Part 4 out of 4
The following extract from the evidence of Gen. Sedgwick before the
Committee on the Conduct of the War, compared with Hooker's and the
actual facts, shows palpably who is in the right.
"At nine A.M., May 4, I sent this despatch to Gen. Hooker: 'I am
occupying the same position as last night. I have secured my
communication with Banks's Ford. The enemy are in possession of the
heights of Fredericksburg in force. They appear strongly in our front,
and are making efforts to drive us back. My strength yesterday, A.M.,
was twenty-two thousand men: I do not know my losses, but they were
large, probably five thousand men. I can't use the cavalry. It depends
upon the condition and position of your force whether I can sustain
myself here. Howe reports the enemy advancing from Fredericksburg.'
"Question.--When you were in the position on the 4th, to which you have
referred, were you where you could have co-operated with the army at
Chancellorsville in an attack upon the enemy?
"Answer.--I could not proceed in that direction. I think Gen. Hooker
might have probably relieved me if he had made an attack at that time.
I think I had a much larger force of the enemy around me than Gen. Hooker
had in front of him. There were two divisions of the enemy on the
heights of Fredericksburg, which was in my rear; and they would have
attacked me the moment I undertook to proceed towards Chancellorsville.
About one A.M. of May 5, Gen. Hooker telegraphed me to cross the river,
and take up the bridges. This is the despatch: 'Despatch this moment
received. Withdraw; cover the river, and prevent any force crossing.
"This was immediately done: as the last of the column was crossing,
between three and four o'clock, the orders to cross were countermanded,
and I was directed to hold a position on the south bank. The despatch
was dated 1.20 A.M., and was received at 3.20, as follows:--
"'Yours received, saying you could hold position. Order to withdraw
countermanded. Acknowledge both.'
"In explanation of this I should say that I had telegraphed to Gen. Hooker
that I could hold the position. He received it after he had ordered me
to cross over. But, receiving his despatch to cross, I had commenced
the movement; and, as I have said, I had very nearly taken my force over,
when the order to cross was countermanded. To return at that time was
wholly impracticable, and I telegraphed that fact to Gen. Hooker."
To place in juxtaposition Hooker's testimony and Sedgwick's, in no wise
militates against the latter.
There is one broad criticism which may fairly he passed upon Sedgwick's
withdrawal across the Rappahannock. It is that, with the knowledge that
his remaining in position might be of some assistance to his chief,
instead of exhibiting a perhaps undue anxiety to place himself beyond
danger, he could with his nineteen thousand men, by dint of stubborn
flghting, have held the intrenchments at Banks's Ford, against even Lee
with his twenty-four thousand.
But if he attempted this course, and was beaten, Lee could have
destroyed his corps. And this risk he was bound to weigh, as he did,
with the advantages Hooker could probably derive from his holding on.
Moreover, to demand thus much of Sedgwick, is to hold him to a defence,
which, in this campaign, no other officer of the Army of the Potomac was
able to make.
Not but what, under equally pressing conditions, other generals have,
or himself, if he had not received instructions to withdraw, might have,
accomplished so much. But if we assume, that having an eye to the
numbers and losses of his corps, and to his instructions, as well as to
the character and strength of the enemy opposed to him, Sedgwick was
bound to dispute further the possession of Banks's Ford, in order to
lend a questionable aid to Hooker, how lamentable will appear by
comparison the conduct of the other corps of the Army of the Potomac,
under the general commanding, bottled up behind their defences at
HOOKER'S FURTHER PLANS.
Hooker states: "Gen. Warren represented to me that Gen. Sedgwick had
said he could do no more; then it was I wanted him to take some position,
and hold it, that I might turn the enemy in my immediate front. I
proposed to leave troops enough where I was, to occupy the enemy there,
and throw the rest of my force down the river, and re-enforce Sedgwick;
then the whole of Lee's army, except that which had been left in front
of Sedgwick, would be thrown off the road to Richmond, and my army would
be on it.
"As soon as I heard that Gen. Sedgwick had re-crossed the river, seeing
no object in maintaining my position where I was, and believing it would
be more to my advantage to hazard an engagement with the enemy at
Franklin's Crossing, where I had elbow-room, than where I was, the army
on the right was directed to re-cross the river, and did so on the night
between the 5th and 6th of May."
Now, the Franklin's Crossing plan, or its equivalent, had been tried by
Burnside, in December, with a loss of twelve thousand men; and it had
been fully canvassed and condemned as impracticable, before beginning
the Chancellorsville manoeuvre. To resuscitate it can therefore serve
no purpose but as an idle excuse. And the argument of elbow-room,
if made, is the one Hooker should have used against withdrawing from the
open country he had reached, to the Wilderness, on Friday, May 1.
"Being resolved on re-crossing the river on the night between the 4th
and 5th, I called the corps commanders together, not as a council of war,
but to ascertain how they felt in regard to making what I considered a
desperate move against the enemy in our front." Be it remembered that
the "desperate move" was one of eighty thousand men, with twenty
thousand more (Sedgwick) close at hand as a reserve, against at the
outside forty-five thousand men, if Early should be ordered up to
re-enforce Lee. And Hooker knew the force of Lee, or had as good
authority for knowing it as he had for most of the facts he assumed,
in condemning Sedgwick. Moreover, from the statements of prisoners we
had taken, very nearly an exact estimate could be made of the then
numbers of the Army of Northern Virginia.
All the corps commanders were present at this conference, except Slocum,
who afterwards came in. All were in favor of an advance, except
Sickles; while Couch wavered, fearing that no advance could be made to
advantage under Hooker. Hancock, (testimony before the Committee on the
Conduct of the War,) says: "I understood from him" (Couch) "always that
he was in favor of fighting then." Hooker claims Couch to have been for
retreat; but the testimony of the generals present, as far as available,
goes to show the council to have been substantially as will now be
Hooker retired for a while, to allow free expression of opinion; and,
with one exception, all present manifested a desire for another attack,
in full force,--Howard, Meade, and Reynolds being especially urgent to
this purpose. The one dissentient voice was Sickles; and he expressed
himself, confessedly, more from a political than a strategic standpoint.
He allowed the military reasons to be sound for an advance, and modestly
refrained from putting his opinion against that of men trained to the
profession of arms; though all allowed his right to a valid judgment.
But he claimed, with some reason, that the political horizon was dark;
that success by the Army of the Potomac was secondary to the avoidance
of disaster. If, he alleged, this army should be destroyed, it would be
the last one the country would raise. Washington might be captured; and
the effect of this loss upon the country, and upon Europe, was to be
greatly dreaded. The enemies of the administration were strong, and
daily gaining ground. It was necessary that the Army of the Potomac
should not run the risk of destruction. It was the last hold of the
Republican party in Virginia. Better re-cross and recuperate, and then
attempt another campaign, than run any serious risk now. These grounds
largely influenced him in agreeing with the general-in-chief's
determination to retire across the river. But there were other reasons,
which Sickles states in his testimony. The rations with which the men
had started had given out, and there had been no considerable issue
since. Singularly enough, too, (for Hooker was, as a rule, unusually
careful in such matters,) there had been no provision made for supplying
the troops against a possible advance; and yet, from Sunday noon till
Tuesday night, we had lain still behind our intrenchments, with
communications open, and with all facilities at hand to prepare for a
ten-days' absence from our base. This circumstance wears the look of
almost a predetermination to accept defeat.
Now, at the last moment, difficulties began to arise in bringing over
supplies. The river had rapidly risen from the effects of the storm.
Parts of the bridges had been carried away by the torrent. The ends of
the others were under water, and their entire structure was liable at
any moment to give way. It was not certain that Lee, fully aware of
these circumstances, would, for the moment, accept battle, as he might
judge it better to lure the Army of the Potomac away from the
possibility of victualling. Perhaps Sedgwick would be unable to cross
again so as to join the right wing. The Eleventh Corps might not be in
condition to count on for heavy service. The Richmond papers, received
almost daily through channels more or less irregular, showed that
communications were still open, and that the operations of the Cavalry
Corps had not succeeded in interrupting them in any serious manner.
On the coming Sunday, the time of service of thirty-eight regiments was
up. Many of these conditions could have been eliminated from the
problem, if measures had been seasonably taken; but they now became
critical elements in the decision to be made. And Hooker, despite his
well-earned reputation as a fighting man, was unable to arrive at any
other than the conclusion which Falstaff so cautiously enunciated,
from beneath his shield, at the battle of Shrewsbury, that "the better
part of valor is discretion."
THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC RE-CROSSES.
Orders were accordingly issued with a view to re-crossing the river; and
during the 5th, Gen. Warren and Capt. Comstock of the engineers prepared
a new and shorter line, in the rear of the one then held by the army,
to secure it against any attempt by the enemy to interrupt the retreat.
