and promising the best results, was to form a powerful assaulting column and carry Marye's Heights by storm.

The preliminary endeavors and the preparations for attack had consumed considerable time, and it was towards eleven o'clock when it began. Two columns were formed from Newton's division—the right column of four regiments, and the left column of two regiments—and on the left of this a line of battle of four regiments was thrown out. The columns moved on the plankroad and to the right of it directly up the heights. The line of battle advanced on the left of the road on the double-quick against the rifle-pits, neither halting nor firing a shot until they had driven the enemy from their lower line of works along the stone wall at the base of Marye's Hill. In the mean time the storming parties had rushed forward to the crest and carried the works in rear of the rifle-pits, capturing the guns and many hundred prisoners.47 The assault was executed with great gallantry, under a very severe fire that cost Sedgwick a thousand men; and the Confederates made a savage hand-to-hand fight on the crest and over the guns. [298]

As, simultaneous with these events, Howe's division on the left carried the crest below Fredericksburg, capturing a number of prisoners and five guns, the whole ridge was now in Sedgwick's possession. Early's troops retreated southward over the telegraph road, leaving the plankroad from Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville open to an advance of Sedgwick. This the latter proceeded with all haste to set on foot.

Such was the startling intelligence that, in the climax of his triumph, reached General Lee, who suddenly found himself summoned to meet this new and unexpected menace. The course adopted by Lee in this emergency was precisely the course prescribed by the highest principles of war—the principles on which Caesar, and Gustavus, and Frederick fought battles; but it was a course very bold—unusually bold for the cautious and methodical mind of the Confederate commander. Relying on the repulse Hooker had received to hold him inactive, Lee instantly countermarched from Hooker's front a force sufficient, in conjunction with the troops under Early, to check or destroy Sedgwick. Wilcox's brigade, which had been held at Banks' Ford, was already in position to meet him; and in addition, Lee forwarded the brigade of Mahone of Anderson's division and the brigades of Kershaw, Wofford, and Semmes under General McLaws.48 These, with the five brigades of Early, who was in position to place himself on Sedgwick's rear, he judged adequate to the work. While, therefore, this force was countermarching from Chancellorsville towards Fredericksburg, Sedgwick was advancing from Fredericksburg towards Chancellorsville; and it happened that the heads of the columns came together just about midway—at Salem Heights, near the junction of the plankroad and the turnpike. It was now towards four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the Confederate brigades, under Wilcox, already held the crest at Salem Chapel, and McLaws was proceeding to form his brigades on his right and left; but Sedgwick threw forward Brooks' division, supporting [299] it with Newton's division on the right, and, advancing, gained the crest after a sharp conflict.49 This was a momentary triumph, for he was soon pushed slowly back through the woods. The falling back was covered, and the advance of the enemy checked by the excellent firing of the batteries under Colonel Tompkins.50 Sedgwick, in fact, was checked. His loss was severe, and with that suffered in carrying the heights of Fredericksburg, brought the total up to five thousand men.51 Such was the situation in which night found this column.

Vii. The coup de grace.

Monday, May 4th, found both armies, and the opposing halves of each army, in a curious dead-lock. Hooker had assumed a strictly defensive attitude in his new line. Lee felt unable to attack with less than his whole force, which could not be concentrated until he was relieved of the danger that menaced his rear in the person of Sedgwick.52 Sedgwick, on the other hand, while able to hold his own, was unable to advance in face of the opposition he encountered. This was now not lessened but rather increased, for General Early [300] on Monday morning retook the heights of Fredericksburg, thus cutting off Sedgwick from communication with that place, and enveloping him on three sides.

To cut this knot, Lee resolved to further re-enforce the troops opposed to Sedgwick and drive him across the Rappahannock, thus eliminating from the problem one important factor. Accordingly, on Monday morning Anderson was directed to proceed with his remaining three brigades to join McLaws.53 Reaching Salem Heights about noon, he threw his force around on Sedgwick's left, with the view of cutting his command off from the river. The Confederates, however, met considerable delay in getting into position, and the attack was not begun till six o'clock, when it was made with great impetuosity—Sedgwick resisting with the utmost stubbornness, but forced to yield ground, especially on the left. Happily, darkness soon ensued to prevent the enemy's following up his advantage, and, under cover of night, Sedgwick safely withdrew his corps across the Rappahannock at Banks' Ford, where a ponton-bridge had been laid the day before.

