The Campaign of Chancellorsville

It was only when on parade, or when teaching artillery practice, that he
brightened up; and then scarcely to lose his uncouth habit, but only to
show by the light in his eye, and his wrapt attention in his work,
where lay his happiest tendencies.

His history during the war is too well known to need to be more than
briefly referred to. He was made colonel of volunteers, and sent to
Harper’s Ferry in May, 1861, and shortly after promoted to a brigade.
He accompanied Joe Johnston in his retreat down the valley. At Bull Run,
where his brigade was one of the earliest in the war to use the bayonet,
he earned his soubriquet of “Stonewall” at the lips of Gen. Bee.
But in the mouths of his soldiers his pet name was “Old Jack,” and the
term was a talisman which never failed to inflame the heart of every man
who bore arms under his banner.

Jackson possessed that peculiar magnetism which stirs the blood of
soldiers to boiling-point. Few leaders have ever equalled him in his
control of troops. His men had no questions to ask when “Old Jack”
led the way. They believed in him as did he in his star; and the
impossible only arrested the vigor of their onset, or put a term to
their arduous marches.

His campaign in the valley against Fremont and Shields requires no
praise. And his movement about McClellan’s flank at Mechanicsville,
and his still more sterling manoeuvre in Pope’s campaign, need only to
be called to mind.

In the field he was patient, hard-working, careless of self, and full of
forethought for his men; though no one could call for and get from
troops such excessive work, on the march or in action. No one could ask
them to forego rations, rest, often the barest necessaries of life,
and yet cheerfully yield him their utmost efforts, as could “Old Jack.”

He habitually rode an old sorrel horse, leaning forward in a most
unmilitary seat, and wore a sun-browned cap, dingy gray uniform, and a
stock, into which he would settle his chin in a queer way, as he moved
along with abstracted look. He paid little heed to camp comforts,
and slept on the march, or by snatches under trees, as he might find
occasion; often begging a cup of bean-coffee and a bit of hard bread
from his men, as he passed them in their bivouacs, He was too uncertain
in his movements, and careless of self, for any of his military family
to be able to look after his physical welfare. In fact, a cold
occasioned by lending his cloak to one of his staff, a night or two
before Chancellorsville, was the primary cause of the pneumonia, which,
setting in upon his exhausting wounds, terminated his life.

Jackson was himself a bad disciplinarian. Nor had he even average
powers of organization. He was in the field quite careless of the
minutiae of drill. But he had a singularly happy faculty for choosing
men to do his work for him. He was a very close calculator of all his
movements. He worked out his manoeuvres to the barest mathematical
chances, and insisted upon the unerring execution of what he prescribed;
and above all be believed in mystery. Of his entire command, he alone
knew what work he had cut out for his corps to do. And this was carried
so far that it is said the men were often forbidden to ask the names of
the places through which they marched. “Mystery,” said Jackson,
“mystery is the secret of success in war, as in all transactions of
human life.”

Jackson was a professing member of the Presbyterian Church, and what is
known as a praying man. By this is meant, that, while he never
intentionally paraded or obtruded upon his associates his belief in the
practical and immediate effect of prayer, he made no effort to hide his
faith or practice from the eyes of the world. In action, while the
whole man was wrought up to the culminating pitch of enthusiasm, and
while every fibre of his mind and heart was strained towards the
achievement of his purpose, his hand would often be instinctively raised
upwards; and those who knew him best, believed this to be a sign that
his trust in the help of a Higher Power was ever present.

Jackson was remarkable as a fighter. In this he stands with but one or
two peers. Few men in the world’s history have ever got so great
results from armed men as he was able to do. But to judge rightly of
his actual military strength is not so easy as to award this praise.
Unless a general has commanded large armies, it is difficult to judge of
how far he may be found wanting if tried in that balance. In the
detached commands which he enjoyed, in the Valley and elsewhere, his
strategic ability was marked: but these commands were always more or
less limited; and, unlike Lee or Johnston, Jackson did not live long
enough to rise to the command of a large army upon an extended and
independent field of operations.

In Gen. Lee, Jackson reposed an implicit faith. “He is the only man I
would follow blindfold,” said Jackson. And Lee’s confidence in his
lieutenant’s ability to carry out any scheme he set his hand to, was
equally pronounced. Honestly, though with too much modesty, did Lee
say: “Could I have directed events, I should have chosen, for the good
of the country, to have been disabled in your stead.”