Capt. Comstock supervised the labor on the west side, and Gen. Warren on
the east, of the United-States Ford road. "A continuous cover and
abattis was constructed from the Rappahannock at Scott's Dam, around to
the mouth of Hunting Run on the Rapidan. The roads were put in good
order, and a third bridge laid. A heavy rain set in about 4.30 P.M.,
and lasted till late at night. The movement to re-cross was begun by
the artillery, as per order, at 7.30 and was suddenly interrupted by a
rise in the river so great as to submerge the banks at the ends of the
bridges on the north bank, and the velocity of the current threatened to
sweep them away." "The upper bridge was speedily taken up, and used to
piece out the ends of the other two, and the passage was again made
practicable. Considerable delays, however, resulted from this cause."
"No troops took up position in the new line except the rearguard,
composed of the Fifth Corps, under Gen. Meade, which was done about
daylight on the 6th." "The proper dispositions were made for holding
this line till all but the rearguard was past the river; and then it
quietly withdrew, no enemy pursuing." (Warren.) The last of the army
re-crossed about eight A.M., May 6.
Testimony of Gen. Henry J. Hunt:--
"A storm arose soon after. Just before sunset, the general and his
staff re-crossed the river to the north side. I separated from him in
order to see to the destruction of some works of the enemy on the south
side of the river, which perfectly commanded our bridges. Whilst I was
looking after them, in the darkness, to see that they had been destroyed
as directed, an engineer officer reported to me that our bridges had
been carried away, or were being carried away, by the flood. I found
the chief engineer, Capt. Comstock; and we proceeded together to examine
the bridges, and we found that they were all utterly impassable.
I then proceeded to Gen. Meade's camp, and reported the condition of
affairs to him. All communication with Gen. Hooker being cut off,
Gen. Meade called the corps commanders together; and, as the result of
that conference, I believe, by order of Gen. Couch at any rate, I was
directed to stop the movement of the artillery, which was withdrawn from
the lines, and let them resume their positions, thus suspending the
crossing. On my return to the bridges, I found that one had been
re-established, and the batteries that were down there had commenced
re-crossing the river. I then sought Gen. Hooker up, on the north side
of the river, and proposed to him to postpone the movement for one day,
as it was certain we could not all cross over in a night. I stated to
him that I doubted whether we could more than get the artillery, which
was ordered to cross first, over before daylight: he refused to postpone
the movement, and it proceeded. No opposition was made by the enemy,
nor was the movement disturbed, except by the attempt to place batteries
on the points from which our bridges could be reached, and to command
which I had already posted the necessary batteries on my own
responsibility. A cannonade ensued, and they were driven off with loss,
and one of their caissons exploded: we lost three or four men killed,
and a few horses, in this affair. That is about all that I remember."
Gen. Barnes's brigade assisted in taking up the bridges; and all were
safely withdrawn by four P.M. on Wednesday, under superintendence of
Major Spaulding of the engineer brigade.
All who participated in this retreat will remember the precarious
position of the masses of troops, huddled together at the bridge-heads
as in a cul-de-sac, during this eventful night, and the long-drawn
breath of relief as the hours after dawn passed, and no further
disposition to attack was manifested by Lee. This general was doubtless
profoundly grateful that the Army of the Potomac should retire across
the Rappahannock, and leave his troops to the hard-earned rest they
needed so much more than ourselves; but little thanks are due to Hooker,
who was, it seems, on the north side of the river during these critical
moments, that the casualties of the campaign were not doubled by a final
assault on the part of Lee, while we lay in this perilous situation,
and the unmolested retreat turned into another passage of the Beresina.
Providentially, the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia had
expended almost its last round of ammunition previous to this time.
But several hospitals of wounded, in care of a number of medical
officers and stewards, were left behind, to be removed a few days later
under a flag of truce.
The respective losses of the two armies are thus officially given:--
General Headquarters and Engineers . . . 9
First Corps . . . . . . . . 299
Second Corps . . . . . . . . 1,923
Third Corps . . . . . . . . 4,119
Fifth Corps . . . . . . . . 700
Sixth Corps . . . . . . . . 4,610
Eleventh Corps . . . . . . . . 2,412
Twelfth Corps . . . . . . . . 2,822
Pleasonton's Brigade . . . . . . 202
Cavalry Corps under Stoneman . . . . 189
Early's division . . . . . . . 851
A. P. Hill's division . . . . . . 2,583
Trimble's (Colston) division . . . . 1,868
D. H. Hill's (Rodes) division . . . . 2,178
Anderson's division . . . . . . 1,180
McLaws's division . . . . . . 1,379
Artillery . . . . . . . . . 227
Cavalry . . . . . . . . . 11
Prisoners . . . . . . . . . 2,000
Both armies now returned to their ancient encampments, elation as
general on one side as disappointment was profound upon the other.
Hooker says in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the
War: "I lost under those operations" (viz., the Chancellorsville
campaign) "one piece artillery, I think five or six wagons, and one
ambulance. Of course, many of the Eleventh Corps lost their arms and
The Confederates, however, claim to have captured nineteen thousand five
hundred stand of small arms, seventeen colors, and much ammunition.
And, while acknowledging a loss of eight guns, it is asserted by them
that they captured thirteen.
The orders issued to the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern
Virginia by their respective commanders, on the return of the forces to
the shelter of their old camps, need no comment. They are characteristic
to a degree.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
May 6, 1863.
GENERAL ORDERS NO. 49.
The major-general commanding tenders to this army his congratulations on
the achievements of the last seven days. If it has not accomplished all
that was expected, the reasons are well known to the army. It is
sufficient to say that they were of a character not to be foreseen or
prevented by human sagacity or resources.
In withdrawing from the south bank of the Rappahannock before delivering
a general battle to our adversaries, the army has given renewed evidence
of its confidence in itself, and its fidelity to the principles it
By fighting at a disadvantage we would have been recreant to our trust,
to ourselves, to our cause, and to our country. Profoundly loyal,
and conscious of its strength, the Army of the Potomac will give or
decline battle whenever its interests or honor may command it.
By the celerity and secrecy of our movements, our advance and passage of
the river were undisputed; and, on our withdrawal, not a rebel dared to
follow us. The events of the last week may well cause the heart of
every officer and soldier of the army to swell with pride.
We have added new laurels to our former renown. We have made long
marches, crossed rivers, surprised the enemy in his intrenchments; and
whenever we have fought, we have inflicted heavier blows than those we
We have taken from the enemy five thousand prisoners, and fifteen colors,
captured seven pieces of artillery, and placed hors du combat eighteen
thousand of our foe's chosen troops.
We have destroyed his depots filled with vast amounts of stores, damaged
his communications, captured prisoners within the fortifications of his
capital, and filled his country with fear and consternation.
We have no other regret than that caused by the loss of our brave
companions; and in this we are consoled by the conviction that they have
fallen in the holiest cause ever submitted to the arbitration of battle.
By command of Major-Gen. Hooker.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
May 7, 1863.
With heartfelt gratification, the general commanding expresses to the
army his sense of the heroic conduct displayed by officers and men
during the arduous operations in which they have just been engaged.
Under trying vicissitudes of heat and storm, you attacked the enemy,
strongly intrenched in the depths of a tangled wilderness, and again on
the hills of Fredericksburg, fifteen miles distant, and, by the valor
that has triumphed on so many fields, forced him once more to seek
safety beyond the Rappahannock. While this glorious victory entitles
you to the praise and gratitude of the nation, we are especially called
upon to return our grateful thanks to the only Giver of victory, for the
signal deliverance He has wrought.
It is therefore earnestly recommended that the troops unite, on Sunday
next, in ascribing to the Lord of Hosts the glory due unto His name.
Let us not forget in our rejoicing the brave soldiers who have fallen in
defence of their country; and, while we mourn their loss, let us resolve
to emulate their noble example.
The army and the country alike lament the absence for a time of one to
whose bravery, energy, and skill they are so much indebted for success.
The following letter from the President of the Confederate States is
communicated to the army as an expression of his appreciation of their
"I have received your despatch, and reverently unite with you in giving
praise to God for the success with which he has crowned our arms.
In the name of the people, I offer my cordial thanks to yourself and the
troops under your command, for this addition to the unprecedented series
of great victories which our army has achieved. The universal rejoicing
produced by this happy result will be mingled with a general regret for
the good and the brave who are numbered among the killed and the
R. E. LEE, General.
The following is equally characteristic:--
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., May 13, 1863.
To his Excellency, President of the United States.
Is it asking too much to inquire your opinion of my Order No. 49?
If so, do not answer me.
Jackson is dead, and Lee beats McClellan in his untruthful bulletins.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
OPERATIONS OF THE CAVALRY CORPS.
As was briefly related in the early part of this work, Hooker issued
orders to Gen. Stoneman, the commanding-officer of the Cavalry Corps of
the Army of the Potomac, on the 12th of April, to move the succeeding
day for the purpose of cutting the communications of the enemy. The
order read as follows:--
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., April 12, 1863.
Commanding Officer, Cavalry Corps.
I am directed by the major-general commanding to inform you that you
will march at seven o'clock A.M., on the 13th inst., with all your
available force, except one brigade, for the purpose of turning the
enemy's position on his left, and of throwing your command between him
and Richmond, isolating him from his supplies, checking his retreat,
and inflicting on him every possible injury which will tend to his
discomfiture and defeat.