Thus it was that Lee on Tuesday morning (May 5th) saw himself relieved from this menace in his rear; and having now but a single foe to cope with, he promptly recalled the divisions of McLaws and Anderson, united them with his main force at Chancellorsville, and resolved to give the remaining section of the Union army the coup de grace. Preparations were made during the afternoon and evening to assail Hooker's position at daylight the following morning (Wednesday, May 6th). When daybreak, however, came, and the Confederate skirmishers advanced, it was found that the army had, during the night, withdrawn across the Rappahannock.

Hooker had determined, on Monday night, to recross the river; but when the question was submitted to the judgment of his corps-commanders, it was found that a majority of those present were in favor of an advance rather than a withdrawal. Hooker, however, had lost all stomach for fight. [301] Accordingly on Tuesday, the engineers were instructed to prepare a new line near the river to cover the crossing, and for this purpose they constructed a continuous cover and abatis, from the Rappahannock at Scott's Dam around to the mouth of Hunting Creek on the Rapidan, a distance of three miles. During the afternoon a heavy rain set in which lasted till late at night.

The movement to recross was begun by the artillery at dark of Tuesday, and was suddenly interrupted by a rise in the Rappahannock so great as to submerge the banks at the end of the bridges, which the current threatened to sweep away—a consummation most devoutly wished by many of the leading officers of the army, who were bitterly opposed to recrossing the river. But fate willed otherwise, and in the midst of a night as gloomy as the mood of the army, the troops filed across to the north bank.

The losses in the battle of Chancellorsville can be stated with accuracy. On the side of the Confederates, they made an aggregate of ten thousand two hundred and eighty-one.54 On the Union side, they were seventeen thousand one hundred and ninety-seven55 killed, wounded, and missing. The army left behind its killed, its wounded, fourteen pieces of artillery, and twenty thousand stand of arms.

It remains now to glance a moment at the operations of the column under Stoneman. As this was a powerful corps, numbering some ten thousand sabres, and as its movement was intended to precede by a fortnight the commencement of operations by the army, very important results were expected from it. But the cavalry was delayed a long time by the swollen condition of the upper Rappahannock, so that it did not cross till the time the infantry made the passage, April 29. Hooker then divided the command into two [302] columns, sending one, under General Averill, to move to Louisa Courthouse, threaten Gordonsville, and engage the Confederate mounted force, while the other, under General Buford, should break up the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, destroying its bridges, etc.

The only mounted force the Confederates could oppose to these columns was a small brigade of two regiments under General W. H. F. Lee.56 That officer fell back before the Union cavalry, which advanced on Louisa Courthouse, and proceeded to destroy the Virginia Central road. Stoneman divided Buford's force into six bodies, throwing them out in all directions; but the important line of communications by the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad was not struck till the 3d of May, and the damage done it was very slight.57 This is sufficiently shown by the fact that on the 5th the cars conveyed to Richmond the Confederate wounded and the Union prisoners58 captured in the battle of Chancellorsville. The raid had, undoubtedly, the effect to alarm the country through which the columns moved, and much property was destroyed; but its military result, as bearing on the main operation, was quite insignificant.


VIII. observations on the battle of Chancellorsville.

The simple recital I have made of the operations attending the battle of Chancellorsville will have served to reveal the extraordinary character of that action, which, opening with an exhibition of grand tactics marked by masterly skill, sank into conduct so feeble and faulty, as to be almost beneath criticism.

1. It is in war as in life: a single false step often involves an endless train of swift-succeeding misfortune. This false step in the conduct of Hooker was that, having started out to fight an offensive battle, he reduced himself, at the very moment when action was above all imperative, to a perilous defensive. The strategic operation of crossing the Rappahannock merits all the praise it has received. It was accomplished with complete success, and resulted in placing at Chancellorsville on the night of Thursday, April 30, four corps, in a position on the rear of the left of the Confederate defensive line, with Lee's forces scattered down the Rappahannock, a distance of five-and-twenty miles. All the enemy between, Hooker and Fredericksburg was a mere handful of a division. Then did Hooker grasp the initiative. Then was the moment, if ever moment were, for vigorous impulse and fiery action, before his opponent should recover himself. By what prompting of chivalrous generosity, rare in war—and eclipsing forever the conduct of the commander of the English Guards, who at Fontenoy insisted on the French delivering the first fire—was it that in this situation he voluntarily resigned all the advantage of the surprise, and allowed Lee forty-eight hours to concentrate against him?