But, illy as Lee could spare Jackson, less still could the Army of
Northern Virginia spare Robert E. Lee, the greatest in adversity of the
soldiers of our civil war. Still, after Jackson’s death, it is certain
that Lee found no one who could attempt the bold manoeuvres on the field
of battle, or the hazardous strategic marches, which have illumined the
name of Jackson to all posterity.

It is not improbable that had Jackson lived, and risen to larger
commands, he would have been found equal to the full exigencies of the
situation. Whatever he was called upon to do, under limited but
independent scope, seems to testify to the fact that he was far from
having reached his limit. Whatever he did was thoroughly done; and he
never appears to have been taxed to the term of his powers, in any
operation which he undertook.

Honesty, singleness of purpose, true courage, rare ability, suffice to
account for Jackson’s military success. But those alone who have served
under his eye know to what depths that rarer, stranger power of his has
sounded them: they only can testify to the full measure of the strength
of Stonewall Jackson.

XXI.

THE POSITION AT FAIRVIEW.

Gen. Hooker’s testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War
comprises almost every thing which has been officially put forth by him
with reference to this campaign. It therefore stands in lieu of a
report of operations, and it may be profitable to continue to quote from
it to some extent. His alleged intention of withdrawing from
Chancellorsville is thus explained. After setting forth that on the
demolition of the Eleventh Corps, the previous evening, he threw Berry
into the gap to arrest Jackson, “and if possible to seize, and at all
hazards hold, the high ground abandoned by that corps,” he says:–

“Gen. Berry, after going perhaps three-quarters of a mile, reported that
the enemy was already in possession of the ground commanding my position,
and that he had been compelled to establish his line in the valley on
the Chancellorsville side of that high ground. As soon as this was
communicated to me, I directed Gens. Warren and Comstock to trace out a
new line which I pointed out to them on the map, and to do it that night,
as I would not be able to hold the one I then occupied after the enemy
should renew the attack the next morning.”

“The position” at Dowdall’s “was the most commanding one in the
vicinity. In the possession of the enemy it would enable him with his
artillery to enfilade the lines held by the Twelfth and Second Corps.”
“To wrest this position from the enemy after his batteries were
established upon it, would have required slender columns of infantry,
which he could destroy as fast as they were thrown upon it.” Slender
columns of infantry were at this time among Hooker’s pet ideas.

“Every disposition was made of our forces to hold our line as long as
practicable, for the purpose of being in readiness to co-operate with
the movement which had been ordered to be made on our left.”

“The attack was renewed by the enemy about seven o’clock in the morning,
and was bravely resisted by the limited number of troops I could bring
into action until eleven o’clock, when orders were given for the army to
establish itself on the new line. This it did in good order. The
position I abandoned was one that I had held at a disadvantage; and I
kept the troops on it as long as I did, only for the purpose of enabling
me to hear of the approach of the force under Gen. Sedgwick.” Thus much
Hooker.

The position of both armies shortly after daybreak was substantially
that to which the operation of Saturday had led.

The crest at Fairview was crowned by eight batteries of the Third and
Twelfth Corps, supported by Whipple’s Second brigade (Bowman’s), in
front to the left, forming, as it were, a third line of infantry.

In advance of the artillery some five hundred yards, (a good half-mile
from the Chancellor House,) lay the Federal line of battle, on a crest
less high than Fairview, but still commanding the tangled woods in its
front to a limited distance, and with lower ground in its rear,
deepening to a ravine on the south of the plank road. Berry’s division
held this line north of the plank road, occupying the ground it had
fought over since dusk of the evening before. Supporting it somewhat
later was Whipple’s First brigade (Franklin’s). Berdan’s sharpshooters
formed a movable skirmish-line; while another, and heavier, was thrown
out by Berry from his own troops.

A section of Dimick’s battery was trained down the road.

Williams’s division of the Twelfth Corps was to the south of the plank
road, both he and Berry substantially in one line, and perpendicular to
it; while Mott’s brigade was massed in rear of Williams’s right.

Near Williams’s left flank, but almost at right angles to it, came
Geary’s division, in the same intrenched line he had defended the day
before; and on his left again, the Second Corps, which had not
materially changed its position since Friday.

The angle thus formed by Geary and Williams, looked out towards cleared
fields, and rising ground, surmounted by some farm-buildings on a high
crest, about six hundred yards from Fairview.

