The Campaign of Chancellorsville

This summarizes an excellent plan, weak only in the fact that it was
impracticable to expect Sedgwick to gain Lee’s rear by daylight.
The balance was well enough, and, vigorously carried out, could, even if
unassisted by Sedgwick, scarcely fail of success.

To examine into its manner of execution.

XXII.

THE FIGHT AT FAIRVIEW.

At the earliest dawn, while Rodes was issuing rations to his men,
who had been many hours without food, the indefatigable Stuart gave
orders for a slight advance of his right, to reduce the angle of refusal
or Archer and McGowan; for at this moment it was ascertained that
Sickles was being withdrawn from Hazel Grove. By some error, Stuart’s
order was interpreted as a command for the anticipated general attack,
and the advancing columns soon provoked the fire of the expectant
Federals.

Seeing that the men were ready for their work, rations or no rations,
Stuart wisely refrained from recalling them; and Berry and Williams
betimes felt the shock of the strong line of A. P. Hill, which Alexander
seconded by opening with his artillery in full action. The Confederates
forged ahead with the watchword, “Charge, and remember Jackson!”
And this appeal was one to nerve all hearts to the desperate task before
them.

Hotchkiss thus describes the field of operations of this morning: “The
first line of works occupied by the Federal troops had been thrown up in
the night, and was very formidable. The engineer division of the Union
Army consisted of near four thousand men, and these had been
unremittingly engaged in its construction. A vast number of trees had
been felled, and formed into a heavy rampart, all approach to which was
rendered extremely difficult by an abattis of limbs and brushwood.
On the south side of the road this line is situated upon a ridge,
on the Chancellorsville side of Lewis Creek, one of the numerous
head-waters of the Mattapony. It is intersected by the smaller branches
of this creek, and the ravines in which they run. These ravines
extended behind the Federal lines, almost to the plank road, and
afforded excellent positions for successive stands. In the morning,
Sickles extended to the west of the creek, and held the elevated plateau
at Hazel Grove. This is the most commanding point, except Fairview,
in the vicinity. On the north of the plank road, the ground is more
level. The line thus crossed several small branches, the origin of some
small tributaries of the Rappahannock, but the ravines on that side are
not considerable. From the ridge occupied by the first line, the ground
falls away to the east, until the valley of another branch of Lewis
Creek is reached. The depression here is considerable, and gives an
abrupt slope to the Fairview hill, which rises directly from it on the
eastern side. From the first line of the creek, extends on both sides
of the road a dense forest. From the latter point to Fairview heights,
and to Chancellorsville, on the south side of the road, the country is
cleared. This clearing is bounded on the south by a drain, which runs
from near Chancellorsville, between Fairview and the works occupied by
Slocum. It extends some distance on the north of the road.

“Behind the front line of works, there were some defences in the valley
near the creek, not constituting a connecting line, however; and these
in turn were succeeded by the second main line of works, which covered
the Fairview heights, and were more strongly constructed even than the
first.”

It was at just the time of Rodes’s assault, that Birney had received
orders to withdraw from his cardinal position at the angle made by Geary
and Williams, and to form as a second and third line near the plank road,
a duty there was an abundance of troops to fill. He retired, and ployed
into brigade columns by regiments, immediately beyond the crest of
Fairview hill. Here, placing batteries in position, he shelled the
field from which he had just withdrawn. This crest, however, Archer
speedily occupied; and on its summit Stuart, with better foresight than
Hooker, posted some thirty guns under Walker, which enfiladed our lines
with murderous effect during the remainder of the combat of Sunday,
and contributed largely to our defeat.

The attack of the Confederates was made, “as Jackson usually did,
in heavy columns” (Sickles), and was vigorous and effective. According
to their own accounts, the onset was met with equal cheerful gallantry.
While Archer occupied Hazel Grove, McGowan and Lane assaulted the works
held by Williams, carried them with an impetuous rush, and pushed our
troops well back. This rapid success was largely owing to a serious
breach made in the Union line by the decampment of the Third Maryland
Volunteers, a full regiment of Knipe’s brigade, which held the right of
Williams’s division on the plank road. The regiment was composed of new
men, no match for Jackson’s veterans. They stood as well as raw troops
can, in the face of such an onslaught; but after a loss of about a
hundred men, they yielded ground, and were too green to rally. Into the
gap thus made, quickly poured a stream of Lane’s men, thus taking both
Berry’s and Williams’s lines in reverse. The Second Brigade was
compelled to change front to meet this new attack: Mott was instantly
thrown forward to fill the interval; and after a desperate hand-to-hand
struggle he regained the lost ground, and captured eight stands of
colors and about a thousand prisoners. This separated Archer from the
main line, and took in their turn McGowan and Lane in reverse,
precipitately driving them back, and enabling our columns to regain the
ground lost by the fierceness of the Confederate inroad. This sally in
reverse likewise carried back Lane and Heth, the entire corps having
suffered severely from the excellent service of the Federal guns.
But the effect on Williams’s division of this alternating gain and loss,
had been to cause it to waver; while having for an instant captured our
works, was encouragement to our foes.

