Battle of Chancellorsville Conclusion


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Chapter XXIV
Battle of Chancellorsville

Stonewall Jackson Index | Stonewall Jackson at West Point | Stonewall Jackson and Mexican War | Stonewall Jackson Lexington | Stonewall Jackson and Secession | Stonewall Jackson and Harper's Ferry | Stonewall Jackson at Battle of Bull Run | Stonewall Jackson at Romney | Stonewall Jackson at Kernstown | Battle of McDowell | Battle of Winchester | Battle of Cross Keys and Port Republic | Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign | The Seven Days Battle | Battle of Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill | Battle of Cedar Run | Second Battle of Bull Run | Battle of Second Bull Run Conclusion | Battle of Harper's Ferry | Battle of Sharpsburg | Battle of Fredericksburg | The Army of Northern Virginia | Stonewall Jackson's Winter Quarters | Battle of Chancellorsville | Battle of Chancellorsville Conclusion

At a council of war held during the night at Chancellorville House, the Federal generals were by no means unanimous as to the operations of the morrow. Some of the generals advised an early assault. Others favoured a strictly defensive attitude. Hooker himself wished to contract his lines so as to strengthen them; but as the officers commanding on the right were confident of the strength of their intrenchments, it was at length determined that the army should await attack in its present position.

Three miles down the plank road, under a grove of oak and pine, Lee and Jackson, while their wearied soldiers slept around them, planned for the fourth and the last time the overthrow of the great army with which Lincoln still hoped to capture Richmond. At this council there was no difference of opinion. If Hooker had not retreated before the morning—and Jackson thought it possible he was already demoralised—he was to be attacked. The situation admitted of no other course. It was undoubtedly a hazardous operation for an inferior force to assault an intrenched position; but the Federal army was divided, the right wing involved in a difficult and unexplored country, with which the Confederate generals and staff were more or less familiar, and an opportunity so favourable might never recur. “Fortune,” says Napoleon, “is a woman, who must be wooed while she is in the mood. If her favours are rejected, she does not offer them again.” The only question was where the attack should be delivered. Lee himself had reconnoitred the enemy’s left. It was very utrong, resting on the Rappahannock, and covered by a


stream called Mineral Spring Run. Two of Jackson’s staff officers had reconnoitred the front, and had pronounced it impregnable, except at a fearful sacrifice of life. But while the generals were debating, Stuart rode in with the reports of his cavalry officers, and the weak point of the position was at once revealed. General Fitzhugh Lee, to whose skill and activity the victory of Chancellorsville was in great part due, had discovered that the Federal right, on the plank road, was completely in the air; that is, it was protected by no natural obstacle, and the breastworks faced south, and south only. It was evident that attack from the west or north-west was not anticipated, and Lee at once seized upon the chance of effecting a surprise.

Yet the difficulties of the proposed operation were very great. To transfer a turning column to a point from which the Federal right might be effectively outflanked necessitated a long march by the narrow and intricate roadways of the Wilderness, and a division of the Confederate army into two parts, between which communication would be most precarious. To take advantage of the opportunity the first rule of war must be violated. But as it has already been said, the rules of war only point out the dangers which are incurred by breaking them; and, in this case, before an enemy on the defensive from whom the separation might be concealed until it is too late for him to intervene, the risks of dispersion were much reduced. The chief danger lay in this, that the two wings, each left to its own resources, might fail to act in combination, just as within the past twenty-four hours Hooker and Sedgwick had failed. But Lee knew that in Jackson he possessed a lieutenant whose resolution was invincible, and that the turning column, if entrusted to his charge, would be pushed forward without stop or stay until it had either joined hands with the main body, or had been annihilated.

Moreover, the battle of Fredericksburg had taught both armies that the elaborate constructions of the engineer are not the only or the most useful resources of fortification. Hooker had ordered his position to be intrenched in the hope


that Lee and Jackson, following Burnside’s example, would dash their divisions into fragments against them and thus become an easy prey. Lee, with a broader appreciation of the true tactical bearing of ditch and parapet, determined to employ them as a shelter for his own force until Jackson’s movement was completed, and the time had come for a general advance. Orders were at once sent to General McLaws to cover his front, extending across the pike and the plank roads, with a line of breastworks; and long before daylight the soldiers of his division, with the scanty means at their disposal, were busy as beavers amongst the timber.

It only remained, then, to determine the route and the strength of the outflanking force; and here it may be observed that the headquarters staff appears to have neglected certain precautions for which there had been ample leisure. So long ago as March 19 a council of war had decided that if Hooker attacked he would do so by the upper fords, and yet the Wilderness, lying immediately south of the points of passage, had not been adequately examined. Had Jackson been on the left wing above Fredericksburg, instead of on the right, near Hamilton’s Crossing, we may be certain that accurate surveys would have been forthcoming. As it was, the charts furnished to the Commander-in-Chief were untrustworthy, and information had to be sought from the country-people.