At this farm, called Hazel Grove, during the night, and until just
before daybreak, holding a position which could have been utilized as an
almost impregnable point d’appui, and which, so long as it was held,
practically prevented, in the approaching battle, a junction of Lee’s
severed wings, had lain Birney’s and Whipple’s divisions. This point
they had occupied, (as already described,) late the evening before,
after Sickles and Pleasonton had finished their brush with Jackson’s
right brigades. But Hooker was blind to the fact that the possession of
this height would enable either himself or his enemy to enfilade the
other’s lines; and before daybreak the entire force was ordered to move
back to Chancellorsville. In order to do this, the intervening swamp
had to be bridged, and the troops handled with extreme care. When all
but Graham had been withdrawn, a smart attack was made upon his brigade
by Archer of Hill’s command, who charged up and captured the Hazel Grove
height; but it was with no serious Federal loss, except a gun and
caisson stalled in the swamp. Sickles drew in his line by the right,
and was directed to place his two divisions so as to strengthen the new
line at Fairview.

Reynolds’s corps had arrived the evening before, and, after somewhat
blind instructions, had been placed along the east of Hunting Run,
from the Rapidan to the junction of Ely’s and United-States Ford roads,
in a location where the least advantage could be gained from his fresh
and eager troops, and where, in fact, the corps was not called into
action at all, restless however Reynolds may have been under his
enforced inactivity.

The Eleventh Corps had gone to the extreme left, where it had relieved
Meade; Sykes was already formed on Reynolds’s left, (having rapidly
moved to the cross roads at dusk on Saturday;) while Meade with the rest
of his corps, so soon as Howard had relieved him, went into position to
support this entire line on the extreme right of the Army of the
Potomac. Thus three strong army corps henceforth disappear from
effective usefulness in the campaign.

The Confederate position opposite Fairview had been entirely rectified
during the night to prepare for the expected contest. The division of
A. P. Hill was now in the front line, perpendicular to the road, Archer
on the extreme right, and McGowan, Lane, Pender, and Thomas, extending
towards the left; the two latter on the north of the road. Heth was in
reserve, behind Lane and Pender. Archer and McGowan were half refused
from the general line at daylight, so as to face, and if possible drive
Sickles from Hazel Grove. Archer was taking measures with a view to
forcing a connection with Anderson; while the latter sent Perry by the
Catharpen road, and Posey direct, towards the Furnace, with like purpose.

Colston was drawn up in second line with Trimble’s division; while Rodes,
who had led the van in the attack on Howard of last evening, now made
the third. The artillery of the corps was disposed mainly on the right
of the line, occupying, shortly after daylight, the Hazel-Grove crest,
and at Melzi Chancellor’s, in the clearing, where the Eleventh Corps had
met its disaster.

There was thus opposed to the Federal right centre, (Berry’s, Whipple’s,
and Birney’s divisions of the Third Corps, and Williams’s of the
Twelfth,) consisting of about twenty-two thousand men, the whole of
Jackson’s corps, now reduced to about the same effective; while Anderson,
on the left of the plank road, feeling out towards the Furnace, and
McLaws on the right, with seventeen thousand men between them,
confronted our left centre, consisting of Geary of the Twelfth, and
Hancock of the Second Corps, numbering not much above twelve thousand
for duty.

Owing to Hooker’s ill-fitting dispositions, and lack of ability to
concentrate, the fight of Sunday morning was thus narrowed to a contest
in which the Federals were outnumbered, with the prestige of Confederate
success to offset our intrenchments.

The right and left wings proper of the Union army comprised the bulk and
freshest part of the forces, having opposite to them no enemy whatever,
unless a couple of cavalry regiments scouting on the Mine and River
roads.

Gen. Warren, who was much in Hooker’s confidence, thus explains his
understanding of the situation Saturday night: “The position of the
Third Corps and our cavalry on the right flank of Jackson’s cavalry”
(? corps), “cut off, it seemed, all direct communication with Gen. Lee’s
right. No thought of retreating during the night was entertained on our
side; and, unless the enemy did, the next day promised a decisive
battle. By our leaving sufficient force in front of the right wing of
the enemy to hold our breastworks, the whole of the rest of our force
was to be thrown upon his left at dawn of day, with every prospect of
annihilating it. To render this success more complete, Gen. Sedgwick,
with the Sixth Corps, (about twenty thousand strong,) was to leave his
position in front of the enemy’s lines at Fredericksburg, and fall upon
Gen. Lee’s rear at daylight.”

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