Battle of Chancellorsville
A. P. Hill’s Division
LEE’S DESIGNS 413
Fitzhugh Lee’s Brigade
and 170 guns.
Thus the road to Richmond, threatened by a host of 130,000 men and 428 guns, was to be defended by a force of less than half the size. Ninety-nine generals out of a hundred would have considered the situation hopeless. The Confederate lines at Fredericksburg were certainly very strong, but it was clearly impossible to prevent the Federals outflanking them. The disparity in strength was far greater than at Sharpsburg, and it seemed that by sheer weight of numbers the Southern army must inevitably be driven back. Nor did it appear, so overwhelming were the Federal numbers, that counter-attack was feasible. The usual resource of the defender, if his adversary marches round his flank, is to strike boldly at his communications. Here, however, Hooker’s communications with Aquia Creek were securely covered by the Rappahannock, and so great was his preponderance of strength, that he could easily detach a sufficient force to check the Confederates should they move against them.
Yet now, as on the Antietam, Lee and Jackson declined to take numbers into consideration. They knew that Hooker was a brave and experienced soldier, but they had no reason to anticipate that he would handle his vast masses with more skill than McClellan. That the Northern soldiers had suffered in moral they were well aware, and while they divined that the position they themselves had fortified might readily be made untenable, the fact that such was the case gave them small concern. They were agreed
that the best measures of defence, if an opening offered, lay in a resolute offensive, and with Hooker in command it was not likely that the opportunity would be long delayed.
No thought of a strategic retreat, from one position to another, was entertained. Manœuvre was to be met by manœuvre, blow by counterblow.1 If Hooker had not moved Lee would have forestalled him. On April 16 he had written to Mr. Davis: “My only anxiety arises from the condition of our horses, and the scarcity of forage and provisions. I think it is all important that we should assume the aggressive by the 1st of May. . . . If we could be placed in a condition to make a vigorous advance at that time, I think the Valley could be swept of Milroy (commanding the Federal forces at Winchester), and the army opposite [Hooker’s] be thrown north of the Potomac.”2 Jackson, too, even after Hooker’s plan was developed, indignantly repudiated the suggestion that the forthcoming campaign must be purely defensive. When some officer on his staff expressed his fear that the army would be compelled to retreat, he asked sharply, “Who said that? No, sir, we shall not fall back, we shall attack them.”
At the end of the month, however, Longstreet with his three divisions was still absent; sufficient supplies for a forward movement had not yet been accumulated;3 two brigades of cavalry, Hampton’s and Jenkins’, which had been sent respectively to South Carolina and the Valley, had not rejoined,4 and Hooker had already seized the initiative.
The first news which came to hand was that a strong force of all arms was moving up the Rappahannock in the
1 “The idea of securing the provisions, waggons, guns, of the
enemy is truly tempting, and the idea has haunted me since
December.” Lee to Trimble, March 8, 1862. O.R., vol.xxv, part ii, p.
2 O.R., vol. xxv, p. 725.
3 “From the condition of our horses and the amount of our supplies I am unable even to act on the defensive as vigorously as circumstances might reguire.” Lee to Davis, April 27, O.R., vol.xxv, p. 752.
4 On April 20 Lee had asked that the cavalry regiments not needed in other districts might be sent to the Army of Northern Virginia. The request was not compiled with until too late. O.R., vol. xxv, pp. 740, 741.
direction of Kelly’s Ford.
April 28 This was forwarded by Stuart on the evening of April 28. The next morning the Federal movements, which might have been no more than a demonstration, became pronounced.
April 29 Under cover of a thick fog, pontoon bridges were laid at Deep Run below Fredericksburg; Sedgwick’s troops began to cross, and were soon engaged with Jackson’s outposts; while, at the same time, the report came in that a force of unknown strength had made the passage at Kelly’s Ford.
