The Campaign of Chancellorsville

At daylight the Twelfth Corps led the column, Geary in advance. Near
the Wilderness, the head of column was attacked from the south by some
cavalry and a couple of guns. Stuart had come up from Raccoon Ford the
day previous. But a slight demonstration cleared the road; and Stuart
retired, sending part of his force to Fredericksburg, and accompanying
the rest to Spotsylvania Court House.

About two P.M., Thursday, these two corps, under command of Slocum,
reached Chancellorsville, and found a portion of the Fifth Corps already
in position there. The Twelfth Corps was deployed south of the plank
road, with left at the Chancellor House, and the right near Wilderness
Church, which line the Eleventh Corps prolonged to the vicinity of
Hunting Creek.

The Fifth Corps had marched to Kelley’s Ford, and crossed in rear of the
Twelfth Corps. From here, Sykes’s and Griffin’s divisions marched
towards Ely’s Ford, preceded by Col. Devin’s Sixth New York Cavalry,
which surprised the pickets at that place. The troops crossed by
wading. Humphreys remained behind to cover the passage of the trains,
and after followed the column.

On crossing the Rapidan, Sykes was pushed towards United-States Ford,
to dislodge the Confederate force there, by thus taking in reverse their
position, while Griffin marched to Chancellorsville. The whole corps
soon after united at the latter place, and was located with its right
joining Slocum, and the left extending towards the river, facing Mine

A skirmish of no particular moment had occurred between Griffin and
Anderson, as the former reached Chancellorsville. Anderson had been
retiring before the Federal advance, on the plank road towards
Fredericksburg. His rear guard made a short stand at the crossroads,
but withdrew after a few rounds; and Anderson took up a position near
Mine Road, where numerous ravines, perpendicular to the river, afforded
excellent successive lines of defence.

On reaching Chancellorsville, Slocum took command of the three corps
there assembled. He was ordered to ascertain, by a cavalry party,
whether the enemy were detaching any considerable force from
Fredericksburg to meet his column. If not, an advance at all hazards
was to be made, and a position on the plank road which would uncover
Banks’s Ford to be secured. If the enemy were in strong force, Slocum
was to select a position, and compel his attack. Not a moment was to be
lost until the troops were concentrated at Chancellorsville. “From that
moment all will be ours,” said Hooker.

The inconsistency of these orders can be explained only by marked
ignorance of the country. To secure a position which would uncover
Banks’s Ford was certainly a great desideratum; but the possession of
Chancellorsville was far from accomplishing this end, as we shall see.

So admirably planned and executed were all orders up to this time,
that on Thursday, by two P.M., three corps of nearly forty thousand men
were concentrated on Lee’s flank, while the latter was still unaware of
the presence of any considerable Federal force in this vicinity.

On Monday Couch had been ordered to march two divisions of his (Second)
corps to Banks’ Ford, but to keep back from the river, and to show no
more than the usual pickets. One brigade and a battery to be sent to
United-States Ford, there to relieve an equal detail of the Eleventh
Corps, which would rejoin its command. All their artillery to move with
these two divisions, and to be ready to cover a forced crossing.
The division whose camps at Falmouth were most easily seen by the enemy
from across the river (it happened to be Gibbon’s) to be left in camp to
do picket and provost duty. The Third Corps would be available in case
the enemy himself attempted a crossing. Gibbon to be ready to join the
command at any time.

On Thursday, as soon as Anderson withdrew Mahone’s and Posey’s brigades
from United-States Ford, which he did when Meade’s crossing at Ely’s had
flanked that position, Couch, whose bridge was all ready to throw,
was ordered to cross, and march in support towards the heaviest firing.
This he did, with French and Hancock, and reached Chancellorsville the
same evening.

Swinton, rather grandiloquently, says, “To have marched a column of
fifty thousand men, laden with sixty pounds of baggage and encumbered
with artillery and trains, thirty-seven miles in two days; to have
bridged and crossed two streams, guarded by a vigilant enemy, with the
loss of half a dozen men, one wagon, and two mules,–is an achievement
which has few parallels, and which well deserves to rank with Prince
Eugene’s famous passage of the Adige.”

