Part 2 out of 4
ten-minutes' skirmish resulted, when the Confederate party withdrew.
There had been a number of minor attacks on our outlying pickets,
some of them occurring when Gen. Howard was present. All these facts
were successively reported to headquarters.
About the same time two men, sent out as spies, came in, and reported
the enemy crossing the plank road on our right, in heavy columns.
These men were despatched by Howard to Hooker, with instructions to the
officer accompanying them to see that Hooker promptly received their
information. On the other hand, a half-hour before Jackson's attack
came, Howard sent a couple of companies of cavalry out the plank road to
reconnoitre. These men, from negligence or cowardice, failed to go far
enough to ascertain the presence of Jackson, and returned and reported
all quiet. This report was, however, not forwarded to Hooker.
There was not an officer or man in the Eleventh Corps that afternoon who
did not discuss the possibility of an attack in force on our right,
and wonder how the small body thrown across the road on the extreme
flank could meet it. And yet familiar with all the facts related,
for that they were reported to him there is too much cumulative evidence
to doubt, and having inspected the line so that he was conversant with
its situation, Hooker allowed the key of his position to depend upon a
half-brigade and two guns, facing the enemy, while the balance of the
wing, absolutely in the air, turned its back upon the general whose
attack was never equalled for its terrible momentum during our war,
or excelled in any, and whose crushing blows had caused the brave old
Army of the Potomac more than once to stagger.
Moreover, the "key of the position" was confided to a corps which was
not properly part of the Army of the Potomac, and untried as yet.
For not only had the Eleventh Corps, as a corps, seen no active service,
but the most of its regiments were made up of raw troops, and the
elements of which the corps was composed were to a degree incongruous.
Of itself this fact should have caused Hooker to devote serious
attention to his right flank.
HOOKER'S THEORIES AND CHANCES.
Hooker and Sickles have both stated that the plan of the former was to
allow this movement of Jackson's to develop itself: if it was a retreat,
to attack the column at the proper time; if a tactical flank movement,
to allow it to be completed, and then thrust himself between the two
wings of Lee's army, and beat them in detail. This admirable
generalization lacked the necessary concomitant of intelligent and
Now, Hooker had his choice between two theories of this movement of
Jackson. It was a retreat from his front, either because Lee deemed
himself compromised, or for the purpose of making new strategic
combinations; or it was the massing of troops for a flank attack.
It could mean nothing else. Let us, then, do Hooker all the justice the
situation will allow.
All that had occurred during the day was fairly explainable on the
former hypothesis. If Jackson was passing towards Culpeper, he would
naturally send flanking parties out every road leading from the one his
own columns were pursuing, towards our lines, for strictly defensive
purposes. The several attacks of the day might have thus occurred.
This assumption was quite justifiable.
And this was the theory of Howard. He knew that Hooker had all the
information obtained along the entire line, from prisoners and scouts.
He naturally concluded, that if there was any reasonable supposition
that an attack from the west was intended, Hooker would in some way have
notified him. But, far from doing this, Hooker had inspected and
approved his position, and had ordered Howard's reserve away. To be
sure, early in the morning, Hooker had told him to guard against an
attack on the right: but since then circumstances had absolutely
changed; Barlow had been taken from him, and he conjectured that the
danger of attack had passed. How could he assume otherwise?
Had he suspected an attack down the pike, had he received half an hour's
warning, he could, and naturally would, assuming the responsibility of a
corps commander, have changed front to rear so as to occupy with his
corps the line along the east side of the Dowdall's clearing, which he
had already intrenched, and where he had his reserve artillery. He did
not do so; and it is more easy to say that he was to blame, than to show
good cause for the stigma cast upon him for the result of this day.
However much Hooker's after-wit may have prompted him to deny it,
his despatch of 4.10 P.M., to Sedgwick, shows conclusively that he
himself had adopted this theory of a retreat. "We know that the enemy
is flying," says he, "trying to save his trains. Two of Sickles's
divisions are among them."
And it is kinder to Hooker's memory to assume that he did not apprehend
a flank attack on this evening. If he did, his neglect of his position
was criminal. Let us glance at the map.
We know how the Eleventh Corps lay, its reserve removed, with which it
might have protected a change of front, should this become necessary,
and itself facing southerly. What was on its left, to move up to its
support in case of an attack down the pike? Absolutely not a regiment
between Dowdall's and Chancellorsville, and near the latter place only
one division available. This was Berry's, still luckily massed in the
open north of headquarters. And to Sickles's very deliberate movement
alone is due the fact that Berry was still there when the attack on
Howard burst; for Sickles had bespoken Berry's division in support of
his own advance just at this juncture.
Birney, who was the prop of Howard's immediate left, had been advanced
nearly two miles through the thickets to the south to attack an
imaginary enemy. Whipple had followed him. Of Slocum's corps, Williams
had been sent out "two or three miles," to sweep the ground in his front,
and Geary despatched down the plank road "for the purpose of cutting off
the train of the enemy, who was supposed to be in retreat towards
Gordonsville." To oppose the attack of a column of not far from
twenty-five thousand men, there was thus left a brigade front of four
small regiments, and the flank of a corps of eight thousand men more,
without reserves, and with no available force whatever for its support,
should it be overwhelmed.
Is any criticism needed upon this situation? And who should be
responsible for it?
In a defensive battle it is all-important that the general in command
should hold his troops well in hand, especially when the movements of
the enemy can be concealed by the terrain. The enemy is allowed his
choice of massing for an attack on any given point: so that the ability
to concentrate reserve troops on any threatened point is an
indispensable element of safety. It may be assumed that Hooker was,
at the moment of Jackson's attack, actually taking the offensive.
But on this hypothesis, the feebleness of his advance is still more
worthy of criticism. For Jackson was first attacked by Sickles as early
as nine A.M.; and it was six P.M. before the latter was ready to move
upon the enemy in force. Such tardiness as this could never win a
While all this had been transpiring on the right, Lee, to keep his
opponent busy, and prevent his sending re-enforcements to the flank
Jackson was thus threatening, had been continually tapping at the lines
in his front. But, owing to the small force left with him, he confined
this work to Hooker's centre, where he rightly divined his headquarters
to be. About seven A.M. the clearing at Chancellorsville was shelled by
some of Anderson's batteries, obliging the trains there parked to go to
the rear into the woods.
Hancock states that the enemy frequently opened with artillery, and made
infantry assaults on his advanced line of rifle-pits, but was always
handsomely repulsed. "During the sharp contests of that day, the enemy
was never able to reach my principal line of battle, so stoutly and
successfully did Col. Miles (who commanded the advanced line) contest
Col. Miles says his line was constantly engaged skirmishing with the
enemy during the day. At about three P.M. the Confederates massed
troops in two columns, one on each side the road, flanked by a line some
eight hundred yards long, in the woods. An impetuous charge was made to
within twenty yards of the abattis, but it was baffled by our sturdy
Sickles, then still in reserve, had made a reconnoissance early on
Saturday, in Hancock's front, with the Eleventh Massachusetts and
Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, covered by some sharpshooters; had
driven in the enemy's pickets, and found him, to all appearances,
in force. This was Anderson's line.
The Twelfth Corps had also made a reconnoissance down the plank road
later in the day, but with no immediate results.
All that was accomplished was a mere feeling of the other's lines by
either force. Hooker vainly endeavored to ascertain Lee's strength at
various places in his front. Lee, to good purpose, strove to amuse
Hooker by his bustle and stir, to deceive him as to the weakness of his
force, and to gain time.
During the afternoon of Saturday, Hooker had a rare chance of redeeming
his error made, the day before, in withdrawing from the open country to
the Wilderness, and of dealing a fatal blow to his antagonist. He knew
that Jackson, with twenty-five thousand men, was struggling through
difficult roads towards his right. Whatever his object, the division of
Lee's forces was a fact. He knew that there could be left in his front
not more than an equal number. It was actually less than eighteen
thousand men; but Hooker, with his knowledge of Lee's strength, could
not estimate it at more than twenty-five thousand by any calculation he
could make. Himself had over seventy thousand men in line, and ready to
mass on any given point. He ought to have known that Lee was too astute
a tactician seriously to attack him in front, while Jackson was
manoeuvring to gain his right. And all Lee's conduct during the day was
palpable evidence that he was seeking to gain time.
However much Hooker may have believed that Jackson was retreating,
he was bound to guard against the possibility of an attack, knowing as
he did Jackson's whereabouts and habit of rapid mystery. Had he thrown
the entire Eleventh Corps en potence to his main line, as above
indicated, to arrest or retard an attack if made; had he drawn troops
from Meade on the extreme left, where half an hour's reconnoitring would
have shown that nothing was in his front, and from Couch's reserves in
the centre; had he thrown heavy columns out where Birney was, to prevent
the re-union of Jackson and Lee, and to make a determined attack upon
the latter's left while Hancock pressed him in front,--half the vigor
displayed in the early days of this movement would have crushed the Army
of Northern Virginia beyond recovery for this campaign. Lee's only
salvation would have lain in instant withdrawal from our front, and a
retreat towards Gordonsville to re-unite with his lieutenant.
However he might have disposed his forces for an attack on Saturday
afternoon, he could have committed no mistake as great as the half-way
measures which have been narrated. And if the heavy fighting of Sunday
had been done the day before with any thing like the dispositions
suggested, it could have scarcely failed of brilliant success for the
Army of the Potomac.
But six o'clock came: Hooker still lay listlessly awaiting an attack,
with his forces disjointedly lodged, and with no common purpose of
action; and Jackson had gathered for his mighty blow.
It is but fair to give weight to every circumstance which shall moderate
the censure attributable to Hooker for his defeat in this campaign.
Early in the morning, after his inspection of the lines on the right,
which was made with thoroughness, and after receipt of the first news of
the movement of troops across our front, Hooker issued the following
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CHANCELLORSVILLE, VA., May 2, 1863, 9.30 A.M.
MAJOR-GEN. SLOCUM AND MAJOR-GEN. HOWARD.
I am directed by the major-general commanding to say that the
disposition you have made of your corps has been with a view to a front
attack by the enemy. If he should throw himself upon your flank,
he wishes you to examine the ground, and determine upon the positions
you will take in that event, in order that you may be prepared for him
in whatever direction he advances. He suggests that you have heavy
reserves well in hand to meet this contingency. The right of your line
does not appear to be strong enough. No artificial defences worth
naming have been thrown up; and there appears to be a scarcity of troops
at that point, and not, in the general's opinion, as favorably posted as
We have good reason to suppose that the enemy is moving to our right.
Please advance your pickets for purposes of observation as far as may be,
in order to obtain timely information of their approach.
JAMES H. VAN ALEN,
Brigadier-General and Aide-de-Camp.
Although addressed to Slocum as well as Howard, this order scarcely
applied with much force to the former, who occupied the right centre of
the army, with Birney lying between him and the Eleventh Corps. Howard
carried out his part of these instructions as well as circumstances
allowed. He posted Barlow's brigade, his largest and best, on the
Buschbeck line, in position for a general reserve for the corps, and
took advantage of the ground in a manner calculated to strengthen his
flank, and to enable it to cover a change of front if necessary; he
placed his reserve artillery on the right of the rifle-pits running
across the road at Dowdall's; he located several regiments on Dowdall's
clearing so as to wheel to the west or south as might be required; Major
Hoffman was set to work, and spent the entire day locating and
supervising the construction of field-works; and generally, Howard
disposed the forces under his command after a fashion calculated to
oppose a stubborn resistance to attacks down the pike, should they be
Later on in the day, we have seen how Hooker's aide, Capt. Moore,
ordered this brigade of Barlow's away from its all-important position.