2. That delay at Chancellorsville from Thursday afternoon till Saturday afternoon undid all that had been accomplished. [304] It is true that the Wilderness is a region unfavorable for manoeuvring a large army; but it was as bad for Lee as for Hooker, and the latter is estopped from availing himself of this excuse by his own order, in which he declared it to be ‘ground of his own selection.’ Besides, this objection wholly disappears in face of the fact that the reconnoissances of Friday, May 1st, showed he might have pushed out beyond the woods, thus uncovering Banks' Ford, reducing the line of communications by twelve miles, and practically uniting both his wings. To the ‘special wonder’ of all the commanders, he relinquished the fine position then gained, and stood on the defensive in the Wilderness.

3. But for a defensive battle the positioning of his army was faulty—the ground being commanded in front, and the right flank thrown out ‘in the air,’ whereas it might have been securely rested on the Rapidan. This afforded Lee his opportunity, and with consummate address, and a marvellous boldness, considering the disparity of his force, he on Saturday morning set on foot the execution of Jackson's flank march to attack the Union right. This is an operation usually condemned in war; but the conditions justified it, seeing that Jackson was able to mask his movement, and success crowned it.

4. During the whole of Saturday, while Jackson was executing his flank march, the Confederate commander held Hooker's fifty thousand men with the division of Anderson and part of McLaws—eight brigades, or twelve thousand men. Not a motion of offence was made by Hooker all this time.

5. After the disaster to the Eleventh Corps on Saturday night, Hooker made every thing to hinge on Sedgwick's advance to join him, which was to make the greater contingent on the lesser. His orders to Sedgwick, sent at ten o'clock of Saturday night, and received about midnight, were to move up from his position below Fredericksburg, take the heights, and move out by the plankroad towards Chancellorsville, distant fourteen miles. This move would, under the circumstances, [305] have been an impossibility, even had no enemy interposed. Sedgwick, after a gallant assault in which he suffered heavy loss, carried the Fredericksburg heights on Sunday forenoon; and he then moved out to obey Hooker's instructions to fall upon Lee's rear at Chancellorsville, but was stopped by the enemy at Salem Heights.

6. But meanwhile, on Sunday morning Hooker had been driven back at Chancellorsville. Moreover, the operations ending in the giving ground of the army at Chancellorsville were over five hours before Sedgwick attacked Salem Heights. It is therefore evident, that unless the Sixth Corps could, single-handed, fight all the force brought against it, the sole object of taking the heights of Fredericksburg, or uncovering Banks' Ford, was to hold a position from which the army might debouch. Therefore the attack on Salem Heights was mere waste of men; and if those heights had been taken, the Sixth Corps never could have extricated itself. Sedgwick should not have been called forward from Fredericksburg, because to abandon the possession of the heights was to give up a positive gain for a remote possibility. If, however, Sedgwick was to be expected to make a junction with the force at Chancellorsville, Hooker was committed by every consideration of honor and duty to so act as to make the junction possible. Yet he did not make the slightest effort as a diversion in Sedgwick's favor; but allowed Lee to countermarch at pleasure from his front a force sufficient to first check and then overwhelm Sedgwick. General Hooker lays the blame of the disaster at Chancellorsville to Sedgwick's failure to join him on Sunday morning. ‘In my judgment,’ says he, ‘General Sedgwick did not obey the spirit of my order, and made no sufficient effort to obey it. His movement was delayed so long that the enemy discovered his intentions; and when that was done, he was necessarily delayed in the further execution of the order.’59 This is a cruel charge to bring against a commander now beyond the reach of detraction; [306] whose brilliant exploit in carrying the Fredericksburg heights and his subsequent fortitude in a trying situation, shine out as the one relieving brightness amid the gloom of that hapless battle.

7. From the time when, at noon of Sunday, Hooker was driven from the line at Chancellorsville, to his new line in the rear, he remained perfectly passive. Was all fight out of him? Had the disaster to the Eleventh Corps, which nobody in the army regarded as of any moment (that corps hardly being accounted as belonging to the Army of the Potomac), so paralyzed him that he could do nothing? Yet the disruption of the Eleventh Corps had been more than made up by the arrival of Reynolds' corps (First) on Saturday night; and in the decisive action of Sunday, he employed little more than half his force—neither Reynolds nor Meade being allowed to go into action, though eager to do so. Hooker allowed a position to be lost when he had more men at hand that did not draw trigger than Lee had in his entire army!