To accomplish this, the general suggests that you ascend the
Rappahannock by the different routes, keeping well out of the view of
the enemy, and throwing out well to the front and flank small parties to
mask your movement, and to cut off all communication with the enemy,
by the people in their interest living on this side of the river.
To divert suspicion it may not be amiss to have word given out that you
are in pursuit of Jones's guerillas, as they are operating extensively
in the Shenandoah Valley, in the direction of Winchester. He further
suggests that you select for your place of crossing the Rappahannock,
some point to the west of the Alexandria and Orange Railroad, which can
only be determined by the circumstances as they are found on the arrival
of your advance.
In the vicinity of Culpeper, you will be likely to run against Fitz Hugh
Lee's brigade of cavalry, consisting of about two thousand men, which it
is expected you will be able to disperse and destroy without delay to
your advance, or detriment to any considerable number of your command.
At Gordonsville, the enemy have a small provost-guard of infantry,
which it is expected you will destroy, if it can be done without
delaying your forward movement. From there it is expected that you will
push forward to the Aquia and Richmond Railroad, somewhere in the
vicinity of Saxton's Junction, destroying along your whole route the
railroad-bridges, trains of cars, depots of provisions, lines of
telegraphic communication, etc. The general directs that you go
prepared with all the means necessary to accomplish this work
As the line of the railroad from Aquia to Richmond presents the shortest
one for the enemy to retire on, it is most probable that he will avail
himself of it, and the usually travelled highways on each side of it,
for this purpose; in which event you will select the strongest positions,
such as the banks of streams, commanding heights, etc., in order to
check or prevent it; and, if unsuccessful, you will fall upon his flanks,
attack his artillery and trains, and harass him until he is exhausted
and out of supplies.
Moments of delay will be hours and days to the army in pursuit.
If the enemy should retire by Culpeper and Gordonsville, you will
endeavor to hold your force in his front, and harass him day and night,
on the march, and in camp, unceasingly. If you cannot cut off from his
column large slices, the general desires that you will not fail to take
small ones. Let your watchword be Fight, and let all your orders be
Fight, Fight, FIGHT; bearing in mind that time is as valuable to the
general as the rebel carcasses. It is not in the power of the rebels to
oppose you with more than five thousand sabres, and those badly mounted,
and, after they leave Culpeper, without forage and rations. Keep them
from Richmond, and sooner or later they must fall into our hands.
The general desires you to understand that he considers the primary
object of your movement the cutting of the enemy's communication with
Richmond by the Fredericksburg route, checking his retreat over those
lines; and he wishes to make every thing subservient to that object.
He desires that you will keep yourself informed of the enemy's
whereabouts, and attack him wherever you find him.
If, in your operations, an opportunity should present itself for you to
detach a force to Charlottesville, which is almost unguarded, and
destroy depots of supplies said to be there, or along the line of the
Aquia Railroad, in the direction of Richmond, to destroy bridges, etc.,
or the crossings of the Pamunkey, in the direction of West Point,
destroying the ferries, felling trees to prevent or check the crossing,
they will all greatly contribute to our complete success.
You may rely upon the general's being in communication with you before
your supplies are exhausted.
Let him hear from you as often as necessary and practicable.
A brigade of infantry will march to-morrow morning at eight o'clock for
Kelly's Ford, with one battery, and a regiment to the United-States Ford
and Banks's Ford, to threaten and hold those places.
It devolves upon you, general, to take the initiative in the forward
movement of this grand army; and on you and your noble command must
depend, in a great measure, the extent and brilliancy of our success.
Bear in mind that celerity, audacity, and resolution are every thing in
war, and especially is it the case with the command you have, and the
enterprise on which you are about to embark.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
In pursuance of which order, the corps broke camp near Belle-Plain,
and encamped on the evening of April 13, beyond Morrisville. On April
14, it moved down to the vicinity of the bridge at Rappahannock station,
which, after a slight skirmish by Gregg, was taken possession of.
Beverly Ford, some miles above, was also examined, and the north bank
occupied. Preparations for an early move on the morning of the 14th
were made. Gen. Buford, commanding the cavalry reserve, remained at
Kelly's Ford during the 14th, in order to draw the attention of the
Confederates to that point, and indulged in a little artillery skirmish.
During the night a heavy rain set in, and before morning the river was
no longer fordable by the artillery and pack-trains.
As is well known, it takes no great rainfall to swell the Rappahannock
and Rapidan rivers, and their tributaries, to the proportion of
torrents. Nor are more than a few hours necessary to raise these rivers
and runs, and even the dry ravines, to an impassable depth. Gregg
mentions in his report that a small stream, which, on the 13th, could be
crossed at one step, had swelled to such a flood, that when, on the 15th,
a regiment was obliged to cross it, there were lost one man and two
horses by drowning.
So that, after crossing one division, Stoneman found that it would
probably be isolated on account of the impracticability of crossing the
rest of the corps, and consequently ordered its immediate return.
And this was accomplished none too soon, by swimming the horses.
On reporting all these facts to Hooker, Stoneman was ordered to go into
camp, where he remained, along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad,
until the 27th.
The following letter is of interest, in this connection, as showing how
keen Mr. Lincoln's intuitions occasionally were.
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 15, 1863.
It is now 10.15 P.M. An hour ago I received your letter of this morning,
and a few moments later your despatch of this evening. The latter gives
me considerable uneasiness. The rain and mud, of course, were to be
calculated upon. Gen. S. is not moving rapidly enough to make the
expedition come to anything. He has now been out three days, two of
which were unusually fair weather, and all three without hinderance from
the enemy, and yet he is not twenty-five miles from where he started.
To reach his point he still has sixty to go, another river (the Rapidan)
to cross; and will he be hindered by the enemy? By arithmetic, how many
days will it take him to do it? I do not know that any better can be
done, but I greatly fear it is another failure already. Write me often.
I am very anxious.
On the 28th, Stoneman received the following additional orders:--
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
MORRISVILLE, VA., April 28, 1863.
Commanding Officer Cavalry Corps.
I am directed by the major-general commanding to inform you that the
instructions communicated for your government on the 12th instant,
are so far modified as to require you to cross the Rappahannock at such
points as you may determine between Kelly's and Rappahannock Fords,
and for a portion of your force to move in the direction of Raccoon Ford
and Louisa Court House, while the remainder is engaged carrying into
execution that part of your original instructions, which relates to the
enemy's forces and positions on the line of the Alexandria and Orange
Railroad, and the line itself; the operations of this column to be
considered as masking the column which is directed to move, by forced
marches, to strike and destroy the line of the Aquia and Richmond
You are further directed to determine on some point for the columns to
unite; and it is recommended that it be on the Pamunkey, or near that
line, as you will then be in position with your full force to cut off
the retreat of the enemy by his shortest line. In all other respects
your instructions, as before referred to, will remain the same.
You will direct all your force to cross to-night, or, if that shall not
be practicable, to be brought to the river, and have it all thrown over
before eight o'clock to-morrow morning. If the fords should be too deep
for your pack-animals and artillery, they will be crossed over the
bridge at Kelly's Ford.
You will please furnish the officers in command of these two columns
with a copy of this, and of your original instructions.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WM. L. CANDLER,
Captain and Aide-de-Camp.
These two orders would appear to be specific enough. The first is not
modified by the second to any great extent; and the primary object of
both is unmistakably to interrupt, by a bold stroke, Lee's main
communications with Richmond by the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad.
The point on which the two columns, spoken of in the order of April 28,
were to unite, was suggested as somewhere on the Pamunkey; and the one
column was to go at once about its work, while the other masked its
march, and after joined it.
Under these orders, Stoneman proceeded to get the corps together,--the
distance of many outlying pickets delaying him almost a day,--and
finally crossed the Rappahannock by five P.M. of the 29th, a portion of
his troops using Kelly's Ford, in connection with Slocum's column.
He then assembled his division and brigade commanders, spread his maps
before them, and made them acquainted with his orders and plans.
Averell, with his own division, Davis's brigade of Pleasonton's division,
and Tidball's battery, was instructed to push for Culpeper Court House;
while Stoneman, with Gregg's division, Buford's reserve brigade, and
Robertson's battery, moved on Stevensburg.
It was expected that Averell would reach Brandy Station the same night
(29th), driving before him the enemy, who was in very small force in his
front. And when Stoneman got well on his way, he despatched Capt. Drummond,
with a squadron, from beyond Rocky Run, by crossroads, to Brandy Station,
to bring intelligence of Averell's movements. The latter had, however,
not reached that place. And, learning later in the evening that he had
leisurely gone into camp, close by the place where the forces had crossed,
Stoneman sent him word that he must turn the enemy in his front over
to him, while himself pushed on towards Richmond.
This order read as follows:--
HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY CORPS,
April 30, 1863.
BRIG.-GEN. AVERELL, Commanding, etc.