On the north of the road, Pender and Thomas had at first won equal
fortune against Berry’s works, but their success had been equally
short-lived. For the falling-back of Jackson’s right, and the cheering
of the Union line as its fire advanced in hot pursuit, gave at the same
moment notice to the Confederate left that it was compromised, and to
our own brave boys the news of their comrades’ fortune. Pender and
Thomas were slowly but surely forced back, under a withering fire,
beyond the breastworks they had won. A second time did these veterans
rally for the charge, and a second time did they penetrate a part of our
defences; only, however, to be taken in flank again by Berry’s right
brigade, and tumbled back to their starting-point. But their onset had
shown so great determination, that Ward was despatched to sustain
Berry’s right, lest he should be eventually over-matched.

The Federal line on the north of the plank road had thus doggedly
resisted the most determined attacks of Jackson’s men, and had lost no
ground. And so hard pressed indeed was Pender by gallant Berry’s
legions, that Colquitt’s brigade was sent to his relief. Pender’s men
had early expended all their ammunition, word whereof was sent to Stuart,
but merely to evoke renewal of that stubborn officer’s orders to hold
their ground with the bayonet, and at all hazards. And such orders as
these were wont to be obeyed by these hardened warriors.

The three Confederate lines of attack had soon, as on yesternight,
become one, as each pushed forward to sustain the other. The enemy
“pressed forward in crowds rather than in any regular formation”
(Sickles); but the momentum of these splendid troops was well-nigh
irresistible. Nichols’s brigade of Trimble’s division, and Iverson’s
and Rodes’s of Rodes’s division, pressed forward to sustain the first
line on the north of the road, and repel the flank attack, constantly
renewed by Berry. Another advance of the entire line was ordered.
Rodes led his old brigade in person. The Confederates seemed determined,
for Jackson’s sake, to carry and hold the works which they had twice
gained, and out of which they had been twice driven; for, with “Old Jack”
at their head, they had never shown a sterner front.

Now came the most grievous loss of this morning’s conflict. Gallant
Berry, the life of his division, always in the hottest of the fire,
reckless of safety, had fallen mortally wounded, before Ward’s brigade
could reach his line. Gen. Revere assumed command, and, almost before
the renewal of the Confederate attack, “heedless of their murmurs,”
says Sickles’s report, “shamefully led to the rear the whole of the
Second Brigade, and portions of two others, thus subjecting these proud
soldiers, for the first time, to the humiliation of being marched to the
rear while their comrades were under fire. Gen. Revere was promptly
recalled with his troops, and at once relieved of command.” Revere
certainly gives no satisfactory explanation of his conduct; but he
appears to have marched over to the vicinity of French of the Second
Corps, upon the White House clearing, and reported to him with a large
portion of his troops. Revere was subsequently courtmartialled for this
misbehavior, and was sentenced to dismissal; but the sentence was
revoked by the President, and he was allowed to resign.

Col. Stevens was speedily put in command in Revere’s stead; but he, too,
soon fell, leaving the gallant division without a leader, nearly half of
its number off the field, and the remainder decimated by the bloody
contest of the past four hours. Moreover, Gen. Hays, whose brigade of
French’s division had been detached in support of Berry, where it had
done most gallant work, was at the same time wounded and captured by the
enemy.

It was near eight o’clock. The artillery was quite out of ammunition,
except canister, which could not be used with safety over the heads of
our troops. Our outer lines of breastworks had been captured, and were
held by the enemy. So much as was left of Berry’s division was in
absolute need of re-forming. Its supports were in equally bad plight.
The death of Berry, and the present location of our lines in the low
ground back of the crest just lost, where the undergrowth was so tangled
and the bottom so marshy, that Ward, when he marched to Berry’s relief,
had failed to find him, obliged the Federals to fall back to the
Fairview heights, and form a new line at the western edge of the
Chancellor clearing, where the artillery had been so ably sustaining the
struggle now steadily in progress since daylight. Sickles himself
supervised the withdrawal of the line, and its being deployed on its new
position.