We have seen Hooker's dispositions of the Third and Twelfth Corps.
We have seen Hooker's 4.10 P.M. order to Sedgwick. No room is left to
doubt that Hooker's opinion, if he had any, underwent a change after
issuing these instructions, and that he gave up the idea of an attack
upon the right. His dispositions certainly resulted in convincing
Howard that he had done so.
But suppose Hooker still remained of the same opinion during the
afternoon, was the issue of this circular in the morning enough?
If he supposed it probable that the enemy would strike our right,
was it not the duty of the commanding general, at least to see that the
threatened flank was properly protected,--that the above order was
carried out as he intended it should be? No attack sufficient to
engross his attention had been made, or was particularly threatened
elsewhere; and a ten-minutes' gallop would bring him from headquarters
to the questionable position. He had some excellent staff-officers--
Gen. Warren among others--who could have done this duty; but there is no
evidence of any one having been sent. Gen. Howard, in fact, states that
no inspection by, or by the order of, Gen. Hooker was made during the
day, after the one in the early morning.
It may be alleged that Hooker had desired to draw in the extended right
the evening before, and had yielded only to the claim that that position
could be held against any attack coming from the front. This is true.
But when half his enemy's forces, after this disposition was made,
are moved to and massed on his right, and have actually placed
themselves where they can take his line in reverse, is it still fair to
urge this plea? Hooker claims that his "instructions were utterly and
criminally disregarded." But inasmuch as common-sense, not to quote
military routine, must hold him accountable for the removal of Barlow
(for how can a general shelter himself from the consequences of the acts
of his subordinates, when these acts are in pursuance of orders received
from his own aide-de-camp?), and himself acknowledges the disposition
made of Sickles and Slocum, can the facts be fairly said to sustain the
charge? There was, moreover, so much bitterness exhibited after this
campaign, that, had the facts in the slenderest degree warranted such
action, formal charges would assuredly have been brought against Howard
and his division commanders, on the demand alike of the commander-in-
chief and a disappointed public.
POSITION OF THE ELEVENTH CORPS.
Gen. Howard states that he located his command, both with reference to
an attack from the south, and from the west along the old turnpike and
the plank road. The whole corps lies on a ridge along which runs the
turnpike, and which is the watershed of the small tributaries of the
Rappahannock and Mattapony Rivers. This ridge is terminated on the
right by some high and easily-defended ground near Talley's.
Gen. Devens, with the first division, holds the extreme right. He has
less than four thousand men under his command. Von Gilsa's brigade has,
until this morning, been half a mile farther out the pike, and across
the road; but on receipt of Hooker's 9.30 order has been withdrawn,
and now lies with two regiments astride and north of the pike, some
distance beyond Talley's, the rest skirting the south of it. His right
regiment leans upon that portion of the Brock road which is the
prolongation of the eastern branch, and which, after crossing the plank
road and pike, bears north-westerly, and loses itself in the woods where
formerly was an old mill. McLean's brigade prolongs von Gilsa's line
towards Schurz. Dieckman's battery has two pieces trained westerly down
the pike, and four on Devens's left, covering, near Talley's Hill,
the approaches from the plank road. Devens has the Twenty-fifth and
Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteers as a reserve, near the pike.
Schurz's (third) division continues this line on the edge of the woods
to Dowdall's. His front hugs the eastern side of the clearing between
the pike and the plank road, thence along the latter to the fork.
Schimmelpfennig's brigade is on the right, adjoining Devens;
Krzyzanowski's on the left. Three regiments of the former are on the
line, and two in reserve: the latter has two regiments on the line,
and two in reserve. On Schurz's right wing, the troops are shut in
between thick woods and their rifle-pits, with no room whatever to
manoeuvre or deploy. This condition likewise applies to many of the
regiments in Devens's line. The pike is the means of inter-communication,
running back of the woods in their rear. Dilger's battery is placed
near Dowdall's, at the intersection of the roads.
Steinwehr considers himself the reserve division. He is more or less
massed near Dowdall's. Buschbeck's brigade is in the clearing south of
the road, but has made a line of rifle-pits across the road, facing west,
at the edge of the open ground. Two regiments are deployed, and two are
in reserve. His other brigade, Barlow's, has been sent out nearly two
miles, to protect Birney's right, leaving no general reserve whatever
for the corps. Wiederich's battery is on Steinwehr's right and left,
Three batteries are in reserve on the line of Buschbeck's rifle-pits
running north and south. Barlow had been, as above stated, massed as a
general reserve of the corps on Buschbeck's right,--the only reserve the
corps could boast, and a most necessary one.
Two companies, and some cavalry and artillery, have been sent to the
point where the Ely's Ford road crosses Hunting Creek.
Devens states that his pickets were kept out a proper distance, and that
he had constant scouting-parties moving beyond them. In his report he
recapitulates the various attacks made during the day. Shortly after
noon, cavalry attacked his skirmishers, but drew off. This was Stuart
protecting Jackson's flank, and feeling for our lines. Then two men,
sent out from Schimmelpfennig's front, came in through his, and were
despatched to Hooker with their report that the enemy was in great force
on our flank. Later, Lieut. Davis, of Devens's staff, with a cavalry
scout, was fired upon by Confederate horse. Then von Gilsa's
skirmishers were attacked by infantry,--again Stuart seeking to
ascertain our position: after which the pickets were pushed farther out.
Cavalry was afterwards sent out, and returned with information that some
Confederate troopers, and part of a battery, were in the woods on our
But all this seems to have been explained as a retreat. "The unvarying
report was, that the enemy is crossing the plank road, and moving
The ground about Dowdall's is a clearing of undulating fields, closed on
three sides, and open to the west. As you stand east of the fork of the
roads, you can see a considerable distance down the plank road, leading
to Orange Court House. The pike bears off to the right, and runs up
hill for half a mile, to the eminence at Talley's.
The dispositions recited were substantially the same as those made when
the corps arrived here on Thursday. They were, early Saturday morning,
inspected by Hooker in person, and pronounced satisfactory. As he rode
along the line with Howard, and with each division commander in
succession, he was greeted with the greatest enthusiasm. His
exclamation to Howard, several times repeated, as he examined the
position,--his mind full of the idea of a front attack, but failing to
seize the danger of the two roads from the west,--was: "How strong!
An hour or two later, having ascertained the Confederate movement across
our front, he had sent his circular to Howard and Slocum. Later still,
as if certain that the enemy was on the retreat, he depleted Howard's
line by the withdrawal of Barlow, and made dispositions which created
the gap of nigh two miles on Howard's left.
Howard, during the day, frequently inspected the line, and all
dispositions were approved by him.
And, when Barlow was ordered out to the front, both Howard and Steinwehr
accompanied him. They returned to Dowdall's Tavern just as Jackson
launched his columns upon the Eleventh Corps.
THE SITUATION AT SIX O'CLOCK.
It is now six o'clock of Saturday, May 2, 1863, a lovely spring evening.
The Eleventh Corps lies quietly in position. Supper-time is at hand.
Arms are stacked on the line; and the men, some with accoutrements hung
upon the stacks, some wearing their cartridge-boxes, are mostly at the
fires cooking their rations, careless of the future, in the highest
spirits and most vigorous condition. Despite the general talk during
the entire afternoon, among officers and rank and file alike, of a
possible attack down the pike, all but a few are happily unsuspicious of
the thunder-cloud gathering on their flank. There is a general feeling
that it is too late to get up much of a fight to-day.
The breastworks are not very substantial. They are hastily run up out
of rails from the fences, logs from barns in the vicinity, and newly
felled trees. The ditch skirting the road has been deepened for this
temporary purpose. Abattis, to a fair extent, has been laid in front.
But the whole position faces to the south, and is good for naught else.
Nor were our men in those days as clever with the spade as we afterwards
became. This is clearly shown in the defences.
There is some carelessness apparent. Ambulances are close by the line.
Ammunition-wagons and the train of pack-mules are mixed up with the
regiments. Even a drove of beeves is herded in the open close by.
All these properly belong well to the rear. Officers' servants and
camp-gear are spread abroad in the vicinity of each command, rather more
comfortably ensconced than the immediate presence of the enemy may
The ground in the vicinity is largely clearing. But dense woods cover
the approaches, except in some few directions southerly. Down the roads
no great distance can be seen; perhaps a short mile on the plank road,
not many hundred yards on the turnpike.
Little Wilderness Church, in the rear of the position, looks deserted
and out of place. Little did its worshippers on last sabbath day
imagine what a conflict would rage about its walls before they again
could meet within its peaceful precincts.
There may be some absence of vigilance on the part of the pickets and
scouts; though it is not traceable in the reports, nor do any of the
officers concerned remember such. But the advanced line is not
intrenched as Miles's line in front of Hancock has been. Less care,
rather than more carelessness, is all that can be observed on this score.
Meanwhile Jackson has ranged his corps, with the utmost precaution and
secrecy, in three lines, at right angles to the pike, and extending
about a mile on either side. All orders are given in a low tone.
Cheering as "Old Jack" passes along is expressly prohibited.
Rodes, commanding D. H. Hill's division, leads, with Iverson's and
Rodes's brigades to the left of the road, and Doles's and Colquitt's to
the right. Rodes's orders to his brigades are to push on steadily,
to let nothing delay or retard them. Should the resistance at Talley's
Hill, which Rodes expects, render necessary the use of artillery,
the line is to check its advance until this eminence is carried.
But to press on, and let no obstacle stand in the way, is the watchword.
Two hundred yards in rear of the first line, Colston, commanding
Trimble's division, ranges his brigades, Nichols and Jones on the left,
and Colston on the right of the road; Ramseur in support.
A. P. Hill's division is not yet all up; but, as part reaches the line,
it is formed in support of Colston, the balance following in column on
The second and third lines are ordered to re-enforce the first as
Two pieces of Stuart's horse-artillery accompany the first line on the
The regiments in the centre of the line appear to have been formed in
columns with intervals, each brigade advancing in line of columns by
regiment. The troops are not preceded by any skirmishers. The line on
the wings is probably not so much massed. It is subsequently testified
by many in the Eleventh Corps, that the centre of the line appears to
advance en echiquier, the front companies of each line of columns firing
while the rear columns are advancing through the intervals.
The march through the woods up to Dowdall's clearing has not disturbed
the lines so materially as to prevent the general execution of such a
But the Confederate reports show that the regiments were all in line and
not in column. The appearance of columns was due to the fact that the
second and third lines, under Colston and A. P. Hill, were already
pressing up close in the rear of the first under Rodes, thus making a
mass nine deep. The intervals between regiments were accidental,
occasioned by the swaying of the line to and fro as it forced its way
through the underbrush.
It is perhaps no more than fair to say that whatever laxity was apparent
at this hour in the Eleventh Corps was by no means incompatible with a
readiness to give a good account of itself if an attack should be made
upon its front.