The major-general commanding directs me to say that we have been delayed
by high water, etc., and that he desires you to push the enemy as
vigorously as possible, keeping him fully occupied, and, if possible,
drive him in the direction of Rapidan Station. He turns the enemy over
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. J. ALEXANDER,
And Hooker justly claims that it was an entire misinterpretation of his
instructions, which were to have Averell join Stoneman's column, so soon
as he had masked the latter's movement towards the Aquia and Richmond
On May 3, Averell, who had done nothing but skirmish for a couple of
days with a force of about one-fifth his own, and had then retired to
Ely's Ford, and gone into camp, was relieved, and Pleasonton placed in
command of his division.
The pack-mules and lead-horses of Stoneman's column were left with the
main army, till the expected junction should be made by its advance
south of the Rappahannock. Stoneman had with him but five or six days'
rations; but he relied upon Hooker's assurance that he would be up with
him before these rations were exhausted. Every officer and man, the
generals and their staffs setting the example, took with them only what
they could carry on their horses. Nor, despite the cold drenching rain,
which fell plentifully, were any camp-fires lighted the first few
nights. Stoneman seems to have been abundantly ambitious of doing his
work thoroughly, and issued stirring orders to his subordinates, calling
upon them for every exertion which they were capable of making.
On reaching Raccoon Ford, over the Rapidan, Stoneman found it guarded by
the Confederate cavalry. He therefore sent Buford to a point six miles
below, where he was able to cross, and, marching up the south bank,
to uncover Raccoon Ford. The main body was then put over.
Stoneman's column was in the saddle by two A.M. of the 31st. But it
proved to be too foggy to push on: he had as yet no guides, and he was
obliged to wait for daylight.
He then hurried Gregg on to Louisa Court House, which place was reached
during the night of May 1, and details were speedily set to work tearing
up the railroads. Buford was sent by way of the North Anna to the same
point; and at ten A.M., May 2, the entire force was at Louisa.
From here a squadron was despatched towards Gordonsville, to ascertain
the meaning of the movement of several trains of troops, which had
passed up from Richmond in that direction the evening previous. Parties
were also sent out to Tolersville and Frederickshall Stations, to
destroy whatever material could be found there. Still another destroyed
Carr's Bridge on the North Anna.
The balance of the force was set to work to break up the Virginia
Central; and for a distance of eighteen miles the telegraph, stations,
tanks, and cars were burned, and the rails torn up, and bent and twisted
The command then marched for Yanceyville, on the South Anna, and,
arriving at Thompson's Cross-roads at ten P.M. of May 2, headquarters
were established at this point.
Here Stoneman seems to have become entirely oblivious of his
instructions, and to have substituted for them ideas originating in his
own brain. He assembled his officers, and informed them that "we had
dropped like a shell in that region of country, and he intended to burst
it in every direction."
Instead, therefore, of pressing with his main force for some point on
the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, and destroying it thoroughly,
as he was particularly instructed to do, that being the one great object
to be achieved, be contented himself with sending Kilpatrick with the
Second New-York Cavalry, and Davis with the Twelfth Illinois Cavalry,
to operate, the former against the railroad-bridges over the
Chickahominy, and the latter at Ashland and Atlee; and also despatched
Wyndham, of the First New-Jersey Cavalry, to strike Columbia, and
destroy the canal-aqueduct over the Rivanna river, and if possible make
a dash at the railroad-bridge over the Appomattox; while two regiments
under Gregg were to follow down the South Anna to destroy its bridges,
followed by the Fifth United-States Cavalry to see that the destruction
These parties were directed to rally on Stoneman, who was thus left with
five hundred men of Buford's reserve, or else to push through to
Gloucester Point, or Yorktown, as circumstances should dictate.
In pursuance of these orders, Gregg's column, which, on May 2, had
burned the depots at Orange Court House, on May 3, moved down the South
Anna, as far as the bridge where the Fredericksburg Railroad crosses the
stream, and attempted to destroy it; but finding it protected by some
infantry, and a couple of guns, he seems to have decided not to attack
this force, and fell back upon the reserve. On the 5th, he destroyed
the bridge at Yanceyville.
Kilpatrick marched some distance by daylight on the 3d, kept himself
hidden through the day, marched again at nightfall, and reached Hungary
Station at daylight the 4th. Here he destroyed the depot, and several
miles of road, passed the Virginia Central at Meadow's Bridge, which he
likewise burned, with all cars and material he could find in the
vicinity, and camped at night in the rear of Hanover.
On the 5th, he pushed into Gloucester Point, destroying on the way a
train of fifty-six wagons, and some twenty thousand bushels of corn in
depots. He captured thirty prisoners, but paroled them.
Capt. Merritt with the Second United-States Cavalry, demolished a number
of bridges and fords on the South Anna, and reached Ashland Station; but
was unable to destroy the bridge at this place, which was guarded by an
infantry force with part of a battery.
Col. Davis, on May 3, also reached Ashland, burned the trestle south of
the town, and tore up the telegraph-line. He captured and destroyed
some wagon-trains, containing about a hundred wagons, fired the depot
and some material at Hanover, and bivouacked seven miles from Richmond.
He was, however, precluded by his orders from trying to enter the
capital, though he seems to have had a good opportunity for so doing.
On May 4, at Tunstall, on the York and Richmond Railroad, he met some
resistance from a force of Confederate infantry with a battery; but,
retracing his steps, he turned up in due season at Gloucester Point.
Col. Wyndham moved on to Columbia, where he rendered useless a large
amount of stores, a number of canal-boats, and several bridges over the
James-River canal. For lack of blasting-materials he was unable to
destroy the aqueduct over the Rivanna river. It was solid enough to
have delayed him at least forty-eight hours. The bridge over the James
river to Elk Island he burned, and damaged the locks and gates of the
canal as far as possible. He returned to Thompson's Cross-roads the
same day with W. H. Fitz Lee at his heels.
Capt. Harrison, with a part of Buford's reserves, had, on May 4,
somewhat of a skirmish with the enemy at Fleming's Cross-roads; but
without effect upon the movements of the command. And another squadron
crossed sabres with the enemy at Shannon's.
Such prisoners as were captured by any of the parties, were paroled at
the time. A considerable number captured by Stoneman were sent to
Richmond in one party, with word that the Union cavalry was following
close upon them.
To quote Stoneman's own reasons, the six days' rations with which he
left camp, having now been consumed, (though it would seem that there
had been ample opportunity to collect as much more as was necessary from
the stores destroyed); Hooker not having come up as expected; vague
rumors having reached him of the defeat of the Army of the Potomac;
having accomplished, as he deemed, all that he was sent to do; Averell
having been withdrawn, thus leaving Lee ready to attack him,--Stoneman
sent Buford with six hundred and fifty picked men to the vicinity of
Gordonsville, and a small party out the Bowling-Green road, and marched
his main body to Orange Court House.
At noon of the 6th, he assembled his entire command at Orange Springs;
thence marched to Raccoon Ford, and crossed on the 7th.
On the 8th, the command crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly's, having to
swim about twenty yards.
Leaving Buford to guard the river from the railroad to Falmouth, he then
returned to camp.
During the latter part of the time occupied by these movements, the
roads had been in very bad order from the heavy rains of the 5th.
Hotchkiss and Allen say, with reference to this raid: "This failure is
the more surprising from the fact that Gen. Lee had but two regiments of
cavalry, those under W. H. Fitz Lee, to oppose to the large force under
Stoneman, consisting of ten or eleven thousand men. The whole country
in rear of the Confederate Army, up to the very fortifications of
Richmond, was open to the invader. Nearly all the transportation of
that army was collected at Guineas depot, eighteen miles from
Chancellorsville, with little or no guard, and might have been destroyed
by one-fourth of Stoneman's force."
"Such was the condition of the railroads and the scarcity of supplies in
the country, that the Confederate commander could never accumulate more
than a few days' rations ahead at Fredericksburg. To have interrupted
his communications for any length of time, would have imperilled his
army, or forced him to retreat."
They also claim that this column seized all the property that could be
of use, found in their line of march. "The citizens were in many cases
entirely stripped of the necessaries of life."
Stoneman certainly misconceived his orders. These were plainly enough
to throw his main body in Lee's rear, so as substantially to cut his
communications by the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad. To
accomplish this, he was to mask his movement by a body of troops,
which should keep whatever Confederate cavalry there might be in the
vicinity of Orange Court House and Gordonsvile, busy, until his main
column was beyond their reach, and then should rejoin him; and to select
a rallying point on the Pamunkey, so as to be near the important scene
of operations. Every thing was to be subordinate to cutting the
Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad.
If Stoneman had properly digested his orders, and had pushed night and
day for any available point on the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad,
he might have reached it by Sunday. A thorough destruction of Lee's
line of supply and retreat, would no doubt have so decidedly affected
his strength, actual and moral, as to have seriously changed the vigor
of his operations against both Hooker and Sedgwick.
Stoneman barely had time, from the lateness of his date of starting,
to accomplish great results before Hooker was substantially beaten; but
it would appear that he could have materially contributed to lessen the
disastrous nature of the defeat, if no more.
His movements were characterized by great weakness. He did not seem to
understand, that safety as well as success depended upon moving with a
body large enough to accomplish results. Instead of this, he sent,
to perform the most important work, bodies so small as to be unable to
destroy bridges, when guarded by a few companies of infantry and a
couple of guns.