However exaggerated this praise may be, Hooker nevertheless deserves
high encomiums on his management of the campaign so far. Leaving
Stoneman’s delay out of the question, nothing had gone wrong or been
mismanaged up to the present moment. But soon Hooker makes his first

At 12.30 on Thursday, the Third Corps, which lay near Franklin’s
Crossing, on the north side of the river, received orders to proceed by
the shortest route, and concealed from the enemy, to United-States Ford,
to be across the river by seven A.M., Friday; in pursuance of which
order, Sickles immediately started, in three columns, following the
ravines to Hamet’s, at the intersection of the Warrenton pike and
United-States Ford road. Here he bivouacked for the night. At five
A.M. Friday he marched to the ford, and passed it with the head of his
column at seven A.M., Birney leading, Whipple and Berry in the rear.
Leaving Mott’s brigade and a battery to protect the trains at the ford,
he then pushed on, and reported at Chancellorsville at nine A.M.
Under Hooker’s orders he massed his corps near the junction of the roads
to Ely’s and United-States Fords, in the open near Bullock’s, sending a
brigade and a battery to Dowdall’s Tavern.

Hooker, meanwhile, had arrived at Chancellorsville, and taken command.
He at once issued this characteristic order:–

CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., April 30, 1863.


It is with heartfelt satisfaction that the commanding general announces
to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined
that our enemy must ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his
defences, and give us battle on our own ground, where certain
destruction awaits him.

The operations of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps have been a
succession of splendid achievements.

By command of Major-Gen. Hooker.
Assistant Adjutant-General.

Pleasonton, during Thursday, pushed out towards Fredericksburg and
Spotsylvania Court House to observe the enemy.

Fitz Hugh Lee had bivouacked this evening at Todd’s Tavern. Stuart,
with his staff, had started towards Fredericksburg to report the
condition of affairs to Gen. Lee. It was a bright moonlight night.
A mile or two on the road he ran against a party of Federal horsemen,
the advance of the Sixth New York Cavalry, under Lieut.-Col. McVicar.
Sending back for the Fifth Virginia Cavalry, Lee attacked the Federal
troopers, leading in person at the head of his staff; but, being
repulsed, he sent for the entire brigade to come up, with which he drove
back McVicar’s detachment.

The combat lasted some time, and was interesting as being a night affair,
in which the naked weapon was freely used. Its result was to prevent
Pleasonton from reaching Spotsylvania Court House, where he might have
destroyed a considerable amount of stores.

The position on Thursday evening was then substantially this. At
Hamilton’s Crossing there was no change. Each party was keenly scanning
the movements of the other, seeking to divine his purpose. Sedgwick and
Reynolds were thus holding the bulk of Lee’s army at and near
Fredericksburg. Hooker, with four corps, and Sickles close by, lay at
Chancellorsville, with only Anderson’s small force in his front, and
with his best chances hourly slipping away. For Lee, by this time aware
of the real situation, hesitated not a moment in the measures to be
taken to meet the attack of his powerful enemy.



Let us now turn to Lee, and see what he has been doing while Hooker thus
discovered check.

Pollard says: “Lee calmly watched this” (Sedgwick’s) “movement, as well
as the one higher up the river under Hooker, until he had penetrated the
enemy’s design, and seen the necessity of making a rapid division of his
own forces, to confront him on two different fields, and risking the
result of fighting him in detail.”

Lossing states Lee’s object as twofold: to retain Banks’s Ford, so as to
divide Hooker’s army, and to keep his right wing in the Wilderness.

Let us listen to Lee himself. In his report he says he was convinced on
Thursday, as Sedgwick continued inactive, that the main attack would be
made on his flank and rear. “The strength of the force which had
crossed, and its apparent indisposition to attack, indicated that the
principal effort of the enemy would be made in some other quarter.”

He states that on April 14 he was informed that Federal cavalry was
concentrating on the upper Rappahannock. On the 21st, that small bodies
of infantry had appeared at Kelley’s Ford. These movements, and the
demonstrations at Port Royal, “were evidently intended to conceal the
designs of the enemy,” who was about to resume active operations.

The Federal pontoon bridges and troops below Fredericksburg “were
effectually protected from our artillery by the depth of the river’s bed
and the narrowness of the stream, while the batteries on the other side
completely commanded the wide plain between our lines and the river.”

“As at the first battle of Fredericksburg, it was thought best to select
positions with a view to resist the advance of the enemy, rather than
incur the heavy loss that would attend any attempt to prevent his

At the time of Hooker’s flank movement, there were between the
Rappahannock and Rapidan no troops excepting some twenty-seven hundred
cavalry under Stuart, forming Lee’s extreme left. But Stuart made up
for his small numbers by his promptness in conveying to his chief
information of every movement and of the size of every column during
Hooker’s passage of the rivers. And the capture of a few prisoners from
each of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps enabled him and his
superior to gauge the dimensions of the approaching army with fair

But until Thursday night the plan of Hooker’s attack was not
sufficiently developed to warrant decisive action on the part of Lee.

