The Campaign of Chancellorsville

Yours truly,

On the 28th, Stoneman received the following additional orders:–

MORRISVILLE, VA., April 28, 1863.
Commanding Officer Cavalry Corps.

I am directed by the major-general commanding to inform you that the
instructions communicated for your government on the 12th instant,
are so far modified as to require you to cross the Rappahannock at such
points as you may determine between Kelly’s and Rappahannock Fords,
and for a portion of your force to move in the direction of Raccoon Ford
and Louisa Court House, while the remainder is engaged carrying into
execution that part of your original instructions, which relates to the
enemy’s forces and positions on the line of the Alexandria and Orange
Railroad, and the line itself; the operations of this column to be
considered as masking the column which is directed to move, by forced
marches, to strike and destroy the line of the Aquia and Richmond

You are further directed to determine on some point for the columns to
unite; and it is recommended that it be on the Pamunkey, or near that
line, as you will then be in position with your full force to cut off
the retreat of the enemy by his shortest line. In all other respects
your instructions, as before referred to, will remain the same.

You will direct all your force to cross to-night, or, if that shall not
be practicable, to be brought to the river, and have it all thrown over
before eight o’clock to-morrow morning. If the fords should be too deep
for your pack-animals and artillery, they will be crossed over the
bridge at Kelly’s Ford.

You will please furnish the officers in command of these two columns
with a copy of this, and of your original instructions.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain and Aide-de-Camp.

These two orders would appear to be specific enough. The first is not
modified by the second to any great extent; and the primary object of
both is unmistakably to interrupt, by a bold stroke, Lee’s main
communications with Richmond by the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad.

The point on which the two columns, spoken of in the order of April 28,
were to unite, was suggested as somewhere on the Pamunkey; and the one
column was to go at once about its work, while the other masked its
march, and after joined it.

Under these orders, Stoneman proceeded to get the corps together,–the
distance of many outlying pickets delaying him almost a day,–and
finally crossed the Rappahannock by five P.M. of the 29th, a portion of
his troops using Kelly’s Ford, in connection with Slocum’s column.

He then assembled his division and brigade commanders, spread his maps
before them, and made them acquainted with his orders and plans.

Averell, with his own division, Davis’s brigade of Pleasonton’s division,
and Tidball’s battery, was instructed to push for Culpeper Court House;
while Stoneman, with Gregg’s division, Buford’s reserve brigade, and
Robertson’s battery, moved on Stevensburg.

It was expected that Averell would reach Brandy Station the same night
(29th), driving before him the enemy, who was in very small force in his
front. And when Stoneman got well on his way, he despatched Capt. Drummond,
with a squadron, from beyond Rocky Run, by crossroads, to Brandy Station,
to bring intelligence of Averell’s movements. The latter had, however,
not reached that place. And, learning later in the evening that he had
leisurely gone into camp, close by the place where the forces had crossed,
Stoneman sent him word that he must turn the enemy in his front over
to him, while himself pushed on towards Richmond.

This order read as follows:–

April 30, 1863.
BRIG.-GEN. AVERELL, Commanding, etc.

The major-general commanding directs me to say that we have been delayed
by high water, etc., and that he desires you to push the enemy as
vigorously as possible, keeping him fully occupied, and, if possible,
drive him in the direction of Rapidan Station. He turns the enemy over
to you.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

And Hooker justly claims that it was an entire misinterpretation of his
instructions, which were to have Averell join Stoneman’s column, so soon
as he had masked the latter’s movement towards the Aquia and Richmond

On May 3, Averell, who had done nothing but skirmish for a couple of
days with a force of about one-fifth his own, and had then retired to
Ely’s Ford, and gone into camp, was relieved, and Pleasonton placed in
command of his division.

The pack-mules and lead-horses of Stoneman’s column were left with the
main army, till the expected junction should be made by its advance
south of the Rappahannock. Stoneman had with him but five or six days’
rations; but he relied upon Hooker’s assurance that he would be up with
him before these rations were exhausted. Every officer and man, the
generals and their staffs setting the example, took with them only what
they could carry on their horses. Nor, despite the cold drenching rain,
which fell plentifully, were any camp-fires lighted the first few
nights. Stoneman seems to have been abundantly ambitious of doing his
work thoroughly, and issued stirring orders to his subordinates, calling
upon them for every exertion which they were capable of making.

On reaching Raccoon Ford, over the Rapidan, Stoneman found it guarded by
the Confederate cavalry. He therefore sent Buford to a point six miles
below, where he was able to cross, and, marching up the south bank,
to uncover Raccoon Ford. The main body was then put over.