And the damage done appears to have all been repaired by the time the
raiders got back to camp.
Hooker's criticism in this instance is quite just: "On the 4th, the
cavalry column, under Gen. Stoneman, commenced its return. One party of
it, under Gen. Kilpatrick, crossed the Aquia and Richmond Railroad; and
the fact that on the 5th, the cars carried the rebel wounded and our
prisoners over the road to Richmond, will show to what extent the
enemy's communications had been interrupted. An examination of the
instructions Gen. Stoneman received, in connection with the official
report of his operations, fully sustains me in saying that no officer
ever made a greater mistake in construing his orders, and no one ever
accomplished less in so doing. The effect of throwing his body of
cavalry in the rear of the enemy, and on his communications, at the time
it was in his power to have done it, can readily be estimated. But
instead, that important arm of the army became crippled to an extent
which seriously embarrassed me in my subsequent operations. Soon after,
Gen. Stoneman applied for and obtained a sick-leave; and I requested
that it might be indefinitely extended to him. It is charitable to
suppose that Gens. Stoneman and Averell did not read their orders,
and determined to carry on operations in conformity with their own views
HOOKER'S RESUME OF THE CAMPAIGN.
Nearly two years after this campaign, in his testimony before the
Committee on the Conduct of the War, Hooker thus speaks about the
general result of the movement:--
"I may say here, the battle of Chancellorsville has been associated with
the battle of Fredericksburg, and has been called a disaster. My whole
loss in the battle of Chancellorsville was a little over seventeen
"I said that Chancellorsville had been called a disaster. I lost under
those operations, one piece artillery, I think five or six wagons,
and one ambulance." "In my opinion, there is nothing to regret in
regard to Chancellorsville, except to accomplish all I moved to
accomplish. The troops lost no honor, except one corps, and we lost no
more men than the enemy; but expectation was high, the army in splendid
condition, and great results were expected from it. It was at a time,
too, when the nation required a victory." "I would like to speak
somewhat further of this matter of Chancellorsville. It has been the
desire and aim of some of Gen. McClellan's admirers, and I do not know
but of others, to circulate erroneous impressions in regard to it.
When I returned from Chancellorsville, I felt that I had fought no
battle; in fact, I had more men than I could use; and I fought no
general battle, for the reason that I could not get my men in position
to do so; probably not more than three or three and a half corps,
on the right, were engaged in that fight."
And he repeats his understanding of his manoeuvring as follows: "My
impression was, that Lee would have been compelled to move out on the
same road that Jackson had moved on, and pass over to my right. I
should add in my testimony that before leaving Falmouth, to make this
move, I had a million and a half of rations on board lighters, and had
gunboats in readiness to tow them up to points on the Pamunkey River,
in order to replenish my provisions, to enable me to reach Richmond
before the enemy could, in case I succeeded in throwing him off that
line of retreat. When I gave the order to Gen. Sedgwick, I expected
that Lee would be whipped by manoeuvre. I supposed that he would be
compelled to march off on the same line that Jackson had. He would have
been thrown on the Culpeper and Gordonsville road, placing me fifty or
sixty miles nearer Richmond than himself."
Criticism upon such an eccentric summing-up of the results of the
campaign of Chancellorsville, is too unprofitable a task to reward the
attempt. But assuredly the commander of the gallant Army of the Potomac
stands alone in his measure of the importance of the movement, or of the
disastrous nature of the defeat.
SOME RESULTING CORRESPONDENCE.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
NEAR CHANCELLORSVILLE, VA., May 5, 1863.
To the Commanding Officer,
Confederate Forces, Chancellorsville, Va.
I would most respectfully request the privilege of sending a burial-
party on the field of Chancellorsville, to bury the dead, and care for
the wounded officers and soldiers of my command.
Very respectfully, etc.,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
May 6, 1863.
MAJOR-GEN. J. HOOKER,
Commanding Army of the Potomac.
General,--I have had the honor to receive your letter of yesterday,
requesting permission to send a burial-party to attend to your dead and
wounded on the battle-field of Chancellorsville. I regret that their
position is such, being immediately within our lines, that the
necessities of war forbid my compliance with your request, which,
under other circumstances, it would give me pleasure to grant. I will
accord to your dead and wounded the same attention which I bestow upon
my own; but, if there is any thing which your medical director here
requires which we cannot provide, he shall have my permission to receive
from you such medical supplies as you may think proper to furnish.
Consideration for your wounded prompts me to add, that, from what I
learn, their comfort would be greatly promoted by additional medical
attendance and medical supplies.
I have the honor to be,
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE, General.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
May 6, 1863, 4.30 P.M.
HIS EXCELLENCY A. LINCOLN,
President of the United States.
Have this moment returned to camp. On my way received your telegrams of
eleven A.M. and 12.30. The army had previously re-crossed the river,
and was on its return to camp. As it had none of its trains of supplies
with it, I deemed this advisable. Above, I saw no way of giving the
enemy a general battle with the prospect of success which I desire.
Not to exceed three corps, all told, of my troops have been engaged.
For the whole to go in, there is a better place nearer at hand. Will
write you at length to-night. Am glad to hear that a portion of the
cavalry have at length turned up. One portion did nothing.
JOSEPH HOOKER, Major-General.
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, D. C.,
May 7, 1863.
My dear Sir,--The recent movement of your army is ended without
effecting its object, except, perhaps, some important breakings of the
enemy's communications. What next? If possible I would be very glad of
another movement early enough to give us some benefit from the fact of
the enemy's communication being broken; but neither for this reason or
any other do I wish any thing done in desperation or rashness. An early
movement would also help to supersede the bad moral effect of the recent
one, which is said to be considerably injurious. Have you already in
your mind a plan wholly or partially formed? If you have, prosecute it
without interference from me. If you have not, please inform me,
so that I, incompetent as I may be, can try and assist in the formation
of some plan for the army.
Yours, as ever,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., May 7, 1863.
His Excellency, President of the United States.
I have the honor to acknowledge your communication of this date, and in
answer have to state that I do not deem it expedient to suspend
operations on this line, from the reverse we have experienced in
endeavoring to extricate the army from its present position. If in the
first effort we failed, it was not for want of strength or conduct of
the small number of troops actually engaged, but from a cause which
could not be foreseen, and could not be provided against. After its
occurrence the chances of success were so much lessened, that I felt
another plan might be adopted in place of that we were engaged in,
which would be more certain in its results. At all events, a failure
would not involve a disaster, while in the other case it was certain to
follow the absence of success. I may add that this consideration almost
wholly determined me in ordering the army to return to its old camp.
As to the best time for renewing our advance upon the enemy, I can only
decide after an opportunity has been afforded to learn the feeling of
the troops. They should not be discouraged or depressed, for it is no
fault of theirs (if I may except one corps) that our last efforts were
not crowned with glorious victory. I suppose details are not wanted of
me at this time. I have decided in my own mind the plan to be adopted
in our next effort, if it should be your wish to have one made. It has
this to recommend it: it will be one in which the operations of all the
corps, unless it be a part of the cavalry, will be within my personal
Very respectfully, etc.,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
May 7, 1863.
Commanding Army of the Potomac.
General,--The reasons that prevented me from complying with your request
with reference to your wounded no longer existing, I have the honor to
inform you that you can extend to them such attentions as they may
require. All persons whom it may he necessary to send within my lines
for this purpose will remain until the wounded are finally disposed of.
The burial of your dead has already been provided for.
I have directed that those of your wounded who desire it, shall be
paroled and transferred within your lines, should you be willing to
receive them; those in the vicinity of Chancellorsville at the
United-States Mine Ford, and those on the battlefield of Salem Church at
Banks's Ford or Fredericksburg. As your wounded generally occupy the
few houses in the vicinity of the late battle-field, the transportation
of this army cannot be employed in conveying them to the river until my
own wounded have been removed to a place of shelter. As soon as this
can be accomplished, I will cause such of your wounded as may desire to
be paroled, to be delivered at the points above indicated, upon being
advised of your willingness to receive them. In the mean time they
shall have such care as is given to my own.
I have the honor to enclose a copy of my letter of yesterday in case the
original may not have reached you.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE, General.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., May 7, 1863, 8 P.M.
GEN. R. E. LEE,
Commanding Confederate Forces at Fredericksburg, Va.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your two communications
of May 6 and 7 this moment. If agreeable to you, I would like to send
medical supplies and attendance to my wounded, and, at such times as the
state of the stream will permit, send ambulances for them via the fords
designated in your communications, viz., United-States and Banks's
Fords. I will, with your consent, send parties to those fords with
supplies at an early hour to-morrow. The swollen state of the
Rappahannock probably preventing the crossing of any vehicles with
supplies, I shall have to depend upon you for transportation for them.
I will receive the wounded at the points named as soon as it can be
done. I will send an officer to Chancellorsville, with your consent,
to arrange the details, which, judging from your letter, with the state
of the river, cannot now be determined by correspondence. Upon an
intimation from you as to any deficiency in your immediate necessities
of medical supplies of your own, by reason of their use for my wounded
or other causes, I shall with pleasure replace them. I would be obliged
for approximate information concerning the number of wounded, that a
sufficient amount of supplies may be forwarded. I would be under
obligations for an early reply.
