The Campaign of Chancellorsville
by Theodore A. Dodge
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


by Theodore A. Dodge

To the members of The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, of whose researches into the history of our Civil War the following pages form but a modest part, this volume is, with Sincere Regard, Dedicated by the author.

Transcriber's Note:

Errata and other transcription notes are included as an appendix

As companion to this etext, I recommend maps available on the Internet from the History Department of the U. S. Military Academy:





It must seem to the casual reader of the history of the war of 1861-65, that enough has already been written upon the campaign of Chancellorsville. And there are numerous brilliant essays, in the histories now before the public, which give a coup-d'oeil more or less accurate of this ten-days' passage of arms. But none of these spread before the reader facts sufficiently detailed to illustrate the particular theory advanced by each to account for the defeat of the Army of the Potomac on this field.

The stigma besmirching the character of the Eleventh Corps, and of Howard, its then commanding general, for a panic and rout in but a small degree owing to them; the unjust strictures passed upon Sedgwick for his failure to execute a practically impossible order; the truly remarkable blunders into which Gen. Hooker allowed himself to lapse, in endeavoring to explain away his responsibility for the disaster; the bare fact, indeed, that the Army of the Potomac was here beaten by Lee, with one-half its force; and the very partial publication, thus far, of the details of the campaign, and the causes of our defeat,—may stand as excuse for one more attempt to make plain its operations to the survivors of the one hundred and eighty thousand men who there bore arms, and to the few who harbor some interest in the subject as mere history.

To say that Gen. Hooker lapsed into blunders in explaining his share in this defeat, is to use a form of words purposely tempered to the memory of a gallant soldier, who, whatever his shortcomings, has done his country signal service; and to avoid the imputation of baldly throwing down the gauntlet of ungracious criticism. All reference to Gen. Hooker's skill or conduct in this, one of the best conceived and most fatally mismanaged of the many unsuccessful advances of the Army of the Potomac, is made with sincere appreciation of his many admirable qualities, frankly, and untinged by bitterness. But it must be remembered, that Gen. Hooker has left himself on record as the author of many harsh reflections upon his subordinates; and that to mete out even justice to all requires unvarnished truth.

The most uncalled-for slur upon the conduct of his lieutenants probably occurs in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Before withdrawing from the south side of the Rappahannock, after the decisive events of the battle-field had cooped up the army between the river and its intrenchments, Hooker called together all his corps commanders, and requested their several opinions as to the advisability of attack or retreat. Whatever discussion may have then been had, it was generally understood, in after-days, that all but one of these generals had expressed himself freely for an immediate advance. In referring to this understanding, while denying its correctness, Hooker used the following language:—

"So far as my experience extends, there are in all armies officers more valiant after the fight than while it is pending; and, when a truthful history of the Rebellion shall be written, it will be found that the Army of the Potomac is not an exception."

Merely to characterize as ungenerous this aspersion upon the courage of such men as then served under Hooker, savors of error on the side of leniency. And, inasmuch as these words strike, as it were, the keynote of all the statements which Hooker has vouchsafed with reference to these events, they might be assumed fairly to open the door to unsparing criticism. But it is hoped that this course has been avoided; and that what censure is dealt out to Gen. Hooker in the succeeding pages will be accepted, even by his advocates, in the kindly spirit in which it is meant, and in which every soldier of the beloved old Army of the Potomac must uniformly refer to every other.

There is, moreover, no work on Chancellorsville which results from research into all records now accessible.

The work of Allan and Hotchkiss, of 1867, than which nothing can be more even-handed, or more admirable as far as it goes, adopts generally the statements made in the reports of the Confederate generals: and these are necessarily one-sided; reports of general officers concerning their own operations invariably are. Allan and Hotchkiss wrote with only the Richmond records before them, in addition to such information from the Federal standpoint as may be found in general orders, the evidence given before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and newspaper correspondence. At that time many of the Federal reports were not to be had: such as were at the War Department were hardly accessible. Reports had been duly made by all superior officers engaged in and surviving this campaign, excepting only the general in command; but, strange to say, not only did Gen. Hooker refrain from making a report, but he retained in his personal possession many of the records of the Army of the Potomac covering the period of his command, and it is only since his death that these records have been in part recovered by the Secretary of War. Some are still missing, but they probably contain no important matter not fully given elsewhere.

Although Hooker testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: "Without an exception I forwarded to that office"—the War Department—"all the reports and returns and information concerning the army, and furnished them promptly, and, as I think, as no other army commander has done," his memory had at the moment played him traitor, for a considerable part of these records were not disposed of as stated. It should be remarked, however, that Hooker is not singular in this leaning towards the meum in the matter of records.

The sources relied on for the facts herein given are the reports of the officers engaged, both Federal and Confederate, added to many private notes, memoranda, and maps, made by them; the testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, which included Hooker's examination; and the maps made by the Engineer Department of the United-States Army, and those of Capt. Hotchkiss.

This latter officer was the topographical engineer of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, and made his surveys by order of Gen. Lee immediately after the campaign. They are of the greatest assistance and value.

Eighteen years have elapsed since North and South crossed swords upon this memorable field; and it would seem that all Americans can now contemplate with unruffled heart the errors under which "the Army of the Potomac was here beaten without ever being fought," as well as boast with equal pride, not only of the abundant courage displayed by either side, but of the calm skill with which Gen. Lee wrested victory from a situation desperately compromised, and of the genius of that greatest of his lieutenants, Thomas J. Jackson, who here sealed with his blood his fidelity to the cause he loved so well.

It has been said that this campaign furnishes as much material for the psychological as for the military student. And certainly nothing less than a careful analysis of Hooker's character can explain the abnormal condition into which his mental and physical energy sank during the second act of this drama. He began with really masterly moves, speedily placing his wary adversary at the saddest disadvantage. But, having attained this height, his power seemed to pass away as from an over-tasked mind. With twice the weight of arm, and as keen a blade, he appeared quite unable to parry a single lunge of Lee's, quite unable to thrust himself. He allowed his corps commanders to be beaten in detail, with no apparent effort to aid them from his abundant resources, the while his opponent was demanding from every man in his command the last ounce of his strength. And he finally retired, dazed and weary, across the river he had so ably and boastingly placed behind him ten days before, against the opinion of nearly all his subordinates; for in this case the conditions were so plain that even an informal council of war advised a fight.

