But French had not driven back his antagonist to any considerable
distance before himself was outflanked on his right by a diversion of
Pender’s. To meet this new phase of the combat, he despatched an aide
to Couch for re-enforcements; and soon Tyler’s brigade appeared, and
went in on his right. This fight of French and Tyler effectually
repelled the danger menacing the White House clearing. It was, however,
a small affair compared to the heavy fighting in front of Fairview.
And, the yielding of Chancellorsville to the enemy about eleven A.M.
having rendered untenable the position of these brigades, they were
gradually withdrawn somewhat before noon.
Still Jackson’s lines, the three now one confused mass, but with
unwavering purpose, returned again and again to the assault. Our
regiments had become entirely depleted of ammunition; and, though Birney
was ordered to throw in his last man to Williams’s support, it was too
late to prevent the latter from once more yielding ground.
For, having resisted the pressure of Stuart’s right for nearly four
hours, his troops having been for some time with empty cartridge-boxes,
twenty-four hours without food, and having passed several nights without
sleep, while intrenching, Williams now felt that he could no longer hold
his ground. The enemy was still pressing on, and the mule-train of
small ammunition could not be got up under the heavy fire. His
artillery had also exhausted its supplies; Sickles was in similar
plight; Jackson’s men, better used to the bayonet, and possessing the
momentum of success, still kept up their vigorous blows. Williams’s
line therefore slowly fell to the rear, still endeavoring to lean on
Sickles, who had kept Hooker informed of the condition of affairs as
they transpired, and had repeatedly requested support, now sent a more
urgent communication to him, asking for additional troops. Major
Tremaine reached headquarters just after the accident to Hooker, and
received no satisfaction. Nor had a second appeal better results.
What should and could easily have been done at an earlier moment by
Hooker,–to wit, re-enforce the right centre (where the enemy was all
too plainly using his full strength and making the key of the field),
from the large force of disposable troops on the right and left,–it was
now too late to order.
Before nine A.M., Sickles, having looked in vain for re-enforcements,
deemed it necessary to withdraw his lines back of Fairview crest.
Himself re-formed the divisions, except that portion withdrawn by Revere,
and led them to the rear, where the front line occupied the late
artillery breastworks. Ammunition was at once re-distributed.
We had doubtless inflicted heavy losses upon the Confederates. “Their
formation for attack was entirely broken up, and from my headquarters
they presented to the eye the appearance of a crowd, without definite
formation; and if another corps had been available at the moment to have
relieved me, or even to have supported me, my judgment was that not only
would that attack of the enemy have been triumphantly repulsed, but that
we could have advanced on them, and carried the day.” (Sickles.)
On the Chancellorsville open occurred another sanguinary struggle.
Stuart still pressed on with his elated troops, although his men were
beginning to show signs of severe exhaustion. Franklin’s and Mott’s
brigades, says Sickles, “made stern resistance to the impulsive assaults
of the enemy, and brilliant charges in return worthy of the Old Guard.”
But, though jaded and bleeding from this prolonged and stubbornly-
contested battle, Jackson’s columns had by no means relaxed their
efforts. The blows they could give were feebler, but they were
continued with the wonderful pertinacity their chief had taught them;
and nothing but the Chancellor clearing, and with it the road to
Fredericksburg, would satisfy their purpose.
And a half-hour later, Sickles, finding himself unsupported on right and
left, though not heavily pressed by the enemy, retired to Chancellorsville,
and re-formed on the right of Hancock, while portions of three batteries
held their ground, half way between Chancellorsville and Fairview, and
fired their last rounds, finally retiring after nearly all their horses
and half their men had been shot, but still without the loss of a gun.
With characteristic gallantry, Sickles now proposed to regain the
Fairview crest with his corps, attacking the enemy with the bayonet; and
he thinks it could have been done. But, Hooker having been temporarily
disabled, his successor or executive, Couch, did not think fit to
license the attempt. And shortly after, Hooker recovered strength
sufficient to order the withdrawal to the new lines at White House; and
Chancellorsville was reluctantly given up to the enemy, who had won it
so fairly and at such fearful sacrifice.
In retiring from the Chancellor clearing, Sickles states that he took,
instead of losing, prisoners and material. This appears to be true,
and shows how Stuart had fought his columns to the utmost of their
strength, in driving us from our morning’s position. He says: “At the
conclusion of the battle of Sunday, Capt. Seeley’s battery, which was
the last battery that fired a shot in the battle of Chancellorsville,
had forty-five horses killed, and in the neighborhood of forty men
killed and wounded;” but “he withdrew so entirely at his leisure,
that he carried off all the harness from his dead horses, loading his
cannoneers with it.” “As I said before, if another corps, or even ten
thousand men, had been available at the close of the battle of
Chancellorsville, on that part of the field where I was engaged, I
believe the battle would have resulted in our favor.” Such is the
testimony of Hooker’s warmest supporter. And there is abundant evidence
on the Confederate side to confirm this assumption.