May 2. 2.30 a.m.   “About daylight on May 2,” says Major Hotchkiss, “General Jackson awakened me, and requested that I would at once go down to Catherine Furnace, which is quite near, and where a Colonel Welford lived, and ascertain if there was any road by which we could secretly pass round Chancellorsville to the vicinity of Old Wilderness Tavern. I had a map, which our engineers had prepared from actual surveys, of the surrounding country, showing all the public roads, but with few details of the intermediate topography. Reaching Mr. Welford’s, I aroused him from his bed, and soon learned that he himself had recently opened a road through the woods in that direction for the purpose of hauling cord-wood and iron ore to his furnace. This I located on the map, and having


asked Mr. Welford if he would act as a guide if it became necessary to march over that road, I returned to head-quarters.

3.30 a.m.   “When I reached those I found Generals Lee and Jackson in conference, each seated on a cracker box, from a pile which had been left there by the Federals the day before. In response to General Jackson’s request for my report, I put another cracker box between the two generals, on which I spread the map, showed them the road I had ascertained, and indicated, so far as I knew it, the position of the Federal army. General Lee then said, ‘General Jackson, what do you propose to do?’ He replied, ‘Go around here,’ moving his finger over the road which I had located upon the map. General Lee said, ‘What do you propose to make this movement with?’ ‘With my whole corps,’ was the answer. General Lee then asked, ‘What will you leave me?’ ‘The divisions of Anderson and McLaws,’ said Jackson. General Lee, after a moment’s reflection, remarked, ‘Well, go on,’ and then, pencil in hand, gave his last instructions. Jackson, with an eager smile upon his face, from time to time nodded assent, and when the Commander-in-Chief ended with the words, ‘General Stuart will cover your movement with his cavalry,’ he rose and saluted, saying, ‘My troops will move at once, sir.’ ”1 The necessary orders were forthwith dispatched. The trains, parked in open fields to the rear, were to move to Todd’s Tavern, and thence westward by interior roads; the Second Army Corps was to march in one column, Rodes’ division in front, and A. P. Hill’s in rear; the First Virginia Cavalry, with whom was Fitzhugh Lee, covered the front; squadrons of the 2nd, the 3rd, and the 5th were on the right; Hotchkiss, accompanied by a squad of couriers, was to send back constant reports to General Lee; the commanding officers were impressed with the importance of celerity and secrecy; the ranks were to be kept well closed up, and all stragglers were to be bayoneted.

1  Letter to the author. A letter of General Lee to Mrs. Jackson, which contains a reference to this council of war, appears as a Note at the end of the chapter.


4.5 a.m.   The day had broken without a cloud, and as the troops began their march in the fresh May morning, the green vistas of the Wilderness, grass under foot, and thick foliage overhead, were dappled with sunshine. The men, comprehending intuitively that a daring and decisive movement was in progress, pressed rapidly forward, and General Lee, standing by the roadside to watch them pass, saw in their confident bearing the presage of success. Soon after the first regiments had gone by Jackson himself appeared at the head of his staff. Opposite to the Commander-in-Chief he drew rein, and the two conversed for a few moments. Then Jackson rode on, pointing in the direction in which his troops were moving. “His face,” says an eyewitness, “was a little flushed, as it was turned to General Lee, who nodded approval of what he said.” Such was the last interview between Lee and Jackson.

Then, during four long hours, for the column covered at least ten miles, the flood of bright rifles and tattered uniforms swept with steady flow down the forest track. The artillery followed, the guns drawn by lean and wiry horses, and the ammunition waggons and ambulances brought up the rear. In front was a regiment of cavalry, the 5th Virginia, accompanied by General Fitzhugh Lee; on the flanks were some ten squadrons, moving by the tracks nearest the enemy’s outposts; a regiment of infantry, the 23rd Georgia, was posted at the cross-roads near Catherine Furnace; and the plank road was well guarded until Anderson’s troops came up to relieve the rear brigades of the Second Army Corps.

Meanwhile, acting under the immediate orders of General Lee, and most skilfully handled by McLaws and Anderson, the 10,000 Confederates who had been left in position opposite the Federal masses kept up a brisk demonstration. Artillery was brought up to every point along the front which offered space for action; skirmishers, covered by the timber, engaged the enemy’s pickets, and maintained a constant fire, and both on the pike and the river road the lines of battle, disposed so as to give an impression of great strength, threatened instant assault. Despite all precautions, however, Jackson’s movement did


not escape the notice of the Federals.

8 a.m.   A mile north of Catherine Furnace the eminence called Hazel Grove, clear of timber, looked down the valley of the Lewis Creek, and as early as 8 a.m. General Birney, commanding the Federal division at this point, reported the passage of a long column across his front.