With character-study, however, this sketch has nothing to do. It is confined to describing events, and suggesting queries for the curious in military history.


The first two years of civil strife had closed. The American people, which so far had shown more aptness at learning than skill in waging war, may be said to have passed through its apprenticeship in arms. The broad plan of operations, intelligently but rudely conceived at the outset by the greater spirits among our commanders, began to be more clearly grasped. The political strategy of both contestants made Virginia the field on which the left wing of the Federal armies pivoted, while the right swung farther and farther south and east, and the Confederates gallantly struggled for every foot of territory, yielding only to the inexorable. This right wing had already possession of the Mississippi as far south as Vicksburg, around which place Grant was preparing to tighten his coils; it had occupied the line of the Tennessee River, and had rendered useless to the Confederates the railroad from Memphis to Chattanooga, which had been the great central artery between Richmond and the trans-Mississippi States. The Southern partisans, with Morgan and Forrest as typical chiefs, had up to this period played, in the West especially, a very important part. They as much exceeded our cavalry in enterprise as they had advantage over it in knowledge of the country and in assistance from its population. They had on more than one occasion tapped the too long and slender lines of operation of our foremost armies. They had sent Grant to the right-about from his first march on Vicksburg, thus neutralizing Sherman's attempt at Chickasaw Bayou. They had compelled Buell to forfeit his hardly-earned footing, and to fall back from the Tennessee River to Louisville at the double-quick in order to beat Bragg in the race towards the gate of the Northern States, which disaster was happily soon retrieved by the latter's bloody check before Murfreesborough. Yet, despite these back-sets, the general course of events showed that Providence remained on the side of the heaviest battalions; and the spring of 1863 saw our armies extended from the pivot midway between the rival capitals in a more or less irregular line, and interrupted by the Alleghany Mountains, to Vicksburg and the Father of Waters.

Great as was the importance of success in Virginia, the Confederates had appreciated the fact as had not the political soldiers at the head of the Federal department of war. Our resources always enabled us to keep more men, and more and better material, on this battle-ground, than the Confederates could do; but this strength was constantly offset by the ability of the Southern generals, and their independence of action, as opposed to the frequent unskilfulness of ours, who were not only never long in command, but were then tied hand and foot to some ideal plan for insuring the safety of Washington. The political conditions under which the Army of the Potomac had so far constantly acted had never allowed it to do justice to its numbers, mobility, or courage; while Mr. Lincoln, who actually assumed the powers of commander-in-chief, technically intrusted to him by the Constitution, was swayed to and fro by his own fears for the safety of his capital, and by political schemes and military obtuseness at his elbow.

Whether the tedious delays and deferred success, occasioned by these circumstances, were not eventually a benefit, in that they enabled the country to bring forth in the fulness of time the conditions leading to the extinguishment of slavery, which an earlier close of the war might not have seen; not to mention the better appreciation by either combatant of the value of the other, which a struggle to the bitter end alone could generate,—is a question for the political student. But it will always remain in doubt whether the practical exhaustion of the resources of the South was not a condition precedent to ending the war,—whether, in sooth, the "last ditch" was not actually reached when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

In the West, merit had by this time brought to the surface the generals who later led us to successful victories. Their distance from the central controlling power resulted in their being let alone to work out their own salvation. Opposed to them had been some excellent but not the best of the Confederate leaders; while Virginia boasted the elite of the Southern troops, the strongest of the captains, and the most daring of the lieutenants, developed by the war.

Since the Russian campaign of Bonaparte, no such vast forces had been under arms. To command these required not only the divine military spark, but hardly-acquired experience. And the mimic war which the elements of European army life always affords had been wanting to educate our generals. It is not wonderful, then, that two years of fruitless campaigning was needed to teach our leaders how to utilize on such difficult terrain material equally vast in extent and uncouth in quality. For, however apt the American to learn the trade of war,—or any other,—it is a moot-point whether his independence of character is compatible with the perfect soldier, as typified in Friedrich's regiments, or the Old Guard.

But ability, native or acquired, forced its way to the front; and the requisite experience was gradually gained, for the school was one where the trade was quickly taught. Said Gen. Meade on one occasion, "The art of war must be acquired like any other. Either an officer must learn it at the academy, or he must learn it by experience in the field. Provided he has learned it, I don't care whether he is a West-Pointer, or not."

In the East, then, the army had been led by McDowell, McClellan, Pope, and Burnside, to victory and defeat equally fruitless. The one experiment so far tried, of giving the Army of the Potomac a leader from the West, culminating in the disaster of the second Bull Run, was not apt to be repeated within the year. That soldier of equal merit and modesty, whom the Army of the Potomac had been gradually educating as its future and permanent leader, was still unpretentiously commanding a corps, and learning by the successes and failures of his superiors. And who shall say that the results accomplished by Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, and Meade, were not largely due to their good fortune in not being too early thrust to the front? "For," as says Swinton, "it was inevitable that the first leaders should be sacrificed to the nation's ignorance of war."

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:—


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, A. LINCOLN.

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 Culpeper.

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.

In Hooker's testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War occurs this tribute to the Confederate infantry: "Our artillery had always been superior to that of the rebels, as was also our infantry, except in discipline; and that, for reasons not necessary to mention, never did equal Lee's army. With a rank and file vastly inferior to our own, intellectually and physically, that army has, by discipline alone, acquired a character for steadiness and efficiency, unsurpassed, in my judgment, in ancient or modern times. We have not been able to rival it, nor has there been any near approximation to it in the other rebel armies."

The cavalry force was small, but energetic and enterprising to a degree as yet by no means equalled by our own. The artillery was neither as good, nor as well equipped or served, as ours, but was commanded with intelligence, and able to give a good account of itself.


An attack of Lee's position in front, even had Burnside's experience not demonstrated its folly, seemed to promise great loss of life without corresponding success.