The losses of the Third Corps in the battle of Sunday seem to have been
the bulk of that day’s casualties.
There can be no limit to the praise earned by the mettlesome veterans of
Jackson’s corps, in the deadly fight at Fairview. They had continuously
marched and fought, with little sleep and less rations, since Thursday
morning. Their ammunition had been sparse, and they had been obliged to
rely frequently upon the bayonet alone. They had fought under
circumstances which rendered all attempts to preserve organization
impossible. They had charged through tangled woods against well-
constructed field-works, and in the teeth of destructive artillery-fire,
and had captured the works again and again. Never had infantry better
earned the right to rank with the best which ever bore arms, than this
gallant twenty thousand,–one man in every four of whom lay bleeding on
Nor can the same meed of praise be withheld from our own brave legions.
Our losses had been heavier than those of the enemy. Generals and
regimental commanders had fallen in equal proportions. Our forces had,
owing to the extraordinary combinations of the general in command,
been outnumbered by the enemy wherever engaged. While we had received
the early assaults behind breastworks, we had constantly been obliged to
recapture them, as they were successively wrenched from our grasp,–and
we had done it. Added to the prestige of success, and the flush of the
charge, the massing of columns upon a line of only uniform strength had
enabled the Confederates to repeatedly capture portions of our
intrenchments, and, thus taking the left and right in reverse, to drive
back our entire line. But our divisions had as often done the same.
And well may the soldiers who were engaged in this bloody encounter of
Sunday, May 3, 1863, call to mind with equal pride that each met a
foeman worthy of his steel.
Say Hotchkiss and Allan: “The resistance of the Federal army had been
stubborn. Numbers, weight of artillery, and strength of position,
had been in its favor. Against it told heavily the loss of morale due
to the disaster of the previous day.”
THE LEFT CENTRE.
While the bulk of the fighting had thus been done by the right centre,
Anderson was steadily forcing his way towards Chancellorsville. He had
Wright’s, Posey’s, and Perry’s brigades on the left of the plank road,
and Mahone’s on the right, and was under orders to press on to the
Chancellor clearing as soon as he could join his left to Jackson’s
right. He speaks in his report as if he had little fighting to do to
reach his destination. Nor does Geary, who was in his front, mention
any heavy work until about nine A.M.; for Geary’s position was
jeopardized by the enfilading fire of Stuart’s batteries on the
Hazel-Grove hill, and by the advance of Stuart’s line of battle, which
found his right flank in the air. He could scarcely be expected to make
a stubborn contest under these conditions.
While thus hemmed in, Geary “obeyed an order to retire, and form my
command at right angles with the former line of battle, the right
resting at or near the Brick House,” (Chancellorsville). While in the
execution of this order, Hooker seems to have changed his purpose,
and in person ordered him back to his original stand, “to hold it at all
In some manner, accounted for by the prevalent confusion, Greene’s and
Kane’s brigades had, during this change of front, become separated from
the command, and had retired to a line of defence north of the
Chancellor House. But on regaining the old breastworks, Geary found two
regiments of Greene’s brigade still holding them.
Now ensued a thorough-going struggle for the possession of these
breastworks, and they were tenaciously hung to by Geary with his small
force, until Wright had advanced far beyond his flank, and had reached
the Chancellor clearing; when, on instructions from Slocum, he withdrew
from the unequal strife, and subsequently took up a position on the left
of the Eleventh Corps.
Anderson now moved his division forward, and occupied the edge of the
clearing, where the Union forces were still making a last stand about
McLaws, meanwhile, in Couch’s front, fought mainly his skirmishers and
artillery. Hancock strengthened Miles’s outpost line, who “held it
nobly against repeated assaults.”
While this is transacting, Couch orders Hancock to move up to the
United-States Ford road, which he imagines to be threatened by the
enemy; but the order is countermanded when scarcely begun. There is
assuredly a sufficiency of troops there.
But Hancock is soon obliged to face about to ward off the advance of
the enemy, now irregularly showing his line of battle upon the
Chancellorsville clearing, while Sickles and Williams slowly and
sullenly retire from before him.
