Battle_of_Chancellorsville

by Theodore A. Dodge

To the members of The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts,
of whose researches into the history of our Civil War the following
pages form but a modest part, this volume is, with Sincere Regard,
Dedicated by the author.

CONTENTS.

I. INTRODUCTION
II. CONDITION OF THE COMBATANTS
III. HOOKER AND THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
IV. THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA
V. DIFFICULTY OF AN ATTACK
VI. THE PROPOSED CAVALRY RAID
VII. THE FEINT BY THE LEFT WING
VIII. THE REAL MOVE BY THE RIGHT WING
IX. LEE’S INFORMATION AND MOVEMENTS
X. HOOKER’S ADVANCE FRIDAY
XI. POSITION AT CHANCELLORSVILLE
XII. JACKSON’S MARCH AND SICKLES’S ADVANCE
XIII. HOOKER’S THEORIES AND CHANCES
XIV. POSITION OF THE ELEVENTH CORPS
XV. SITUATION AT SIX O’CLOCK
XVI. JACKSON’S ATTACK
XVII. CONDUCT OF THE ELEVENTH CORPS
XVIII. HOOKER’S PARRY
XIX. THE MIDNIGHT ATTACK
XX. STONEWALL JACKSON
XXI. POSTION AT FAIRVIEW
XXII. THE FIGHT AT FAIRVIEW
XXIII. THE LEFT CENTRE
XXIV. THE NEW LINES
XXV. SUNDAY’S MISCARRIAGE
XXVI. SEDGWICK’S CHANGE OF ORDERS
XXVII. SEDGWICK’S ASSAULT
XXVIII. SEDGWICK MARCHES TOWARD HOOKER
XXIX. SALEM CHURCH
XXX. SEDGWICK IN DIFFICULTY
XXXI. SEDGWICK WITHDRAWS
XXXII. HOOKER’S CRITICISMS
XXXIII. HOOKER’S FURTHER PLANS
XXXIV. THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC RE-CROSSES
XXXV. OPERATIONS OF THE CAVALRY CORPS
XXXVI. HOOKER’S RESUME
XXXVII. SOME RESULTING CORRESPONDENCE
APPENDIX.

THE CAMPAIGN OF CHANCELLORSVILLE.

I.

INTRODUCTION.

It must seem to the casual reader of the history of the war of 1861-65,
that enough has already been written upon the campaign of Chancellorsville.
And there are numerous brilliant essays, in the histories now before the
public, which give a coup-d’oeil more or less accurate of this ten-days’
passage of arms. But none of these spread before the reader facts
sufficiently detailed to illustrate the particular theory advanced by
each to account for the defeat of the Army of the Potomac on this field.

The stigma besmirching the character of the Eleventh Corps, and of
Howard, its then commanding general, for a panic and rout in but a small
degree owing to them; the unjust strictures passed upon Sedgwick for his
failure to execute a practically impossible order; the truly remarkable
blunders into which Gen. Hooker allowed himself to lapse, in endeavoring
to explain away his responsibility for the disaster; the bare fact,
indeed, that the Army of the Potomac was here beaten by Lee, with
one-half its force; and the very partial publication, thus far, of the
details of the campaign, and the causes of our defeat,–may stand as
excuse for one more attempt to make plain its operations to the
survivors of the one hundred and eighty thousand men who there bore arms,
and to the few who harbor some interest in the subject as mere history.

To say that Gen. Hooker lapsed into blunders in explaining his share in
this defeat, is to use a form of words purposely tempered to the memory
of a gallant soldier, who, whatever his shortcomings, has done his
country signal service; and to avoid the imputation of baldly throwing
down the gauntlet of ungracious criticism. All reference to Gen. Hooker’s
skill or conduct in this, one of the best conceived and most fatally
mismanaged of the many unsuccessful advances of the Army of the Potomac,
is made with sincere appreciation of his many admirable qualities,
frankly, and untinged by bitterness. But it must be remembered,
that Gen. Hooker has left himself on record as the author of many harsh
reflections upon his subordinates; and that to mete out even justice to
all requires unvarnished truth.

The most uncalled-for slur upon the conduct of his lieutenants probably
occurs in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War.
Before withdrawing from the south side of the Rappahannock, after the
decisive events of the battle-field had cooped up the army between the
river and its intrenchments, Hooker called together all his corps
commanders, and requested their several opinions as to the advisability
of attack or retreat. Whatever discussion may have then been had,
it was generally understood, in after-days, that all but one of these
generals had expressed himself freely for an immediate advance. In
referring to this understanding, while denying its correctness, Hooker
used the following language:–

“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 an exception.”