To turn his right flank required the moving of pontoon trains and artillery over the worst of roads for at least twenty miles, through a country cut up by a multitude of streams running across the route to be taken, and emptying into either the Potomac or Rappahannock; all requiring more or less bridging.

Lee's spy system was excellent. It has been claimed in Southern reports, that his staff had deciphered our signal code by watching a station at Stafford. And Butterfield admits this in one of his despatches of May 3. He would speedily ascertain any such movement, and could create formidable intrenchments on one side the river, as fast as we could build or repair roads on which to move down, upon the other. Moreover, there was a thousand feet of stream to bridge at the first available place below Skenker's Neck.

There remained nothing to do but to turn Lee's left flank; and this could only be accomplished by stratagem, for Lee had strengthened every part of the river by which Hooker could attempt a passage.

But this problem was, despite its difficulties, still possible of solution; and Hooker set himself to work to elucidate it.

So soon as he had matured his plan, which he elaborated with the greatest care, but kept perfectly secret from every one until the movements themselves developed it, although making use of the knowledge and skill of all his generals both before and during its initiation, he speedily prepared for its vigorous execution. In May, the term of service of some twenty-two thousand nine-months and two-years men would expire. These men he must seek to utilize in the campaign.

The first intimation of a forward movement received by the army at large, apart from the Cavalry Corps, had been a circular of April 13, notifying commanding officers to have their troops supplied with eight days' rations, and a hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition, sixty to be carried by the soldiers, and the balance on the pack-mules.

After the battle of Fredericksburg, the army had returned to substantially the same positions and quarters occupied before; and here the men had housed themselves for the winter. The Mud March had broken up these cantonments; but after a few days' absence the several regiments returned to their old camps, and the same huts had generally been re-occupied by the same men. But when Fighting Joe Hooker's orders to march were issued, no one dreamed of any thing but victory; and the Army of the Potomac burned its ships. Nothing was left standing but the mud walls from which the shelter-tent roofs had been stripped, and an occasional chimney. Many of the men (though contrary to orders) set fire to what was left, and the animus non revertendi was as universal as the full confidence that now there lay before the Army of the Potomac a certain road, whatever might bar the path, to the long-wished-for goal of Richmond.


Hooker proposed to open his flank attack by cutting Lee's communications. Accordingly, on April 12, Gen. Stoneman, commanding the Cavalry Corps, received orders to march at seven A.M. next day, with his whole force except one brigade. He was to ascend the Rappahannock, keeping well out of view, and masking his movement with numerous small detachments,—alleging a chase of Jones's guerillas in the Shenandoah valley, as his objective. The river was to be crossed west of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. At Culpeper he was to destroy or disperse Fitz Lee's brigade of some two thousand cavalry, and at Gordonsville the infantry provost-guard; thence to push down the Virginia Central to the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, destroying every thing along the road. As the enemy would probably retreat by the latter route, he was to select strong points on the roads parallel to it, intrench, and hold his ground as obstinately as possible. If Lee retreated towards Gordonsville, he was to harass him day and night. The Confederates had but five thousand sabres to oppose him. "Let your watchword be, Fight! and let all your orders be, Fight, Fight, FIGHT!" exclaimed enthusiastic Joe Hooker in this order. The primary object was to keep the Confederates from retreating to Richmond; and Stoneman was to rely on Hooker's being up with him in six days, or before his supplies were exhausted. If possible, he was to detach at the most available points parties to destroy every thing in the direction of Charlottesville, and of the Pamunkey.

The Cavalry Corps, except Pleasonton's brigade, which accompanied Hooker's headquarters during this movement, left on the 13th. On the 15th Stoneman threw a division across the river at Rappahannock station, where the Orange and Alexandria Railroad crosses the river. But a sudden rise in consequence of heavy rains obliged this division to return by swimming the horses. Gen. Lee says, referring to this check, that "their efforts to establish themselves on the south side of the river were successfully resisted by Stuart." But the rise in the river was the actual cause. There was no crossing of swords.

At the time the cavalry marched, an infantry brigade and a battery were sent to Kelley's Ford, and a regiment to United-States Ford, to hold these crossings against scouting parties, or any counter-demonstration on the part of the enemy.

The river did not fall so that Stoneman could pass at that point until the 27th, when it was too late to accomplish valuable results under the orders of the 12th; for the whole army was now on the march. Between the 15th and 27th the cavalry, under instructions from Hooker, remained in camp along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.

It has, however, never been satisfactorily explained why it might not have crossed higher up, and have utilized these precious two weeks. It could not have been of less use than it was, and might possibly have been able to call Stuart's entire force away from Lee's army. Nor was it impossible, in part at least, to do the work cut out for it. Even to threaten Lee's communications would have seriously affected the singleness of purpose he displayed in this campaign.

But the operations of Stoneman, as they had no effect whatever upon the manoeuvres of either Lee or Hooker, may be treated of separately, as a matter almost apart from the one under consideration.

And thus, in the failure of the cavalry raid, miscarried the first effort of this ill-fated campaign.

It is not often that the danger of detaching the entire cavalry force of an army, for service at a distance from its infantry corps, is illustrated in so marked a manner as it was on this occasion. Hooker left himself but a small brigade, of four regiments and a horse-battery, to do the scouting for an army of over one hundred thousand men. Had he retained a sufficient force to march with the main body, there would no doubt have been at least a brigade of it, instead of a few scouts, sent out to near Old Wilderness Tavern and along the Orange plank road to the junction of the Brock road. Jackson's movements would then have been fully known.

The bulk of the cavalry of an army should be with the infantry corps when in the presence of the enemy. For cavalry are the antennae of an army.


Gen. Hooker's plan embraced, besides a cavalry raid to sever the enemy's communications, a demonstration in force on the left to draw the enemy's attention, and the throwing of the main body of his forces across the river on the right.

As early as April 21, Doubleday of the First Corps had been sent down the river to Port Conway with some thirty-five hundred men, to light camp-fires, and make demonstrations with pontoons, after doing which he returned to camp. On the 23d Col. Morrow, with the Twenty-fourth Michigan, went down, and crossed the river to Port Royal in boats.