Lee displayed no perturbation. Jackson, on receiving information of Sedgwick’s movement from his outposts, had sent an aide-de-camp to acquaint the Commander-in-Chief. The latter was still in his tent, and in reply to the message said: “Well, I heard firing, and I was beginning to think that it was time some of your lazy young fellows were coming to tell me what it was about. Tell your good general he knows what to do with the enemy just as well as I do.”1
The divisions of the Second Army Corps were at once called up to their old battle-ground, and while they were on the march Jackson occupied himself with watching Sedgwick’s movements. The Federals were busily intrenching on the river bank, and on the heights behind frowned the long line of artillery that had proved at Fredericksburg so formidable an obstacle to the Confederate attack. The enemy’s position was very strong, and the time for counterstroke had not yet come. During the day the cavalry was actively engaged between the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, testing the strength of the enemy’s columns. The country was wooded, the Federals active, and as usual in war, accurate information was difficult to obtain and more difficult to communicate. It was not till 6.30 p.m. that Lee received notice that troops had crossed at Ely’s and Germanna Fords at 2 p.m.
1 On March 12, before Hooker had even framed his plan of operations, Lee had received information that the Federals, as soon as the state of the roads permitted, would cross at United States, Falmouth, and some point below; the attempt at Falmouth to be a feint. O.R., vol. xxv, part ii, p. 664.
Anderson’s division was at once dispatched to Chancellorsvile.
April 30 The next message, which does not appear to have been received until the morning of the 30th, threw more light on the situation. Stuart had made prisoners from the Fifth, the Eleventh, and the Twelfth Corps, and had ascertained that the corps commanders, Meade, Howard, and Slocum, were present with the troops. Anderson, moreover, who had been instructed to select and intrench a strong position, was falling back from Chancellorsville before the enemy’s advance, and two things became clear:—
1. That it was Hooker’s intention to turn the Confederate left.
2. That he had divided his forces.
The question now to be decided was which wing should be attacked first. There was much to be said in favour of crushing Sedgwick. His numbers were estimated at 35,000 men, and the Confederates had over 60,000. Moreover, time is a most important consideration in the use of interior lines. The army was already concentrated in front of Sedgwick, whereas it would require a day’s march to seek Hooker in the forest round Chancellorsville. Sedgwick’s, too, was the smaller of the Federal wings, and his overthrow would certainly ruin Hooker’s combinations. “Jackson at first,” said Lee, “preferred to attack Sedgwick’s force in the plain of Fredericksburg, but I told him I feared it was as impracticable as it was at the first battle of Fredericksburg. It was hard to get at the enemy, and harder to get away if we drove him into the river, but if he thought it could be done, I would give orders for it.” Jackson asked to be allowed to examine the ground, but soon came to the conclusion that the project was too hazardous and that Lee was right. Orders were then issued for a concentration against Hooker, 10,000 men, under General Early, remaining to confront Sedgwick on the heights of Fredericksburg.
We may now turn to the movements of the Federals.
Hooker’s right wing had marched at a speed which had
been hitherto unknown in the Army of the Potomac. At nightfall, on April 30, the three army corps, although they had been delayed by the Confederate cavalry, were assembled at Chancellorsville. In three days they had marched forty-six miles over bad roads, had forded breast-high two difficult rivers, established several bridges, and captured over a hundred prisoners.1 Heavy reinforcements were in rear. The two divisions of the Second Corps had marched from Banks’ Ford to United States Ford, six miles from Chancellorsville; while the Third Corps, ordered up from the Stafford Heights, was rapidly approaching the same point of passage. Thus, 70,000 men, in the highest spirits at the success of their manœuvres, were massed in rear of Lee’s lines, and Hooker saw victory within his grasp.
”It is with heartfelt satisfaction,” ran his general order, “that the commanding general announces to his army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either 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.”
