The Campaign of Chancellorsville

In the South, the signs of exhaustion had not yet become grave. The
conscription act, passed in April, 1862, had kept the ranks full.
The hope of foreign intervention, though distant, was by no means wholly
abandoned. Financial matters had not yet assumed an entirely desperate
complexion. Nor had the belief in the royalty of cotton received its
coup de grace. The vigor and courage of the Confederacy were unabated,
and the unity of parties in the one object of resistance to invasion
doubled its effective strength. Perhaps this moment was the flood-tide
of Southern enthusiasm and confidence; which, after the Pennsylvania
campaign, began to ebb. It is not intended to convey the idea that the
South was prosperous. On the contrary, those who read the signs aright,
saw and predicted its approaching decline. But, as far as its power of
resistance went, it was at its highest when compared with the
momentarily lessened aggressiveness of the North. For the anti-war
party was doing its best to tie the hands of the administration; and,
while this in no wise lessened the flow of men and material to the front,
it produced a grave effect upon the moral strength which our chiefs were
able to infuse into their method of conducting the war.



The unfortunate course of events during the early winter of 1862-63 had
resulted in a grievous loss of morale in the Army of the Potomac.
The useless slaughter of Marye’s Heights was, after a few weeks,
succeeded by that most huge of all strategic jokes, the Mud March; and
Gen. Burnside retired from a position he had never sought, to the
satisfaction, and, be it said to his credit, with the warm personal
regard, of all. Sumner, whom the weight of years had robbed of strength,
but not of gallantry, was relieved at his own request; Franklin was
shelved. Hooker thus became senior general officer, and succeeded to
the command.

No man enjoyed a more enviable reputation in the Army of the Potomac.
He had forced himself upon its notice. From Bull Run, after which
action he is said to have remarked to Mr. Lincoln that he knew more than
any one on that field; through Williamsburg, where he so gallantly held
his own against odds during the entire day, and with exhausted
ammunition, until relieved by Kearney; before Richmond; during the Seven
Days; in the railroad-cutting at Manassas; at Antietam, where he forced
the fighting with so much determination, if not wisdom, on the Union
right; up to Fredericksburg, where, after a personal protest to his
commanding officer, he went in and fought his troops “until he thought
he had lost as many men as he was ordered to lose,”–Hooker’s character
as man and soldier had been marked. His commands so far had been
limited; and he had a frank, manly way of winning the hearts of his
soldiers. He was in constant motion about the army while it lay in
camp; his appearance always attracted attention; and he was as well
known to almost every regiment as its own commander. He was a
representative man.

It is not astonishing that Mr. Lincoln, or the Washington pseudo-
strategists who were his military advisers, could not distinguish,
in selecting a chief who should be capable of leading the Army of the
Potomac to victory, between the gallant corps-commander, who achieves
brilliant results under limited responsibility, and the leader, upon
whose sole resources of mind and courage devolve not only the
instruction for health, equipment, rationing, march, or attack, of each
of his subordinates, but the graver weight of prompt and correct
decision and immediate action under every one of the kaleidoscopic
changes of a campaign or a battle-field. It required more knowledge of
the requisites of war, as well as a broader judgment of character,
than Mr. Lincoln had had opportunity to form of the several soldiers of
the army, to insure a happy choice.

And, doubtless, Hooker’s self-assertiveness, success as a brigade,
division, and corps commander, and decided appearance of large ability,
shared equally in procuring his appointment. No one will deny Hooker’s
capacity in certain directions, or up to a given test. His whole career
shows an exceptional power in “riding to orders.” But he sadly lacked
that rare combination of qualities and reserve power necessary to lead a
hundred and twenty-five thousand men against such a foe as Lee.

Nothing shows more curiously a weak spot in Hooker’s character than the
odd pride he took in Mr. Lincoln’s somewhat equivocal letter to him at
the time of his appointment, here following:–

Jan. 26, 1863.

General,–I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac.
Of course, I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient
reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some
things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe
you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which of course I like. I also
believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are
right. You have confidence in yourself; which is a valuable, if not an
indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable
bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during Gen. Burnside’s
command of the army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and
thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to
the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother-officer.
I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that
both the army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course, it was
not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command.
Only those generals who gain success can set up dictators. What I now
ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.
The Government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is
neither more nor less than it has done or will do for all commanders.
I much fear that the spirit you have aided to infuse into the army,
of criticising their commander and withholding confidence from him,
will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it
down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any
good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now beware
of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless
vigilance go forward, and give us victories.