8. It was Monday evening before Sedgwick was attacked; and the whole interval from noon of Sunday, when the action of Chancellorsville ceased, till six o'clock on Monday evening—thirty hours—was available to re-enforce Sedgwick, which might readily have been done on a short line via United States and Banks' fords. Yet no attempt was made to do so. Lee made good use of this time in re-enforcing the wing opposed to Sedgwick, so that he was able at night to drive the Sixth Corps across the river after a severe action, in which Sedgwick's guns booming out like signals of distress were heard at Chancellorsville. Indeed, such was Hooker's delusion (to use the mildest term) regarding the situation, that on Sunday afternoon, at the time Sedgwick was completely enveloped, he sent word to that officer stating that he (Hooker) ‘had driven the enemy, and all it wanted was for him (Sedgwick) to come up and complete Lee's destruction!’

9. Even after Sedgwick had withdrawn across the Rappahannock at Banks' Ford on Monday, Hooker might have remained indefinitely on the third line he had caused to be [307] prepared. It was of impregnable strength—both flanks resting on the river; and the army could here have repelled all assaults. The whole army wished this; and a successful action, ending in Lee's repulse, would have saved the morale and pride of the troops. It has been said that the storm of May 5th, which caused a rise in the Rappahannock, and endangered the supplies of the army, was a motive for retreat. But the order to retire was given twelve hours before any rain and during a cloudless sky.

10. Not the Army of the Potomac was beaten at Chancellorsville, but its commander; and General Hooker's conduct inflicted a very severe blow to his reputation. The officers despised his generalship, and the rank and file were puzzled at the result of a battle in which they had been foiled without being fought, and caused to retreat without the consciousness of having been beaten.

1 The germ of the badge designation was the happy thought of General Kearney, who, at Fair Oaks, ordered the soldiers of his division to sew a piece of red flannel to their caps, so that he could recognize them in the tumult of battle. Hooker developed the idea into a system of immense utility, and henceforth the different corps and divisions could always be distinguished by the red, white, or blue trefoil, cross, lozenge, star, etc.

2 The cavalry of the army had hitherto had no organization whatever as a corps. It was organized by brigades or divisions and scattered among the grand division commanders. From the time of its consolidation it was able to act in its legitimate line, and underwent a great improvement. On the 16th of March, Hooker sent out an expedition of six mounted regiments and a battery, under General Averill, to engage the Confederate cavalry on Lee's left, holding position near Kelly's Ford. Forcing the passage of the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford, on the morning of the 17th, by a spirited dash, in which twenty-four of the enemy were captured, Averill pushed forward, driving the enemy before him for four miles south of the river, when he became engaged with the Confederate cavalry brigade of Fitz Hugh Lee. A very brilliant passage at arms here ensued, both sides repeatedly charging with the sabre. Nothing decisive resulted; but the Union cavalry were much encouraged by the exploit. Averill's loss was eighty-four; that of the Confederates one hundred and seventy.—Fitz Lee: Report of Kelleysville.

3 It was not without truth that Hooker, at this time, in his grandiose style, named it ‘the finest army on the planet.’

4 This estimate is approximate; the data are as follows: The effective of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth corps was put by General Hooker, just before Chancellorsville, at forty-four thousand six hundred and sixty-one.—Report on the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 120. The effective of the Sixth Corps is given by General Sedgwick (ibid., p. 95) as twenty-two thousand; and the effective of the First and Third corps, by the same authority, was thirty-five thousand. There remains the Second Corps, to which, if we give a minimum of eighteen thousand, there will result the aggregate of one hundred and nineteen thousand six hundred and sixty-one.

5 Pleasonton: Official Returns, May 27th.

6 Hunt: Report of Artillery Operations.

7 Generals Franklin and Sumner both retired from the Army of the Potomac after the change of commander. The latter was assigned to a command in the West, but died soon afterwards at his home in New York, lamented by the army and the country as the bravest of soldiers and purest of men.

8General Longstreet, with two divisions of his corps, was detached for service south of James River in February, and did not rejoin the army until after the battle of Chancellorsville.’—Lee: Report of Chancellorsville, p. 5.