Very respectfully, etc.,
(Copy furnished medical director.)
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., May 9, 1863.
GEN. R. E. LEE,
Commanding Army of Northern Virginia.
The relatives and friends of several of the officers of this army who
fell in the recent battles, have visited my headquarters with the view,
if possible, of proceeding to the battle-fields to recover the bodies of
those near to them. I therefore have the honor to ask whether any
person will be permitted to visit the battle-fields for the purpose
indicated, or whether any arrangement can be made for sending to the
lines of this army the bodies of such of our fallen officers as may have
friends here seeking for them.
Very respectfully, etc.,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
May 10, 1863.
MAJOR-GEN. JOSEPH HOOKER,
Commanding United-States Forces on the Rappahannock.
General,--In reply to your communication of the 9th inst., I have the
honor to state that it will give me pleasure to afford every facility to
relatives and friends of officers killed in the late battles, to recover
their bodies; but I have no means of identifying them, or of
ascertaining the fields on which they fell. If you will have me
informed, I will cause search to be made.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE, General.
In February and March, 1886, there was delivered at the Lowell Institute,
in Boston, a series of lectures upon the late civil war, by the
Feb. 16. Introduction. Gen. Charles Devens of Boston.
Feb. 19. Pope's Campaign. Col. Jed. Hotchkiss of Staunton, Va.
Feb. 23. Antietam. Gen. George H. Gordon of Boston.
Feb. 26. Chancellorsville. Col. Theodore A. Dodge, U. S. Army.
March 2. Stonewall Jackson. Col. W. Allan of McDonough, Md.
March 5. Gettysburg. Gen. Francis A. Walker of Boston.
March 9. The Northern Volunteer. Col. T. L. Livermore of Boston.
March 12. The Southern Volunteer. Major H. Kyd Douglas of Hagerstown, Md.
March 16. Chattanooga. Gen. William F. Smith of Wilmington, Del.
March 19. The Wilderness. John C. Ropes, Esq., of Boston.
March 23. Franklin and Nashville. Col. Henry Stone of Boston.
March 26. The Last Campaign. Col. Fred. C. Newhall of Philadelphia.
These lecturers were well equipped for their task. Earnest study of
their respective subjects had been attested by numerous volumes
published by them relating to the war. The desire to have the truth
told was apparent in the presence of three Confederate officers among
the number; and the special feature of the course seemed to be, that not
only was the truth spoken in the most unvarnished manner, but that it
was listened to with marked approval by overflowing audiences.
Perhaps the most invidious subject fell to my lot. What I said was
merely a summary of the foregoing pages. But one point in my lecture
aroused the ire of some of Gen. Hooker's partisans, and was made the
subject of attacks so bitter that virulence degenerated into puerility.
The occasion of this rodomontade was a meeting of Third-Corps veterans,
and its outcome was a series of resolutions aimed at the person who had
dared to reflect on Gen. Hooker's capacity, and to refer to the question
of Gen. Hooker's habitual use of stimulants. The public mention of my
name was as sedulously avoided as a reference to his satanic majesty is
wont to be in the society of the superstitious; but the exuberance of
the attack must have afforded unbounded satisfaction to its authors,
as it very apparently did to the audience.
Following are the resolutions, which are of mild flavor compared to
their accompanying seasoning of speeches:--
The veterans of the Third Army Corps assembled here to-day, soldiers who
served under Gen. Joseph Hooker in his division, corps, and army,
re-affirm their lifelong affection for their old commander, their
admiration for his brilliant achievements as one of the prominent
generals of our armies, and protest against the recent revival of unjust
assaults made on his conduct at Chancellorsville. Whether, after _one
of the most noted tactical victories of modern times_, having placed the
Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock River on the flank of Lee,
he might have gained a still farther advanced position; whether the
failure of the cavalry to fully accomplish what was expected of it;
whether the disaster to the Eleventh Corps and the delay in the advance
of the Sixth Corps,--are to be attributed to errors of judgment of
Gen. Hooker or of the subordinate commanders, are points which will be
discussed again and again with profit to the military student. But we,
who witnessed his successful generalship at Williamsburg, Glendale,
Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, and Antietam, have no language at our
command strong enough to express our contempt for any one who, twenty
years after the war, affirms that on any occasion in battle, with the
lives of his men and the cause of his country in his keeping, Gen. Hooker
was incapacitated for performing his whole duty as an officer by either
the use of liquor or by the want of it.
We protest against oft-repeated statements that "Fighting Joe Hooker,"
while one of the bravest and ablest division commanders in the army,
was possibly equal to handling a corps, but proved a failure as an
independent commander. Assigned to the Army of the Potomac in January,
1863, after the disaster at Fredericksburg and the failure of oft-
repeated campaigns, our army demoralized by defeat, desertions, and
dissensions, Gen. Hooker re-organized his forces, stopped desertions,
brought back to their colors thousands of absentees, and in three months
revived confidence, re-established discipline, and enabled his army to
take the field unsurpassed in loyalty, courage, and efficiency, as was
shown at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. We say Chancellorsville
because, although not a victory for us, the campaign _inflicted on the
enemy losses at least equal to our own_; and we say also Gettysburg
because that victory was won by the army Hooker had re-organized,
and led with such matchless skill from Falmouth to the eve of the battle.
Whatever ambition he may have had to command armies, it did not prevent
his cheerfully serving his country under junior officers, giving them
faithful support, and his record shows no instance of his removal from
command by his superiors.
Here in his native State, amid the homes of so many of his old brigade,
the survivors of the Third Army Corps, all witnesses of his genius,
valor, and devotion to duty, indorse his record as a soldier, as a
gentleman, and as a patriot, and sincerely believe that history will
assign to Major-Gen. Joseph Hooker a place among the greatest commanders
of the late civil war.
The italics are mine. "One of the most noted tactical victories of
modern times," applied to Chancellorsville, is refreshing. Equally so
is the exultant claim that "we inflicted on the enemy losses at least
equal to our own." The infliction of loss on the enemy has always been
understood by military men to be an incident rather than the object of
The following reply in "The Boston Herald" of April 11, 1886, explains
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.
In the call for the meeting of the Third Corps Gettysburg Re-union
Association, held at Music Hall on Fast Day, was the following clause:--
"Loyalty to the memory of our beloved commander, Major-Gen. Joseph
Hooker, makes it a duty, on this occasion, to protest against unjust and
uncalled-for criticisms on his military record as commander of the Army
of the Potomac."
It having been intimated to me by some old brother officers of the Third
Corps, that my late Lowell lecture on Chancellorsville was the occasion
of this proposed protest, I wrote to the chairman of the committee which
called the meeting, asking for an opportunity to reply to this protest,
within such bounds as even-handedness and the purposes of the meeting
would allow. The committee answered that it could not see the propriety
of turning the occasion into a public debate, and referred me to the
press. I do not object to their decision, made, no doubt, upon what
appeared to them sufficient grounds; but as the occasion was turned into
a public debate--one-sided, to be sure--I ask you for space, to reply in
your valued columns.
As an old Third-Corps man, I attended the meeting at Music Hall.
The treasurer did not object to selling me a ticket to the dinner.
I expected to hear some new facts about Hooker and Chancellorsville.
I expected to hear some new deductions from old facts. I do not
consider myself beyond making an occasional lapse even in a carefully
prepared piece of work, and am always open to correction. But, to my
surprise (with the exception of a conjecture that Lee's object in his
march into Pennsylvania was to wreck the anthracite-coal industry),
there was not one single fact or statement laid before the meeting,
or the company at dinner, which has not already been, in its minutest
details, canvassed and argued at a length covering hundreds of pages in
the volumes on Chancellorsville, by Hotchkiss and Allen, Swinton, Bates,
the Comte de Paris, Doubleday, and myself, not to speak of numberless
and valuable brochures by others. The bulk of the time devoted to
talking on this occasion was used in denunciation of the wretch--in
other words, myself--who alleged that Joseph Hooker was drunk at
Chancellorsville, or at any other time. This denunciation began with a
devout curse in the chaplain's prayer, culminated in a set of fierce
resolutions, and ended with the last after-dinner speech.
One thing particularly struck me. There was no one, of all who spoke,
who began to say as many things in favor of Joseph Hooker as I for years
have done; and not in fleeting words, but printed chapters. There was
plenty of eulogy, in nine-tenths of which I joined with all my heart.
But it was of the soldiers'-talk order,--cheering and honest and loyal,
appealing to the sentiments rather than the intelligence. What I have
said of Hooker has been solid praise of his soldierly worth, shown to be
borne out by the facts. Barring, in all I say, the five fighting days
at Chancellorsville, I have yet to find the man who has publicly,
and in print, eulogized Hooker as I have done; and no one among the
veterans gathered together Fast Day applauded with more sincerity than I,
all the tributes to his memory. For though, as some one remarked,
it is true that I "fought mit Sigel," and decamped from Chancellorsville
with the Eleventh Corps; it is also true that I passed through the fiery
ordeal of the Seven Days, and fought my way across the railroad-cutting
at Manassas, side by side with Joseph Hooker, under the gallant
leadership of that other hero Philip Kearney. It was very evident that
but few of the speakers, as well as auditors, had themselves heard or
read what I actually said. The result of "coaching" for the occasion by
some wire-puller was painfully apparent. Let us see what was said.