Hooker was skinning the lion while the beast yet lived, but he had certainly much reason for congratulation. His manœuvres had been skilfully planned and energetically executed. The two rivers which protected the Confederate position had been crossed without loss; the Second and Third Corps had been brought into close touch with the right wing; Lee’s earthworks were completely turned, and Stoneman’s cavalry divisions, driving the enemy’s patrols
1 The troops carried eight days’ supplies: three days’ cooked rations with bread and groceries in the haversacks; five days’ bread and groceries in the knapsacks; five days’ “beef on the hoof.” The total weight carried by each man, including sixty rounds of ammunition, was 45 pounds. The reserve ammunition was carried principally by pack mules, and only a small number of waggons crossed the Rappahannock. Four pontoon bridges were laid by the engineers. One bridge took three-quarters of an hour to lay; the other three, one and a half hour to lay, and an hour to take up. Each bridge was from 100 to 140 yards long. O.R., vol. xxv, pp. 215, 216.
before them, were already within reach of Orange Court House, and not more than twenty miles from Gordonsville. Best of all, the interval between the two wings—twenty-six miles on the night of the 28th—was now reduced to eleven miles by the plank road.
Two things only were unsatisfactory:—
1. The absence of information.
2. The fact that the whole movement had been observed by the Confederate cavalry.
Pleasonton’s brigade of horse had proved too weak for the duty assigned to it. It had been able to protect the front, but it was too small to cover the flanks; and at the flanks Stuart had persistently struck. Hooker appears to have believed that Stoneman’s advance against the Central Railroad would draw off the whole of the Confederate horse. Stuart, however, was not to be beguiled from his proper functions. Never were his squadrons more skilfully handled than in this campaign. With fine tactical insight, as soon as the great movement on Chancellorsville became pronounced, he had attacked the right flank of the Federal columns with Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade, leaving only the two regiments under W. H. F. Lee to watch Stoneman’s 10,000 sabres. Then, having obtained the information he required, he moved across the Federal front, and routing one of Pleasonton’s regiments in a night affair near Spotsylvania Court House, he had regained touch with his own army. The results of his manœuvres were of the utmost importance. Lee was fully informed as to his adversary’s strength; the Confederate cavalry was in superior strength at the critical point, that is, along the front of the two armies; and Hooker had no knowledge whatever of what was going on in the space between Sedgwick and himself. He was only aware, on the night of April 30, that the Confederate position before Fredericksburg was still strongly occupied.
The want, however, of accurate information gave him no uneasiness. The most careful arrangements had been made to note and report every movement of the enemy the next day.
No less than three captive balloons, in charge of skilled
observers, looked down upon the Confederate earthworks.1 Signal stations and observatories had been established on each commanding height; a line of field telegraph had been laid from Falmouth to United States Ford, and the chief of the staff, General Butterfield, remained at the former village in communication with General Sedgwick. If the weather were clear, and the telegraph did not fail, it seemed impossible that either wing of the Federal army could fail to be fully and instantly informed of the situation of the other, or that a single Confederate battalion could change position without both Hooker and Sedgwick being at once advised.
Moreover, the Federal Commander-in-Chief was so certain that Lee would retreat that his deficiency in cavalry troubled him not at all. He had determined to carry out his original design.
May 1 The next morning—May 1—the right wing was to move by the plank road and uncover Banks’ Ford, thus still further shortening the line of communication between the two wings; and as the chief of the staff impressed on Sedgwick, it was “expected to be on the heights west of Fredericksburg at noon or shortly after, or, if opposed strongly, at night.” Sedgwick, meanwhile, was “to observe the enemy’s movements with the utmost vigilance; should he expose a weak point, to attack him in full force and destroy him; should he show any symptom of falling back, to pursue him with the utmost vigour.”2
But Hooker was to find that mere mechanical precautions are not an infallible remedy for a dangerous situation. The Confederates had not only learned long since the importance of concealment, and the advantage of night marches, but in the early morning of May 1 the river mists rendered both balloons and observatories useless. Long before the sun broke through the fog, both McLaws and Jackson had joined Anderson at Tabernacle
1 Balloons, which had been first used in the Peninsular
campaign, were not much dreaded by the Confederates. “The experience
of twenty months’ warfare has taught them how little formidable such
engines of war are.” Special Correspondent of the Times at
Fredericksburg, January 1, 1863.