9 The rolls of Lee's army showed, the 31st of March, 1863, a force of 60,298. But at the battle of Chancellorsville, the reports of the subordinates make it fully ten thousand less.

10 Warren: [271] Report of Engineer Operations connected with the Battle of Chancellorsville.

11 At this ford, a party of Confederates were found engaged in rebuilding the bridge; but by a well-executed movement most of them were captured.

12 This place consisted of a single large brick house.

13 There was much in what was visible to the Confederates of Sedgwick's operation to inspire them with the belief that Hooker was preparing his main attack at that point; and an accidental circumstance, the details of which are given below, tended greatly to confirm this impression. Being a spectator of Sedgwick's operations, I at the time interpreted certain movements as a ruse de guerre, designed to give the enemy an exaggerated notion of the strength of the force present at that point, whereas they were the necessary result of an entirely different operation; and I elaborated this point with some fulness in a letter on the battle of Chancellorsville in the New York Times. What was there stated has already passed into history; and Colonel MacDougall, an English military writer of repute, following that account (without credit given, however), thus writes:

‘The four remaining divisions of these two corps [Sedgwick's and Reynolds'] remained on the north bank, and an ingenious ruse was practised to deceive the enemy into tile belief that the greater part of the Northern army was there massed with the intention of crossing. It is to be noted that, from the configuration of the ground, the enemy could not see the bridges, neither could they see the four divisions on the north bank, which were behind the fringe of hills aforesaid. These troops were then put in motion, and, mounting the ridge, which, sloping both ways, served as a screen, marched along the top in full view of the Confederates, and then dipped down out of sight towards the bridges. Instead of crossing these, however, they turned back through a gully round the rear of the ridge, round again on the top, and again disappeared from sight to play the same game—just the same evolution as is practised by the “brave army” on the stage of a theatre, and with the same intent of deceiving the spectators as to their numbers. The like stage effect was practised by the artillery and wagon-trains, until the Confederates had seen defile before them a force which they might well conclude to be the whole Northern army.’ —MacDougall: Modern Warfare and Modern Artillery, pp. 334, 335.

The following note from Major-General McMahon explains the real purpose of the operation misinterpreted by me:

New York, January, 1866.
my Dear Sir—The movement of troops under General Sedgwick, to which our conversation referred, was not for the purpose of deceiving the enemy into the belief that we were re-enforcing the left wing, although such probably was its effect.

The movements consisted of the withdrawal of Reynolds' corps from the lower crossing, which was effected without attracting the attention of the enemy; and the transfer of one division of the Sixth Corps from the upper to the lower bridges, to hold the position abandoned by the First Corps. The march of this division was so ordered that only its arrival at the lower bridges could be seen by the enemy. It was a necessary movement, made so by the departure of the First Corps for Chancellorsville, and not a stratagem. Of course, in this as in all similar movements, advantage was taken of the nature of the ground, to conceal our intention from the enemy as far as it was practicable.

Very respectfully, etc.,

M. T. McMAHON, Late Chief of Staff to Major-General Sedgwick.

W. Swinton, Esq.

14 These observations were made in presence of the writer.

15 ‘The enemy in our front [Sedgwick], near Fredericksburg, continued inactive; and it was now apparent that the main attack would be made upon our flank and rear. It was, therefore, determined to leave sufficient troops to hold our lines, and, with the main body of the army, to give battle to the approaching column.’—Lee: Report of Chancellorsville, p. 7.

16 Hooker's Circular Order, May 1: Report of the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 124.

17 Warren: Report of Operations connected with the Chancellorsville Campaign.

18 ‘The ground on which I had posted Hancock in support of Sykes, was about one and a half miles from Chancellorsville, and commanded it. Upon receiving orders from General Hooker to come in, I sent Major Burt to him urging that, on account of the great advantages of that position, it should be held at all hazards. The reply was, to return at once. General Warren also went in person and urged the necessity of holding on.’—Couch: Report of Chancellorsville. For confirmation of the same, see Warren: Report; Humphreys: Evidence on Chancellorsville; Report of the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 63.

19 Hancock: Report of Chancellorsville.

20 ‘In the morning about six or seven, the enemy opened his artillery from our left on the open field in front of the Chancellorsville House, and drove out all our wagons and every thing that was loose into position.’—Warren's Report.