Of the bulk of the Confederate forces, Early’s division was ahead at
Hamilton’s Crossing, intrenched in an almost impregnable position.
On Wednesday, April 29, the rest of Jackson’s corps was moved up from
below, where Doubleday’s and Morrow’s demonstrations had until now kept

A. P. Hill’s and Trimble’s divisions were in the second and third lines
on this wing; while Anderson and McLaws, the only troops of Longstreet’s
corps left with the Army of Northern Virginia, held the intrenchments
along the river above Fredericksburg. Barksdale was in the town.
Pendleton with the reserve artillery was at Massaponax.

When, from Sedgwick’s inactivity and the information received from
Stuart, Lee, on Wednesday afternoon, had been led to suspect that the
main attack might be from the columns crossing above, he had immediately
ordered Anderson to occupy Chancellorsville with Wright’s brigade,
and with Mahone and Posey from United-States Ford, so soon as that
position was compromised, leaving a few companies there to dispute its
possession as long as possible.

We have seen how Anderson engaged Meade near Chancellorsville as the
latter advanced, and then retired to a position near Mine-Run road.
Here was the crest of a hill running substantially north and south.
Gen. Lee had already selected this line; and Col. Smith, his chief
engineer, had drawn up a plan of intrenchments. Anderson detailed men,
who, during the night, threw up some strong field-works.

Late Thursday night Lee appears first fully to have matured his plan for
parrying Hooker’s thrust.

Barksdale’s brigade was left at Fredericksburg, where during the winter
it had been doing picket-duty, to form the left of the line remaining to
oppose Sedgwick. Part of Pendleton’s reserve artillery was near by;
while Early, commanding this entire body, held Hamilton’s Crossing.
He had a force of eighty-five hundred muskets, and thirty pieces of

The rest of his army Lee at once took well in hand, and moved out to
meet the Army of the Potomac. McLaws was hurried forward to sustain the
line taken up by Anderson. He arrived on the ground by daylight of
Friday, and went into position in rifle-pits on the right about Smith’s

Jackson, equally alert, but having a longer distance to march from the
extreme right along the military road, arrived about eight A.M., took
command, and, as was his wont, ordered an immediate advance, throwing
Owens’s regiment of cavalry forward to reconnoitre.

Posey and Wright followed Owens on the plank road, with Alexander’s
battalion of artillery. Mahone, and Jordan’s battery detached from
Alexander, marched abreast of his right, on the pike.

McLaws followed Mahone, and Wilcox and Perry were called from Banks’s
Ford to sustain this column, which McLaws directed; while Jackson,
following on the plank road, watched the operations of the left.



So far the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac had been at Falmouth,
where still remained Gen. Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff. The
last order from this point had been on Thursday to Gen. Sedgwick,
who was therein notified that headquarters would be that night at
Chancellorsville; that an advance would be made Friday morning along the
plank road (meaning probably the pike) towards Fredericksburg, to
uncover Banks’s Ford, thus making a shorter communication through
Butterfield, who would still remain at Falmouth. This order
substantially recapitulates former instructions, and is full of the
flash and vim of an active mind, till then intent on its work and
abreast of the situation. It urges on Sedgwick co-operation with the
right wing, and the most vigorous pushing of the enemy. It impresses on
him that both wings will be within easy communication, and ready to
spring to one another’s assistance.

Slower than his adversary, and failing to follow up with vigor his
advantage already gained, Hooker assumes command in person, and
reconnoitres the ground between himself and Fredericksburg. He then
orders Meade, with Griffin, followed by Humphreys, and with three
batteries, to march along the river road to some commanding point
between Mott and Colin Runs; his advance to be masked by throwing out
small parties, and his command to be in position by two P.M., while
Sykes’s division, supported by Hancock’s division of the Second Corps,
march out the turnpike to a corresponding distance, each force then
deploying towards the other, and engaging the enemy supposed to be in
that vicinity.

A third column, consisting of the Twelfth Corps, he orders to march by
the plank road, and to be massed near Tabernacle Church, masked in like
manner; to be in position by midday, so that the Eleventh Corps can move
up to take position a mile in its rear as reserve, by two P.M.

French’s division of the Second Corps, and one battery, are ordered to
Todd’s Tavern, from which detachments are to be thrown out on the
various roads.

The unemployed troops are massed at Chancellorsville, out of the roads.
Pleasonton holds his cavalry brigade there in readiness to move.
Hooker announces his headquarters at Tabernacle Church as soon as the
movement opens.

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