2 O.R., vol. xxv, p. 306.
Church, and a strong line of battle had been established at the junction of the two roads, the pike and the plank, which led east from Chancellorsville. The position was favourable, running along a low ridge, partially covered with timber, and with open fields in front. Beyond those fields, a few hundred paces distant, rose the outskirts of a great forest, stretching far away over a gently undulating country. This forest, twenty miles in length from east to west, and fifteen in breadth from north to south, has given to the region it covers the name of the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, and in its midst the Federal army was now involved. Never was ground more unfavourable for the manœuvres of a large army. The timber was unusually dense. The groves of pines were immersed in a sea of scrub-oak and luxuriant undergrowth. The soil was poor. Farms were rare, and the few clearings were seldom more than a rifle shot in width. The woodland tracks were seldom travelled; streams with marshy banks and tortuous courses were met at frequent intervals, and the only débouchée towards Fredericksburg, the pike, the plank road, an unfinished line of railway a mile south of their junction, and the river road, about two miles north, were commanded from the Confederate position.
8 a.m. When Jackson arrived upon the scene, Anderson, with the help of Lee’s engineers, had strongly intrenched the whole front. A large force of artillery had already taken post. The flanks of the line were covered; the right, which extended to near Duerson’s Mill, by Mott’s Run and the Rappahannock; the left, which rested on the unfinished railroad not far from Tabernacle Church, by the Massaponax Creek. For the defence of this position, three miles in length, there were present 45,000 infantry, over 100 guns, and Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade of cavalry, a force ample for the purpose, and giving about nine men to the yard. On the rolling ground eastward there was excellent cover for the reserves, and from the breastworks to the front the defiles, for such, owing to the density of the wood, were the four roads by which the enemy must approach, might be so effectively swept
as to prevent him from deploying either artillery or infantry.
But Jackson was not disposed to await attack. Only 10,000 men remained in the Fredericksburg lines to confront Sedgwick, and if that officer acted vigorously, his guns would soon be heard in rear of the lines at Tabernacle Church. Work on the intrenchments was at once broken off, and the whole force was ordered to prepare for an immediate advance on Chancellorsville.
10.45 a.m. Before eleven o’clock the rear brigades had closed up; and marching by the pike and the plank road, with a regiment of cavalry in advance, and Fitzhugh Lee upon the left, the Confederate army plunged resolutely into the gloomy depths of the great forest. Anderson’s division led the way, one brigade on the pike, and two on the plank road; a strong line of skirmishers covered his whole front, and his five batteries brought up the rear. Next in order came McLaws, together with the two remaining brigades of Anderson, moving by the pike, while Jackson’s three divisions were on the plank road. The artillery followed the infantry.
About a mile towards Chancellorsville the Federal cavalry was found in some force, and as the patrols gave way, a heavy force of infantry was discovered in movement along the pike. General McLaws, who had been placed in charge of the Confederate right, immediately deployed his four leading brigades, and after the Federal artillery, unlimbering in an open field, had fired a few rounds, their infantry advanced to the attack. The fight was spirited but short. The Northern regulars of Sykes’ division drove in the Confederate skirmishers, but were unable to make ground against the line of battle. Jackson, meanwhile, who had been at once informed of the encounter, had ordered the troops on the plank road to push briskly forward, and the Federals, finding their right in danger of being enveloped, retired on Chancellorsvile. Another hostile column was shortly afterwards met on the plank road, also marching eastward. Again there was a skirmish, and again Jackson, ordering a brigade to march
rapidly along the unfinished railroad, had recourse to a turning movement; but before the manœuvre was completed, the Federals began to yield, and all opposition gradually melted away. The following order was then sent to McLaws:—
Headquarters, Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia,
May 1, 1863, 2.30 p.m. (received 4 p.m.).
“General,—The Lieutenant-General commanding directs me to say that he is pressing up the plank road; also, that you will press on up the turnpike towards Chancellorsville, as the enemy is falling back.
“Keep your skirmishers and flanking parties well out, to guard against ambuscade.