Such is the situation at six P.M. Now Jackson gives the order to
advance; and a heavy column of twenty-two thousand men, the best
infantry in existence, as tough, hardy, and full of elan, as they are
ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-looking, descends upon the Eleventh Corps,
whose only ready force is four regiments, the section of a battery,
and a weak line of pickets.
The game, in which these woods still abound, startled at the unusual
visitors, fly in the advance of Jackson's line towards and across the
Dowdall clearing, and many a mouth waters, as fur and feather in
tempting variety rush past; while several head of deer speedily clear
the dangerous ground, before the bead of willing rifles can be drawn
This sudden appearance of game causes as much jollity as wonder.
All are far from imagining its cause.
The next sound is that of bugles giving the command, and enabling the
advancing troops to preserve some kind of alignment. At this the wary
prick up their ears. Surprise stares on every face. Immediately
follows a crash of musketry as Rodes sweeps away our skirmish line as it
were a cobweb. Then comes the long and heavy roll of veteran infantry
fire, as he falls upon Devens's line.
The resistance which this division can make is as nothing against the
weighty assault of a line moving by battalions in mass. Many of the
regiments do their duty well. Some barely fire a shot. This is frankly
acknowledged in many of the reports. What can be expected of new troops,
taken by surprise, and attacked in front, flank, and rear, at once?
Devens is wounded, but remains in the saddle, nor turns over the command
to McLean until he has reached the Buschbeck line. He has lost
one-quarter of his four thousand men, and nearly all his superior
officers, in a brief ten minutes.
Schurz's division is roused by the heavy firing on the right, in which
even inexperienced ears detect something more than a mere repetition of
the picket-fight of three hours gone. Its commanding officers are at
once alert. Regimental field and staff are in the saddle, and the men
behind the stacks, leaving canteens, haversacks, cups with the steaming
evening coffee, and rations at the fires. Arms are taken. Regiments
are confusedly marched and counter-marched into the most available
positions, to meet an emergency which some one should have anticipated
and provided for. The absence of Barlow is now fatal.
On comes Jackson, pursuing the wreck of the First division. Some of
Schurz's regiments break before Devens has passed to the rear. Others
stand firm until the victorious Confederates are upon them with their
yell of triumph, then steadily fall back, turning and firing at
intervals; but nowhere a line which can for more than a brief space
retard such an onset.
Down the road towards Chancellorsville, through the woods, up every side
road and forest path, pours a stream of fugitives. Ambulances and oxen,
pack-mules and ammunition-wagons, officers' spare horses mounted by
runaway negro servants, every species of the impedimenta of camp-life,
commissary sergeants on all-too-slow mules, teamsters on still-harnessed
team-horses, quartermasters whose duties are not at the front, riderless
steeds, clerks with armfuls of official papers, non-combatants of all
kinds, mixed with frighted soldiers whom no sense of honor can arrest,
strive to find shelter from the murderous fire.
No organization is left in the Eleventh Corps but one brigade of
Steinwehr's division. Buschbeck has been speedily formed by a change of
front, before Devens and Schurz have left the field, in the line of
intrenchments built across the road at Dowdall's at the edge of the
clearing. No sooner in place than a scattering fire by the men is
opened upon friends and foes alike. Dilger's battery trains some of its
guns down the road. The reserve artillery is already in position at the
north of this line, and uses spherical case with rapidity. Howard and
his staff are in the thickest of the fray, endeavoring to stem the tide.
As well oppose resistance to an avalanche.
Buschbeck's line stubbornly holds on. An occasional squad, still
clinging to the colors of its regiment, joins itself to him, ashamed of
falling thus disgracefully to the rear. Officers make frantic exertions
to rally their men; useless effort. In little less than half an hour
this last stand has been swept away, and the Eleventh Corps is in
confused retreat down the pike towards headquarters, or in whatever
direction affords an outlet from the remorseless hail.
The general confusion which reigned can scarcely be more accurately
described than by detailing the experience of a single regiment.
The One Hundred and Nineteenth New York Volunteers was in Schurz's
division. It was commanded by an officer of German birth, but long
since an American citizen. No more gallant, intelligent man wore
uniform, or one better fitted for a pattern soldier. Well read in
military matters, he had never yet been under fire, and was nervously
anxious to win his spurs. The regiment was a good one; but only three
or four officers, and a small percentage of enlisted men, had seen
This regiment faced south on the pike just west of the fork in the
roads. Under arms in an instant, when the firing was heard on the right,
it was soon ordered by one of Schurz's aides to throw itself across the
fork, and hold it at all hazards. But the suddenness of the attack had
momentarily robbed Col. Peissner of his steadiness, for he was a good
drill-master. Instead of facing to the right, counter-marching, filing
to the left across the road, and coming to a front,--the simplest if
longest movement being the best in times of such excitement,--he faced
to the left because his left was nearest to the fork, filed to the left,
and then, instead of coming on the left by file into line, he moved
astride the roads, and ordered "Front!" This brought the regiment in
line with its back to the enemy. The men instinctively came each to an
about-face, and the file closers broke through to the now rear. There
was no time to correct the error. The regiment, which would have fought
well under proper circumstances, from the start lost confidence in its
officers and itself. Still it held its ground until it had burned
almost twenty rounds, and until the Confederate line was within fifty
yards in its face, and had quite outflanked it. Then the raking volleys
of such a front as Jackson was wont to present, and, more than all,
the fire of Buschbeck's brigade in its immediate rear, broke it; and it
melted away, leaving only a platoon's strength around the colors,
to continue for a brief space the struggle behind the Buschbeck line,
while the rest fled down the road, or through the woods away from the
deadly fire. This regiment lost its entire color-guard, and nearly
one-half of its complement killed or wounded.
There is much discrepancy as to the time during which the Eleventh Corps
made resistance to Jackson's advance. All reliable authorities put the
time of the attack as six P.M. When the last gun was fired at the
Buschbeck rifle-pits, it was dusk, at that season about quarter past
seven. It seems reasonably settled, therefore, that the corps retarded
the Confederate advance over about a mile of ground for exceeding an
hour. How much more can be expected of ten thousand raw troops
telescoped by twenty-five thousand veterans?
Rodes, now quite mixed with Colston's line, still pressed on, and
between Hooker's headquarters and his elated foe there was scarce an
organized regiment. Hooker's fatal inability to grasp the situation,
and his ordering an advance of all troops on Howard's left as far as the
Second Corps, had made him almost defenceless. The troops which should
have been available to stem this adverse tide were blindly groping in
the woods, two miles in front,--in pursuit of Jackson.
One cannot but wonder just where Sickles expected to find Jackson.
There can be little doubt that he did think he was about to strike
Jackson's flank. His testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of
the War constantly refers to this belief; and he says that he "was about
to open his attack in full force," was holding Pleasonton's cavalry in
hand, desiring to lead the attack with his infantry, when the news of
the disaster to the Eleventh Corps was brought to him; and that every
thing seemed to indicate the most brilliant success from thus throwing
himself upon Jackson's flank and rear. He refers to McLaws being in his
front, but this is an error. McLaws was on Lee's right flank, three
miles away. It was with Archer of Jackson's corps, and with Posey and
Wright of Anderson's division, that he had to do.
The reports are by no means clear as to the details of these movements.
Birney states in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of
the War, that he found that he and Barlow "had got into the midst of the
rebel army, the supports on the left not having come up." He therefore
formed his command into a huge square, with the artillery in the centre,
holding the road over which Jackson had passed. "The fire upon his left
flank from musketry was galling." This came from Anderson's brigades.
Hayman, Graham and Ward were pushed out along the road, and "found the
enemy in some force on three sides." This apparently shows that
Birney,--who had the immediate command of the troops in front,--was
quite uncertain of what was before him, or just what he was expected to
This much is, however, clear: Jackson's small rearguard had succeeded in
holding the road which he had traversed, at some point near Welford's;
and here this force remained until Jackson was well along towards the
plank road. Then Anderson in his turn made a diversion on the other
side of Birney, which kept the latter busy for at least a couple of
Sickles's orders were to advance cautiously. This was Hooker's doing.
Hence exception cannot fairly be taken to either Birney's or Sickles's
conduct for lack of energy. But the latter must have singularly
underrated Jackson's methods, if he thought he could strike him at a
given point, so many hours after his passage. For Jackson was first
observed near the Furnace about eight A.M., and Sickles was just getting
ready to attack him in this same place at six P.M.
The errors of judgment on this entire day can scarcely be attributed to
any one but the general commanding. He was the one to whom all reports
were sent. He had knowledge of every thing transpiring. He it was who
was responsible for some sensible interpretation of the information
brought him, and for corresponding action in the premises.
So much for Sickles's advance. It could not well have been more
ill-timed and useless. But his gallant work of the coming night and
morrow, when Hooker left him almost alone to resist the fierce assaults
of our victorious and elated foe, was ample compensation for his
subordinate share in the triviality and fatal issue of Saturday's
manoeuvring. Nor can blame fall upon him in as full measure as upon
Hooker; although he seems illy to have construed what was transpiring in
his front, and what he reported may have seriously misled his chief.
Perhaps no officers, during our Civil War, were placed in a more
lamentably awkward position than Devens, and in a less degree Schurz,
on this occasion. Having been fully convinced by the events of the
afternoon that an attack down the pike was highly probable, having
carefully reported all these events to his immediate commander, Devens
was left without inspection, counsel, or help. He might have gone in
person to Howard, but he did not dare leave his division. He might have
sent messages which more urgently represented his own anxiety. But when
the blow came, he did all that was possible, and remained, wounded,
in command, and assisted in re-organizing some relics of his division
behind the Buschbeck works.
Schurz was with Howard a good part of the day, and his opinions were
expressed to that officer. To Schurz's personal bearing here, or on any
other occasion, no possible exception can be taken.
THE CONDUCT OF THE ELEVENTH CORPS.
There can be no attempt to gainsay that the Eleventh Corps, on this
luckless Saturday, did not do its whole duty. That it was panic-
stricken, and that it decamped from a field where as a corps it had not
fought, is undeniable. But portions of the corps did fight, and the
entire corps would doubtless have fought well under favorable
circumstances. It is but fair, after casting upon the corps the
aspersion of flight from before the enemy, to do it what justice is
possible, and to palliate the bad conduct of the whole by bearing
testimony to the good conduct of some of its parts.
It has been called a German corps. This is not quite exact. Of nearly
thirteen thousand men in the corps, only forty-five hundred were
Germans. But it must be admitted that so many officers high in rank
were of that nationality, that the general tendency and feeling were
decidedly unlike the rest of the army. Moreover, there is not wanting
testimony to show that there were some who wore shoulder-straps in the
corps who gave evidence of having taken up the profession of arms to
make money, and not to fight.
The artillery of the corps did well. Those general officers who most
severely rebuke the conduct of the corps, all say a word in favor of the
service of the guns. Dilger, on the road, just at Buschbeck's line,
fired with his own hands from his last gun a round of canister when the
Confederates were within a dozen yards. Most of the guns had been well
served, but had been sent to the rear in time to save them from capture.
The reserve artillery did its duty, nor limbered up until the
Confederate line had outflanked its position, rendered it useless,
and jeopardized its safety.
All the guns that were saved were put into action an hour later, and did
effective service on the Fairview crest, in company with the artillery
of the Third and Twelfth Corps.