The indications, however, were deceptive. At first, it is probable, the movement seemed merely a prolongation of the Confederate front; but it soon received a different interpretation. The road at the point where Jackson’s column was observed turned due south; it was noticed that the troops were followed by their waggons, and that they were turning their backs on the Federal lines. Hooker, when he received Birney’s report, jumped to the conclusion that Lee, finding the direct road to Richmond, through Bowling Green, threatened by Sedgwick, was retreating on Gordonsville.

11 a.m.   About 11 a.m. a battery was ordered into action on the Hazel Grove heights.

12.15 p.m.   The fire caused some confusion in the Confederate ranks; the trains were forced on to another road; and shortly after noon, General Sickles, commanding the Third Army Corps, was permitted by Hooker to advance upon Catherine Furnace and to develop the situation. Birney’s division moved forward, and Whipple’s soon followed. This attack, which threatened to cut the Confederate army in two, was so vigorously opposed by Anderson’s division astride the plank road and by the 23rd Georgia at the Furnace, that General Sickles was constrained to call for reinforcements. Barlow’s brigade, which had hitherto formed the reserve of the Eleventh Corps, holding the extreme right of the Federal line, the flank at which Jackson was aiming, was sent to his assistance. Pleasonton’s cavalry brigade followed. Sickles’ movement, even before the fresh troops arrived, had met with some success. The 23rd Georgia, driven back to the unfinished railroad and surrounded, lost 300 officers and men. But word had been sent to Jackson’s column, and Colonel Brown’s artillery battalion, together with the brigades of Archer and Thomas, rapidly retracing their steps, checked the advance in front, while Anderson,


manœuvring his troops with vigour, struck heavily against the flank. Jackson’s train, thus effectively protected, passed the dangerous point in safety, and then Archer and Thomas, leaving Anderson to deal with Sickles, drew off and pursued their march.

These operations, conducted for the most part in blind thickets, consumed much time, and Jackson was already far in advance. Moving in a south-westerly direction, he had struck the Brook road, a narrow track which runs nearly due north, and crosses both the plank road and the pike at a point about two miles west of the Federal right flank. The Brock road, which, had Stoneman’s three divisions of cavalry been present with the Federal army, would have been strongly held, was absolutely free and unobstructed. Since the previous evening Fitzhugh Lee’s patrols had remained in close touch with the enemy’s outposts, and no attempt had been made to drive them in. So with no further obstacle than the heat the Second Army Corps pressed on. Away to the right, echoing faintly through the Wilderness, came the sound of cannon and the roll of musketry; couriers from the rear, galloping at top speed, reported that the trains had been attacked, that the rear brigades had turned back to save them, and that the enemy, in heavy strength, had already filled the gap which divided the Confederate wings. But, though the army was cut in two, Jackson cast no look behind him. The battle at the Furnace made no more impression on him than if it was being waged on the Mississippi. He had his orders to execute; and above all, he was moving at his best speed towards the enemy’s weak point. He knew—and none better—that Hooker would not long retain the initiative; that every man detached from the Federal centre made his own chances of success the more certain; and trusting implicitly in Lee’s ability to stave off defeat, he rode northwards with redoubled assurance of decisive victory. Forward was the cry, and though the heat was stifling, and the dust, rising from the deep ruts on the unmetalled road, rose in dense clouds beneath the trees, and men dropped fainting


in the ranks, the great column pushed on without a check.1

2 p.m.   About 2 p.m., as the rear brigades, Archer and Thomas, after checking Sickles, were just leaving Welford’s House, some six miles distant, Jackson himself had reached the plank road, the point where he intended to turn eastward against the Federal flank. Here he was met by Fitzhugh Lee, conveying most important and surprising information.

The cavalry regiment had halted when it arrived on the plank road; all was reported quiet at the front; the patrols were moving northward, and, attended by a staff officer, the young brigadier had ridden towards the turnpike. The path they followed led to a wide clearing at the summit of a hill, from which there was a view eastward as far as Dowdall’s Tavern. Below, and but a few hundred yards distant, ran the Federal breastworks, with abattis in front and long lines of stacked arms in rear; but untenanted by a single company. Two cannon were seen upon the highroad, the horses grazing quietly near at hand. The soldiers were scattered in small groups, laughing, cooking, smoking, sleeping, and playing cards, while others were butchering cattle and drawing rations. What followed is best told in General Fitzhugh Lee’s own words.