“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
“J. G. MORRISON,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.”1
There was something mysterious in so easy a victory. The enemy was evidently in great strength, for, on both roads, heavy columns had been observed behind the lines of skirmishers. Several batteries had been in action; cavalry was present; and the Confederate scouts reported that a third column, of all arms, had marched by the river road toward Banks’ Ford, and had then, like the others, unaccountably withdrawn. The pursuit, therefore, was slow and circumspect. Wilcox’ brigade, on the extreme right, moved up the Mine road, in the direction of Duerson’s Mill; Wright’s brigade, on the extreme left, followed Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry on the unfinished railroad; while the main body, well closed up, still kept to the main highways.
5 p.m. At length, late in the afternoon, Hooker’s tactics became clear. As Jackson’s advanced guards approached Chancellorsville, the resistance of the Federal skirmishers, covering the retreat, became more stubborn. From the low ridge, fringed by heavy timber, on which the mansion stands, the fire of artillery, raking every avenue of approach, grew more intense, and it was evident that the foe was standing fast on the defensive.
1 O.R., vol. xxv, p. 764.
The Confederate infantry, pushing forward through the undergrowth, made but tardy progress; the cavalry patrols found that every road and bridle-path was strongly held, and it was difficult in the extreme to discover Hooker’s exact position. Jackson himself, riding to the front to reconnoitre, nearly fell a victim to the recklessness he almost invariably displayed when in quest of information. The cavalry had been checked at Catherine Furnace, and were waiting the approach of the infantry. Wright’s brigade was close at hand, and swinging round northwards, drove back the enemy’s skirmishers, until, in its turn, it was brought up by the fire of artillery. Just at this moment Jackson galloped up, and begged Stuart to ride forward with him in order to find a point from which the enemy’s guns might be enfiladed. A bridle-path, branching off from the main road to the right, led to a hillock about half a mile distant, and the two generals, accompanied by their staffs, and followed by a battery of horse-artillery, made for this point of vantage. “On reaching the spot,” says Stuart’s adjutant-general, “so dense was the undergrowth, it was found impossible to find enough clear space to bring more than one gun at a time into position; the others closed up immediately behind, and the whole body of us completely blocked up the narrow road. Scarcely had the smoke of our first shot cleared away, when a couple of masked batteries suddenly opened on us at short range, and enveloped us in a storm of shell and canister, which, concentrated on so narrow a space, did fearful execution among our party, men and horses falling right and left, the animals kicking and plunging wildly, and everybody eager to disentangle himself from the confusion, and get out of harm’s way. Jackson, as soon as he found out his mistake, ordered the guns to retire; but the confined space so protracted the operation of turning, that the enemy’s cannon had full time to continue their havoc, covering the road with dead and wounded. That Jackson and Stuart with their staff officers escaped was nothing short of miraculous.”1
1 Memoirs of the Confederate War. Heros von Boreke.
Other attempts at reconnaissance were more successful. Before nightfall it was ascertained that Hooker was in strong force on the Chancellorsville ridge, along the plank road, and on a bare plateau to the southward called Hazel Grove. “Here,” in the words of General Lee, “he had assumed a position of great natural strength, surrounded on all sides by a dense forest, filled with a tangled undergrowth, in the midst of which breastworks of logs had been constructed, with trees felled in front, so as to form an almost impenetrable abattis. His artillery swept the few narrow roads, by which the position could be approached from the front, and commanded the adjacent woods. The left of his line extended from Chancellorsville towards the Rappahannock, covering the Bark Mill (United States) Ford, which communicated with the north bank of the river by a pontoon bridge. His right stretched westward along the Germanna Ford road (the pike) more than two miles. . . . As the nature of the country rendered it hazardous to attack by night, our troops were halted and formed in line of battle in front of Chancellorsville at right angles to the plank road, extending on the right to the Mine road, and to the left in the direction of the Catherine Furnace.”