These demonstrations had been intended to co-operate with Stoneman's raid, which at these dates should have been well on Lee's rear, and to unsettle Lee's firm footing preparatory to the heavy blows Hooker was preparing to deliver; but, as Stoneman was delayed, these movements failed of much of their intended effect. Nevertheless, Jackson's corps was drawn down to the vicinity, and remained there some days.

On Monday, April 27, Hooker issues his orders to the First, Third, and Sixth Corps, to place themselves in position, ready to cross; the First at Pollock's Mills Creek, and the Sixth at Franklin's Crossing, by 3.30 A.M., on Wednesday; and the Third at a place enabling it to cross in support of either of the others at 4.30 A.M. The troops to remain concealed until the movement begins. Artillery to be posted by Gen. Hunt, Chief of Artillery of the army, to protect the crossing. Gen. Benham to have two bridges laid by 3.30 A.M. at each crossing. Troops, as needed, to be detailed to aid his engineer brigade.

Gen. Sedgwick to command the three corps, and make a demonstration in full force on Wednesday morning to secure the telegraph road. Should any considerable force be detached to meet the movement of the right wing, Sedgwick is to carry the works at all hazards. Should the enemy retreat towards Richmond, he is to pursue on the Bowling-Green road, fighting wherever he reaches them, while Hooker will pursue on parallel roads more to the west.

This order was punctually obeyed. Gen. Hunt placed forty-two guns at Franklin's, forty at Pollock's Mill, and sixteen at Traveller's Rest, a mile below, a number more being held in reserve. Those in position were so disposed as to "enfilade the rifle-pits, crush the fire of the enemy's works on the hill, cover the throwing of the bridges, and protect the crossing of the troops." (Hunt.)

These three corps camped that night without fires, and the pontoons were carried to the river by hand to insure secrecy.

At daybreak, Wednesday, Russell's brigade crossed in boats at Franklin's with little opposition. The bridges were then constructed; and Brooks's division passed over with a battery, and established itself strongly on the south side.

At the lower crossing, Reynolds's attempts to throw the bridges early in the morning were defeated by sharpshooters and a supporting regiment. But about half-past eight, the fog, which had been quite dense, lifted; and under fire of the artillery the Confederates were driven away, and the crossing made by Wadsworth.

During Wednesday and Thursday the entire command was held in readiness to force a passage at any time, the bridge-heads being held by Brooks and Wadsworth respectively.


Hooker was a master of logistics. The forethought and excellent judgment displayed in all orders under which these preliminary moves of the army-corps were made, as well as the high condition to which he had brought the army, cannot elicit higher praise than to state the fact, that, with the exception of the Cavalry Corps, all orders issued were carried out au pied de la lettre, and that each body of troops was on hand at the hour and place prescribed. This eulogy must, however, be confined to orders given prior to the time when the fighting began.

On April 26 the commanding officers of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps were directed to march Monday morning, the 27th, towards Kelley's Ford, on the Rappahannock,—some fifteen miles above its junction with the Rapidan,—Howard leading.

As much secrecy as possible was enjoined, and the men were not to be allowed to go down to the river. Eight days' rations to be carried in the haversacks. Each corps to take a battery and two ambulances to a division, the pack-train for small ammunition, and a few wagons for forage only. The rest of the trains to be parked in the vicinity of Banks's Ford out of sight. A sufficient detail, to be made from the troops whose term was about to expire, to be left behind to guard camp, and do provost duty.

Meade was ordered to march the Fifth Corps in connection with the Eleventh and Twelfth, and equipped in similar manner.

The three corps to be in camp at Kelley's Ford, in positions indicated, by four P.M. on Tuesday.

The first day's march was to the vicinity of Hartwood Church. Next day, at four A.M., the head of the column was in motion; and at four P.M. the three corps were in camp at Kelley's Ford.

At six P.M. the pontoon-bridge was begun, under charge of Capt. Comstock of the engineers, by a detail mostly from the Eleventh Corps. Some four hundred men of Buschbeck's brigade crossed in boats, and attacked the enemy's pickets, which retired after firing a single shot. About ten P.M. the bridge was finished, and the troops crossed; the Eleventh Corps during the night, and the Twelfth Corps next morning. The Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment was sent out as flankers to prevent the Confederate scouting-parties from annoying the column. In this they failed of entire success; as the rear of the Eleventh Corps was, during the day, shelled by a Confederate battery belonging to Stuart's horse artillery, and the Twelfth Corps had some slight skirmishing in its front with cavalry detachments from the same command.

As soon as Hooker had seen to the execution of his first orders, he transferred his headquarters to Morrisville, five miles north of Kelley's Ford, and superintended the execution of the crossing and advance. Urging Meade to equal celerity and secrecy in uncovering United-States Ford, he instructed Slocum, should Meade's crossing at Ely's be resisted, to push a column on the south side of the Rapidan to open the latter ford.

At Germania Ford, on the Rapidan, previously seized by an advance party of three or four smart marching regiments, a small body of one hundred and twenty-five Confederate infantry, guarding the supplies for the rebuilding of the bridge, then in progress, was captured.

The cavalry and artillery crossed at once by the ford, as well as a portion of the infantry, the latter wading almost to the armpits. But the construction of the bridge was soon temporarily completed by Gens. Geary and Kane; and the rest of the troops and the pack-mules passed safely, by the light of huge bonfires lighted on the banks. The men were in the highest possible spirits, and testified to their enjoyment of the march by the utmost hilarity.

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 Run.

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 mistake.

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:—



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. S. WILLIAMS, 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 crossing."

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 accuracy.

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 it.

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 artillery.

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 Hill.

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.

Immediately after (11.30 A.M., Friday,) Sedgwick is directed to threaten an attack at one P.M., in the direction of Hamilton's Crossing, to ascertain whether the enemy is hugging his defences in full force. A corps is to be used with proper supports, but nothing more than a demonstration to be made. If certain that the enemy is there in force, Sedgwick is to make no attack.

Sedgwick did not receive this order until about five P. M., but nevertheless made a display in force of Reynolds's corps, with Newton and Brooks in support. But a countermand was soon received, and the troops withdrawn.