21 General Hooker, in his evidence on the battle of Chancellorsville, insinuates that he was all the time aware of the true character of Jackson's move, and that he made adequate preparations to meet a flank attack; but he, at the time, gave a very different view to General Sedgwick, to whom he wrote, on Saturday afternoon, as follows: ‘We know the enemy is flying, trying to save his trains; two of Sickles' divisions are among them.’

22 Williamson's brigade, of Slocum's corps, and Barlow's brigade, of Howard's corps.—Sickles' Evidence: Report on the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 5.

23 The ‘old turnpike’ may, roughly speaking, be said to be parallel with the plankroad, though it really joins near Dondall's tavern, about two and a half miles west of Chancellorsville.

24 Cooke's Life of Stonewall Jackson, p. 251.

25 Sigel's old corps; Howard had very recently taken command.

26 Gilsa's brigade of Devens' division.

27 Schurz's division.

28 Schimmelfennig's brigade, of Schurz's division, made a rapid change of front to the west, and resisted the advance of the enemy for an hour or upwards.

29 The rout of the Eleventh Corps was bad enough without the exaggerated coloring in which it has been painted. Much was said in the newspaper accounts of the time regarding the ‘cowardly Dutchmen,’ and the fact that this corps was supposed to be made up of German elements was emphasized as lending additional opprobrium to the affair; yet, ‘of the eleven thousand five hundred men composing the Eleventh Corps, but four thousand five hundred were Germans.’—The Eleventh Corps and the Battle of Chancellorsville. Pamphlet, New York, 1863.

The disposition of the corps to meet such an attack was excessively defective; and, in so far as the rout was owing to this circumstance, the author of this disposition must assume the responsibility. General Warren, in his evidence before the Congressional committee, propounds a theory of his own touching the disaster, which he attributes to the fact that the ambulances, ammunition-wagons, pack-mule train, and even beef-cattle, had actually been allowed to come up on the line of battle of the Eleventh Corps; and that, when the fighting began, all these, as a matter of course, ran away, greatly increasing the confusion.—Report on the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 45.

30 Amid much that is dastardly at Chancellorsville, the conduct of this young but gallant and skilful officer shines forth with a brilliant lustre. Being intrusted with the charge of the skirmish line covering Hancock's front, he so disposed his thin line, well intrenched, that the Confederates, though making repeated charges in columns, on Saturday and Sunday, were never able to reach Hancock's line of battle. ‘On the 2d of May,’ says Hancock, ‘the enemy frequently opened with artillery from the heights towards Fredericksburg, and from those on my right, and with infantry assaulted my advanced line of rifle-pits, but was always handsomely repulsed by the troops on duty there, consisting of the Fifty-seventh, Sixty-fourth, and Sixty-sixth New York Volunteers, and detachments from the Fifty-second New York, Second Delaware, and One Hundred and Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, under Colonel N. A. Miles. During the sharp contest of that day, the enemy were never able to reach my line of battle, so strongly and successfully did Colonel Miles contest the ground.’—Report of Chancellorsville. Colonel Miles was on Sunday morning wounded severely, and it was supposed fatally; but he afterwards recovered to share the glories of his corps to the close of the war, and he rose to the rank of major-general.

31 Correspondence of William Swinton in the New York Times, May 5 1863.

32 Life of General Jackson, by an Ex-Cadet (Richmond, 1864), p. 182. The same circumstance is detailed in Cooke: Life of Jackson, p. 253.

33 Cooke: Life of Jackson, p. 270. Life of Jackson, by an Ex-Cadet, p. 190. During his illness, Jackson, speaking of the attack he had made, said with a glow of martial ardor: ‘If I had not been wounded, I would have cut the enemy off from the road to United States Ford; we would have had them entirely surrounded, and they would have been obliged to surrender or cut their way out—they had no other alternative.’

34 In addition to this, Gibbon's division of Couch's corps held Falmouth, and observed the river and the north side of Banks' Ford.