At the time of the attack, which was made by Jackson without an advance
of skirmishers, Devens's reserve regiments were ordered up to support
von Gilsa. There appears to have been something like a stand attempted;
but the left wing of the Confederate line speedily enveloped von Gilsa's
front, and showed in rear of his right flank, when his regiments melted
Devens states in his report that a new line might have been formed on
Gen. Schurz's division, if the latter had maintained his ground, but
acknowledges that the falling-back of his own troops "must undoubtedly
have added to the difficulties encountered by the command of that
Schurz's report is very clear and good. This is partly attributable to
the avalanche of abuse precipitated upon his division by the press,
which called forth his detailed explanation, and an official request for
permission to publish his report. There existed a general understanding
that Schurz held the extreme right; and the newspapermen, to all
appearance, took pleasure in holding a German responsible, in their
early letters, for the origin of the panic. This error, together with
the fact of his having discussed the situation during the day with Gen.
Howard, and of his having remained of the opinion that an attack on our
right was probable, accounts for the care exhibited in his statements.
That he did harbor such fears is proved by his having, of his own motion,
after the attack of three o'clock, placed the Fifty-Eighth New York,
Eighty-Second Ohio, and Twenty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, near
Hawkins's farm, in the north part of the Dowdall clearing, and facing
west. Still Schurz's report is only a careful summary of facts
otherwise substantiated. He deals no more in his own opinions than a
division commander has a right to do.
Schurz states that he strongly advised that the entire corps should take
up the Buschbeck line, not considering the woods a reliable point
d'appui. For they were thick enough to screen the manoeuvring of the
enemy, but not, as the event showed, to prevent his marching through
them to the attack.
When the onset came, it was impossible quickly to change front.
Schurz's regiments were all hemmed in between the rifle-pits before them
and the woods in their rear. Still, more than half of the regiments of
this division appear to have maintained their credit, and the testimony
would tend to show that the men burned from five to thirty rounds each.
But without avail. They were telescoped. Their defences were rendered
useless. The enemy was on both sides of and perpendicular to them.
It is an open question whether, at that time, any two divisions of the
army could have changed front and made a good defence under these
circumstances. Later in the war our soldiers were more habituated,
particularly in the West, to fighting on either side of their
breastworks. But these were raw troops. And this was not the first,
nor was it the last, panic in the Army of the Potomac. But the corps
had, as ill-luck willed it, nothing in its rear to repair or conceal its
Buschbeck's brigade had better opportunities, and acted correspondingly
better. It had time to occupy the rifle-pits facing west before the
enemy had completed the destruction of the first and third divisions.
Buschbeck's stand covered a full half-hour. He was re-enforced by many
fragments of broken regiments, holding together under such officers as
had escaped utter demoralization. The troops remained behind these
works until outflanked on right and left, for Jackson's front of over
two miles easily enveloped any line our little force could form.
During the early part of the attack, Colquitt's brigade ran across the
pickets of Devens's and Schurz's south front, which there had been no
time to call in. Instead of joining in the advance, Colquitt remained
to engage these latter, deeming it essential to protect Jackson's right.
This was the nucleus of one of the many detached engagements of this
day. Several bodies of Union troops thus isolated were captured en
The reports of the officers concerned, as a rule, possess the merit of
frankness. As an instance, Col. Hartung, of the Seventy-Fourth New York,
relates that he had no opportunity to fire a shot until after he arrived
behind the Buschbeck intrenchments. The facts would appear to be given
in an even-handed way, in all the reports rendered.
Little remains to be said. The Eleventh Corps was panic-stricken,
and did run, instead of retreating. It was a mere disorganized mass in
a half-hour from the beginning of the attack, with but a few isolated
regiments, and one brigade, retaining a semblance of orderliness.
But was it so much the misbehavior of the troops as the faultiness of
the position they occupied?
The corps was got together again before Sunday morning, in a condition
to do good service. Had it been tested, it would, in all probability,
have fought well.
The loss of the corps was one-quarter of its effective.
Some time after the battle of Chancellorsville, a motion was made to
break up the Eleventh Corps, and distribute its regiments among the
others; but it was not done. Hooker then remarked that he would yet
make that corps fight, and be proud of its name. And it subsequently
did sterling service. Gen. Thomas remarked, in congratulating Hooker on
his victory at Lookout Mountain, that "the bayonet-charge of Howard's
troops, made up the side of a steep and difficult hill, over two hundred
feet high, completely routing and driving the enemy from his barricades
on its top, . . . will rank with the most distinguished feats of arms of
this war." And it is asserted that this encomium was well earned,
and that no portion of it need be set down to encouragement.
In their evidence before the Committee on the Conduct of the War,
Hooker and Sickles both testify that the panic of the Eleventh Corps
produced a gap in the line, and that this was the main cause of disaster
on this field. But the fatal gap was made long before the Eleventh
Corps was attacked. It was Hooker's giddy blunder in ordering away,
two miles in their front, the entire line from Dowdall's to
Chancellorsville, that made it.
This was the gap which enabled Jackson to push his advance to within a
few hundred yards of Chancellorsville before he could be arrested.
This was what made it possible for him to join his right to Lee's left
wing next day. Had Hooker but kept his troops in hand, so as to have
moved up Birney sharply in support, to have thrown forward Berry and
Whipple if required, the Confederate advance would, in all human
probability, have been checked at Dowdall's; Lee and Jackson would still
have been separated by a distance of two miles; and of this perilous
division excellent advantage could have yet been taken at daylight
Sunday by the Army of the Potomac.
Hooker's testimony includes the following attempt to disembarrass
himself of the onus of the faulty position of the Eleventh Corps and its
consequences: "No pickets appear to have been thrown out; and I have
reason to suppose that no effort was made by the commander of the corps
on the right to follow up and keep himself advised of Jackson's
movements, although made in broad daylight, and with his full knowledge.
In this way the Eleventh Corps was lost to me, and more than that,
because its bad conduct impaired the confidence that the corps of the
army had in one another. I observed this fact during the night, from
the firing on the picket-lines, as well as from the general manner of
the troops, if a gun was fired by the enemy: after that, the whole line
would let off their pieces. The men seemed to be nervous; and during
the coming-in of the Eleventh Corps I was fearful, at one time, that the
whole army would be thrown into confusion by it. Some of my staff-
officers killed half a dozen of the men in trying to arrest their
It is not intended, by what has been said, to exonerate Howard at the
expense of Hooker. To Howard will always be imputed, and justly,
a certain part of the blame; for there were, during the afternoon,
enough indications of a probable attack down the pike to make a prudent
corps-commander either assume the responsibility of a change of
front,--as it could advantageously be made on the Buschbeck line
prolonged,--or else, at least, so strongly urge the facts on his
superior that no blame could cling to his own skirts. But neither can
Hooker's larger share of blame he shifted off his own to Howard's
shoulders. While it may be said that the latter did not exhibit the
activity which the questionable aspect of affairs demanded,--for he did
not personally inspect his lines after the early morning hours,--it is
equally true that the commander of the army utterly neglected his right
wing, though he had every circumstance relating to its danger reported
The position of the Army of the Potomac is critical in the extreme.
But several circumstances come to the rescue. It is almost dark.
The rebel lines have become inextricably mixed. Colston, who has
gradually moved up to Rodes's support, is so completely huddled together
with this latter's command, that there is no organization left. Still
Jackson's veterans press on, determined to crush our army beyond
recovery, and drive it from United-States Ford. Stuart has in fact,
at his own suggestion, got orders to move his cavalry division in that
direction, and occupy the road to Ely's. A. P. Hill's division is still
intact in rear of the two leading lines, now shuffled into one quite
unmanageable mass, but still instinctively pushing forward.
So faulty have Hooker's dispositions been, in advancing his entire right
centre without filling the gap, that the only available troops to throw
into the breach, after the rapid destruction of the Eleventh Corps,
are Berry's division of the old Third. These hardened soldiers are
still in reserve on the clearing, north of headquarters. It is
fortunate, indeed, that they are still there; for Sickles has just asked
for their detail to join his own column out in the woods, and an hour
ago Berry would certainly have been sent.
This division is at once thrown across the pike on the first crest below
Fairview, west of Chancellorsville. The artillery of the Eleventh Corps
is in part re-assembled. Capt. Best, chief of artillery of the Twelfth
Corps, has already trained his guns upon the advancing Confederate
columns, to protect the new line. But Berry is almost alone. Hays's
brigade of the Second Corps, on his right, is his only support. The
Excelsior brigade is rapidly pushed into the woods, north of the plank
road; the Fourth Excelsior and the First Massachusetts south. Carr's
brigade is kept in second line, one hundred and fifty yards in the rear.
The men, with the instinctive pride of self-reliance, move up with the
steadiness of veterans on drill, regardless of the stream of fugitives
breaking through their intervals.
The flight of the Eleventh Corps has stampeded part of the Third Corps
artillery. But it is re-assembled in short order, and at once thrown
into service. Capt. Best manages by seven P.M. to get thirty-four guns
into line on the crest, well served. Himself is omnipresent. Dimick's
and Winslow's batteries under Osborn, Berry's chief of artillery,
join this line on the hill, leaving a section of Dimick on the road.
And such part of the disjecta membra of the Eleventh Corps as retains
semblance of organization is gathered in support of the guns. Capt. Best
has begun to fire solid shot over the heads of Berry's men into the
woods beyond; and, as Gen. Lee says, the Confederate advance is checked
in front of this crest by the vigorous opposition encountered.
Hurried orders are despatched to Geary to withdraw his attack, and
re-occupy his breastworks. This he straightway accomplishes. Similar
orders are carried to Williams. But, before the latter can retrace his
steps, Jackson's columns have reached the right of his late position.
Anderson also advances against him; so that Williams is obliged to move
cautiously by his left, and change front when he arrives where his line
had lately joined Geary's and, being unable to take up his old post,
he goes into position, and prolongs Berry, south of the pike. It is
long after dark before he ascertains his bearings, and succeeds in
massing his division where it is needed.
Anxious as Jackson is to press on,--"Give me one hour more of daylight,
and I will have United-States Ford!" cries he,--he finds that he must
re-establish order in his scattered forces before he can launch this
night attack upon our newly formed but stubbornly maintained lines.
Nor is the darkness the most potent influence toward this end. Illy as
Sickles's advance has resulted thus far, it is now a sovereign element
in the salvation of the Army of the Potomac. His force at the Furnace,
Birney, Whipple, Barlow, and Pleasonton, amounts to fifteen thousand men,
and over forty guns. None of these officers are the men to stand about
idle. No sooner has Sickles been persuaded by a second courier,--the
first he would not credit,--that the Eleventh Corps has been destroyed,
and that Jackson is in his rear, than he comprehends that now, indeed,
the time has come to batter Jackson's flank. He orders his column to
the right about, and moves up with all speed to the clearing, where
Pleasonton has held his cavalry, near Birney's old front.
Howard, upon being attacked, had sent hurriedly for a cavalry regiment.
Pleasonton, having received orders to send him one, instructed Major
Huey, commanding the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry, to march to Dowdall's
and report to Howard. Huey set out by the wood road which leads through
Hazel Grove into the plank road. From the testimony of the persons
chiefly concerned it would appear that, at the time this order was given
by Pleasonton to Huey, there was at Hazel Grove, where the cavalry
regiments were drawn up, no sign whatever of the disaster to Howard.