I give the entire paragraph from my Lowell lecture:--
"It has been surmised that Hooker, during this campaign, was
incapacitated by a habit of which, at times, he had been the victim.
There is, rather, evidence that he was prostrated by too much
abstemiousness, when a reasonable use of stimulants might have kept his
nervous system at its normal tension. It was certainly not the use of
alcohol, during this time, which lay at the root of his indecision."
If that is an accusation that Hooker was then drunk, if it does not
rather lean toward an exculpation from the charge of drunkenness,
then I can neither write nor read the English language. As is well
known, the question of Hooker's sudden and unaccountable loss of power,
during the fighting half of this campaign, coupled with the question of
drunkenness, has been bandied to and fro for years. The mention alone
of Chancellorsville has been enough, ever since that day, to provoke a
query on this very subject, among civilians and soldiers alike. In a
lecture on the subject, I deemed it judicious to lay this ghost as well
as might be. Had I believed that Hooker was intoxicated at
Chancellorsville, I should not have been deterred by the fear of
opposition from saying so. Hooker's over-anxious friends have now
turned into a public scandal what was generally understood as an
exoneration, by intentionally distorting what was said into an
implication that Hooker was so besotted as to be incapable of command.
What I have written of his marching the army to this field and to the
field of Gettysburg is a full answer to such unnecessary perversion.
Let these would-be friends of Hooker remember that this calumny is of
their own making, not mine. I am as sorry for it, as they ought to be.
If the contempt expressed in the resolutions they passed had been silent,
instead of boisterous, Hooker's memory would have suffered far less
Gens. Sickles and Butterfield are doubtless good witnesses, though they
sedulously refrained from any testimony on the subject, contenting
themselves with declamation. But they are not the only good witnesses.
After the loss of a leg at Gettysburg, I was ordered to duty in the War
Department, where I served in charge of one or other bureau for seven
years. I have heard this Hooker question discussed in all its bearings,
in the office of the Secretary of War or Adjutant-General, by nearly
every leading officer of the army, hundreds of whom had known Hooker
from West Point up. I have had abundant opportunity of forming an
opinion, and I have expressed it. Let him who garbles its meaning,
bear the blame.
This action by many veterans of the Third Corps--even though procured by
design from their thoughtless and open soldier's nature--is, however,
much more sweeping and important. To the world at large it is a general
condemnation of every thing which can be said in criticism of Hooker.
It will reach far and wide, and in this light I desire to say what I do.
The resolutions passed at the meeting explicitly protest against the
statement that Hooker proved a failure as an independent commander.
This needs notice at greater length than the question of sobriety or
drunkenness. Few have studied the details of the campaign of
Chancellorsville as carefully as I; but one other author has spread the
facts so fully before the reading public. No part of my recent
criticism before the Lowell Institute was new. It was embodied at much
greater length four years ago, in my "History of Chancellorsville;"
the reception of which volume by press, public, and soldiers, has been
its own best excuse. Gen. Hooker, though making no report, has put on
record his explanation of this campaign. Before the Committee on the
Conduct of the War, he stated his views as follows: "I may say here,
the battle of Chancellorsville has been associated with the battle of
Fredericksburg, and has been called a disaster. My whole loss in the
battle of Chancellorsville was a little over seventeen thousand. . . .
In my opinion, there is nothing to regret in regard to Chancellorsville,
except to accomplish all I moved to accomplish. The troops lost no
honor, except one corps, and we lost no more men than the enemy; but
expectation was high, the army in splendid condition, and greater
results were expected from it. When I returned from Chancellorsville,
I felt that I had fought no battle; in fact, I had more men than I could
use, and I fought no general battle, for the reason that I could not get
my men in position to do so."
To speak thus of a passage of arms lasting a week and costing seventeen
thousand men is, to say the least, abnormal.
In trying to shift the onus of failure from his own shoulders he said:
"Some of our corps commanders, and also officers of other rank, appear
to be unwilling to go into a fight. . . . So far as my experience
extends, there are in all armies officers more valiant after the fight
than while it is pending, and when a truthful history of the Rebellion
shall be written, it will be found that the Army of the Potomac is not
This slur is cast upon men like Reynolds, Meade, Couch, Sedgwick, Slocum,
Howard, Hancock, Humphreys, Sykes, Warren, Birney, Whipple, Wright,
Griffin, and many others equally gallant. To call it ungenerous,
is a mild phrase. It certainly does open the door to unsparing
criticism. Hooker also concisely stated his military rule of action:
"Throughout the Rebellion I have acted on the principle that if I had as
large a force as the enemy, I had no apprehensions of the result of an
encounter." And in his initial orders to Stoneman, in opening the
campaign, came the true ring of the always gallant corps commander,
"Let your watchword be 'Fight!' and let all your orders be, 'Fight,
I might here say that the only attempt, on Fast Day, to exculpate Hooker
for the disaster of Chancellorsville was not of an order which can be
answered. When one speaker asks, "If Gen. Hooker tells us that it was
wise to withdraw across the river, is not that enough for you and me,
my comrades?" I can only say that history is not so easily satisfied.
To another speaker, who states that when Hooker had planted himself in
Lee's flank by crossing the river, Lee ought, by all the rules of war,
to have retreated, but when he didn't he upset all Hooker's
calculations; that when Jackson made his "extra hazardous" march around
Hooker's flank, he ought, by all rules of war, to have been destroyed,
but when he was not he upset all Hooker's calculations, and that
therefore Hooker was forced to retreat,--it is quite beyond my ability
to reply. When Gen. Sickles throws the blame upon Howard for the defeat
of the Eleventh Corps, by reading the 9.30 A.M. order, without saying
one word about Hooker's actions, change of plans, and despatches from
that hour till the attack at 6 P.M., he makes any thinking man question
seriously the sincerity of what he calls history. When Gen. Butterfield
indulges in innuendoes against Gen. Meade, whose chief of staff he was,
and insults his memory in the effort to exculpate the Third Corps from a
charge no one has ever made, or thought of making, against it, the
fair-minded can only wonder why he goes out of his way to call any one
to task for criticising Hooker. Not one word was spoken on Fast Day
which does not find its full and entire answer in the already published
works on Chancellorsville. It was all a mere re-hash, and poorly cooked
at that. To rely on the four reasons given by the Committee on the
Conduct of the War as a purgation of Hooker from responsibility for our
defeat at Chancellorsville, simply deserves no notice. It is all of a
piece with the discussion of the Third-Corps fight at Gettysburg on July
2. No one ever doubted that the Third Corps fought, as they always did,
like heroes that day. What has been alleged is merely that Sickles did
not occupy and protect Little Round Top, as he would have done if he had
had the military coup d'oeil.
Now, I desire to compare with Hooker's recorded words, and the
utterances of Fast Day, the actual performance, and see what "loyalty to
Hooker," as voted in Music Hall, means. Chancellorsville bristles with
points of criticism, and there are some few points of possible
disagreement. Of the latter the principal ones upon which Hooker's
formal apologists rely, are the destruction of the Eleventh Corps
through Howard's alleged carelessness, and the failure of Sedgwick to
perform the herculean task assigned to him in coming to Hooker's
support. Allowing, for the moment, that Howard and Sedgwick were
entirely at fault, and eliminating these two questions entirely from the
issue, let us see what Hooker himself did, bearing in mind that he has
officially acknowledged that he knew, substantially, the number of Lee's
army, and bearing also in mind that the following are facts which can be
disputed only by denying the truth and accuracy of all the reports,
Federal and Confederate, taken as a body; and these happen to dovetail
into each other in one so consistent whole, that they leave to the
careful student none but entirely insignificant items open to doubt.
From Saturday at 8 A.M. till Sunday noon, some twenty-eight hours,
Hooker with seventy-five thousand, and, after the arrival of the First
Corps, nearly ninety thousand men, lay between the separated wings of
Lee's army of twenty-four thousand and seventeen thousand men
respectively, being all the while cognizant of the facts. Had ever a
general a better chance to whip his enemy in detail? And yet we were
badly beaten in this fight. Now, if loyalty to Hooker requires us to
believe that his conduct of this campaign was even respectable, it
follows that the Army of the Potomac, respectably led, could be defeated
by the Army of Northern Virginia, two to one. Will the soldiers of the
ever-faithful army accept this as an explanation of our defeat?