35 Life of Jackson, by an Ex-Cadet, p. 185.

36 Life of Jackson, by an Ex-Cadet, p. 187.

37 Stuart's Report of the Battle of Chancellorsville, p. 18. ‘In course of the morning, the corps on our right was pushed in, enabling the enemy to concentrate his artillery fire on Chancellorsville with effect.’—Couch's Report. This swinging round of Stuart's right was made under the following circumstances. It will be remembered that Sickles, from the movement he had made on Saturday afternoon to attack the rear of Jackson's corps, reached a position on the right flank of that corps; but a little before daybreak, Sickles was ordered to retire from that position to his place in the new line. It was when the withdrawal had been nearly accomplished that Stuart advanced his right, and in so doing engaged Sickles' rear, consisting of the brigade of Graham, who manoeuvred his command with address and made good his escape.—

38 When Slocum, after fighting long and hard, sent to inquire if other movements were being made that might relieve him, or if he might expect reenforcements and ammunition, Hooker replied, that he could not make soldiers or ammunition. This, too, when two corps lay idle!

39 ‘French drove the enemy, taking about three hundred prisoners and recapturing a regiment of one of the corps in the hands of the rebels.’— Couch: Report of Chancellorsville.

40 ‘In the mean time the enemy was pressing our left with infantry, and all the re-enforcements I could obtain were sent there.’—Stuart: Report of Chancellorsville, p. 18.

41 Hancock's testimony: Report on the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 67. Geary, however, went out some time before Hancock, who remained till the last. It is proper to state that Sickles' ammunition had become exhausted, and no re-enforcements were sent him, notwithstanding that Meade and Reynolds were both disengaged. Sickles, with the bayonet alone, repelled several successive assaults, and Mott's New Jersey brigade of Sickles' corps alone captured seven or eight colors from the enemy's second line and took several hundred prisoners.

42 ‘Artillery was pushed forward to the crest, sharp-shooters were posted in a house in advance, and in a few minutes Chancellorsville was ours (ten o'clock, A. M.)’—Stuart: Report, p. 18. Lee states the same time.—Report, p. 10. Most of the Union reports make it eleven o'clock.

43 ‘Our preparations were just completed, when further operations were arrested by intelligence received from Fredericksburg.’—Lee's Report, p. 10

44 Sedgwick: Report of Fredericksburg Heights.

45 In addition to this force, the Confederate General Wilcox, who, with his brigade, had been holding position at Banks' Ford, moved up to join Barksdale, but arrived too late to take part in the action, though he played a part in the afterpiece.

46 ‘The enemy made a demonstration against the extreme right, which was easily repulsed by General Early.’—Lee: Report of Chancellorsville, p. 11.

47 ‘A large portion of the Eighteenth Mississippi Regiment and a part of the Twenty-first were taken prisoners, and a company of the Washington Artillery, with its guns, were captured.’—Report of General Early, p. 34. The Sixth Maine, of the light brigade under Colonel Burnham, was the first to plant its colors on the works.

48 Lee: Report of Chancellorsville, p. 12.

49 Sedgwick's Report.

50 ‘The advance of the enemy was checked by the splendid firing of our batteries-Williston's, Rigby's, and Parsons'.’—Sedgwick's Report. The Confederate General McLaws testifies to the excellence of the artillery service: ‘The batteries of the enemy were admirably served, and played over the whole ground.’—Report of the Battle of Chancellorsville, p. 30.

51 ‘My strength yesterday was twenty-two thousand men; I do not know my losses, but they were large—probably five thousand men.’—Dispatch from Sedgwick to Hooker, May 4th: Report on the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 109. The precise loss was four thousand nine hundred and twenty-five killed, wounded, and missing.—Sedgwick's Report.

52 ‘In the mean time the enemy had so strengthened his position near Chancellorsville, that it was deemed inexpedient to assail it with less than our whole force, which could not be concentrated until we were relieved from the danger that menaced our rear.’—Lee: Report, p. 12.

53 Lee: Report of Chancellorsville, p. 12.

54 Lee: Report of Chancellorsville, p. 131.

55 Report on the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 143. Of this number Lee claims five thousand prisoners, besides the wounded. He also claims the prize of seventeen standards, nineteen thousand and five hundred stand of arms, and much ammunition.—Lee: Report of Chancellorsville, p. 15.

56 Report of General R. E. Lee on the Battle of Chancellorsville, p. 15; Report of General Stuart, p. 38; Report of General W. H. F. Lee, p. 49.

57 ‘The damage done to the railroad was small and soon repaired, and the James River Canal was saved from injury.’—Report of General Lee, p. 15.

58 Hooker's testimony: Report on the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., p. 140.

59 Hooker's testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War.

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