While all this had been transpiring on the right, Lee, to keep his
opponent busy, and prevent his sending re-enforcements to the flank
Jackson was thus threatening, had been continually tapping at the lines
in his front. But, owing to the small force left with him, he confined
this work to Hooker’s centre, where he rightly divined his headquarters
to be. About seven A.M. the clearing at Chancellorsville was shelled by
some of Anderson’s batteries, obliging the trains there parked to go to
the rear into the woods.
Hancock states that the enemy frequently opened with artillery, and made
infantry assaults on his advanced line of rifle-pits, but was always
handsomely repulsed. “During the sharp contests of that day, the enemy
was never able to reach my principal line of battle, so stoutly and
successfully did Col. Miles (who commanded the advanced line) contest
Col. Miles says his line was constantly engaged skirmishing with the
enemy during the day. At about three P.M. the Confederates massed
troops in two columns, one on each side the road, flanked by a line some
eight hundred yards long, in the woods. An impetuous charge was made to
within twenty yards of the abattis, but it was baffled by our sturdy
Sickles, then still in reserve, had made a reconnoissance early on
Saturday, in Hancock’s front, with the Eleventh Massachusetts and
Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, covered by some sharpshooters; had
driven in the enemy’s pickets, and found him, to all appearances,
in force. This was Anderson’s line.
The Twelfth Corps had also made a reconnoissance down the plank road
later in the day, but with no immediate results.
All that was accomplished was a mere feeling of the other’s lines by
either force. Hooker vainly endeavored to ascertain Lee’s strength at
various places in his front. Lee, to good purpose, strove to amuse
Hooker by his bustle and stir, to deceive him as to the weakness of his
force, and to gain time.
During the afternoon of Saturday, Hooker had a rare chance of redeeming
his error made, the day before, in withdrawing from the open country to
the Wilderness, and of dealing a fatal blow to his antagonist. He knew
that Jackson, with twenty-five thousand men, was struggling through
difficult roads towards his right. Whatever his object, the division of
Lee’s forces was a fact. He knew that there could be left in his front
not more than an equal number. It was actually less than eighteen
thousand men; but Hooker, with his knowledge of Lee’s strength, could
not estimate it at more than twenty-five thousand by any calculation he
could make. Himself had over seventy thousand men in line, and ready to
mass on any given point. He ought to have known that Lee was too astute
a tactician seriously to attack him in front, while Jackson was
manoeuvring to gain his right. And all Lee’s conduct during the day was
palpable evidence that he was seeking to gain time.
However much Hooker may have believed that Jackson was retreating,
he was bound to guard against the possibility of an attack, knowing as
he did Jackson’s whereabouts and habit of rapid mystery. Had he thrown
the entire Eleventh Corps en potence to his main line, as above
indicated, to arrest or retard an attack if made; had he drawn troops
from Meade on the extreme left, where half an hour’s reconnoitring would
have shown that nothing was in his front, and from Couch’s reserves in
the centre; had he thrown heavy columns out where Birney was, to prevent
the re-union of Jackson and Lee, and to make a determined attack upon
the latter’s left while Hancock pressed him in front,–half the vigor
displayed in the early days of this movement would have crushed the Army
of Northern Virginia beyond recovery for this campaign. Lee’s only
salvation would have lain in instant withdrawal from our front, and a
retreat towards Gordonsville to re-unite with his lieutenant.
However he might have disposed his forces for an attack on Saturday
afternoon, he could have committed no mistake as great as the half-way
measures which have been narrated. And if the heavy fighting of Sunday
had been done the day before with any thing like the dispositions
suggested, it could have scarcely failed of brilliant success for the
Army of the Potomac.
But six o’clock came: Hooker still lay listlessly awaiting an attack,
with his forces disjointedly lodged, and with no common purpose of
action; and Jackson had gathered for his mighty blow.
It is but fair to give weight to every circumstance which shall moderate
the censure attributable to Hooker for his defeat in this campaign.
Early in the morning, after his inspection of the lines on the right,
which was made with thoroughness, and after receipt of the first news of
the movement of troops across our front, Hooker issued the following
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CHANCELLORSVILLE, VA., May 2, 1863, 9.30 A.M.
MAJOR-GEN. SLOCUM AND MAJOR-GEN. HOWARD.