“I rode back and met Jackson. ‘General,’ said I, ‘if you will ride with me, halting your columns here, out of sight, I will show you the great advantage of attacking down the old turnpike instead of the plank road, the enemy’s lines being taken in reverse. Bring only one courier, as you will be in view from the top of the hill.’ Jackson assented. When we reached the eminence the picture below was still unchanged, and I watched him closely as he gazed on Howard’s troops. His expression was one of intense interest. His eyes burnt with a brilliant glow, and his face was slightly flushed, radiant at the success of his flank movement. To the remarks made to him while the unconscious line of blue was pointed out

1  There were three halts during the march of fourteen miles. Letter from Major Hotchkiss.


he made no reply, and yet during the five minutes he was on the hill his lips were moving. ‘Tell General Rodes,’ he said, suddenly turning his horse towards the courier, ‘to move across the plank road, and halt when he gets to the old turnpike. I will join him there.’ One more look at the Federal lines, and he rode rapidly down the hill.”

4 p.m.   The cavalry, supported by the Stonewall Brigade, was immediately placed a short distance down the plank road, in order to mask the march of the column. At 4 p.m. Rodes was on the turnpike. Passing down it for about a mile, in the direction of the enemy’s position, the troops were ordered to halt and form for battle. Not a shot had been fired. A few hostile patrols had been observed, but along the line of breastworks, watched closely by the cavalry, the Federal troops, still in the most careless security, were preparing their evening meal. Jackson, meanwhile, seated on a stump near the Brock road, had penned his last dispatch to General Lee.

“Near 3 p.m. May 2, 1863.    

“General,—The enemy has made a stand at Chancellor’s,1 which is about two miles from Chancellorsville. I hope as soon as practicable to attack. I trust that an ever-kind Providence will bless us with great success.


T. J. JACKSON, Lieutenant-General.    

“The leading division is up, and the next two appear to be well closed.


“General B. E. Lee.”

25,000 men were now deploying in the forest within a mile of the Federal works, overlapping them both to north and south, and not a single general in the Northern army appears to have suspected their presence. The day had passed quietly at Chancellorsville. At a very early hour in

1  Melzi Chancellor’s house; otherwise Dowdall’s Tavern.


the morning Hooker, anticipating a vigorous attack, had ordered the First Army Corps, which had hitherto been acting with Sedgwick below Fredericksburg, to recross the Rappahannock and march to Chancellorsville. Averell’s division of cavalry, also, which had been engaged near Orange Court House with W. H. F. Lee’s two regiments, was instructed about the same time to rejoin the army as soon as possible, and was now marching by the left bank of the Rapidan to Ely’s Ford. Anticipating, therefore, that he would soon be strongly reinforced, Hooker betrayed no uneasiness. Shortly after dawn he had ridden round his lines. Expecting at that time to be attacked in front only, he had no fault to find with their location or construction. “As he looked over the barricades,” says General Howard, “while receiving the cheers and salutes of the men, he said to me, ‘How strong! how strong!’ When the news came that a Confederate column was marching westward past Catherine Furnace, his attention, for the moment, was attracted to his right. At 10 a.m. he was still uncertain as to the meaning of Jackson’s movement. As the hours went by, however, and Jackson’s column disappeared in the forest, he again grew confident; the generals were informed that Lee was in full retreat towards Gordonsville, and a little later Sedgwick received the following:

“Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863, 4.10 p.m.    

General Butterfield,—The Major-General Commanding directs that General Sedgwick cross the river (sic) as soon as indications will permit,1 capture Fredericksburg with everything in it, and vigorously pursue the enemy. We know that the enemy is fleeing, trying to save his trains. Two of Sickles’ divisions are among them.

            “J. H. VAN ALEN,

“Brigadier-General and Aide-de-Camp.”    

“(Copy from Butterfield, at Falmouth, to Sedgwick, 5.50 p.m.).”

1  Sedgwick had crossed the river on April 29 and 30.


At 4 o’clock, therefore, the moment Jackson’s vanguard reached the old turnpike near Luckett’s Farm, Hooker believed that all danger of a flank attack had passed away. His left wing was under orders to advance, as soon as a swamp to the front could be “corduroyed,” and strike Lee in flank; while to reinforce Sickles, “among the enemy’s trains,” Williams’ division of the Twelfth Corps was sent forward from the centre, Howard’s reserve brigade (Barlow’s) from the right, and Pleasonton’s cavalry brigade from Hazel Grove.

The officers in charge of the Federal right appear to have been as unsuspicious as their commander. During the morning some slight preparations were made to defend the turnpike from the westward; a shallow line of rifle-pits, with a few epaulements for artillery, had been constructed on a low ridge, commanding open fields, which runs north from Dowdall’s Tavern, and the wood beyond had been partially entangled. But this was all, and even when the only reserve of the Eleventh Army Corps, Barlow’s brigade, was sent to Sickles, it was not considered necessary to make any change in the disposition of the troops. The belief that Lee and Jackson were retreating had taken firm hold of every mind. The pickets on the flank had indeed reported, from time to time, that infantry was massing in the thickets; and the Confederate cavalry, keeping just outside effective range, occupied every road and every clearing. Yet no attempt was made, by a strong reconnaissance in force, to ascertain what was actually going on within the forest; and the reports of the scouts were held to be exaggerated.