Yours very truly,

Hooker was appointed Jan. 26, 1863; and Burnside, with a few earnest
words, took leave of the army.

The troops received their new chief with a heartiness and confidence,
which, since McClellan’s re-instatement, had not been equalled. Hooker
was to all the soul and embodiment of the growth and history of this
weather-beaten Army of the Potomac. And the salutary changes he at once
began to make,–for Hooker never lacked the power of organization,–were
accepted with alacrity; and a spirit of cheerful willingness succeeded
speedily to what had been almost a defiant obedience.

The army was in a lamentably low state of efficiency. Politics mingled
with camp duties; and the disaffection of officers and men, coupled with
an entire lack of confidence in the ability of the Army of the Potomac
to accomplish any thing, were pronounced. Desertions occurred at the
rate of two hundred a day, facilitated by relatives, who sent from home
civilian clothing to soldiers at the front. Hooker states that he found
2,922 officers, and 81,964 enlisted men, entered as absent on the rolls
of the army, a large proportion from causes unknown. Sharp and
efficient measures were at once adopted, which speedily checked this
alarming depletion of the ranks. Furloughs in reasonable quantity were
allowed to deserving men and a limited number of officers. Work was
found for the rank and file in drill and outpost duty sufficient to
prevent idle habits. The commissariat was closely watched, and fresh
rations more frequently issued, which much improved the health of the
army. The system of picket-duty was more thoroughly developed, and so
vigilantly carried out as to impress its importance upon, as well as
teach its details to, the troops.

The cavalry, hitherto distributed by regiments throughout the army,
was now consolidated into one corps, and from this time became a
valuable element in the service, for it daily grew in efficiency.
And such opportunities of doing field-work as a body were afforded it as
circumstances allowed.

The grand divisions of Burnside were abolished, and the army divided
into seven infantry corps.

The testimony of all general officers of the Army of the Potomac concurs
in awarding the highest praise to Hooker for the manner in which he
improved the condition of the troops during the three months he was in
command prior to Chancellorsville. Himself says before the Committee on
the Conduct of the War: “During the season of preparation the army made
rapid strides in discipline, instruction and morale, and early in April
was in a condition to inspire the highest expectations.” And Swinton
well sums up: “Under Hooker’s influence the tone of the army underwent a
change which would appear astonishing had not its elastic vitality been
so often proved.”

On the 30th of April the Army of the Potomac, exclusive of provost-guard,
consisted of about a hundred and thirty thousand men under the
colors,–“for duty equipped,” according to the morning report,–
distributed among the several army corps as follows:–

{ Wadsworth, }
1st Corps, Gen. Reynolds. . { Robinson, } 16,908
{ Doubleday, }

{ Hancock, }
2d Corps, Gen. Couch . . { Gibbon, } 16,893
{ French, }

{ Birney, }
3d Corps, Gen. Sickles . . { Berry, } 18,721
{ Whipple, }

{ Griffin, }
5th Corps, Gen. Meade . . { Humphreys, } 15,724
{ Sykes, }

{ Brooks, }
6th Corps, Gen. Sedgwick. . { Howe, } 23,667
{ Newton, }

{ Devens, }
11th Corps, Gen. Howard . . { Schurz, } 12,977
{ Steinwehr, }

12th Corps, Gen. Slocum . . { Williams, } 13,450
{ Geary, }

{ Pleasonton, }
Cavalry Corps, Gen. Stoneman. { Gregg, } 11,541
{ Averell, }
{ Buford, Reserve Brigade,}

Artillery, Gen. Hunt, about 400 guns. Artillery reserve 1,610
Total . . . . . . . . . 131,491



While the Army of the Potomac lay about Falmouth, awaiting orders to
move, Lee occupied the heights south of the Rappahannock, from Banks’s
Ford above, to Port Royal (or Skenker’s Neck) below Fredericksburg,
a line some fifteen miles in length as the crow flies. The crests of
the hills on which lay the Army of Northern Virginia were from
three-quarters of a mile to a mile and a half back from, and
substantially parallel to, the river. Rifle-pits commanded every
available crossing, which, being few and difficult, were easily guarded.
Continuous lines of infantry parapets, broken by battery epaulements
located for sweeping the wide approaches from the river, extended the
whole distance; while abattis strengthened every place which the nature
of the ground allowed an attacking column to pass.