I am directed by the major-general commanding to say that the
disposition you have made of your corps has been with a view to a front
attack by the enemy. If he should throw himself upon your flank,
he wishes you to examine the ground, and determine upon the positions
you will take in that event, in order that you may be prepared for him
in whatever direction he advances. He suggests that you have heavy
reserves well in hand to meet this contingency. The right of your line
does not appear to be strong enough. No artificial defences worth
naming have been thrown up; and there appears to be a scarcity of troops
at that point, and not, in the general’s opinion, as favorably posted as
We have good reason to suppose that the enemy is moving to our right.
Please advance your pickets for purposes of observation as far as may be,
in order to obtain timely information of their approach.
JAMES H. VAN ALEN,
Brigadier-General and Aide-de-Camp.
Although addressed to Slocum as well as Howard, this order scarcely
applied with much force to the former, who occupied the right centre of
the army, with Birney lying between him and the Eleventh Corps. Howard
carried out his part of these instructions as well as circumstances
allowed. He posted Barlow’s brigade, his largest and best, on the
Buschbeck line, in position for a general reserve for the corps, and
took advantage of the ground in a manner calculated to strengthen his
flank, and to enable it to cover a change of front if necessary; he
placed his reserve artillery on the right of the rifle-pits running
across the road at Dowdall’s; he located several regiments on Dowdall’s
clearing so as to wheel to the west or south as might be required; Major
Hoffman was set to work, and spent the entire day locating and
supervising the construction of field-works; and generally, Howard
disposed the forces under his command after a fashion calculated to
oppose a stubborn resistance to attacks down the pike, should they be
Later on in the day, we have seen how Hooker’s aide, Capt. Moore,
ordered this brigade of Barlow’s away from its all-important position.
We have seen Hooker’s dispositions of the Third and Twelfth Corps.
We have seen Hooker’s 4.10 P.M. order to Sedgwick. No room is left to
doubt that Hooker’s opinion, if he had any, underwent a change after
issuing these instructions, and that he gave up the idea of an attack
upon the right. His dispositions certainly resulted in convincing
Howard that he had done so.
But suppose Hooker still remained of the same opinion during the
afternoon, was the issue of this circular in the morning enough?
If he supposed it probable that the enemy would strike our right,
was it not the duty of the commanding general, at least to see that the
threatened flank was properly protected,–that the above order was
carried out as he intended it should be? No attack sufficient to
engross his attention had been made, or was particularly threatened
elsewhere; and a ten-minutes’ gallop would bring him from headquarters
to the questionable position. He had some excellent staff-officers–
Gen. Warren among others–who could have done this duty; but there is no
evidence of any one having been sent. Gen. Howard, in fact, states that
no inspection by, or by the order of, Gen. Hooker was made during the
day, after the one in the early morning.
It may be alleged that Hooker had desired to draw in the extended right
the evening before, and had yielded only to the claim that that position
could be held against any attack coming from the front. This is true.
But when half his enemy’s forces, after this disposition was made,
are moved to and massed on his right, and have actually placed
themselves where they can take his line in reverse, is it still fair to
urge this plea? Hooker claims that his “instructions were utterly and
criminally disregarded.” But inasmuch as common-sense, not to quote
military routine, must hold him accountable for the removal of Barlow
(for how can a general shelter himself from the consequences of the acts
of his subordinates, when these acts are in pursuance of orders received
from his own aide-de-camp?), and himself acknowledges the disposition
made of Sickles and Slocum, can the facts be fairly said to sustain the
charge? There was, moreover, so much bitterness exhibited after this
campaign, that, had the facts in the slenderest degree warranted such
action, formal charges would assuredly have been brought against Howard
and his division commanders, on the demand alike of the commander-in-
chief and a disappointed public.
POSITION OF THE ELEVENTH CORPS.
Gen. Howard states that he located his command, both with reference to
an attack from the south, and from the west along the old turnpike and
the plank road. The whole corps lies on a ridge along which runs the
turnpike, and which is the watershed of the small tributaries of the
Rappahannock and Mattapony Rivers. This ridge is terminated on the
right by some high and easily-defended ground near Talley’s.
Gen. Devens, with the first division, holds the extreme right. He has
less than four thousand men under his command. Von Gilsa’s brigade has,
until this morning, been half a mile farther out the pike, and across
the road; but on receipt of Hooker’s 9.30 order has been withdrawn,
and now lies with two regiments astride and north of the pike, some
distance beyond Talley’s, the rest skirting the south of it. His right
regiment leans upon that portion of the Brock road which is the
prolongation of the eastern branch, and which, after crossing the plank
road and pike, bears north-westerly, and loses itself in the woods where
formerly was an old mill. McLean’s brigade prolongs von Gilsa’s line
towards Schurz. Dieckman’s battery has two pieces trained westerly down
the pike, and four on Devens’s left, covering, near Talley’s Hill,
the approaches from the plank road. Devens has the Twenty-fifth and
Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteers as a reserve, near the pike.