As Hooker supposed his enemy to be in line somewhere midway between Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, the purpose of these orders to Sedgwick is not plain. Meade, Sykes, and Slocum were ordered to attack the enemy when met. Sedgwick could aid such an attack by pushing the force in his front at Hamilton's. But a mere demonstration to find out whether the heights were strongly held could have no effect upon the real advance, nor procure Hooker any timely information.

The movement of the three columns out of the Wilderness begins at eleven A.M. It is in accordance with the declared plans of Hooker, and with sound policy. For Chancellorsville is of all places the worst in which to deliver or accept a general engagement, and every mile's advance towards Fredericksburg brings the army into more open ground.

Meade, with Griffin and Humphreys, advances on the river road to within a short distance of Banks's Ford, near Decker's farm. He can easily seize the ford, the possession of which lessens the distance between the wings by six miles. It is the objective Hooker has had in view ever since the movement began. He is preparing to deploy towards Sykes.

Sykes,—to quote Warren,—"on gaining the ridge about a mile and a quarter from Chancellorsville, found the enemy advancing, and driving back our cavalry. This small force resisted handsomely, riding up and firing almost in the faces of the Eleventh Virginia Infantry, which formed the enemy's advance. Gen. Sykes moved forward in double-quick time, attacked the enemy vigorously, and drove him back with loss, till he had gained the position assigned him."

This is a crest in front of the heavy forest, and in range of Anderson's rifle-pits. The Federal skirmishers are the Seventeenth United-States Infantry, supported by Burbank's brigade.

McLaws is in his front, and deploys across the pike, Semmes on the left of the road, Mahone, Perry, and Wofford on the right. Jordan's battery is posted on the Mine road.

Sykes brings up Weed's battery, and opens on Semmes, and drives in his skirmishers, but can make no serious impression on his line. McLaws sends word to Jackson that Sykes is attacking in force, and that the country is favorable for a flank attack.

Jackson orders Kershaw through the woods to join Semmes's left, and sends Wilcox up the Mine road to extend the Confederate right, and head off a Federal advance from this direction.

Sykes thus finds himself overlapped on both flanks. He throws Ayres's regular brigade out on his left, and the One Hundred and Forty-sixth New York on his right. His position is difficult, but he determines to hold it as long as possible.

It is noon. No sounds are heard from the parallel columns. Sykes has to make his line very thin, but holds his ground. If supported, he can maintain himself.

But at this juncture he receives orders to fall back on Chancellorsville, and slowly retires to McGee's; later to his old position, Hancock taking his place in the front line; and he next morning at daylight is also withdrawn, and takes up the line he retains until Sunday morning.

Slocum, in like manner on the plank road, meets Posey and Wright, and a small affair occurs. But Wright is sent along the unfinished railroad, and outflanks him. He is also at this moment ordered to retire.

Meade has had similar orders, and has likewise withdrawn; and Wilcox is sent to Banks's Ford to hold it.

Wright continues his movement along the railroad, as far as Welford's or Catherine's Furnace, when, finding himself beyond communication with his superior, he, in connection with Stuart, who has been holding this point, determines to feel the Union line. Two regiments and a battery are thrown in along the road to Dowdall's Tavern, preceded by skirmishers. Our pickets fall back, and through the dense wood the Confederates reach our line. But they are warmly received, and retire. This is six P.M. Wright now joins his division.

Lee has arrived, and assumes command.

Jackson's divisions, thus following up our retiring columns, by nightfall occupy a line from Mine road to Welford's Furnace. A regiment of cavalry is on the Mine road, and another on the river road as outposts. Stuart remains at the Furnace. McLaws occupies the crest east of Big-Meadow Swamp, and Anderson prolongs his lines westwardly.

Let us now examine into these operations of Friday.

This movement towards Fredericksburg was not a sudden idea of Hooker's, but the result of a carefully studied plan. In his order of April 3, to Sedgwick, he says that he proposes to assume the initiative, advance along the plank road, and uncover Banks's Ford, and at once throw bridges across. Gen. Butterfield, in a communication to Sedgwick of April 30, says, "He (Hooker) expected when he left here, if he met with no serious opposition, to be on the heights west of Fredericksburg to-morrow noon or shortly after, and, if opposed strongly, to-morrow night." In his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, Hooker says, "The problem was, to throw a sufficient force of infantry across at Kelley's Ford, descend the Rappahannock, and knock away the enemy's forces, holding the United-States and Banks's Ford, by attacking them in the rear, and as soon as these fords were opened, to re-enforce the marching column sufficiently for them to continue the march upon the flank of the rebel army until his whole force was routed, and, if successful, his retreat intercepted. Simultaneous with this movement on the right, the left was to cross the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg, and threaten the enemy in that quarter, including his depot of supplies, to prevent his detaching an overwhelming force to his left."

Hooker, moreover, not only told Hunt that he expected to fight near Banks's Ford, but instructed him to get all his artillery to that point from below, where it had been massed to cover Sedgwick's crossing.

There was every reason why the army should be got out of the Wilderness, in the midst of which lies Chancellorsville. This is, of all places in that section, the least fit for an engagement in which the general commanding expects to secure the best tactical results. But out towards Fredericksburg the ground opens, showing a large number of clearings, woods of less density, and a field suited to the operations of all arms.

Every thing should have been done to get the two wings within easier communication; and more than all, having once surprised the enemy, and advanced against him, a retreat should have been made from imperative reasons alone.

Hooker explains this falling back in after-days, before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, thus: "They"—the forces on the turnpike and plank road—"had proceeded but a short distance when the head of the column emerged from the heavy forest, and discovered the enemy to be advancing in line of battle. Nearly all the Twelfth Corps had emerged from the forest at that moment" (this is a very imperfect statement of the facts); "but, as the passage-way through the forest was narrow, I was satisfied that I could not throw troops through it fast enough to resist the advance of Gen. Lee, and was apprehensive of being whipped in detail." And in another place, "When I marched out on the morning of the 1st of May I could get but few troops into position: the column had to march through narrow roads, and could not be thrown forward fast enough to prevent their being overwhelmed by the enemy in his advance. On assuming my position, Lee advanced on me in that manner, and was soon repulsed, the column thrown back in confusion into the open ground. It could not live there. The roads through the forest were not unlike bridges to pass. A mile or more in advance of the position I had would have placed me beyond the forest, where, with my superior forces, the enemy would in all probability have been beaten."