The neglect was the more marked in that the position of the Eleventh Army Corps was very weak. Howard had with him twenty regiments of infantry and six batteries; but his force was completely isolated. His extreme right, consisting of four German regiments, was posted in the forest, with two guns facing westward on the pike, and a line of intrenchments facing south. On the low hill eastward, where Talley’s Farm, a small wooden cottage, stood in the midst of a wide clearing, were two more German regiments


and two American. Then, near the junction of the roads, intervened a patch of forest, which was occupied by four regiments, with a brigade upon their left; and beyond, nearly a mile wide from north to south, and five or six hundred yards in breadth, were the open fields round the little Wilderness Church, dipping at first to a shallow brook, and then rising gradually to a house called Dowdall’s Tavern. In these fields, south of the turnpike, were the breastworks held by the second division of the Eleventh Army Corps; and here were six regiments, with several batteries in close support. The 60th New York and 26th Wisconsin, near the Hawkins House at the north end of the fields, faced to the west; the remainder all faced south. Beyond Dowdall’s Tavern rose the forest, dark and impenetrable to the view; but to the south-east, nearly two miles from Talley’s, the clearings of Hazel Grove were plainly visible. This part of the line, originally entrusted to General Sickles, was now unguarded, for two divisions of the Third Corps were moving on the Furnace; and the nearest force which could render support to Howard’s was Berry’s division, retained in reserve north-east of Chancellorsville, three miles distant from Talley’s Farm and nearly two from Howard’s left.

The Confederates, meanwhile, were rapidly forming for attack. Notwithstanding their fatigue, for many of the brigades had marched over fifteen miles, the men were in the highest spirits. A young staff-officer, who passed along the column, relates that he was everywhere recognised with the usual greetings. “Say, here’s one of old Jack’s little boys; let him by, boys!” “Have a good breakfast this morning, sonny?” “Better hurry up, or you’ll catch it for gettin’ behind.” “Tell old Jack we’re all a-comin’. Don’t let him begin the fuss till we get there!” But on reaching the turnpike orders were given that all noise should cease, and the troops, deploying for a mile or more on either side of the road, took up their formation for attack. In front were the skirmishers of Rodes’ division, under Major Blackford; four hundred yards in rear came the lines of battle, Rodes forming the


first line;1 Colston, at two hundred yards distance, the second line; A. P. Hill, part in line and part in column, the third. In little more than an hour-and-a-half, notwithstanding the dense woods, the formation was completed, and the lines dressed at the proper angle to the road.

5.45 p.m.   Notwithstanding that the enemy might at any moment awake to their danger, not a single precaution was neglected. Jackson was determined that the troops should move forward in good order, and that every officer and man should know what was expected from him. Staff-officers had been stationed at various points to maintain communication between the divisions, and the divisional and brigade commanders had received their instructions. The whole force was to push resolutely forward through the forest. The open hill, about a thousand yards eastward, on which stood Talley’s Farm, was to be carried at all hazard, for, so far as could be ascertained, it commanded, over an intervening patch of forest, the ridge which ran north from Dowdall’s Tavern. After the capture of the heights at Talley’s, if the Federals showed a determined front on their second line, Rodes was to halt under cover until the artillery could come up and dislodge them. Under no other circumstances was there to be any pause in the advance. A brigade of the first line was detailed to guard the right flank, a regiment the left; and the second and third lines were ordered to support the first, whenever it might be necessary, without waiting for further instructions. The field hospital was established at the Old Wilderness Tavern.

The men were in position, eagerly awaiting the signal; their quick intelligence had already realised the situation, and all was life and animation. Across the narrow clearing stretched the long grey lines, penetrating far into the forest on either flank; in the centre, on the road, were four

1  Rodes’ brigades were formed in the following order:

     ||  _______  ______  _____  _______   ..........
         Iverson  O'Neal  Doles  Colquitt  _______
                                           Ramseur  ||


Napoleon guns, the horses fretting with excitement; far to the rear, their rifles glistening under the long shafts of the setting sun, the heavy columns of A. P. Hill’s division were rapidly advancing, and the rumble of the artillery, closing to the front, grew louder and louder. Jackson, watch in hand, sat silent on “Little Sorrel,” his slouched hat drawn low over his eyes, and his lips tightly compressed. On his right was General Rodes, tall, lithe, and soldierly, and on Rodes’ right was Major Blackford.

“Are you ready, General Rodes?” said Jackson.

“Yes, sir,” said Rodes, impatient as his men.

“You can go forward, sir,” said Jackson.