Schurz’s (third) division continues this line on the edge of the woods
to Dowdall’s. His front hugs the eastern side of the clearing between
the pike and the plank road, thence along the latter to the fork.
Schimmelpfennig’s brigade is on the right, adjoining Devens;
Krzyzanowski’s on the left. Three regiments of the former are on the
line, and two in reserve: the latter has two regiments on the line,
and two in reserve. On Schurz’s right wing, the troops are shut in
between thick woods and their rifle-pits, with no room whatever to
manoeuvre or deploy. This condition likewise applies to many of the
regiments in Devens’s line. The pike is the means of inter-communication,
running back of the woods in their rear. Dilger’s battery is placed
near Dowdall’s, at the intersection of the roads.
Steinwehr considers himself the reserve division. He is more or less
massed near Dowdall’s. Buschbeck’s brigade is in the clearing south of
the road, but has made a line of rifle-pits across the road, facing west,
at the edge of the open ground. Two regiments are deployed, and two are
in reserve. His other brigade, Barlow’s, has been sent out nearly two
miles, to protect Birney’s right, leaving no general reserve whatever
for the corps. Wiederich’s battery is on Steinwehr’s right and left,
Three batteries are in reserve on the line of Buschbeck’s rifle-pits
running north and south. Barlow had been, as above stated, massed as a
general reserve of the corps on Buschbeck’s right,–the only reserve the
corps could boast, and a most necessary one.
Two companies, and some cavalry and artillery, have been sent to the
point where the Ely’s Ford road crosses Hunting Creek.
Devens states that his pickets were kept out a proper distance, and that
he had constant scouting-parties moving beyond them. In his report he
recapitulates the various attacks made during the day. Shortly after
noon, cavalry attacked his skirmishers, but drew off. This was Stuart
protecting Jackson’s flank, and feeling for our lines. Then two men,
sent out from Schimmelpfennig’s front, came in through his, and were
despatched to Hooker with their report that the enemy was in great force
on our flank. Later, Lieut. Davis, of Devens’s staff, with a cavalry
scout, was fired upon by Confederate horse. Then von Gilsa’s
skirmishers were attacked by infantry,–again Stuart seeking to
ascertain our position: after which the pickets were pushed farther out.
Cavalry was afterwards sent out, and returned with information that some
Confederate troopers, and part of a battery, were in the woods on our
But all this seems to have been explained as a retreat. “The unvarying
report was, that the enemy is crossing the plank road, and moving
The ground about Dowdall’s is a clearing of undulating fields, closed on
three sides, and open to the west. As you stand east of the fork of the
roads, you can see a considerable distance down the plank road, leading
to Orange Court House. The pike bears off to the right, and runs up
hill for half a mile, to the eminence at Talley’s.
The dispositions recited were substantially the same as those made when
the corps arrived here on Thursday. They were, early Saturday morning,
inspected by Hooker in person, and pronounced satisfactory. As he rode
along the line with Howard, and with each division commander in
succession, he was greeted with the greatest enthusiasm. His
exclamation to Howard, several times repeated, as he examined the
position,–his mind full of the idea of a front attack, but failing to
seize the danger of the two roads from the west,–was: “How strong!
An hour or two later, having ascertained the Confederate movement across
our front, he had sent his circular to Howard and Slocum. Later still,
as if certain that the enemy was on the retreat, he depleted Howard’s
line by the withdrawal of Barlow, and made dispositions which created
the gap of nigh two miles on Howard’s left.
Howard, during the day, frequently inspected the line, and all
dispositions were approved by him.
And, when Barlow was ordered out to the front, both Howard and Steinwehr
accompanied him. They returned to Dowdall’s Tavern just as Jackson
launched his columns upon the Eleventh Corps.
THE SITUATION AT SIX O’CLOCK.
It is now six o’clock of Saturday, May 2, 1863, a lovely spring evening.
The Eleventh Corps lies quietly in position. Supper-time is at hand.
Arms are stacked on the line; and the men, some with accoutrements hung
upon the stacks, some wearing their cartridge-boxes, are mostly at the
fires cooking their rations, careless of the future, in the highest
spirits and most vigorous condition. Despite the general talk during
the entire afternoon, among officers and rank and file alike, of a
possible attack down the pike, all but a few are happily unsuspicious of
the thunder-cloud gathering on their flank. There is a general feeling
that it is too late to get up much of a fight to-day.