There were no fugitives nor any confusion. Nor does the evidence show
that Pleasonton ordered any charge on the enemy: it rather shows that
Huey was not directed to go at urgent speed. And he must have been very
deliberate in his movement, for by the time the cavalry had reached the
vicinity of the plank road, Jackson had demolished the Eleventh Corps,
and had advanced so far that the head of this cavalry column, marching
by twos, suddenly came upon the Confederate lines. The officers in the
lead at once gave the order to charge, and right gallantly did these
intrepid horsemen ride down into the seething mass of exultant
Confederate infantry. The shock was nobly given and home, but was,
of course, in the woods and against such odds, of no great effect.
Thirty men and three officers, including Major Keenan, were killed.
Only one Confederate report--Iverson's--mentions this charge. Its
effect was local only.
Three batteries of Whipple's division had remained in the Hazel Grove
clearing while the infantry had advanced towards the Furnace. When the
rout of the Eleventh Corps became clear, these eighteen guns were
ordered in battery, facing about north-west, by their commander,
Capt. Huntington, and kept up a heavy fire upon the woods through which
Jackson was pushing his way. Pleasonton, for his part, trained Martin's
horse-battery in the same direction. Other guns were later added to
these, and all expended a good deal of ammunition on the enemy's lines.
But there was no fighting at Hazel Grove rising to the distinction of a
battle. The importance given to it by Sickles and Pleasonton is not
borne out by the facts. There was no Federal loss, to speak of; nor do
the Confederate reports make any comment upon this phase of the battle.
They probably supposed these guns to be an extension of the line of
batteries at Fairview. As such they were, without question, of no
Meanwhile Birney, sending word to Barlow that they run danger of being
cut off, and detailing the Twentieth Indiana and Sixty-third
Pennsylvania Volunteers as rearguard, rejoins Sickles and Pleasonton in
the clearing, and both move up to sustain his flank.
So soon as Jackson's guns gave Lee the intimation of his assault,
the latter advanced upon the Union line with sufficient vigor to prevent
Hooker from sending re-enforcements to his right. The attack was sharp;
and a general inclination to the left was ordered, to connect with
Jackson's right as the latter brought his columns nearer. "These orders
were well executed, our troops advancing up to the enemy's intrenchments,
while several batteries played with good effect upon his lines until
prevented by increasing darkness." (Lee.)
McLaws reports: "My orders were to hold my position, not to engage
seriously, but to press strongly so soon as it was discovered that
Gen. Jackson had attacked . . . when I ordered an advance along the whole
line to engage with the skirmishers, which were largely re-enforced,
and to threaten, but not attack seriously; in doing which Gen. Wofford
became so seriously engaged, that I directed him to withdraw, which was
done in good order, his men in good spirits, after driving the enemy to
The movement of Anderson towards the left made a gap of considerable
distance in the Confederate line "but the skirmishers of Gen. Semmes,
the entire Tenth Georgia, were perfectly reliable, and kept the enemy to
These accounts vary in no wise from those of the Union generals, who
held their positions in front of both Anderson and McLaws, and kept
inside their field-works.
Meade, whose line on the left of the army was not disturbed, sent
Sykes's division, so soon as the Eleventh Corps rout became known to him,
to the junction of the roads to Ely's and United-States Fords, to hold
that point at all hazards, and form a new right flank. This was done
with Sykes's accustomed energy. Nor was he reached by Jackson's line,
and before morning Reynolds fell in upon his right.
THE MIDNIGHT ATTACK.
When his troops had been summarily brought to a standstill by Berry's
firm ranks and the heavy artillery fire, Jackson determined to withdraw
his first and second lines to Dowdall's clearing to reform, and ordered
A. P. Hill forward to relieve them.
While this manoeuvre, rendered extremely difficult by the nature of the
woods in which the fighting had been done, but which Hooker was in no
condition to interfere with, was in progress, Sickles and Pleasonton,
whose position was considerably compromised, sought measures to
re-establish communication with the headquarters of the army.
Sickles despatched Col. Hart, with a cavalry escort, to Hooker, bearing
a detailed statement of his situation. This officer experienced no
little difficulty in reaching Chancellorsville. The roads being in
possession of the enemy, he was forced to make his way through the woods
and ravines. But after the lapse of a number of hours he succeeded in
his mission, and brought back word to hold on to the position gained.
Sickles had so advised, and had, moreover, requested permission to make
a night attack, to recover some guns, caissons, and Whipple's ammunition-
train, which had been left in the woods in Sickles's front, and to
enable him to join his right to Slocum's new line, thrown out in
prolongation of Berry.
It will be observed that Sickles was now facing northerly, and that his
rear had no obstacle on which to rest, so as to save him from the attack
of Lee, had the latter been aware of the weakness of his position.
In view of this fact, a move was made somewhat to his right, where a
crest was occupied near Hazel Grove. Here, says Pleasonton, "with the
support of Gen. Sickles's corps we could have defeated the whole rebel
army." It was clearly a strong position; for it is thus referred to by
Stuart, after our troops had been next day withdrawn: "As the sun lifted
the mist that shrouded the field, it was discovered that the ridge on
the extreme right was a fine position for concentrating artillery.
I immediately ordered thirty pieces to that point. The effect of this
fire upon the enemy's batteries was superb." Its possession by the
Confederates did, in fact, notably contribute to the loss of the new
lines at Chancellorsville in Sunday morning's action.
From this position, at precisely midnight, Sickles made a determined
onslaught upon the Confederate right. It was clear, full moonlight,
and operations could be almost as well conducted as during the daytime,
in these woods.
Birney stationed Ward in the first line, and Hays in the second, one
hundred yards in the rear. The regiments moved by the right of
companies, with pieces uncapped, and strict orders to rely solely upon
the bayonet. On the road from the Furnace north, parallel to which the
columns moved, the Fortieth New York, Seventeenth Maine, and Sixty-Third
Pennsylvania Volunteers pushed in, in columns of companies at full
Berry had been notified to sustain this attack by a movement forward
from his lines, if it should strike him as advisable.
The attack was made with consummate gallantry. Sickles states that he
drove the enemy back to our original lines, enabling us for the moment
to re-occupy the Eleventh Corps rifle-pits, and to re-capture several
pieces of artillery, despite the fire of some twenty Confederate guns
which had been massed at Dowdall's.
Thus attacked in flank, though the Confederate right had been refused at
the time of Pleasonton's fight, and still remained so, Hill's line
replied by a front movement of his left on Berry, without being able,
however, to break the latter's line.
Slocum states that he was not aware that this advance was to be made by
Sickles across his front. Imagining it to be a movement by the enemy on
Williams, he ordered fire to be opened on all troops that appeared,
and fears "that our losses must have been severe from our own fire."
Williams, however, does not think so much damage was done, and alleges
that he himself understood what the movement was, without, however,
quoting the source of his information.
The Confederate reports state that this attack was met and repulsed by
the Eighteenth, Twenty-eighth, and Thirty-third North-Carolina regiments,
with small difficulty or loss.
It is, however, probable that these as much underrate the vigor and
effect of the attack, as Sickles may overstate it. It is not impossible
that some portion of the Eleventh Corps position was actually reached by
these columns. The road down which the movement was made strikes the
plank road but a short distance east of the position of Buschbeck's
line. This ground was not held in force by Jackson's corps at the
moment, and it was not difficult for Sickles to possess himself
temporarily of some portion of that position. But it must have been a
Birney retired to Hazel Grove after this sally, having recovered part of
Whipple's train, and one or two guns.
There can be found in the Confederate and Union reports alike, numerous
statements which are not sustained by other testimony. As a sample,
Gen. Lane of A. P. Hill's division states that a Lieut. Emack and four
men captured an entire Pennsylvania regiment, under Lieut.-Col. Smith.
The nearest approach to this is found in the capture of Col. Mathews and
two hundred men of the One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Pennsylvania,
while Williams was moving by his left to regain his old ground. But it
is highly probable that it required more than five men to effect the
A wise rebuke of careless statements in official reports is found in the
following indorsements on a report made of the operations of the One
Hundred and Fourteenth Pennsylvania:--
In forwarding this report, which I do merely as a matter of duty,
it is incumbent upon me to say that it is a complete romance from
beginning to end. Col. Collis has had his attention called to these
errors, but has refused to correct them.
CHAS. K. GRAHAM,
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION THIRD CORPS,
May 17, 1863.
This paper is forwarded with attention called to Brig.-Gen. Graham's
indorsement. The officer is under arrest on charges of misbehavior
before the enemy.
D. B. BIRNEY,
Brigadier General commanding Division.
It is probable that the wounding of Jackson at this juncture was the
most effectual cause of the Confederate check on Saturday night.
It occurred just after Jackson had concluded to withdraw his first and
second lines to Dowdall's, there to re-form, and was making dispositions
to move up A. P. Hill to relieve them. Orders had been issued to the
troops not to fire unless at Union cavalry appearing in their front.
Jackson, with some staff-officers and orderlies, had ridden out beyond
his lines, as was his wont, to reconnoitre. On his return he was fired
at by his own men, being mistaken in the gloom for a Federal scout.
Endeavoring to enter at another place, a similar error was made, this
time killing some of the party, and wounding Jackson in several places.
He was carried to the rear. A few days after, he died of pneumonia
brought on by his injury, which aggravated a cold he was suffering from
at the time.
A. P. Hill was wounded somewhat later that night.
After the disabling of these two officers, Stuart was sent for, and
promptly assumed command. With Col. Alexander, chief artillery officer
present for duty, (Gen. Crutchfield being wounded,) he spent the night
rectifying the Confederate lines, and selecting positions for his
batteries. It had been Jackson's plan to push forward at night, to
secure the speediest results of his victory. But Stuart, after the
attacks upon his right by Sickles and Pleasonton, and having in view the
disorganized condition of his troops, thought wise to defer a general
assault until daylight. Having submitted the facts to Jackson, and
received word from this officer to use his own discretion in the matter,
he decided to afford his troops a few hours of rest. They were
accordingly halted in line, and lay upon their arms, an ample force of
skirmishers thrown out in front.
No better place than this will be found in which to say a few words
about the remarkable man who planned and led this movement about
Hooker's flank,--a manoeuvre which must have been condemned as foolhardy
if unsuccessful, but whose triumph wove a final wreath to crown his
Thomas J. Jackson entered West Point a poor boy, essentially a son of
the people. He was a classmate of McClellan, Foster, Reno, Stoneman,
Couch, Gibbon, and many other noted soldiers, as well those arrayed
against as those serving beside him. His standing in his class was far
from high; and such as he had was obtained by hard, persistent work,
and not by apparent ability. He was known as a simple, honest,
unaffected fellow, rough, and the reverse of social; but he commanded
his companions sincere respect by his rugged honesty, the while his
uncouth bearing earned him many a jeer.
He was graduated in 1846, and went to Mexico as second lieutenant of the
First United-States Artillery. He was promoted to be first lieutenant
"for gallant and meritorious services at Vera Cruz." Twice mentioned in
Scott's reports, and repeatedly referred to by Worth and Pillow for
gallantry while with Magruder's battery, he emerged from that eventful
campaign with fair fame and abundant training.