Merely to characterize as ungenerous this aspersion upon the courage of
such men as then served under Hooker, savors of error on the side of
leniency. And, inasmuch as these words strike, as it were, the keynote
of all the statements which Hooker has vouchsafed with reference to
these events, they might be assumed fairly to open the door to unsparing
criticism. But it is hoped that this course has been avoided; and that
what censure is dealt out to Gen. Hooker in the succeeding pages will be
accepted, even by his advocates, in the kindly spirit in which it is
meant, and in which every soldier of the beloved old Army of the Potomac
must uniformly refer to every other.

There is, moreover, no work on Chancellorsville which results from
research into all records now accessible.

The work of Allan and Hotchkiss, of 1867, than which nothing can be more
even-handed, or more admirable as far as it goes, adopts generally the
statements made in the reports of the Confederate generals: and these
are necessarily one-sided; reports of general officers concerning their
own operations invariably are. Allan and Hotchkiss wrote with only the
Richmond records before them, in addition to such information from the
Federal standpoint as may be found in general orders, the evidence given
before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and newspaper
correspondence. At that time many of the Federal reports were not to be
had: such as were at the War Department were hardly accessible. Reports
had been duly made by all superior officers engaged in and surviving
this campaign, excepting only the general in command; but, strange to
say, not only did Gen. Hooker refrain from making a report, but he
retained in his personal possession many of the records of the Army of
the Potomac covering the period of his command, and it is only since his
death that these records have been in part recovered by the Secretary of
War. Some are still missing, but they probably contain no important
matter not fully given elsewhere.

Although Hooker testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the
War: “Without an exception I forwarded to that office”–the War
Department–“all the reports and returns and information concerning the
army, and furnished them promptly, and, as I think, as no other army
commander has done,” his memory had at the moment played him traitor,
for a considerable part of these records were not disposed of as stated.
It should be remarked, however, that Hooker is not singular in this
leaning towards the meum in the matter of records.

The sources relied on for the facts herein given are the reports of the
officers engaged, both Federal and Confederate, added to many private
notes, memoranda, and maps, made by them; the testimony before the
Committee on the Conduct of the War, which included Hooker’s
examination; and the maps made by the Engineer Department of the
United-States Army, and those of Capt. Hotchkiss.

This latter officer was the topographical engineer of the Second Corps
of the Army of Northern Virginia, and made his surveys by order of
Gen. Lee immediately after the campaign. They are of the greatest
assistance and value.

Eighteen years have elapsed since North and South crossed swords upon
this memorable field; and it would seem that all Americans can now
contemplate with unruffled heart the errors under which “the Army of the
Potomac was here beaten without ever being fought,” as well as boast
with equal pride, not only of the abundant courage displayed by either
side, but of the calm skill with which Gen. Lee wrested victory from a
situation desperately compromised, and of the genius of that greatest of
his lieutenants, Thomas J. Jackson, who here sealed with his blood his
fidelity to the cause he loved so well.

It has been said that this campaign furnishes as much material for the
psychological as for the military student. And certainly nothing less
than a careful analysis of Hooker’s character can explain the abnormal
condition into which his mental and physical energy sank during the
second act of this drama. He began with really masterly moves, speedily
placing his wary adversary at the saddest disadvantage. But, having
attained this height, his power seemed to pass away as from an
over-tasked mind. With twice the weight of arm, and as keen a blade,
he appeared quite unable to parry a single lunge of Lee’s, quite unable
to thrust himself. He allowed his corps commanders to be beaten in
detail, with no apparent effort to aid them from his abundant resources,
the while his opponent was demanding from every man in his command the
last ounce of his strength. And he finally retired, dazed and weary,
across the river he had so ably and boastingly placed behind him ten
days before, against the opinion of nearly all his subordinates; for in
this case the conditions were so plain that even an informal council of
war advised a fight.

With character-study, however, this sketch has nothing to do. It is
confined to describing events, and suggesting queries for the curious in
military history.

II.

CONDITION OF THE COMBATANTS.