Again: from Sunday noon till Monday at 9 A.M., twenty-one hours, Hooker,
with over eighty thousand men, was held in the White House lines by a
force of twenty-seven thousand. If loyalty to Hooker requires us to
believe that this was even respectable generalship, it follows that the
Army of the Potomac, well led, could be defeated by the Army of Northern
Virginia, three to one. Shall we accept this as an explanation of our
Again: from Monday at 9 A.M. till Tuesday at 4 P.M., thirty-one hours,
against the advice of all his corps commanders except Sickles and Couch
(the latter agreeing to retreat only because he felt that the army would
be defeated under Hooker whatever they might do), Hooker, with eighty
thousand men, was held in the White House lines by a force of nineteen
thousand, while the rest turned upon and demolished Sedgwick. If
loyalty to Hooker requires us to believe that this was even respectable
generalship, it follows that the Army of the Potomac, well led, could be
defeated by the Army of Northern Virginia, four to one. Shall we accept
this as an explanation of our defeat?
If there is in the world's military history a parallel to this
extraordinary generalship, for which any one who has even pretended to
study the art of war is able to find an excuse, I have failed to find
such an instance in the course of many years' reading, and shall be
happy to have it pointed out to me. Hooker's wound cannot be alleged in
extenuation. If he was disabled, his duty was to turn the command over
to Couch, the next in rank. If he did not do this, he was responsible
for what followed. And he retained the command himself, only using
Couch as his mouthpiece.
I have always maintained, that, man for man, the Army of the Potomac was
at any time the equal of the Army of Northern Virginia, and that,
man for man, the old Third Corps has proved itself good for Jackson's in
its palmiest days. When, therefore, the Army of the Potomac was,
as here, defeated or bottled up by one-half, one-third, or one-quarter
its force of the enemy, my loyalty to that army demands that I seek a
reason other than Hooker's alleged lack of heart of his subordinate
officers. And this reason is only to be found in Hooker's inability to
handle so many men. All the resolutions in the world, passed under a
furore of misstatement and misconception, even by such a noble body of
men as Third-Corps veterans, will not re-habilitate Joseph Hooker's
military character during these five days, nor make him other than a
morally and intellectually impotent man from May 1 to May 5, 1863.
Loyalty to Hooker, so-called, is disloyalty to the grand old army,
disloyalty to the seventeen thousand men who fell, disloyalty to every
comrade who fought at Chancellorsville. I begrudge no man the desire to
blanket facts and smother truth in order to turn a galling defeat into a
respectable campaign; I begrudge no man his acceptance of Hooker's
theory that Chancellorsville was not a disaster; I begrudge no one his
faith in Hooker as a successful battle-field commander of the Army of
the Potomac. But let it be well understood that this faith of necessity
implies the fact that the Army of the Potomac was unable or unwilling to
fight one-quarter its number of Lee's troops. I prefer my faith in the
stanch, patient army, in its noble rank and file, in its gallant
officers, from company to corps; and I refuse to accept Hooker's insult
to his subordinates as any explanation for allowing the Army of the
Potomac to "be here defeated without ever being fought."
The Army of the Potomac was better than its commanders from first to
last. It was, beyond speaking, superior to its commander during the
fighting days at Chancellorsville. As a corps commander, Joseph Hooker
will always be a type and household word. In logistics, even as
commander of the Army of the Potomac, he deserves high praise. But when
it comes to fighting the army at Chancellorsville, let whoso will keep
his loyalty to Hooker, without protest from me. I claim for myself and
the bulk of my comrades the right, equally without protest, sneers,
or resolutions, to express my loyalty to the rank and file, my loyalty
to the officers, and my loyalty to the army as a whole. And I claim,
moreover, the right, without protest, sneers, or resolutions, to show
that on this field it was the general commanding, and not the army,
whose lapses caused defeat. Not that I object to these Fast-Day
resolutions. I believe that I can still struggle onward in life,
even under the contempt of their authors. But partisanship in matters
of history is a boomerang which always flies back to whack its thrower.
And Fast Day's performance was baldly partisan.
I am satisfied to abide the verdict of all soldiers, of all citizens,
who ever studied the facts of this campaign. What ever the action of
any meeting of old soldiers may be under partial knowledge of facts,
under the influence of heated or sectional discussion, or under the
whipping-in of a member of Hooker's staff, I do not believe that with
the issue squarely put before them, and the facts plainly stated,
any but a very inconsiderable fraction, and that not the most
intelligent one, of the men of the Army of the Potomac, will give their
suffrage to what has been suddenly discovered to be loyalty due to
Gen. Joseph Hooker, as against loyalty to the Army of the Potomac.
The recent course of lectures at the Lowell Institute was intended to be
a purely military one. There was no intention of bringing politics or
sectional pride into the discussion, and it was thought that the
lectures could to-day be delivered without rousing a breath of ancient
animosity. If there was any campaign during our civil war which was
especially, in a military sense, a glorious one for the rebels, and an
ignominious one for us, it was Chancellorsville. It is indeed a pity
that the skill of the one side and the errors of the other cannot be
once again pointed out, that the true and only possible explanation of
Hooker's one hundred and thirty thousand men being defeated by Lee's
sixty thousand cannot be once again stated, without eliciting from a
body of veterans of the old Third Corps a set of condemnatory
resolutions. There has been some very heated criticism of the recent
lectures, and not a little fault-finding with the lecturers. I presume
that none of the gentlemen who participated in the course would feel
like denying the inference, so often suggested, that the censors might
have done much better than they were able to do. Such censors generally
can. These dozen lecturers have all been earnest students of our civil
war, as is abundantly testified by the twenty odd volumes on the subject
published by them since the reports of operations became available; and
they keenly feel that modesty which is always bred of study. Such as
they had, they were glad to give the public; nor do they in any wise
shrink from generous disagreement or courteous criticism. I submit,
however, that some of the carping which has been indulged in is scarcely
apt to lead to the correction of errors, or the elucidation of truth.
It is passing strange, that, at this late day, one may not criticise the
military operations without arousing the evil spirit of the war.
Can we not aim at truth, rather than self-gratulation, which will live
no longer than we do? Criticism has always been indulged in, always
will be. If a Frederick may be dissected by a Lloyd, if a Napoleon may
be sat on in judgment by a Lanfrey, may not the merest tyro in the art
of war he pardoned for reviewing Hooker? The gallant soldier who helped
make history rarely writes history. The same spirit which sent him to
the front in 1861 generally keeps him busy to-day with the material
interests of the country. Despite the certainly novel fling of Fast Day
at one who went into service as a mere boy, it remains a fact that rank,
without the devoted study of years and a single eye to truth, will not
enable any one to write history. It was proven beyond a peradventure on
Fast Day, that the command of a corps, let alone a division, will not of
itself breed a historian. Partisanship never will.
Truth will get written some day. I myself prefer to write as an
American, forgetting North and South, and to pass down to those who will
write better than any of us, as one who tried to speak the truth,
whomsoever it struck. It is not I who criticise, who condemn Joseph
Hooker: it is the maxims of every master, of every authority on the art
of war. Not one of Hooker's apologists can turn to the history of a
master's achievements, or to a volume of any accepted authority, without
finding his pet commander condemned, in every action, and on every page,
for the faults of the fighting days at Chancellorsville.
It was assumed on Fast Day that one should criticise only what he saw.
I have never understood that Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire" is any the less good because he did not live in the first few
centuries of the Christian era, or that Jomini could write any less well
of Frederick than of Napoleon. Service certainly helps a man in his
researches or work, but it only helps. The best critic may be one who
never served. I think I was the first officer to whom the Secretary of
War permitted free use of the rebel archives for study. I have had good
opportunities. How I have used them, I leave to others to say. It is
easy to capture a meeting of honest-hearted veterans by such lamentable
prestidigitation as was exhibited on Fast Day, and to pass any
resolutions desired, by appealing to their enthusiasm. I prefer to be
judged by the sober after-thought of men who are neither partisans,
nor ready to warp facts or make partial statements to sustain their
THEODORE A. DODGE.
BOSTON, April 10, 1886.
Transcriber's Appendix: Transcription notes:
The first edition of this book was published in 1881. The author's
appendix was added in the second edition, in 1886, which is the source
for this etext.
The following modifications were applied while transcribing the
printed book to e-text:
- table on p 19, fixed typo ("McGown", should be "McGowan")
- p 71, para 1, fixed typo ("inititate")
- p 111, para 1, fixed typo ("Pleasanton")
- p 180, para 1, fixed "the the"
Limitations imposed by converting to plain ASCII:
- The words "manoeuvre", "manoeuvres" and "manoeuvring" are printed in
the book using the "oe" ligature. The term "coup d'oeil" was also
printed with the "oe" ligature, "minutiae" was printed using the "ae"
ligature, and several other French terms (such as "elan" and "echelon")
were printed with accented vowels. However, this does not seem enough
to merit an 8-bit text.
- Italics were printed for various non-English words and phrases, and
occasionally for emphasis. For the most part, these were simply
converted to plain text. However, I did use underscores to denote
two italicized phrases in the author's appendix, where the use of
italics was more significant.
I did not modify:
- The phrases "on each side the road", "on both sides the road"
- The first paragraph of chapter 22 contains the phrase
"angle of refusal or Archer and McGowan"
I believe "or" is incorrect and should be probably "for" or "of", but
I don't know which. "or" is printed in both the 1881 and 1886 editions,
so I left it as is.