6 p.m.   A nod from Rodes was a sufficient order to Blackford, and the woods rang with the notes of a single bugle. Back came the responses from bugles to right and left, and the skirmishers, dashing through the wild undergrowth, sprang eagerly to their work, followed by the quick rush of the lines of battle. For a moment the troops seemed buried in the thickets; then, as the enemy’s sentries, completely taken by surprise, fired a few scattered shots, and the guns on the turnpike came quickly into action, the echoes waked; through the still air of the summer evening rang the rebel yell, filling the forest far to north and south, and the hearts of the astonished Federals, lying idly behind their breastworks, stood still within them.

So rapid was the advance, so utterly unexpected the attack, that the pickets were at once over-run; and, crashing through the timber, driving before it the wild creatures of the forest, deer, and hares, and foxes, the broad front of the mighty torrent bore down upon Howard’s flank. For a few moments the four regiments which formed his right, supported by two guns, held staunchly together, and even checked for a brief space the advance of O’Neal’s brigade. But from the right and from the left the grey infantry swarmed round them; the second line came surging forward to O’Neal’s assistance; the gunners were shot down and their pieces captured; and in ten minutes the right brigade of the Federal army,


submerged by numbers, was flying in panic across the clearing, Here, near Talley’s Farm, on the fields south of the turnpike and in the forest to the north, another brigade, hastily changing front, essayed to stay the rout. But Jackson’s horse-artillery, moving forward at a gallop, poured in canister at short range; and three brigades, O’Neal’s, Iverson’s, and Doles’, attacked the Northerners fiercely in front and flank. No troops, however brave, could have long withstood that overwhelming rush. The slaughter was very great; every mounted officer was shot down, and in ten or fifteen minutes the fragments of these hapless regiments were retreating rapidly and tumultuously towards the Wilderness Church.

The first position had been captured, but there was no pause in the attack. As Jackson, following the artillery, rode past Talley’s Farm, and gazed across the clearing to the east, he saw a sight which raised high his hopes of a decisive victory. Already, in the green cornfields, the spoils of battle lay thick around him. Squads of prisoners were being hurried to the rear. Abandoned guns, and waggons overturned, the wounded horses still struggling in the traces, were surrounded by the dead and dying of Howard’s brigades. Knapsacks, piled in regular order, arms, blankets, accoutrements, lay in profusion near the breastworks; and beyond, under a rolling cloud of smoke and dust, the bare fields, sloping down to the brook, were covered with fugitives. Still further eastward, along the plank road, speeding in wild confusion towards Chancellorsville, was a dense mass of men and waggons; cattle, maddened with fright, were rushing to and fro, and on the ridge beyond the little church, pushing their way through the terror-stricken throng like ships through a heavy sea, or breaking into fragments before the pressure, the irregular lines of a few small regiments were moving hastily to the front. At more than one point on the edge of the distant woods guns were coming into action; the hill near Talley’s Farm was covered with projectiles; men were falling, and the Confederate first line was already in some confusion.

Galloping up the turnpike, and urging the artillery


forward with voice and gesture, Jackson passed through the ranks of his eager infantry; and then Rodes’s division, rushing down the wooded slopes, burst from the covert, and, driving their flying foes before them, advanced against the trenches on the opposite ridge. Here and there the rush of the first line was checked by the bold resistance of the German regiments. On the right, especially, progress was slow, for Colquitt’s brigade, drawn off by the pressure of Federal outposts in the woods to the south, had lost touch with the remainder of the division; Ramseur’s brigade in rear had been compelled to follow suit, and on this flank the Federals were most effectively supported by their artillery. But Iverson, O’Neal, and Doles, hardly halting to reform as they Left the woods, and followed closely by the second line, swept rapidly across the fields, dashed back the regiments which sought to check them, and under a hot fire of grape and canister pressed resolutely forward.

The rifle-pits on the ridge were occupied by the last brigade of Howard’s Army Corps. A battery was in rear, three more were on the left, near Dowdall’s Tavern, and many of the fugitives from Talley’s Farm had rallied behind the breastwork. But a few guns and four or five thousand rifles, although the ground to the front was clear and open, were powerless to arrest the rush of Jackson’s veterans. The long lines of colours, tossing redly above the swiftly moving ranks, never for a moment faltered; the men, running alternately to the front, delivered their fire, stopped for a moment to load, and then again ran on. Nearer and nearer they came, until the defenders of the trenches, already half demoralised, could mark through the smoke-drift the tanned faces, the fierce eyes, and the gleaming bayonets of their terrible foes. The guns were already flying, and the position was outflanked; yet along the whole length of the ridge the parapets still blazed with fire; and while men fell headlong in the Confederate ranks, for a moment there was a check. But it was the check of a mighty wave, mounting slowly to full volume, ere it falls in thunder on the shrinking sands. Running to the front with uplifted swords, the officers gave the signal for the charge.