The first two years of civil strife had closed. The American people,
which so far had shown more aptness at learning than skill in waging war,
may be said to have passed through its apprenticeship in arms. The
broad plan of operations, intelligently but rudely conceived at the
outset by the greater spirits among our commanders, began to be more
clearly grasped. The political strategy of both contestants made
Virginia the field on which the left wing of the Federal armies pivoted,
while the right swung farther and farther south and east, and the
Confederates gallantly struggled for every foot of territory, yielding
only to the inexorable. This right wing had already possession of the
Mississippi as far south as Vicksburg, around which place Grant was
preparing to tighten his coils; it had occupied the line of the
Tennessee River, and had rendered useless to the Confederates the
railroad from Memphis to Chattanooga, which had been the great central
artery between Richmond and the trans-Mississippi States. The Southern
partisans, with Morgan and Forrest as typical chiefs, had up to this
period played, in the West especially, a very important part. They as
much exceeded our cavalry in enterprise as they had advantage over it in
knowledge of the country and in assistance from its population. They
had on more than one occasion tapped the too long and slender lines of
operation of our foremost armies. They had sent Grant to the right-
about from his first march on Vicksburg, thus neutralizing Sherman’s
attempt at Chickasaw Bayou. They had compelled Buell to forfeit his
hardly-earned footing, and to fall back from the Tennessee River to
Louisville at the double-quick in order to beat Bragg in the race
towards the gate of the Northern States, which disaster was happily soon
retrieved by the latter’s bloody check before Murfreesborough. Yet,
despite these back-sets, the general course of events showed that
Providence remained on the side of the heaviest battalions; and the
spring of 1863 saw our armies extended from the pivot midway between the
rival capitals in a more or less irregular line, and interrupted by the
Alleghany Mountains, to Vicksburg and the Father of Waters.

Great as was the importance of success in Virginia, the Confederates had
appreciated the fact as had not the political soldiers at the head of
the Federal department of war. Our resources always enabled us to keep
more men, and more and better material, on this battle-ground, than the
Confederates could do; but this strength was constantly offset by the
ability of the Southern generals, and their independence of action,
as opposed to the frequent unskilfulness of ours, who were not only
never long in command, but were then tied hand and foot to some ideal
plan for insuring the safety of Washington. The political conditions
under which the Army of the Potomac had so far constantly acted had
never allowed it to do justice to its numbers, mobility, or courage;
while Mr. Lincoln, who actually assumed the powers of commander-in-chief,
technically intrusted to him by the Constitution, was swayed to and fro
by his own fears for the safety of his capital, and by political schemes
and military obtuseness at his elbow.

Whether the tedious delays and deferred success, occasioned by these
circumstances, were not eventually a benefit, in that they enabled the
country to bring forth in the fulness of time the conditions leading to
the extinguishment of slavery, which an earlier close of the war might
not have seen; not to mention the better appreciation by either
combatant of the value of the other, which a struggle to the bitter end
alone could generate,–is a question for the political student. But it
will always remain in doubt whether the practical exhaustion of the
resources of the South was not a condition precedent to ending the
war,–whether, in sooth, the “last ditch” was not actually reached when
Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

In the West, merit had by this time brought to the surface the generals
who later led us to successful victories. Their distance from the
central controlling power resulted in their being let alone to work out
their own salvation. Opposed to them had been some excellent but not
the best of the Confederate leaders; while Virginia boasted the elite of
the Southern troops, the strongest of the captains, and the most daring
of the lieutenants, developed by the war.

Since the Russian campaign of Bonaparte, no such vast forces had been
under arms. To command these required not only the divine military
spark, but hardly-acquired experience. And the mimic war which the
elements of European army life always affords had been wanting to
educate our generals. It is not wonderful, then, that two years of
fruitless campaigning was needed to teach our leaders how to utilize on
such difficult terrain material equally vast in extent and uncouth in
quality. For, however apt the American to learn the trade of war,–or
any other,–it is a moot-point whether his independence of character is
compatible with the perfect soldier, as typified in Friedrich’s
regiments, or the Old Guard.

But ability, native or acquired, forced its way to the front; and the
requisite experience was gradually gained, for the school was one where
the trade was quickly taught. Said Gen. Meade on one occasion, “The art
of war must be acquired like any other. Either an officer must learn it
at the academy, or he must learn it by experience in the field.
Provided he has learned it, I don’t care whether he is a West-Pointer,
or not.”

In the East, then, the army had been led by McDowell, McClellan, Pope,
and Burnside, to victory and defeat equally fruitless. The one
experiment so far tried, of giving the Army of the Potomac a leader from
the West, culminating in the disaster of the second Bull Run, was not
apt to be repeated within the year. That soldier of equal merit and
modesty, whom the Army of the Potomac had been gradually educating as
its future and permanent leader, was still unpretentiously commanding a
corps, and learning by the successes and failures of his superiors.
And who shall say that the results accomplished by Grant, Sherman,
Thomas, Sheridan, and Meade, were not largely due to their good fortune
in not being too early thrust to the front? “For,” as says Swinton,
“it was inevitable that the first leaders should be sacrificed to the
nation’s ignorance of war.”

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