This was not a valid conclusion from the actual facts. Listen to his subordinates' statements.

Gen. Humphreys testifies before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, with reference to this falling-back: "It was totally unexpected to me: I thought it was part of the plan to attack him as quickly as possible. We had surprised them, and were strong enough to attack them." "After Friday I was apprehensive we should not have the success we had expected." "I think it was a mistake to fight a defensive battle after surprising the enemy." "I think we should have attacked the enemy immediately." "I must give my opinion, since you ask me; for I have an opinion, as a military man, from the general facts I know, and that I suppose I am obliged to express. My opinion is that we should not have been withdrawn, called back, on Friday afternoon. We had advanced along the road to Fredericksburg to attack the enemy: the troops were in fine spirits, and we wanted to fight a battle. I think we ought to have fought the enemy there. They came out, and attacked one division of the corps I belonged to, just at the time we returned to Chancellorsville. What caused Gen. Hooker to return after advancing some miles on this general position, which was about perpendicular to the plank road leading to Fredericksburg, I am not able to say, because, being only a division commander, the facts were not stated to me. But I have heard it said that he received some erroneous information about the enemy's advancing on his flank from the direction of Orange Court House. It was my opinion, we should have attacked the enemy, instead of withdrawing, and awaiting an attack from the enemy."

He also testifies, that, after the troops were ordered back to Chancellorsville, they were for many hours massed there in considerable confusion, until, after a deal of counter-marching, they were got into place.

Pleasonton states that the retreat from open ground "produced among the soldiers a feeling of uncertainty."

Hancock testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: "I consider the mistake in the matter was in even stopping at Chancellorsville.... I believe, if all... had pushed right down to Banks's Ford, the whole movement would have been a perfect success. But I have no doubt that we ought to have held our advance positions, and still kept pushing on, and attempt to make a junction with Gen. Sedgwick."

Gen. Warren, whose whole testimony and report are the clearest and most useful of all the evidence obtainable from any single source, on this campaign, suggested to Couch, who was supporting Sykes on Friday, when the latter was attacked by Jackson, to delay carrying out Hooker's orders to retire, while he (Warren) galloped back to headquarters to explain the importance of holding the position, which was formidable and had great tactical advantages. Hooker yielded; but, before Warren could get back to the front, the previous orders had been obeyed, and the position lost. He says: "I never should have stopped at Chancellorsville. I should have advanced and fought the enemy, instead of waiting for him to attack me. The character of the country was the great reason for advancing."

And it is thought that every one engaged in this campaign with the Army of the Potomac will remember the feeling of confusion and uncertainty engendered by the withdrawal from Jackson's front on this unlucky day.

A council of general officers was held at Chancellorsville on Friday evening, in which many were still strongly in favor of making the advance again. Warren says: "I was in favor of advancing, and urged it with more zeal than convincing argument." But Hooker held to his own opinion. He could not appreciate the weakness of assuming the defensive in the midst of the elan of a successful advance.

It is not difficult to state what Hooker should have done. He had a definite plan, which was to uncover and use Banks's Ford. He should have gone on in the execution of this plan until arrested by superior force, or until something occurred to show that his plan was inexpedient. To retire from an enemy whom you have gone out to attack, and whom you have already placed at a disadvantage, before striking a blow, is weak generalship indeed.

Hooker had arrived at Chancellorsville at noon Thursday. Lee was still in Fredericksburg. The troops were able to march many miles farther without undue taxing. They should have been pushed out that afternoon to the open ground and to Banks's Ford. To fail in this, was the first great error of the campaign. There had not been a moment's delay allowed from the time the troops reached the river until they were massed at Chancellorsville, and the proposed movement nearly completed. One continued pressure, never let up, had constantly been exerted by the headquarters of the army. The troops had been kept in constant movement towards Banks's Ford. Hooker had all but reached his goal. Suddenly occurred a useless, unexplained pause of twenty-four hours. And it was during this unlucky gap of time that Lee occupied the ground which Hooker's cavalry could have seized, and which should have been held at all hazards.

Nor is this error excusable from ignorance of the terrain. For Hooker had shown his knowledge of the importance of celerity; and his own declared plan made Banks's Ford, still a half-dozen miles distant, his one objective. In his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, he thus refers to his plan: "As soon as Couch's divisions and Sykes's corps came up, I directed an advance for the purpose, in the first instance, of driving the enemy away from Banks's Ford, which was six miles down the river, in order that we might be in closer communication with the left wing of the army." And if the troops had needed repose, a few hours would have sufficed; and, the succeeding night being clear moonlight, a forward movement was then entirely feasible.

Dating from this delay of Thursday, every thing seemed to go wrong.

More curious still is Hooker's conduct on Friday, when his three columns came into presence of the enemy. What every one would have expected of Fighting Joe was, that at this supreme moment his energy would have risen to its highest pitch. It was a slight task to hold the enemy for a few hours. Before ordering the columns back, Hooker should have gone in person to Sykes's front. Here he would have shortly ascertained that Jackson was moving around his right. What easier than to leave a strong enough force at the edge of the Wilderness, and to move by his left towards Banks's Ford, where he already had Meade's heavy column? This would have kept his line of communication with United-States Ford open, and, while uncovering Banks's Ford, would at the same time turn Jackson's right. It is not as if such a movement carried him away from his base, or uncovered his communications. It was the direct way to preserve both.

But at this point Hooker faltered. Fighting Joe had reached the culminating desire of his life. He had come face to face with his foe, and had a hundred and twenty thousand eager and well-disciplined men at his back. He had come to fight, and he—retreated without crossing swords.