We find him shortly afterwards professor at the Virginia Military
Institute of Lexington. Here he was known as a rigid Presbyterian,
and a "fatalist," if it be fatalism to believe that "what will be will
be,"--Jackson's constant motto.
Tall, gaunt, awkward, grave, brief, and business-like in all he did,
Jackson passed for odd, "queer,"--insane almost, he was thought by
some,--rather than a man of uncommon reserve power.
It was only when on parade, or when teaching artillery practice, that he
brightened up; and then scarcely to lose his uncouth habit, but only to
show by the light in his eye, and his wrapt attention in his work,
where lay his happiest tendencies.
His history during the war is too well known to need to be more than
briefly referred to. He was made colonel of volunteers, and sent to
Harper's Ferry in May, 1861, and shortly after promoted to a brigade.
He accompanied Joe Johnston in his retreat down the valley. At Bull Run,
where his brigade was one of the earliest in the war to use the bayonet,
he earned his soubriquet of "Stonewall" at the lips of Gen. Bee.
But in the mouths of his soldiers his pet name was "Old Jack," and the
term was a talisman which never failed to inflame the heart of every man
who bore arms under his banner.
Jackson possessed that peculiar magnetism which stirs the blood of
soldiers to boiling-point. Few leaders have ever equalled him in his
control of troops. His men had no questions to ask when "Old Jack"
led the way. They believed in him as did he in his star; and the
impossible only arrested the vigor of their onset, or put a term to
their arduous marches.
His campaign in the valley against Fremont and Shields requires no
praise. And his movement about McClellan's flank at Mechanicsville,
and his still more sterling manoeuvre in Pope's campaign, need only to
be called to mind.
In the field he was patient, hard-working, careless of self, and full of
forethought for his men; though no one could call for and get from
troops such excessive work, on the march or in action. No one could ask
them to forego rations, rest, often the barest necessaries of life,
and yet cheerfully yield him their utmost efforts, as could "Old Jack."
He habitually rode an old sorrel horse, leaning forward in a most
unmilitary seat, and wore a sun-browned cap, dingy gray uniform, and a
stock, into which he would settle his chin in a queer way, as he moved
along with abstracted look. He paid little heed to camp comforts,
and slept on the march, or by snatches under trees, as he might find
occasion; often begging a cup of bean-coffee and a bit of hard bread
from his men, as he passed them in their bivouacs, He was too uncertain
in his movements, and careless of self, for any of his military family
to be able to look after his physical welfare. In fact, a cold
occasioned by lending his cloak to one of his staff, a night or two
before Chancellorsville, was the primary cause of the pneumonia, which,
setting in upon his exhausting wounds, terminated his life.
Jackson was himself a bad disciplinarian. Nor had he even average
powers of organization. He was in the field quite careless of the
minutiae of drill. But he had a singularly happy faculty for choosing
men to do his work for him. He was a very close calculator of all his
movements. He worked out his manoeuvres to the barest mathematical
chances, and insisted upon the unerring execution of what he prescribed;
and above all be believed in mystery. Of his entire command, he alone
knew what work he had cut out for his corps to do. And this was carried
so far that it is said the men were often forbidden to ask the names of
the places through which they marched. "Mystery," said Jackson,
"mystery is the secret of success in war, as in all transactions of
Jackson was a professing member of the Presbyterian Church, and what is
known as a praying man. By this is meant, that, while he never
intentionally paraded or obtruded upon his associates his belief in the
practical and immediate effect of prayer, he made no effort to hide his
faith or practice from the eyes of the world. In action, while the
whole man was wrought up to the culminating pitch of enthusiasm, and
while every fibre of his mind and heart was strained towards the
achievement of his purpose, his hand would often be instinctively raised
upwards; and those who knew him best, believed this to be a sign that
his trust in the help of a Higher Power was ever present.
Jackson was remarkable as a fighter. In this he stands with but one or
two peers. Few men in the world's history have ever got so great
results from armed men as he was able to do. But to judge rightly of
his actual military strength is not so easy as to award this praise.
Unless a general has commanded large armies, it is difficult to judge of
how far he may be found wanting if tried in that balance. In the
detached commands which he enjoyed, in the Valley and elsewhere, his
strategic ability was marked: but these commands were always more or
less limited; and, unlike Lee or Johnston, Jackson did not live long
enough to rise to the command of a large army upon an extended and
independent field of operations.
In Gen. Lee, Jackson reposed an implicit faith. "He is the only man I
would follow blindfold," said Jackson. And Lee's confidence in his
lieutenant's ability to carry out any scheme he set his hand to, was
equally pronounced. Honestly, though with too much modesty, did Lee
say: "Could I have directed events, I should have chosen, for the good
of the country, to have been disabled in your stead."
But, illy as Lee could spare Jackson, less still could the Army of
Northern Virginia spare Robert E. Lee, the greatest in adversity of the
soldiers of our civil war. Still, after Jackson's death, it is certain
that Lee found no one who could attempt the bold manoeuvres on the field
of battle, or the hazardous strategic marches, which have illumined the
name of Jackson to all posterity.
It is not improbable that had Jackson lived, and risen to larger
commands, he would have been found equal to the full exigencies of the
situation. Whatever he was called upon to do, under limited but
independent scope, seems to testify to the fact that he was far from
having reached his limit. Whatever he did was thoroughly done; and he
never appears to have been taxed to the term of his powers, in any
operation which he undertook.
Honesty, singleness of purpose, true courage, rare ability, suffice to
account for Jackson's military success. But those alone who have served
under his eye know to what depths that rarer, stranger power of his has
sounded them: they only can testify to the full measure of the strength
of Stonewall Jackson.
THE POSITION AT FAIRVIEW.
Gen. Hooker's testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War
comprises almost every thing which has been officially put forth by him
with reference to this campaign. It therefore stands in lieu of a
report of operations, and it may be profitable to continue to quote from
it to some extent. His alleged intention of withdrawing from
Chancellorsville is thus explained. After setting forth that on the
demolition of the Eleventh Corps, the previous evening, he threw Berry
into the gap to arrest Jackson, "and if possible to seize, and at all
hazards hold, the high ground abandoned by that corps," he says:--
"Gen. Berry, after going perhaps three-quarters of a mile, reported that
the enemy was already in possession of the ground commanding my position,
and that he had been compelled to establish his line in the valley on
the Chancellorsville side of that high ground. As soon as this was
communicated to me, I directed Gens. Warren and Comstock to trace out a
new line which I pointed out to them on the map, and to do it that night,
as I would not be able to hold the one I then occupied after the enemy
should renew the attack the next morning."
"The position" at Dowdall's "was the most commanding one in the
vicinity. In the possession of the enemy it would enable him with his
artillery to enfilade the lines held by the Twelfth and Second Corps."
"To wrest this position from the enemy after his batteries were
established upon it, would have required slender columns of infantry,
which he could destroy as fast as they were thrown upon it." Slender
columns of infantry were at this time among Hooker's pet ideas.
"Every disposition was made of our forces to hold our line as long as
practicable, for the purpose of being in readiness to co-operate with
the movement which had been ordered to be made on our left."
"The attack was renewed by the enemy about seven o'clock in the morning,
and was bravely resisted by the limited number of troops I could bring
into action until eleven o'clock, when orders were given for the army to
establish itself on the new line. This it did in good order. The
position I abandoned was one that I had held at a disadvantage; and I
kept the troops on it as long as I did, only for the purpose of enabling
me to hear of the approach of the force under Gen. Sedgwick." Thus much
The position of both armies shortly after daybreak was substantially
that to which the operation of Saturday had led.
The crest at Fairview was crowned by eight batteries of the Third and
Twelfth Corps, supported by Whipple's Second brigade (Bowman's), in
front to the left, forming, as it were, a third line of infantry.
In advance of the artillery some five hundred yards, (a good half-mile
from the Chancellor House,) lay the Federal line of battle, on a crest
less high than Fairview, but still commanding the tangled woods in its
front to a limited distance, and with lower ground in its rear,
deepening to a ravine on the south of the plank road. Berry's division
held this line north of the plank road, occupying the ground it had
fought over since dusk of the evening before. Supporting it somewhat
later was Whipple's First brigade (Franklin's). Berdan's sharpshooters
formed a movable skirmish-line; while another, and heavier, was thrown
out by Berry from his own troops.
A section of Dimick's battery was trained down the road.
Williams's division of the Twelfth Corps was to the south of the plank
road, both he and Berry substantially in one line, and perpendicular to
it; while Mott's brigade was massed in rear of Williams's right.
Near Williams's left flank, but almost at right angles to it, came
Geary's division, in the same intrenched line he had defended the day
before; and on his left again, the Second Corps, which had not
materially changed its position since Friday.
The angle thus formed by Geary and Williams, looked out towards cleared
fields, and rising ground, surmounted by some farm-buildings on a high
crest, about six hundred yards from Fairview.
At this farm, called Hazel Grove, during the night, and until just
before daybreak, holding a position which could have been utilized as an
almost impregnable point d'appui, and which, so long as it was held,
practically prevented, in the approaching battle, a junction of Lee's
severed wings, had lain Birney's and Whipple's divisions. This point
they had occupied, (as already described,) late the evening before,
after Sickles and Pleasonton had finished their brush with Jackson's
right brigades. But Hooker was blind to the fact that the possession of
this height would enable either himself or his enemy to enfilade the
other's lines; and before daybreak the entire force was ordered to move
back to Chancellorsville. In order to do this, the intervening swamp
had to be bridged, and the troops handled with extreme care. When all
but Graham had been withdrawn, a smart attack was made upon his brigade
by Archer of Hill's command, who charged up and captured the Hazel Grove
height; but it was with no serious Federal loss, except a gun and
caisson stalled in the swamp. Sickles drew in his line by the right,
and was directed to place his two divisions so as to strengthen the new
line at Fairview.
Reynolds's corps had arrived the evening before, and, after somewhat
blind instructions, had been placed along the east of Hunting Run,
from the Rapidan to the junction of Ely's and United-States Ford roads,
in a location where the least advantage could be gained from his fresh
and eager troops, and where, in fact, the corps was not called into
action at all, restless however Reynolds may have been under his
The Eleventh Corps had gone to the extreme left, where it had relieved
Meade; Sykes was already formed on Reynolds's left, (having rapidly
moved to the cross roads at dusk on Saturday;) while Meade with the rest
of his corps, so soon as Howard had relieved him, went into position to
support this entire line on the extreme right of the Army of the
Potomac. Thus three strong army corps henceforth disappear from
effective usefulness in the campaign.
The Confederate position opposite Fairview had been entirely rectified
during the night to prepare for the expected contest. The division of
A. P. Hill was now in the front line, perpendicular to the road, Archer
on the extreme right, and McGowan, Lane, Pender, and Thomas, extending
towards the left; the two latter on the north of the road. Heth was in
reserve, behind Lane and Pender. Archer and McGowan were half refused
from the general line at daylight, so as to face, and if possible drive
Sickles from Hazel Grove. Archer was taking measures with a view to
forcing a connection with Anderson; while the latter sent Perry by the
Catharpen road, and Posey direct, towards the Furnace, with like purpose.