The men answered with a yell of triumph; the second line, closing rapidly on the first, could no longer be restrained; and as the grey masses, crowding together in their excitement, breasted the last slope, the Federal infantry, in every quarter of the field, gave way before them; the ridge was abandoned, and through the dark pines beyond rolled the rout of the Eleventh Army Corps.

7 p.m.   It was seven o’clock. Twilight was falling on the woods; and Rodes’ and Colston’s divisions had become so inextricably mingled that officers could not find their men nor men their officers. But Jackson, galloping into the disordered ranks, directed them to press the pursuit. His face was aglow with the blaze of battle. His swift gestures and curt orders, admitting of no question, betrayed the fierce intensity of his resolution. Although the great tract of forest, covering Chancellorsville on the west, had swallowed up the fugitives, he had no need of vision to reveal to him the extent of his success. 10,000 men had been utterly defeated. The enemy’s right wing was scattered to the winds. The Southerners were within a mile-and-a-half of the Federals’ centre and completely in rear of their intrenchments; and the White House or Bullock road, only half-a-mile to the front, led directly to Hooker’s line of retreat by the United States Ford. Until that road was in his possession Jackson was determined to call no halt. The dense woods, the gathering darkness, the fatigue and disorder of his troops, he regarded no more than he did the enemy’s overwhelming numbers. In spirit he was standing at Hooker’s side, and he saw, as clearly as though the intervening woods had been swept away, the condition to which his adversary had been reduced.

To the Federal headquarters confusion and dismay had come, indeed, with appalling suddenness. Late in the afternoon Hooker was sitting with two aides-de-camp in the verandah of the Chancellor House. There were few troops in sight. The Third Corps and Pleasonton’s cavalry had long since disappeared in the forest. The Twelfth Army Corps, with the exception of two brigades, was already advancing against Anderson; and only the trains and some artillery remained


within the intrenchments at Hazel Grove. All was going well. A desultory firing broke out at intervals to the eastward, but it was not sustained; and three miles to the south, where, as Hooker believed, in pursuit of Jackson, Sickles and Pleasonton were, the reports of their cannon, growing fainter and fainter as they pushed further south, betokened no more than a lively skirmish. The quiet of the Wilderness, save for those distant sounds, was undisturbed, and men and animals, free from every care, were enjoying the calm of the summer evening. It was about half-past six. Suddenly the cannonade swelled to a heavier roar, and the sound came from a new direction. All were listening intently, speculating on what this might mean, when a staff-officer, who had stepped out to the front of the house and was looking down the plank road with his glass, exclaimed: “My God, here they come!” Hooker sprang upon his horse; and riding rapidly down the road, met the stragglers of the Eleventh Corps—men, waggons, and ambulances, an ever-increasing crowd—rushing in blind terror from the forest, flying they knew not whither. The whole of the right wing, they said, overwhelmed by superior numbers, was falling back on Chancellorsville, and Stonewall Jackson was in hot pursuit.

The situation had changed in the twinkling of an eye. Just now congratulating himself on the complete success of his manœuvres, on the retreat of his enemies, on the flight of Jackson and the helplessness of Lee, Hooker saw his strong intrenchments taken in reverse, his army scattered, his reserves far distant, and the most dreaded of his opponents, followed by his victorious veterans, within a few hundred yards of his headquarters. His weak point had been found, and there were no troops at hand wherewith to restore the fight. The centre was held only by the two brigades of the Twelfth Corps at the Fairview Cemetery. The works at Hazel Grove were untenanted, save by a few batteries and a handful of infantry. The Second and Fifth Corps on the left were fully occupied by McLaws, for Lee, at the first sound of Jackson’s guns, had ordered a vigorous attack up the pike and the plank road. Sickles, with


20,000 men, was far away, isolated and perhaps surrounded, and the line of retreat, the road to United States Ford, was absolutely unprotected.

Messengers were dispatched in hot haste to recall Sickles and Pleasonton to Hazel Grove. Berry’s division, forming the reserve north-east of the Chancellor House, was summoned to Fairview, and Hays’ brigade of the Second Corps ordered to support it. But what could three small brigades, hurried into position and unprotected by intrenchments, avail against 25,000 Southerners, led by Stonewall Jackson, and animated by their easy victory? If Berry and Hays could stand fast against the rush of fugitives, it was all that could be expected; and as the uproar in the dark woods swelled to a deeper volume, and the yells of the Confederates, mingled with the crash of the musketry, were borne to his ears, Hooker must have felt that all was lost. To make matters worse, as Pleasonton, hurrying back with his cavalry, arrived at Hazel Grove, the trains of the Third Army Corps, fired on by the Confederate skirmishers, dashed wildly across the clearing, swept through the parked artillery, and, breaking through the forest, increased the fearful tumult which reigned round Chancellorsville.