As darkness falls upon the Wilderness, and the fire of the outposts, provoked by every movement of the patrols, gradually dies away, we may seek the explanation of the Federal movements. On finding that his enemy, instead of “ingloriously flying,” was advancing to meet him, and advancing with confident and aggressive vigour, Hooker’s resolution had failed him. Waiting till his force was concentrated, until the Second and Third Corps had crossed at United States Ford, and were close to Chancellorsville, it was not till eleven o’clock on the morning of May 1 that he had marched in three great columns towards Fredericksburg. His intention was to pass rapidly through the Wilderness, secure the open ground about Tabernacle Church, and there, with ample space for deployment, to form for battle, and move against the rear of Marye’s Hill.1
1 O.R., vol. xxv, p. 324.
But before his advanced guards got clear of the forest defiles they found the Confederates across their path, displaying an unmistakable purpose of pressing the attack. Hooker at once concluded that Lee was marching against him with nearly his whole force, and of the strength of that force, owing to the weakness of his cavalry, he was not aware. The news from the Stafford Heights was disquieting. As soon as the fog had lifted, about nine o’clock in the morning, the signal officers and balloonists had descried long columns of troops and trains marching rapidly towards Chancellorsville.1 This was duly reported by the telegraph,2 and it was correctly inferred to signify that Lee was concentrating against the Federal right. But at the same time various movements were observed about Hamilton’s Crossing; columns appeared marching from the direction of Gurney’s Station; there was much traffic on the railway, and several deserters from Lee’s army declared, on being examined, that Hood’s and Pickett’s divisions had arrived from Richmond.3 The statements of these men—who we may suspect were not such traitors as they appeared—were confirmed by the fact that Sedgwick, who was without cavalry, had noticed no diminution in the force which held the ridge before him.
It is easy, then, to understand Hooker’s decision to stand on the defensive. With a prudent foresight which does him much credit, before he marched in the morning he had ordered the position about Chancellorsville, covering his lines of retreat to United States and Ely’s Fords, to be reconnoitred and intrenched, and his front, as Lee said, was undoubtedly very strong. He would assuredly have done better had he attacked vigorously when he found the Confederates advancing. His sudden retrograde movement, especially as following the swift and successful manœuvres which had turned Lee’s position, could not fail to have a discouraging effect upon the troops; and
1 O.R., vol. xxv, pp. 323, 336.
2 Ibid., p. 326. The telegraph, however, appears to have worked badly, and dispatches took several hours to pass from Falmouth to Chancellorsville.
3 Ibid., p. 327.
if Sedgwick had been ordered to storm the Fredericksburg lines, the whole Federal force could have been employed, and the Confederates, assailed in front and rear simultaneously, must, to say the least, have been embarrassed. But in abandoning his design of crushing Lee between his two wings, and in retiring to the stronghold he had prepared, Hooker did what most ordinary generals would have done, especially one who had served on the losing side at Fredericksburg. He had there learned the value of intrenchments. He had seen division after division shatter itself in vain against a stone wall and a few gun-pits, and it is little wonder that he had imbibed a profound respect for defensive tactics. He omitted, however, to take into consideration two simple facts. First, that few districts contain two such positions as those of the Confederates at Fredericksburg; and, secondly, that the strength of a position is measured not by the impregnability of the front, but by the security of the flanks. The Fredericksburg lines, resting on the Rappahannock and the Massaponax, had apparently safe flanks, and yet he himself had completely turned them, rendering the whole series of works useless without firing a shot. Were Lee and Jackson the men to knock their heads, like Burnside, against stout breastworks strongly manned? Would they not rather make a wide sweep, exactly as he himself had done, and force him to come out of his works? Hooker, however, may have said that if they marched across his front, he would attack them en route, as did Napoleon at Austerlitz and Wellington at Salamanca, and cut their army in two. But here he came face to face with the fatal defect of the lines he had selected, and also of the disposition he had made of his cavalry. The country near Chancellorsville was very unlike the rolling plains of Austerlitz or the bare downs of Salamanca. From no part of the Federal position did the view extend for more than a few hundred yards. Wherever the eye turned rose the dark and impenetrable screen of close-growing trees, interlaced with wild vines and matted undergrowth, and seamed with rough roads, perfectly passable for troops, with which his
enemies were far better acquainted than himself. Had Stoneman’s cavalry been present, the squadrons, posted far out upon the flanks, and watching every track, might have given ample warning of any turning movement, exactly as Stuart’s cavalry had given Lee warning of Hooker’s own movement upon Chancellorsville. As it was, Pleasonton’s brigade was too weak to make head against Stuart’s regiments; and Hooker could expect no early information of his enemy’s movements.