Colston was drawn up in second line with Trimble's division; while Rodes,
who had led the van in the attack on Howard of last evening, now made
the third. The artillery of the corps was disposed mainly on the right
of the line, occupying, shortly after daylight, the Hazel-Grove crest,
and at Melzi Chancellor's, in the clearing, where the Eleventh Corps had
met its disaster.
There was thus opposed to the Federal right centre, (Berry's, Whipple's,
and Birney's divisions of the Third Corps, and Williams's of the
Twelfth,) consisting of about twenty-two thousand men, the whole of
Jackson's corps, now reduced to about the same effective; while Anderson,
on the left of the plank road, feeling out towards the Furnace, and
McLaws on the right, with seventeen thousand men between them,
confronted our left centre, consisting of Geary of the Twelfth, and
Hancock of the Second Corps, numbering not much above twelve thousand
Owing to Hooker's ill-fitting dispositions, and lack of ability to
concentrate, the fight of Sunday morning was thus narrowed to a contest
in which the Federals were outnumbered, with the prestige of Confederate
success to offset our intrenchments.
The right and left wings proper of the Union army comprised the bulk and
freshest part of the forces, having opposite to them no enemy whatever,
unless a couple of cavalry regiments scouting on the Mine and River
Gen. Warren, who was much in Hooker's confidence, thus explains his
understanding of the situation Saturday night: "The position of the
Third Corps and our cavalry on the right flank of Jackson's cavalry"
(? corps), "cut off, it seemed, all direct communication with Gen. Lee's
right. No thought of retreating during the night was entertained on our
side; and, unless the enemy did, the next day promised a decisive
battle. By our leaving sufficient force in front of the right wing of
the enemy to hold our breastworks, the whole of the rest of our force
was to be thrown upon his left at dawn of day, with every prospect of
annihilating it. To render this success more complete, Gen. Sedgwick,
with the Sixth Corps, (about twenty thousand strong,) was to leave his
position in front of the enemy's lines at Fredericksburg, and fall upon
Gen. Lee's rear at daylight."
This summarizes an excellent plan, weak only in the fact that it was
impracticable to expect Sedgwick to gain Lee's rear by daylight.
The balance was well enough, and, vigorously carried out, could, even if
unassisted by Sedgwick, scarcely fail of success.
To examine into its manner of execution.
THE FIGHT AT FAIRVIEW.
At the earliest dawn, while Rodes was issuing rations to his men,
who had been many hours without food, the indefatigable Stuart gave
orders for a slight advance of his right, to reduce the angle of refusal
or Archer and McGowan; for at this moment it was ascertained that
Sickles was being withdrawn from Hazel Grove. By some error, Stuart's
order was interpreted as a command for the anticipated general attack,
and the advancing columns soon provoked the fire of the expectant
Seeing that the men were ready for their work, rations or no rations,
Stuart wisely refrained from recalling them; and Berry and Williams
betimes felt the shock of the strong line of A. P. Hill, which Alexander
seconded by opening with his artillery in full action. The Confederates
forged ahead with the watchword, "Charge, and remember Jackson!"
And this appeal was one to nerve all hearts to the desperate task before
Hotchkiss thus describes the field of operations of this morning: "The
first line of works occupied by the Federal troops had been thrown up in
the night, and was very formidable. The engineer division of the Union
Army consisted of near four thousand men, and these had been
unremittingly engaged in its construction. A vast number of trees had
been felled, and formed into a heavy rampart, all approach to which was
rendered extremely difficult by an abattis of limbs and brushwood.
On the south side of the road this line is situated upon a ridge,
on the Chancellorsville side of Lewis Creek, one of the numerous
head-waters of the Mattapony. It is intersected by the smaller branches
of this creek, and the ravines in which they run. These ravines
extended behind the Federal lines, almost to the plank road, and
afforded excellent positions for successive stands. In the morning,
Sickles extended to the west of the creek, and held the elevated plateau
at Hazel Grove. This is the most commanding point, except Fairview,
in the vicinity. On the north of the plank road, the ground is more
level. The line thus crossed several small branches, the origin of some
small tributaries of the Rappahannock, but the ravines on that side are
not considerable. From the ridge occupied by the first line, the ground
falls away to the east, until the valley of another branch of Lewis
Creek is reached. The depression here is considerable, and gives an
abrupt slope to the Fairview hill, which rises directly from it on the
eastern side. From the first line of the creek, extends on both sides
of the road a dense forest. From the latter point to Fairview heights,
and to Chancellorsville, on the south side of the road, the country is
cleared. This clearing is bounded on the south by a drain, which runs
from near Chancellorsville, between Fairview and the works occupied by
Slocum. It extends some distance on the north of the road.
"Behind the front line of works, there were some defences in the valley
near the creek, not constituting a connecting line, however; and these
in turn were succeeded by the second main line of works, which covered
the Fairview heights, and were more strongly constructed even than the
It was at just the time of Rodes's assault, that Birney had received
orders to withdraw from his cardinal position at the angle made by Geary
and Williams, and to form as a second and third line near the plank road,
a duty there was an abundance of troops to fill. He retired, and ployed
into brigade columns by regiments, immediately beyond the crest of
Fairview hill. Here, placing batteries in position, he shelled the
field from which he had just withdrawn. This crest, however, Archer
speedily occupied; and on its summit Stuart, with better foresight than
Hooker, posted some thirty guns under Walker, which enfiladed our lines
with murderous effect during the remainder of the combat of Sunday,
and contributed largely to our defeat.
The attack of the Confederates was made, "as Jackson usually did,
in heavy columns" (Sickles), and was vigorous and effective. According
to their own accounts, the onset was met with equal cheerful gallantry.
While Archer occupied Hazel Grove, McGowan and Lane assaulted the works
held by Williams, carried them with an impetuous rush, and pushed our
troops well back. This rapid success was largely owing to a serious
breach made in the Union line by the decampment of the Third Maryland
Volunteers, a full regiment of Knipe's brigade, which held the right of
Williams's division on the plank road. The regiment was composed of new
men, no match for Jackson's veterans. They stood as well as raw troops
can, in the face of such an onslaught; but after a loss of about a
hundred men, they yielded ground, and were too green to rally. Into the
gap thus made, quickly poured a stream of Lane's men, thus taking both
Berry's and Williams's lines in reverse. The Second Brigade was
compelled to change front to meet this new attack: Mott was instantly
thrown forward to fill the interval; and after a desperate hand-to-hand
struggle he regained the lost ground, and captured eight stands of
colors and about a thousand prisoners. This separated Archer from the
main line, and took in their turn McGowan and Lane in reverse,
precipitately driving them back, and enabling our columns to regain the
ground lost by the fierceness of the Confederate inroad. This sally in
reverse likewise carried back Lane and Heth, the entire corps having
suffered severely from the excellent service of the Federal guns.
But the effect on Williams's division of this alternating gain and loss,
had been to cause it to waver; while having for an instant captured our
works, was encouragement to our foes.
On the north of the road, Pender and Thomas had at first won equal
fortune against Berry's works, but their success had been equally
short-lived. For the falling-back of Jackson's right, and the cheering
of the Union line as its fire advanced in hot pursuit, gave at the same
moment notice to the Confederate left that it was compromised, and to
our own brave boys the news of their comrades' fortune. Pender and
Thomas were slowly but surely forced back, under a withering fire,
beyond the breastworks they had won. A second time did these veterans
rally for the charge, and a second time did they penetrate a part of our
defences; only, however, to be taken in flank again by Berry's right
brigade, and tumbled back to their starting-point. But their onset had
shown so great determination, that Ward was despatched to sustain
Berry's right, lest he should be eventually over-matched.
The Federal line on the north of the plank road had thus doggedly
resisted the most determined attacks of Jackson's men, and had lost no
ground. And so hard pressed indeed was Pender by gallant Berry's
legions, that Colquitt's brigade was sent to his relief. Pender's men
had early expended all their ammunition, word whereof was sent to Stuart,
but merely to evoke renewal of that stubborn officer's orders to hold
their ground with the bayonet, and at all hazards. And such orders as
these were wont to be obeyed by these hardened warriors.
The three Confederate lines of attack had soon, as on yesternight,
become one, as each pushed forward to sustain the other. The enemy
"pressed forward in crowds rather than in any regular formation"
(Sickles); but the momentum of these splendid troops was well-nigh
irresistible. Nichols's brigade of Trimble's division, and Iverson's
and Rodes's of Rodes's division, pressed forward to sustain the first
line on the north of the road, and repel the flank attack, constantly
renewed by Berry. Another advance of the entire line was ordered.
Rodes led his old brigade in person. The Confederates seemed determined,
for Jackson's sake, to carry and hold the works which they had twice
gained, and out of which they had been twice driven; for, with "Old Jack"
at their head, they had never shown a sterner front.
Now came the most grievous loss of this morning's conflict. Gallant
Berry, the life of his division, always in the hottest of the fire,
reckless of safety, had fallen mortally wounded, before Ward's brigade
could reach his line. Gen. Revere assumed command, and, almost before
the renewal of the Confederate attack, "heedless of their murmurs,"
says Sickles's report, "shamefully led to the rear the whole of the
Second Brigade, and portions of two others, thus subjecting these proud
soldiers, for the first time, to the humiliation of being marched to the
rear while their comrades were under fire. Gen. Revere was promptly
recalled with his troops, and at once relieved of command." Revere
certainly gives no satisfactory explanation of his conduct; but he
appears to have marched over to the vicinity of French of the Second
Corps, upon the White House clearing, and reported to him with a large
portion of his troops. Revere was subsequently courtmartialled for this
misbehavior, and was sentenced to dismissal; but the sentence was
revoked by the President, and he was allowed to resign.
Col. Stevens was speedily put in command in Revere's stead; but he, too,
soon fell, leaving the gallant division without a leader, nearly half of
its number off the field, and the remainder decimated by the bloody
contest of the past four hours. Moreover, Gen. Hays, whose brigade of
French's division had been detached in support of Berry, where it had
done most gallant work, was at the same time wounded and captured by the
It was near eight o'clock. The artillery was quite out of ammunition,
except canister, which could not be used with safety over the heads of
our troops. Our outer lines of breastworks had been captured, and were
held by the enemy. So much as was left of Berry's division was in
absolute need of re-forming. Its supports were in equally bad plight.
The death of Berry, and the present location of our lines in the low
ground back of the crest just lost, where the undergrowth was so tangled
and the bottom so marshy, that Ward, when he marched to Berry's relief,
had failed to find him, obliged the Federals to fall back to the
Fairview heights, and form a new line at the western edge of the
Chancellor clearing, where the artillery had been so ably sustaining the
struggle now steadily in progress since daylight. Sickles himself
supervised the withdrawal of the line, and its being deployed on its new
The receding of the right of the line also necessitated the falling-back
of Williams. The latter officer had, moreover, been for some time quite
short of ammunition; and though Graham had filled the place of a part of
his line, and had held it for nearly two hours, repeatedly using the
bayonet, Williams was obliged to give way before Stuart's last assault.
But Graham was not the man readily to accept defeat; and, as Williams's
line melted away, he found himself isolated, and in great danger of
being surrounded. Gen. Birney fortunately became aware of the danger
before it was too late; and, hastily gathering a portion of Hayman's
brigade, he gallantly led them to the charge in person; and, under cover
of this opportune diversion, Graham contrived to withdraw in good order,
holding McGowan severely in check.