Stoneman’s column was in the saddle by two A.M. of the 31st. But it
proved to be too foggy to push on: he had as yet no guides, and he was
obliged to wait for daylight.

He then hurried Gregg on to Louisa Court House, which place was reached
during the night of May 1, and details were speedily set to work tearing
up the railroads. Buford was sent by way of the North Anna to the same
point; and at ten A.M., May 2, the entire force was at Louisa.

From here a squadron was despatched towards Gordonsville, to ascertain
the meaning of the movement of several trains of troops, which had
passed up from Richmond in that direction the evening previous. Parties
were also sent out to Tolersville and Frederickshall Stations, to
destroy whatever material could be found there. Still another destroyed
Carr’s Bridge on the North Anna.

The balance of the force was set to work to break up the Virginia
Central; and for a distance of eighteen miles the telegraph, stations,
tanks, and cars were burned, and the rails torn up, and bent and twisted
over bonfires.

The command then marched for Yanceyville, on the South Anna, and,
arriving at Thompson’s Cross-roads at ten P.M. of May 2, headquarters
were established at this point.

Here Stoneman seems to have become entirely oblivious of his
instructions, and to have substituted for them ideas originating in his
own brain. He assembled his officers, and informed them that “we had
dropped like a shell in that region of country, and he intended to burst
it in every direction.”

Instead, therefore, of pressing with his main force for some point on
the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, and destroying it thoroughly,
as he was particularly instructed to do, that being the one great object
to be achieved, be contented himself with sending Kilpatrick with the
Second New-York Cavalry, and Davis with the Twelfth Illinois Cavalry,
to operate, the former against the railroad-bridges over the
Chickahominy, and the latter at Ashland and Atlee; and also despatched
Wyndham, of the First New-Jersey Cavalry, to strike Columbia, and
destroy the canal-aqueduct over the Rivanna river, and if possible make
a dash at the railroad-bridge over the Appomattox; while two regiments
under Gregg were to follow down the South Anna to destroy its bridges,
followed by the Fifth United-States Cavalry to see that the destruction
was complete.

These parties were directed to rally on Stoneman, who was thus left with
five hundred men of Buford’s reserve, or else to push through to
Gloucester Point, or Yorktown, as circumstances should dictate.

In pursuance of these orders, Gregg’s column, which, on May 2, had
burned the depots at Orange Court House, on May 3, moved down the South
Anna, as far as the bridge where the Fredericksburg Railroad crosses the
stream, and attempted to destroy it; but finding it protected by some
infantry, and a couple of guns, he seems to have decided not to attack
this force, and fell back upon the reserve. On the 5th, he destroyed
the bridge at Yanceyville.

Kilpatrick marched some distance by daylight on the 3d, kept himself
hidden through the day, marched again at nightfall, and reached Hungary
Station at daylight the 4th. Here he destroyed the depot, and several
miles of road, passed the Virginia Central at Meadow’s Bridge, which he
likewise burned, with all cars and material he could find in the
vicinity, and camped at night in the rear of Hanover.

On the 5th, he pushed into Gloucester Point, destroying on the way a
train of fifty-six wagons, and some twenty thousand bushels of corn in
depots. He captured thirty prisoners, but paroled them.

Capt. Merritt with the Second United-States Cavalry, demolished a number
of bridges and fords on the South Anna, and reached Ashland Station; but
was unable to destroy the bridge at this place, which was guarded by an
infantry force with part of a battery.

Col. Davis, on May 3, also reached Ashland, burned the trestle south of
the town, and tore up the telegraph-line. He captured and destroyed
some wagon-trains, containing about a hundred wagons, fired the depot
and some material at Hanover, and bivouacked seven miles from Richmond.
He was, however, precluded by his orders from trying to enter the
capital, though he seems to have had a good opportunity for so doing.

On May 4, at Tunstall, on the York and Richmond Railroad, he met some
resistance from a force of Confederate infantry with a battery; but,
retracing his steps, he turned up in due season at Gloucester Point.

Col. Wyndham moved on to Columbia, where he rendered useless a large
amount of stores, a number of canal-boats, and several bridges over the
James-River canal. For lack of blasting-materials he was unable to
destroy the aqueduct over the Rivanna river. It was solid enough to
have delayed him at least forty-eight hours. The bridge over the James
river to Elk Island he burned, and damaged the locks and gates of the
canal as far as possible. He returned to Thompson’s Cross-roads the
same day with W. H. Fitz Lee at his heels.

Capt. Harrison, with a part of Buford’s reserves, had, on May 4,
somewhat of a skirmish with the enemy at Fleming’s Cross-roads; but
without effect upon the movements of the command. And another squadron
crossed sabres with the enemy at Shannon’s.