The position at Chancellorsville was good for neither attack nor defence. The ground was not open enough for artillery, except down the few roads, and across an occasional clearing. Cavalry was useless. Infantry could not advance steadily in line. The ground was such in Hooker's front, that Lee could manoeuvre or mass his troops unseen by him. Our own troops were so located, that to re-enforce any portion of the line, which might be attacked, with sufficient speed, was impossible.

Anderson (as has been stated) had been ordered by Lee to hold Chancellorsville; but after examination of the ground, and consultation with Mahone and Posey, he concluded to transcend his instructions, and retired to the junction of Mine Road and the turnpike. He assumed that the superiority of this latter ground would excuse his failure to hold his position in the Wilderness.

Gen. Hancock says: "I consider that the position at Chancellorsville was not a good one. It was a flat country, and had no local military advantages."

And the testimony of all our general officers is strongly to the same effect.

The position to which Hooker retired was the same which the troops, wearied with their march of Thursday, had taken up without any expectation of fighting a battle there. Hooker had desired to contract his lines somewhat after Friday's check; but the feeling that farther retreat would still more dishearten the men, already wondering at this unexplained withdrawal, and the assurance of the generals on the right that they could hold it against any force the enemy could bring against their front, decided him in favor of leaving the line as it was, and of strengthening it by breastworks and abattis.

Having established his troops in position, Hooker further strengthened his right wing at Chancellorsville to the detriment of his left below Fredericksburg; and at 1.55 A.M., Saturday, ordered all the bridges at Franklin's Crossing, and below, to be taken up, and Reynolds's corps to march at once, with pack-train, to report at headquarters.

This corps reached him Saturday night, and was deployed upon the extreme right of the new position then being taken up by the army.

The line as now established lay as follows:—

Meade held the left, extending from a small bluff near Scott's Dam on the Rappahannock, and covering the roads on the river, along a crest between Mine and Mineral Spring Runs towards and within a short mile of Chancellorsville.

This crest was, however, commanded from several points on the east, and, according to the Confederate authorities, appeared to have been carelessly chosen. Meade's front, except at the extreme river-flank, was covered by impenetrable woods. The Mine road intersected his left flank, and the River road was parallel to and a mile in his front.

Couch joined Meade's right, and extended southerly to Chancellorsville, with Hancock thrown out on his front, and facing east, astride the River road, and up to and across the old turnpike; his line being formed south of this road and of the Chancellor clearing. The division of French, of Couch's corps, was held in reserve along the United-States Ford road.

From here to Dowdall's Tavern the line made a southerly sweep outwards, like a bent bow, of which the plank road was the string.

As far as Hazel Grove, at the centre of the bow, Slocum's Twelfth Corps held the line, Geary's division joining on to Couch, and Williams on the right. From Slocum's right to the extreme right of the army, the Eleventh Corps had at first been posted; but Hooker determined on Saturday morning that the line was too thin here, and thrust Birney's division of the Third Corps in between Slocum and Howard. The rest of the Third Corps was in reserve, massed in columns of battalions, in Bullock's clearing, north of the Chancellor house, with its batteries at the fork of the roads leading to the United-States and Ely's Fords.

Towards sunset of Friday, Birney had advanced a strong line of skirmishers, and seized a commanding position in his front. Birney's line then lay along the crest facing Scott's Run from Dowdall's to Slocum's right.

Pleasonton's cavalry brigade was massed at headquarters, ready for duty at any point.

Howard held the line, from Dowdall's Tavern (Melzi Chancellor's) to beyond Talley's farm on the old pike, with his right flank substantially in the air, and with two roads, the main thoroughfares from east to west, striking in on his right, parallel to his position.

As will be noticed from the map, the right, being along the pike, was slightly refused from the rest of the line, considering the latter as properly lying along the road to headquarters. From Dowdall's west, the rise along the pike was considerable, and at Talley's the crest was high. The whole corps lay on the watershed of the small tributaries of the Rappahannock and Mattapony Rivers.

As a position to resist a southerly attack, it was as good as the Wilderness afforded; although the extreme right rested on no obstacle which superiority in numbers could not overcome. And a heavy force, massed in the clearing at Dowdall's as a point d'appui, was indispensable to safety, inasmuch as the conformation of the ground afforded nothing for this flank to lean upon.

Having forfeited the moral superiority gained by his advance, having withdrawn to his intrenchments at Chancellorsville, and decided, after surprising his enemy, upon fighting a defensive battle, Hooker, early on Saturday morning, examined his lines, and made sundry changes in the forces under his command.

The position he occupied, according to Gen. Lee, was one of great natural strength, on ground covered with dense forest and tangled under-growth, behind breastworks of logs and an impenetrable abattis, and approached by few roads, all easily swept by artillery. And, while it is true that the position was difficult to carry by direct assault, full compensation existed in other tactical advantages to the army taking the offensive. It is not probable that Lee, in Hooker's place, would have selected such ground. "Once in the wood, it was difficult to tell any thing at one hundred yards. Troops could not march without inextricable confusion." Despite which fact, however, the density of these very woods was the main cause of Lee's success.

In this position, Hooker awaited the assault of his vigorous opponent. As in all defensive battles, he was at certain disadvantages, and peculiarly so in this case, owing to the terrain he had chosen, or been forced to choose by Friday's easily accepted check. There were no debouches for throwing forces upon Lee, should he wish to assume the offensive. There was no ground for manoeuvring. The woods were like a heavy curtain in his front. His left wing was placed so as to be of absolutely no value. His right flank was in the air. One of the roads on which he must depend for retreat was readily assailable by the enemy. And he had in his rear a treacherous river, which after a few hours' rain might become impassable, with but a single road and ford secured to him with reasonable certainty.

And, prone as we had always been to act upon unwarrantable over-estimates of the strength of our adversaries, Hooker had not this reason to allege for having retired to await Lee's attack. For he had just received excellent information from Richmond, to the effect that Lee's rations amounted to fifty-nine thousand daily; and we have seen that he told Slocum, on Thursday, that his column of nearly forty thousand men was much stronger than any force Lee could detach against him. Hooker acknowledges as much in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, when, in answer to the question, "What portion of the enemy lay between you and Gen. Sedgwick?" he replied:—

"Lee's army at Fredericksburg numbered sixty thousand, not including the artillery, cavalry, and the forces stationed up the river, occupying the posts at Culpeper and Gordonsville. I think my information on this point was reliable, as I had made use of unusual means to ascertain. The enemy left eight thousand men to occupy the lines about Fredericksburg; Jackson marched off to my right with twenty-five thousand; and Lee had the balance between me and Sedgwick."