The Union troops now establish their second line near Fairview. The
Confederates' progress is arrested for the nonce. It is somewhat after
eight A.M. A lull, premonitory only of a still fiercer tempest,
But the lull is of short duration. Re-forming their ranks as well as
may be on the south of the road, the Confederates again assault the
Union second line, on the crest at Fairview. But the height is not
readily carried. The slope is wooded, and affords good cover for an
assault. But the artillery on the summit can now use its canister; and
the Union troops have been rallied and re-formed in good order. The
onset is met and driven back, amid the cheers of the victorious Federals.
Nor are Stuart's men easily discouraged. Failure only seems to
invigorate these intrepid legions to fresh endeavors. Colston's and
Jones's brigades, with Paxton's, Ramseur's, and Doles' of the third line,
have re-enforced the first, and passed it, and now attack Williams with
redoubled fury in his Fairview breastworks, while Birney sustains him
with his last man and cartridge. The Confederate troops take all
advantage possible of the numerous ravines in our front; but the
batteries at Fairview pour a heavy and destructive fire of shell and
case into their columns as they press on. Every inch of ground is
contested by our divisions, which hold their footing at Fairview with
Meanwhile Doles, moving under cover of a hill which protects him from
the Federal batteries, and up a little branch coming from the rear of
Fairview, takes in reverse the left of Williams's line, which has become
somewhat separated from Geary, (whose position is thus fast becoming
untenable,) moves up, and deploys upon the open ground at Chancellorsville.
But he finds great difficulty in maintaining his footing, and would have
at once been driven back, when Paxton's (old Stonewall) brigade comes up
to his support on the double-quick. Jackson's spirit for a while seems
to carry all before it; the charge of these two brigades against our
batteries fairly bristles with audacity; but our guns are too well served,
and the gallant lines are once again decimated and hustled back to
the foot of the crest.
The seizure of Hazel Grove, from which Sickles had retired, had now
begun to tell against us. It had enabled the Confederates not only to
form the necessary junction of their hitherto separated wings, but to
enfilade our lines in both directions. The artillery under Walker,
Carter, Pegram, and Jones, was admirably served, and much better posted
than our own guns at Fairview. For this height absolutely commanded the
angle made by the lines of Geary and Williams, and every shot went
crashing through heavy masses of troops. Our severest losses during
this day from artillery-fire emanated from this source, not to speak of
the grievous effect upon the morale of our men from the enfilading
About eight A.M., French, one of whose brigades, (Hays's,) had been
detached in support of Berry, and who was in the rifle-pits on the Ely's
Ford road near White House, facing east, perceiving how hotly the
conflict was raging in his rear, on the right of the Third Corps line,
and having no enemy in his own front, assumed the responsibility of
placing four regiments of Carroll's brigade in line on the clearing,
facing substantially west, and formed his Third Brigade on their right,
supporting the left batteries of the Fifth Corps. This was a complete
Soon after taking up this position, Hooker ordered him forward into the
woods, to hold Colquitt and Thomas in check, who were advancing beyond
the right of Sickles's position at Fairview, and compromising the
withdrawal to the new lines which was already determined upon. Says
French: "In a moment the order was given. The men divested themselves
of all but their fighting equipment, and the battalions marched in line
across the plain with a steady pace, receiving at the verge of the woods
the enemy's fire. It was returned with great effect, followed up by an
impetuous charge. . . . The enemy, at first panic-stricken by the
sudden attack on his flank, broke to the right in masses, leaving in our
hands several hundred prisoners, and abandoning a regiment of one of our
corps in the same situation."
But French had not driven back his antagonist to any considerable
distance before himself was outflanked on his right by a diversion of
Pender's. To meet this new phase of the combat, he despatched an aide
to Couch for re-enforcements; and soon Tyler's brigade appeared, and
went in on his right. This fight of French and Tyler effectually
repelled the danger menacing the White House clearing. It was, however,
a small affair compared to the heavy fighting in front of Fairview.
And, the yielding of Chancellorsville to the enemy about eleven A.M.
having rendered untenable the position of these brigades, they were
gradually withdrawn somewhat before noon.
Still Jackson's lines, the three now one confused mass, but with
unwavering purpose, returned again and again to the assault. Our
regiments had become entirely depleted of ammunition; and, though Birney
was ordered to throw in his last man to Williams's support, it was too
late to prevent the latter from once more yielding ground.
For, having resisted the pressure of Stuart's right for nearly four
hours, his troops having been for some time with empty cartridge-boxes,
twenty-four hours without food, and having passed several nights without
sleep, while intrenching, Williams now felt that he could no longer hold
his ground. The enemy was still pressing on, and the mule-train of
small ammunition could not be got up under the heavy fire. His
artillery had also exhausted its supplies; Sickles was in similar
plight; Jackson's men, better used to the bayonet, and possessing the
momentum of success, still kept up their vigorous blows. Williams's
line therefore slowly fell to the rear, still endeavoring to lean on
Sickles, who had kept Hooker informed of the condition of affairs as
they transpired, and had repeatedly requested support, now sent a more
urgent communication to him, asking for additional troops. Major
Tremaine reached headquarters just after the accident to Hooker, and
received no satisfaction. Nor had a second appeal better results.
What should and could easily have been done at an earlier moment by
Hooker,--to wit, re-enforce the right centre (where the enemy was all
too plainly using his full strength and making the key of the field),
from the large force of disposable troops on the right and left,--it was
now too late to order.
Before nine A.M., Sickles, having looked in vain for re-enforcements,
deemed it necessary to withdraw his lines back of Fairview crest.
Himself re-formed the divisions, except that portion withdrawn by Revere,
and led them to the rear, where the front line occupied the late
artillery breastworks. Ammunition was at once re-distributed.
We had doubtless inflicted heavy losses upon the Confederates. "Their
formation for attack was entirely broken up, and from my headquarters
they presented to the eye the appearance of a crowd, without definite
formation; and if another corps had been available at the moment to have
relieved me, or even to have supported me, my judgment was that not only
would that attack of the enemy have been triumphantly repulsed, but that
we could have advanced on them, and carried the day." (Sickles.)
On the Chancellorsville open occurred another sanguinary struggle.
Stuart still pressed on with his elated troops, although his men were
beginning to show signs of severe exhaustion. Franklin's and Mott's
brigades, says Sickles, "made stern resistance to the impulsive assaults
of the enemy, and brilliant charges in return worthy of the Old Guard."
But, though jaded and bleeding from this prolonged and stubbornly-
contested battle, Jackson's columns had by no means relaxed their
efforts. The blows they could give were feebler, but they were
continued with the wonderful pertinacity their chief had taught them;
and nothing but the Chancellor clearing, and with it the road to
Fredericksburg, would satisfy their purpose.
And a half-hour later, Sickles, finding himself unsupported on right and
left, though not heavily pressed by the enemy, retired to Chancellorsville,
and re-formed on the right of Hancock, while portions of three batteries
held their ground, half way between Chancellorsville and Fairview, and
fired their last rounds, finally retiring after nearly all their horses
and half their men had been shot, but still without the loss of a gun.
With characteristic gallantry, Sickles now proposed to regain the
Fairview crest with his corps, attacking the enemy with the bayonet; and
he thinks it could have been done. But, Hooker having been temporarily
disabled, his successor or executive, Couch, did not think fit to
license the attempt. And shortly after, Hooker recovered strength
sufficient to order the withdrawal to the new lines at White House; and
Chancellorsville was reluctantly given up to the enemy, who had won it
so fairly and at such fearful sacrifice.
In retiring from the Chancellor clearing, Sickles states that he took,
instead of losing, prisoners and material. This appears to be true,
and shows how Stuart had fought his columns to the utmost of their
strength, in driving us from our morning's position. He says: "At the
conclusion of the battle of Sunday, Capt. Seeley's battery, which was
the last battery that fired a shot in the battle of Chancellorsville,
had forty-five horses killed, and in the neighborhood of forty men
killed and wounded;" but "he withdrew so entirely at his leisure,
that he carried off all the harness from his dead horses, loading his
cannoneers with it." "As I said before, if another corps, or even ten
thousand men, had been available at the close of the battle of
Chancellorsville, on that part of the field where I was engaged, I
believe the battle would have resulted in our favor." Such is the
testimony of Hooker's warmest supporter. And there is abundant evidence
on the Confederate side to confirm this assumption.
The losses of the Third Corps in the battle of Sunday seem to have been
the bulk of that day's casualties.
There can be no limit to the praise earned by the mettlesome veterans of
Jackson's corps, in the deadly fight at Fairview. They had continuously
marched and fought, with little sleep and less rations, since Thursday
morning. Their ammunition had been sparse, and they had been obliged to
rely frequently upon the bayonet alone. They had fought under
circumstances which rendered all attempts to preserve organization
impossible. They had charged through tangled woods against well-
constructed field-works, and in the teeth of destructive artillery-fire,
and had captured the works again and again. Never had infantry better
earned the right to rank with the best which ever bore arms, than this
gallant twenty thousand,--one man in every four of whom lay bleeding on
Nor can the same meed of praise be withheld from our own brave legions.
Our losses had been heavier than those of the enemy. Generals and
regimental commanders had fallen in equal proportions. Our forces had,
owing to the extraordinary combinations of the general in command,
been outnumbered by the enemy wherever engaged. While we had received
the early assaults behind breastworks, we had constantly been obliged to
recapture them, as they were successively wrenched from our grasp,--and
we had done it. Added to the prestige of success, and the flush of the
charge, the massing of columns upon a line of only uniform strength had
enabled the Confederates to repeatedly capture portions of our
intrenchments, and, thus taking the left and right in reverse, to drive
back our entire line. But our divisions had as often done the same.
And well may the soldiers who were engaged in this bloody encounter of
Sunday, May 3, 1863, call to mind with equal pride that each met a
foeman worthy of his steel.
Say Hotchkiss and Allan: "The resistance of the Federal army had been
stubborn. Numbers, weight of artillery, and strength of position,
had been in its favor. Against it told heavily the loss of morale due
to the disaster of the previous day."
THE LEFT CENTRE.
While the bulk of the fighting had thus been done by the right centre,
Anderson was steadily forcing his way towards Chancellorsville. He had
Wright's, Posey's, and Perry's brigades on the left of the plank road,
and Mahone's on the right, and was under orders to press on to the
Chancellor clearing as soon as he could join his left to Jackson's
right. He speaks in his report as if he had little fighting to do to
reach his destination. Nor does Geary, who was in his front, mention
any heavy work until about nine A.M.; for Geary's position was
jeopardized by the enfilading fire of Stuart's batteries on the
Hazel-Grove hill, and by the advance of Stuart's line of battle, which
found his right flank in the air. He could scarcely be expected to make
a stubborn contest under these conditions.
While thus hemmed in, Geary "obeyed an order to retire, and form my
command at right angles with the former line of battle, the right
resting at or near the Brick House," (Chancellorsville). While in the
execution of this order, Hooker seems to have changed his purpose,
and in person ordered him back to his original stand, "to hold it at all
In some manner, accounted for by the prevalent confusion, Greene's and