The receding of the right of the line also necessitated the falling-back
of Williams. The latter officer had, moreover, been for some time quite
short of ammunition; and though Graham had filled the place of a part of
his line, and had held it for nearly two hours, repeatedly using the
bayonet, Williams was obliged to give way before Stuart’s last assault.
But Graham was not the man readily to accept defeat; and, as Williams’s
line melted away, he found himself isolated, and in great danger of
being surrounded. Gen. Birney fortunately became aware of the danger
before it was too late; and, hastily gathering a portion of Hayman’s
brigade, he gallantly led them to the charge in person; and, under cover
of this opportune diversion, Graham contrived to withdraw in good order,
holding McGowan severely in check.

The Union troops now establish their second line near Fairview. The
Confederates’ progress is arrested for the nonce. It is somewhat after
eight A.M. A lull, premonitory only of a still fiercer tempest,
supervenes.

But the lull is of short duration. Re-forming their ranks as well as
may be on the south of the road, the Confederates again assault the
Union second line, on the crest at Fairview. But the height is not
readily carried. The slope is wooded, and affords good cover for an
assault. But the artillery on the summit can now use its canister; and
the Union troops have been rallied and re-formed in good order. The
onset is met and driven back, amid the cheers of the victorious Federals.

Nor are Stuart’s men easily discouraged. Failure only seems to
invigorate these intrepid legions to fresh endeavors. Colston’s and
Jones’s brigades, with Paxton’s, Ramseur’s, and Doles’ of the third line,
have re-enforced the first, and passed it, and now attack Williams with
redoubled fury in his Fairview breastworks, while Birney sustains him
with his last man and cartridge. The Confederate troops take all
advantage possible of the numerous ravines in our front; but the
batteries at Fairview pour a heavy and destructive fire of shell and
case into their columns as they press on. Every inch of ground is
contested by our divisions, which hold their footing at Fairview with
unflinching tenacity.

Meanwhile Doles, moving under cover of a hill which protects him from
the Federal batteries, and up a little branch coming from the rear of
Fairview, takes in reverse the left of Williams’s line, which has become
somewhat separated from Geary, (whose position is thus fast becoming
untenable,) moves up, and deploys upon the open ground at Chancellorsville.
But he finds great difficulty in maintaining his footing, and would have
at once been driven back, when Paxton’s (old Stonewall) brigade comes up
to his support on the double-quick. Jackson’s spirit for a while seems
to carry all before it; the charge of these two brigades against our
batteries fairly bristles with audacity; but our guns are too well served,
and the gallant lines are once again decimated and hustled back to
the foot of the crest.

The seizure of Hazel Grove, from which Sickles had retired, had now
begun to tell against us. It had enabled the Confederates not only to
form the necessary junction of their hitherto separated wings, but to
enfilade our lines in both directions. The artillery under Walker,
Carter, Pegram, and Jones, was admirably served, and much better posted
than our own guns at Fairview. For this height absolutely commanded the
angle made by the lines of Geary and Williams, and every shot went
crashing through heavy masses of troops. Our severest losses during
this day from artillery-fire emanated from this source, not to speak of
the grievous effect upon the morale of our men from the enfilading
missiles.

About eight A.M., French, one of whose brigades, (Hays’s,) had been
detached in support of Berry, and who was in the rifle-pits on the Ely’s
Ford road near White House, facing east, perceiving how hotly the
conflict was raging in his rear, on the right of the Third Corps line,
and having no enemy in his own front, assumed the responsibility of
placing four regiments of Carroll’s brigade in line on the clearing,
facing substantially west, and formed his Third Brigade on their right,
supporting the left batteries of the Fifth Corps. This was a complete
about-face.

Soon after taking up this position, Hooker ordered him forward into the
woods, to hold Colquitt and Thomas in check, who were advancing beyond
the right of Sickles’s position at Fairview, and compromising the
withdrawal to the new lines which was already determined upon. Says
French: “In a moment the order was given. The men divested themselves
of all but their fighting equipment, and the battalions marched in line
across the plain with a steady pace, receiving at the verge of the woods
the enemy’s fire. It was returned with great effect, followed up by an
impetuous charge. . . . The enemy, at first panic-stricken by the
sudden attack on his flank, broke to the right in masses, leaving in our
hands several hundred prisoners, and abandoning a regiment of one of our
corps in the same situation.”

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