The enemy is gradually forcing his way towards headquarters. Hancock’s
artillery helps keep him in check for a limited period; but the
batteries of Stuart, Anderson, and McLaws, all directing a converging
fire on the Chancellor House, make it, under the discouraging
circumstances, difficult for him to maintain any footing.
When Couch had temporarily assumed command, Hancock, before Geary was
forced from his intrenchments by Anderson, disposed the Second Corps,
with its eighteen pieces of artillery, in two lines, facing respectively
east and west, about one mile apart. But Geary’s relinquishment of the
rifle-pits allowed the flanks of both the lines to be exposed, and
prevented these dispositions from answering their purpose. Hancock
clung to his ground, however, until the enemy had reached within a few
hundred yards. Then the order for all troops to be withdrawn within the
new lines was promulgated, and the removal of the wounded from the
Chancellor House was speedily completed,–the shelling by the enemy
having set it on fire some time before.
Hancock’s artillery at the Chancellor House certainly suffered severely;
for, during this brief engagement, Leppien’s battery lost all its horses,
officers, and cannoneers, and the guns had to be removed by an infantry
detail, by hand.
The Confederate army now occupied itself in refitting its shattered
ranks upon the plain. Its organization had been torn to shreds, during
the stubborn conflict of the morning, in the tangled woods and marshy
ravines of the Wilderness; but this had its full compensation in the
possession of the prize for which it had contended. A new line of
battle was formed on the plank road west of Chancellorsville, and on the
turnpike east. Rodes leaned his right on the Chancellor House, and
Pender swung round to conform to the Federal position. Anderson and
McLaws lay east of Colston, who held the old pike, but were soon after
replaced by Heth, with part of A. P. Hill’s corps.
In the woods, where Berry had made his gallant stand opposite the fierce
assaults of Jackson, and where lay by thousands the mingled dead and
wounded foes, there broke out about noon a fire in the dry and
inflammable underbrush. The Confederates detailed a large force,
and labored bravely to extinguish the flames, equally exhibiting their
humanity to suffering friend and foe; but the fire was hard to control,
and many wounded perished in the flames.
THE NEW LINES.
The new lines, prepared by Gens. Warren and Comstock, in which the Army
of the Potomac might seek refuge from its weaker but more active foe,
lay as follows:–
Birney describes the position as a flattened cone. The apex touched
Bullock’s, (White House or Chandler’s,) where the Mineral-Spring road,
along which the left wing of the army had lain, crosses the road from
Chancellorsville to Ely’s Ford.
Bullock’s lies on a commanding plateau, with open ground in its front,
well covered by our artillery. This clearing is north of and larger
than the Chancellor open, and communicates with it. The position of the
troops on the left was not materially changed, but embraced the corps of
Howard and Slocum. The right lay in advance of and along the road to
Ely’s, with Big Hunting Run in its front, and was still held by
Reynolds. At the apex were Sickles and Couch.
The position was almost impregnable, and covered in full safety the line
of retreat to United-States Ford, the road to which comes into the Ely’s
Ford road a half-mile west of Bullock’s.
To these lines the Second, Third, and Twelfth Corps retired, unmolested
by the enemy, and filed into the positions assigned to each division.
Only slight changes had been made in the situation of Meade since he
took up his lines on the left of the army. He had, with wise
forethought, sent Sykes at the double-quick, after the rout of the
Eleventh Corps, to seize the cross-roads to Ely’s and United-States
Fords. Here Sykes now occupied the woods along the road from Bullock’s
to connect with Reynolds’s left.
Before daylight Sunday morning, Humphreys, relieved by a division of the
Eleventh Corps, had moved to the right, and massed his division in rear
of Griffin, who had preceded him on the line, and had later moved to
Geary’s left, on the Ely’s Ford road. At nine A.M., he had sent Tyler’s
brigade to support Gen. French, and with the other had held the edge of
Chancellorsville clearing, while the Third and Twelfth Corps retired to
the new lines.
And, when French returned to these lines, he fell in on Griffin’s left.
About noon of Sunday, then, the patient and in no wise discouraged Union
Army lay as described, while in its front stood the weary Army of
Northern Virginia, with ranks thinned and leaders gone, but with the
pride of success, hardly fought for and nobly earned, to reward it for
all the dangers and hardships of the past few days.
Gen. Lee, having got his forces into a passable state of re-organization,
began to reconnoitre the Federal position, with a view to another
assault upon it. It was his belief that one more hearty effort would
drive Hooker across the river; and he was ready to make it, at whatever
cost. But, while engaged in the preparation for such an attempt,
he received news from Fredericksburg which caused him to look anxiously
in that direction.