The roads by which the various detachments of the army could
intercommunicate for concentration upon any given point were numerous
and well kept up, and were familiar to all commanding and staff officers.

Lee’s forces numbered about sixty thousand men, for duty, distributed in
the following organizations. As the brigades nearly equalled our
divisions in size, they are given by name.

{ Mahone’s brigade. }
{ Posey’s ” }
{ Anderson’s { Wilcox’s ” }
{ division. { Perry’s ” }
{ { Wright’s ” }
Part of Longstreet’s { } 17,000
1st Corps { { Kershaw’s ” }
{ McLaws’ { Semmes’s ” }
{ division. { Wofford’s ” }
{ Barksdale’s ” }

{ Heth’s ” }
{ Pender’s ” }
{ A. P. Hill’s { Archer’s ” } 11,000
{ division. { McGowan’s ” }
{ { Lane’s ” }
{ { Thomas’s ” }
{ { Ramseur’s ” }
{ D. H. Hill’s { Rodes’s ” }
{ division. { Dole’s ” } 9,000
{ { Iverson’s ” }
{ { Colquitt’s ” }
Jackson’s 2d Corps. {
{ { Colston’s ” }
{ Trimble’s { Jones’s ” } 6,000
{ division. { Nichols’s ” }
{ { Paxton’s ” }
{ { Gordon’s ” }
{ Early’s { Hays’s ” } 7,400
{ division. { Smith’s ” }
{ { Hoke’s ” }

Stuart’s Cavalry { Fitz Hugh Lee’s brigade . . 1,800
division { W. H. F. Lee’s ” . . . 900

Artillery, 170 pieces. . . . . . . . 5,000
Total . . . . . . . . . 58,100

Hotchkiss and Allan state that there may have been three to five
thousand more men in line at the time of Hooker’s attack.

As will be noticed from the table, only part of Longstreet’s corps was
present. The main body had been sent, about Feb. 1, under command of
its chief, to operate in the region between Petersburg and Suffolk,
where our forces under Peck were making a demonstration. This detail
reduced Lee’s army by nearly one-quarter.

During the winter, Lee’s forces had been distributed as follows:–

The old battle-ground of Dec. 13 was occupied by the First Corps; while
Jackson with his Second Corps held Hamilton’s Crossing, and extended his
lines down to Port Royal. Stuart’s cavalry division prolonged the left
to Beverly Ford on the upper Rappahannock, and scoured the country as
far as the Pamunkey region. Hampton’s brigade of cavalry had been sent
to the rear to recruit, and Fitz Lee’s had taken its place at Culpeper,
from which point it extended so as to touch Lee’s left flank at Banks’s
Ford. The brigade of W. H. F. Lee was on the Confederate right.
Stuart retained command of the entire force, but had his headquarters at

The supplies of the army were received by the Fredericksburg and
Richmond Railroad from the capital, and from the depots on the Virginia
Central. Lee had been assiduous in re-organizing his forces, in
collecting an abundance of supplies, in checking desertions, and in
procuring re-enforcements. And the vigor with which the conscription
was pushed swelled his strength so materially that in three months
Jackson’s corps alone shows an increase from a force of twenty-five
thousand up to thirty-three thousand men “for duty.” The staff of the
army was created a separate organization. The cavalry had already been
successfully consolidated. And now the artillery was embodied in a
special organization under Gen. Pendleton, and an engineer regiment put
on foot.

The morale of the Army of Northern Virginia could not be finer. The
forced retreat of McClellan from before Richmond; the driving of Pope
from his vaunted positions in its front; the Maryland campaign with its
deliberate withdrawal from an army of twice its strength; finally the
bloody check to Burnside,–had furnished a succession of triumphs which
would lend any troops self-confidence and high courage. But, in
addition to all this, the average of the men of this army were older and
more hardened soldiers than those of the Army of the Potomac. The early
conscription acts of the Confederacy had made it difficult for men once
inured to the steady bearing and rough life of the soldier, and to the
hard fare of camp-life, to withdraw from the ranks.

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