He thus found himself in the dilemma which a general on the defensive, if he be weak in cavalry, has almost invariably to face, especially in a close country. He was ignorant, and must necessarily remain ignorant, of where the main attack would be made. Lee, on the other hand, by means of his superior cavalry, could reconnoitre the position at his leisure, and if he discovered a weak point could suddenly throw the greater portion of his force against it. Hooker could only hope that no weak point existed. Remembering that the Confederates were on the pike and the plank road, there certainly appeared no cause for apprehension. The Fifth Corps, with its flank on the Rappahannock, held the left, covering the river and the old Mine roads. Next in succession came the Second Corps, blocking the pike. In the centre the Twelfth Corps, under General Slocum, covered Chancellorsville. The Third Corps, under Sickles, held Hazel Grove, with Berry’s division as general reserve; and on the extreme right, his breastworks running along the plank road as far as Talley’s Clearing, was Howard with the Eleventh Corps, composed principally of German regiments. Strong outposts of infantry had been thrown out into the woods; the men were still working in the intrenchments; batteries were disposed so as to sweep every approach from the south, the south-east, or the south-west, and there were at least five men to every yard of parapet. The line, however, six miles from flank to flank, was somewhat extensive, and to make certain, so far as possible, that sufficient numbers should be forthcoming to defend the position, at 1.55 on the morning of May 2, Sedgwick was instructed to send the First Army Corps to Chancellorsville. Before
midnight, moreover, thirty-four guns, principally horse. Artillery, together with a brigade of infantry, were sent from Falmouth to Banks’ Ford.
Sedgwick, meantime, below Fredericksburg, had contented himself with engaging the outposts on the opposite ridge. An order to make a brisk demonstration, which Hooker had dispatched at 11.30 a.m., did not arrive, the telegraph having broken down, until 5.45 p.m., six hours later; and it was then too late to effect any diversion in favour of the main army.
Yet it can hardly be said that Sedgwick had risen to the height of his responsibilities. He knew that a portion at least of the Confederates had marched against Hooker, and the balloonists had early reported that a battle was in progress near Tabernacle Church. But instead of obeying Napoleon’s maxim and marching to the sound of the cannon, he had made no effort to send support to his commander. Both he and General Reynolds1 considered “that to have attacked before Hooker had accomplished some success, in view of the strong position and numbers in their front, might have failed to dislodge the enemy, and have rendered them unserviceable at the proper time.”2 That is, they were not inclined to risk their own commands in order to assist Hooker, of whose movements they were uncertain. Yet even if they had been defeated, Hooker would still have had more men than Lee.
1 The following letter (O.R., vol. xxv, p. 337) is interesting as showing the state of mind into which the commanders of detached forces are liable to be thrown by the absence of information:—
“Headquarters, First Corps, May 1, 1863.
“Major-General Sedgwick,—I think the proper view to take of affairs is this: If they have not detached more than A. P. Hill’s division from our front, they have been keeping up appearances, showing weakness, with a view of delaying Hooker, and tempting us to make an attack on their fortified position, and hoping to destroy us and strike for our depôt over our bridges. We ought therefore, in my judgment, to know something of what has transpired on our right.
“JOHN F. REYNOLDS, Major-General.”
2 Dispatch of Chief of the Staff to Hooker, dated 4 p.m., May 1. O.R., vol. xxv, p. 326.
Site Copyright 2003-2008 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,
Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.