It will be well to remember this acknowledgment, when we come to deal with Hooker's theories of the force in his own front on Sunday and Monday.


Lee and Jackson spent Friday night under some pine-trees, on the plank road, at the point where the Confederate line crosses it. Lee saw that it was impossible for him to expect to carry the Federal lines by direct assault, and his report states that he ordered a cavalry reconnoissance towards our right flank to ascertain its position. There is, however, no mention of such a body having felt our lines on the right, in any of the Federal reports.

It is not improbable that Lee received information, crude but useful, about this portion of our army, from some women belonging to Dowdall's Tavern. When the Eleventh Corps occupied the place on Thursday, a watch was kept upon the family living there. But in the interval between the corps breaking camp to move out to Slocum's support on Friday morning, and its return to the old position, some of the women had disappeared. This fact was specially noted by Gen. Howard.

However the information was procured, the Federal right was doubtless ascertained to rest on high ground, where it was capable of making a stubborn resistance towards the south. But Lee well knew that its position was approached from the west by two broad roads, and reasoned justly that Hooker, in canvassing the events of Friday, would most probably look for an attack on his left or front.

Seated on a couple of cracker-boxes, the relics of an issue of Federal rations the day before, the two Confederate chieftains discussed the situation. Jackson, with characteristic restless energy, suggested a movement with his entire corps around Hooker's right flank, to seize United-States Ford, or fall unawares upon the Army of the Potomac. This hazardous suggestion, which Lee in his report does not mention as Jackson's, but which is universally ascribed to him by Confederate authorities, was one as much fraught with danger as it was spiced with dash, and decidedly bears the Jacksonian flavor. It gave "the great flanker" twenty-two thousand men (according to Col. A. S. Pendleton, his assistant adjutant-general, but twenty-six thousand by morning report) with which to make a march which must at best take all day, constantly exposing his own flank to the Federal assault. It separated for a still longer time the two wings of the Confederate army; leaving Lee with only Anderson's and McLaws's divisions,—some seventeen thousand men,—with which to resist the attack of thrice that number, which Hooker, should he divine this division of forces, could throw against him, the while he kept Jackson busy with the troops on his own right flank.

On the other hand, Hooker had shown clear intention of fighting a defensive battle; and perhaps Lee measured his man better than the Army of the Potomac had done. And he knew Jackson too. Should Hooker remain quiet during the day, either voluntarily or by Lee's engrossing his attention by constant activity in his front, the stratagem might succeed. And in case of failure, each wing had open ground and good roads for retreat, to form a junction towards Gordonsville.

Moreover, nothing better presented itself; and though, in the presence of a more active foe, Lee would never have hazarded so much, the very aggressiveness of the manoeuvre, and the success of Jackson's former flank attacks, commended it to Lee, and he gave his lieutenant orders to proceed to its immediate execution.

For this division of his forces in the presence of an enemy of twice his strength, Lee is not entitled to commendation. It is justifiable only—if at all—by the danger of the situation, which required a desperate remedy, and peculiarly by the success which attended it. Had it resulted disastrously, as it ought to have done, it would have been a serious blow to Lee's military prestige. The "nothing venture, nothing have" principle applies to it better than any maxim of tactics.

Before daybreak Jackson sends two of his aides, in company with some local guides, to find a practicable road, by which he may, with the greatest speed and all possible secrecy, gain the position he aims at on Hooker's right and rear, and immediately sets his corps in motion, with Rodes, commanding D. H. Hill's division, in the advance, and A. P. Hill bringing up the rear.

Jackson's route lay through the woods, along the road on which rested Lee's line. His corps, since Friday's manoeuvres, was on the left; and, as he withdrew his troops at dawn, Lee deployed to the left to fill the gap, first placing Wright where Jackson had been on the west of the plank road, and later, when Wright was ordered to oppose Sickles at the Furnace, Mahone's brigade.

This wood-road led to Welford's or Catherine's Furnace, from which place a better one, called the Furnace road, zigzagged over to join the Brock (or Brook) road, the latter running northerly into Y-shaped branches, each of which intersected the pike a couple of miles apart.

Jackson was obliged to make some repairs to the road as he advanced, for the passage of his artillery and trains. In many places the bottom, none too reliable at any time, was so soft with the recent rains, that it had to be corduroyed to pull the guns through. But these men were used to marches of unequalled severity, and their love for their leader made no work too hard when "Old Jack" shared it with them. And although they had already been marching and fighting continuously for thirty hours, this circuit of well-nigh fifteen miles was cheerfully done, with an alacrity nothing but willing and courageous hearts, and a blind belief that they were outwitting their enemy, could impart.

His progress was masked by Stuart, who interposed his cavalry between Jackson and the Union lines, and constantly felt of our skirmishers and pickets as he slowly kept abreast with the marching column.

At the Furnace comes in another road, which, a short distance above, forks so as to lead to Dowdall's Tavern on the left, and to touch the Union lines by several other branches on the right. It was this road down which Wright and Stuart had advanced the evening before in their attack on our lines.

Here, in passing Lewis's Creek (Scott's Run) and some elevated ground near by, the column of Jackson had to file in full view of the Union troops, barely a mile and a half away. The movement was thus fully observed by us, hundreds of field-glasses pointing steadily at his columns.

It seems somewhat strange that Jackson should have made this march, intended to be quite disguised, across the Furnace-clearing. For there was another equally short route, making a bend southward through the woods, and, though possibly not so good as the one pursued, subsequently found available for the passage of Jackson's trains, when driven from the Furnace by Sickles. It is probably explained, however, by the fact that this route, selected during the night, was unfamiliar to Jackson, and that his aides and guides had not thought of the point where the troops were thus put en evidence. And Jackson may not have been with the head of the column.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse