The Campaign of Chancellorsville

Anxious as Jackson is to press on,–“Give me one hour more of daylight,
and I will have United-States Ford!” cries he,–he finds that he must
re-establish order in his scattered forces before he can launch this
night attack upon our newly formed but stubbornly maintained lines.

Nor is the darkness the most potent influence toward this end. Illy as
Sickles’s advance has resulted thus far, it is now a sovereign element
in the salvation of the Army of the Potomac. His force at the Furnace,
Birney, Whipple, Barlow, and Pleasonton, amounts to fifteen thousand men,
and over forty guns. None of these officers are the men to stand about
idle. No sooner has Sickles been persuaded by a second courier,–the
first he would not credit,–that the Eleventh Corps has been destroyed,
and that Jackson is in his rear, than he comprehends that now, indeed,
the time has come to batter Jackson’s flank. He orders his column to
the right about, and moves up with all speed to the clearing, where
Pleasonton has held his cavalry, near Birney’s old front.

Howard, upon being attacked, had sent hurriedly for a cavalry regiment.
Pleasonton, having received orders to send him one, instructed Major
Huey, commanding the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry, to march to Dowdall’s
and report to Howard. Huey set out by the wood road which leads through
Hazel Grove into the plank road. From the testimony of the persons
chiefly concerned it would appear that, at the time this order was given
by Pleasonton to Huey, there was at Hazel Grove, where the cavalry
regiments were drawn up, no sign whatever of the disaster to Howard.
There were no fugitives nor any confusion. Nor does the evidence show
that Pleasonton ordered any charge on the enemy: it rather shows that
Huey was not directed to go at urgent speed. And he must have been very
deliberate in his movement, for by the time the cavalry had reached the
vicinity of the plank road, Jackson had demolished the Eleventh Corps,
and had advanced so far that the head of this cavalry column, marching
by twos, suddenly came upon the Confederate lines. The officers in the
lead at once gave the order to charge, and right gallantly did these
intrepid horsemen ride down into the seething mass of exultant
Confederate infantry. The shock was nobly given and home, but was,
of course, in the woods and against such odds, of no great effect.
Thirty men and three officers, including Major Keenan, were killed.
Only one Confederate report–Iverson’s–mentions this charge. Its
effect was local only.

Three batteries of Whipple’s division had remained in the Hazel Grove
clearing while the infantry had advanced towards the Furnace. When the
rout of the Eleventh Corps became clear, these eighteen guns were
ordered in battery, facing about north-west, by their commander,
Capt. Huntington, and kept up a heavy fire upon the woods through which
Jackson was pushing his way. Pleasonton, for his part, trained Martin’s
horse-battery in the same direction. Other guns were later added to
these, and all expended a good deal of ammunition on the enemy’s lines.
But there was no fighting at Hazel Grove rising to the distinction of a
battle. The importance given to it by Sickles and Pleasonton is not
borne out by the facts. There was no Federal loss, to speak of; nor do
the Confederate reports make any comment upon this phase of the battle.
They probably supposed these guns to be an extension of the line of
batteries at Fairview. As such they were, without question, of no
inconsiderable use.

Meanwhile Birney, sending word to Barlow that they run danger of being
cut off, and detailing the Twentieth Indiana and Sixty-third
Pennsylvania Volunteers as rearguard, rejoins Sickles and Pleasonton in
the clearing, and both move up to sustain his flank.

So soon as Jackson’s guns gave Lee the intimation of his assault,
the latter advanced upon the Union line with sufficient vigor to prevent
Hooker from sending re-enforcements to his right. The attack was sharp;
and a general inclination to the left was ordered, to connect with
Jackson’s right as the latter brought his columns nearer. “These orders
were well executed, our troops advancing up to the enemy’s intrenchments,
while several batteries played with good effect upon his lines until
prevented by increasing darkness.” (Lee.)

McLaws reports: “My orders were to hold my position, not to engage
seriously, but to press strongly so soon as it was discovered that
Gen. Jackson had attacked . . . when I ordered an advance along the whole
line to engage with the skirmishers, which were largely re-enforced,
and to threaten, but not attack seriously; in doing which Gen. Wofford
became so seriously engaged, that I directed him to withdraw, which was
done in good order, his men in good spirits, after driving the enemy to
their intrenchments.”

The movement of Anderson towards the left made a gap of considerable
distance in the Confederate line “but the skirmishers of Gen. Semmes,
the entire Tenth Georgia, were perfectly reliable, and kept the enemy to
his intrenchments.”

These accounts vary in no wise from those of the Union generals, who
held their positions in front of both Anderson and McLaws, and kept
inside their field-works.

Meade, whose line on the left of the army was not disturbed, sent
Sykes’s division, so soon as the Eleventh Corps rout became known to him,
to the junction of the roads to Ely’s and United-States Fords, to hold
that point at all hazards, and form a new right flank. This was done
with Sykes’s accustomed energy. Nor was he reached by Jackson’s line,
and before morning Reynolds fell in upon his right.



When his troops had been summarily brought to a standstill by Berry’s
firm ranks and the heavy artillery fire, Jackson determined to withdraw
his first and second lines to Dowdall’s clearing to reform, and ordered
A. P. Hill forward to relieve them.

While this manoeuvre, rendered extremely difficult by the nature of the
woods in which the fighting had been done, but which Hooker was in no
condition to interfere with, was in progress, Sickles and Pleasonton,
whose position was considerably compromised, sought measures to
re-establish communication with the headquarters of the army.

Sickles despatched Col. Hart, with a cavalry escort, to Hooker, bearing
a detailed statement of his situation. This officer experienced no
little difficulty in reaching Chancellorsville. The roads being in
possession of the enemy, he was forced to make his way through the woods
and ravines. But after the lapse of a number of hours he succeeded in
his mission, and brought back word to hold on to the position gained.
Sickles had so advised, and had, moreover, requested permission to make
a night attack, to recover some guns, caissons, and Whipple’s ammunition-
train, which had been left in the woods in Sickles’s front, and to
enable him to join his right to Slocum’s new line, thrown out in
prolongation of Berry.

It will be observed that Sickles was now facing northerly, and that his
rear had no obstacle on which to rest, so as to save him from the attack
of Lee, had the latter been aware of the weakness of his position.

In view of this fact, a move was made somewhat to his right, where a
crest was occupied near Hazel Grove. Here, says Pleasonton, “with the
support of Gen. Sickles’s corps we could have defeated the whole rebel
army.” It was clearly a strong position; for it is thus referred to by
Stuart, after our troops had been next day withdrawn: “As the sun lifted
the mist that shrouded the field, it was discovered that the ridge on
the extreme right was a fine position for concentrating artillery.
I immediately ordered thirty pieces to that point. The effect of this
fire upon the enemy’s batteries was superb.” Its possession by the
Confederates did, in fact, notably contribute to the loss of the new
lines at Chancellorsville in Sunday morning’s action.

From this position, at precisely midnight, Sickles made a determined
onslaught upon the Confederate right. It was clear, full moonlight,
and operations could be almost as well conducted as during the daytime,
in these woods.

Birney stationed Ward in the first line, and Hays in the second, one
hundred yards in the rear. The regiments moved by the right of
companies, with pieces uncapped, and strict orders to rely solely upon
the bayonet. On the road from the Furnace north, parallel to which the
columns moved, the Fortieth New York, Seventeenth Maine, and Sixty-Third
Pennsylvania Volunteers pushed in, in columns of companies at full

Berry had been notified to sustain this attack by a movement forward
from his lines, if it should strike him as advisable.

The attack was made with consummate gallantry. Sickles states that he
drove the enemy back to our original lines, enabling us for the moment
to re-occupy the Eleventh Corps rifle-pits, and to re-capture several
pieces of artillery, despite the fire of some twenty Confederate guns
which had been massed at Dowdall’s.

Thus attacked in flank, though the Confederate right had been refused at
the time of Pleasonton’s fight, and still remained so, Hill’s line
replied by a front movement of his left on Berry, without being able,
however, to break the latter’s line.

Slocum states that he was not aware that this advance was to be made by
Sickles across his front. Imagining it to be a movement by the enemy on
Williams, he ordered fire to be opened on all troops that appeared,
and fears “that our losses must have been severe from our own fire.”
Williams, however, does not think so much damage was done, and alleges
that he himself understood what the movement was, without, however,
quoting the source of his information.

The Confederate reports state that this attack was met and repulsed by
the Eighteenth, Twenty-eighth, and Thirty-third North-Carolina regiments,
with small difficulty or loss.

It is, however, probable that these as much underrate the vigor and
effect of the attack, as Sickles may overstate it. It is not impossible
that some portion of the Eleventh Corps position was actually reached by
these columns. The road down which the movement was made strikes the
plank road but a short distance east of the position of Buschbeck’s
line. This ground was not held in force by Jackson’s corps at the
moment, and it was not difficult for Sickles to possess himself
temporarily of some portion of that position. But it must have been a
momentary occupation.

Birney retired to Hazel Grove after this sally, having recovered part of
Whipple’s train, and one or two guns.

There can be found in the Confederate and Union reports alike, numerous
statements which are not sustained by other testimony. As a sample,
Gen. Lane of A. P. Hill’s division states that a Lieut. Emack and four
men captured an entire Pennsylvania regiment, under Lieut.-Col. Smith.
The nearest approach to this is found in the capture of Col. Mathews and
two hundred men of the One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Pennsylvania,
while Williams was moving by his left to regain his old ground. But it
is highly probable that it required more than five men to effect the

A wise rebuke of careless statements in official reports is found in the
following indorsements on a report made of the operations of the One
Hundred and Fourteenth Pennsylvania:–

In forwarding this report, which I do merely as a matter of duty,
it is incumbent upon me to say that it is a complete romance from
beginning to end. Col. Collis has had his attention called to these
errors, but has refused to correct them.
Brigadier General.

May 17, 1863.

This paper is forwarded with attention called to Brig.-Gen. Graham’s
indorsement. The officer is under arrest on charges of misbehavior
before the enemy.

Brigadier General commanding Division.



It is probable that the wounding of Jackson at this juncture was the
most effectual cause of the Confederate check on Saturday night.
It occurred just after Jackson had concluded to withdraw his first and
second lines to Dowdall’s, there to re-form, and was making dispositions
to move up A. P. Hill to relieve them. Orders had been issued to the
troops not to fire unless at Union cavalry appearing in their front.
Jackson, with some staff-officers and orderlies, had ridden out beyond
his lines, as was his wont, to reconnoitre. On his return he was fired
at by his own men, being mistaken in the gloom for a Federal scout.
Endeavoring to enter at another place, a similar error was made, this
time killing some of the party, and wounding Jackson in several places.
He was carried to the rear. A few days after, he died of pneumonia
brought on by his injury, which aggravated a cold he was suffering from
at the time.

A. P. Hill was wounded somewhat later that night.

After the disabling of these two officers, Stuart was sent for, and
promptly assumed command. With Col. Alexander, chief artillery officer
present for duty, (Gen. Crutchfield being wounded,) he spent the night
rectifying the Confederate lines, and selecting positions for his
batteries. It had been Jackson’s plan to push forward at night, to
secure the speediest results of his victory. But Stuart, after the
attacks upon his right by Sickles and Pleasonton, and having in view the
disorganized condition of his troops, thought wise to defer a general
assault until daylight. Having submitted the facts to Jackson, and
received word from this officer to use his own discretion in the matter,
he decided to afford his troops a few hours of rest. They were
accordingly halted in line, and lay upon their arms, an ample force of
skirmishers thrown out in front.

No better place than this will be found in which to say a few words
about the remarkable man who planned and led this movement about
Hooker’s flank,–a manoeuvre which must have been condemned as foolhardy
if unsuccessful, but whose triumph wove a final wreath to crown his
dying brows.

Thomas J. Jackson entered West Point a poor boy, essentially a son of
the people. He was a classmate of McClellan, Foster, Reno, Stoneman,
Couch, Gibbon, and many other noted soldiers, as well those arrayed
against as those serving beside him. His standing in his class was far
from high; and such as he had was obtained by hard, persistent work,
and not by apparent ability. He was known as a simple, honest,
unaffected fellow, rough, and the reverse of social; but he commanded
his companions sincere respect by his rugged honesty, the while his
uncouth bearing earned him many a jeer.

He was graduated in 1846, and went to Mexico as second lieutenant of the
First United-States Artillery. He was promoted to be first lieutenant
“for gallant and meritorious services at Vera Cruz.” Twice mentioned in
Scott’s reports, and repeatedly referred to by Worth and Pillow for
gallantry while with Magruder’s battery, he emerged from that eventful
campaign with fair fame and abundant training.

We find him shortly afterwards professor at the Virginia Military
Institute of Lexington. Here he was known as a rigid Presbyterian,
and a “fatalist,” if it be fatalism to believe that “what will be will
be,”–Jackson’s constant motto.

Tall, gaunt, awkward, grave, brief, and business-like in all he did,
Jackson passed for odd, “queer,”–insane almost, he was thought by
some,–rather than a man of uncommon reserve power.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 | View All | Next -»