Such prisoners as were captured by any of the parties, were paroled at
the time. A considerable number captured by Stoneman were sent to
Richmond in one party, with word that the Union cavalry was following
close upon them.

To quote Stoneman’s own reasons, the six days’ rations with which he
left camp, having now been consumed, (though it would seem that there
had been ample opportunity to collect as much more as was necessary from
the stores destroyed); Hooker not having come up as expected; vague
rumors having reached him of the defeat of the Army of the Potomac;
having accomplished, as he deemed, all that he was sent to do; Averell
having been withdrawn, thus leaving Lee ready to attack him,–Stoneman
sent Buford with six hundred and fifty picked men to the vicinity of
Gordonsville, and a small party out the Bowling-Green road, and marched
his main body to Orange Court House.

At noon of the 6th, he assembled his entire command at Orange Springs;
thence marched to Raccoon Ford, and crossed on the 7th.

On the 8th, the command crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly’s, having to
swim about twenty yards.

Leaving Buford to guard the river from the railroad to Falmouth, he then
returned to camp.

During the latter part of the time occupied by these movements, the
roads had been in very bad order from the heavy rains of the 5th.

Hotchkiss and Allen say, with reference to this raid: “This failure is
the more surprising from the fact that Gen. Lee had but two regiments of
cavalry, those under W. H. Fitz Lee, to oppose to the large force under
Stoneman, consisting of ten or eleven thousand men. The whole country
in rear of the Confederate Army, up to the very fortifications of
Richmond, was open to the invader. Nearly all the transportation of
that army was collected at Guineas depot, eighteen miles from
Chancellorsville, with little or no guard, and might have been destroyed
by one-fourth of Stoneman’s force.”

And further:–

“Such was the condition of the railroads and the scarcity of supplies in
the country, that the Confederate commander could never accumulate more
than a few days’ rations ahead at Fredericksburg. To have interrupted
his communications for any length of time, would have imperilled his
army, or forced him to retreat.”

They also claim that this column seized all the property that could be
of use, found in their line of march. “The citizens were in many cases
entirely stripped of the necessaries of life.”

Stoneman certainly misconceived his orders. These were plainly enough
to throw his main body in Lee’s rear, so as substantially to cut his
communications by the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad. To
accomplish this, he was to mask his movement by a body of troops,
which should keep whatever Confederate cavalry there might be in the
vicinity of Orange Court House and Gordonsvile, busy, until his main
column was beyond their reach, and then should rejoin him; and to select
a rallying point on the Pamunkey, so as to be near the important scene
of operations. Every thing was to be subordinate to cutting the
Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad.

If Stoneman had properly digested his orders, and had pushed night and
day for any available point on the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad,
he might have reached it by Sunday. A thorough destruction of Lee’s
line of supply and retreat, would no doubt have so decidedly affected
his strength, actual and moral, as to have seriously changed the vigor
of his operations against both Hooker and Sedgwick.

Stoneman barely had time, from the lateness of his date of starting,
to accomplish great results before Hooker was substantially beaten; but
it would appear that he could have materially contributed to lessen the
disastrous nature of the defeat, if no more.

His movements were characterized by great weakness. He did not seem to
understand, that safety as well as success depended upon moving with a
body large enough to accomplish results. Instead of this, he sent,
to perform the most important work, bodies so small as to be unable to
destroy bridges, when guarded by a few companies of infantry and a
couple of guns.

And the damage done appears to have all been repaired by the time the
raiders got back to camp.

Hooker’s criticism in this instance is quite just: “On the 4th, the
cavalry column, under Gen. Stoneman, commenced its return. One party of
it, under Gen. Kilpatrick, crossed the Aquia and Richmond Railroad; and
the fact that on the 5th, the cars carried the rebel wounded and our
prisoners over the road to Richmond, will show to what extent the
enemy’s communications had been interrupted. An examination of the
instructions Gen. Stoneman received, in connection with the official
report of his operations, fully sustains me in saying that no officer
ever made a greater mistake in construing his orders, and no one ever
accomplished less in so doing. The effect of throwing his body of
cavalry in the rear of the enemy, and on his communications, at the time
it was in his power to have done it, can readily be estimated. But
instead, that important arm of the army became crippled to an extent
which seriously embarrassed me in my subsequent operations. Soon after,
Gen. Stoneman applied for and obtained a sick-leave; and I requested
that it might be indefinitely extended to him. It is charitable to
suppose that Gens. Stoneman and Averell did not read their orders,
and determined to carry on operations in conformity with their own views
and inclinations.”

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