The gunners, however, with a courage beyond all praise, stood staunchly to their pieces; and soon a long line of artillery, for which two regiments of the Third Army Corps, coming up rapidly from the south, formed a sufficient escort, was established on this commanding hill. Other batteries, hitherto held in reserve, took post on the high ground at Fairview, a mile to the north-east, and, although Berry’s infantry were not yet in position, and the stream of broken troops was still pouring past, a strong front of fifty guns opposed the Confederate advance.

But it was not the artillery that saved Hooker from irretrievable disaster.1 As they followed the remnants of the Eleventh Army Corps, the progress of Rodes and Colston had been far less rapid than when they stormed forward

1  Lieutenant-Colonel Hamlin, the latest historian of Chancellorsville, has completely disposed of the legend that these fifty guns repulsed a desperate attack on Hazel Grove.


past the Wilderness Church. A regiment of Federal cavalry, riding to Howard’s aid by a track from Hazel Grove to the plank road, was quickly swept aside; but the deep darkness of the forest, the efforts of the officers to re-form the ranks, the barriers opposed by the tangled undergrowth, the difficulty of keeping the direction, brought a large portion of the troops to a standstill. At the junction of the White House road the order to halt was given, and although a number of men, pushing impetuously forward, seized a line of log breastworks which ran north-west through the timber below the Fairview heights, the pursuit was stayed in the midst of the dense thickets.

8.15 p.m.   At this moment, shortly after eight o’clock, Jackson was at Dowdall’s Tavern. The reports from the front informed him that his first and second lines had halted; General Rodes, who had galloped up the plank road to reconnoitre, sent in word that there were no Federal troops to be seen between his line and the Fairview heights; and Colonel Cobb, of the 44th Virginia, brought the news that the strong intrenchments, less than a mile from Chancellorsville, had been occupied without resistance.

There was a lull in the battle; the firing had died away, and the excited troops, with a clamour that was heard in the Federal lines, sought their companies and regiments by the dim light of the rising moon. But deeming that nothing was done while aught remained to do, Jackson was already planning a further movement. Sending instructions to A. P. Hill to relieve Rodes and Colston, and to prepare for a night attack, he rode forward, almost unattended, amongst his rallying troops, and lent his aid to the efforts of the regimental officers. Intent on bringing up the two divisions in close support of Hill, he passed from one regiment to another. Turning to Colonel Cobb, he said to him; “Find General Rodes, and tell him to occupy the barricade1 at once,” and then added: “I need your help for a time; this disorder must be corrected. As you go along the right, tell the troops from me to get into line and preserve their order.”

1  In the woods west of the Fairview Heights.


It was long, however, before the men could be assembled, and the delay was increased by an unfortunate incident. Jackson’s chief of artillery, pressing forward up the plank road to within a thousand yards of Chancellorsville, opened fire with three guns upon the enemy’s position. This audacious proceeding evoked a quick reply. Such Federal guns as could be brought to bear were at once turned upon the road, and although the damage done was small, A. P. Hill’s brigades, just coming up into line, were for the moment checked; under the hail of shell and canister the artillery horses became unmanageable, the drivers lost their nerve, and as they rushed to the rear some of the infantry joined them, and a stampede was only prevented by the personal efforts of Jackson, Colston, and their staff-officers. Colonel Crutchfield was then ordered to cease firing; the Federals did the same; and A. P. Hill’s brigades, that of General Lane leading, advanced to the deserted breastworks, while two brigades, one from Rodes’ division and one from Colston’s, were ordered to guard the roads from Hazel Grove.

8.45 p.m.   These arrangements made, Jackson proceeded to join his advanced line. At the point where the track to the White House and United States ford strikes the plank road he met General Lane, seeking his instructions for the attack. They were sufficiently brief: “Push right ahead, Lane; right ahead!” As Lane galloped off to his command, General Hill and some of his staff came up, and Jackson gave Hill his orders. “Press them; cut them off from the United States Ford, Hill; press them.” General Hill replied that he was entirely unacquainted with the topography of the country, and asked for an officer to act as guide. Jackson directed Captain Boswell, his chief engineer, to accompany General Hill, and then, turning to the front, rode up the plank road, passing quickly through the ranks of the 18th North Carolina of Lane’s brigade. Two or three hundred yards eastward the general halted, for the ringing of axes and the words of command were distinctly audible in the enemy’s lines.

While the Confederates were re-forming, Hooker’s


reserves had reached the front, and Berry’s regiments, on the Fairview heights, using their bayonets and tin-plates for intrenching tools, piling up the earth with their hands, and hacking down the brushwood with their knives, were endeavouring in desperate haste to provide some shelter, however slight, against the rush that they knew was about to come.

After a few minutes, becoming impatient for the advance of Hill’s division, Jackson turned and retraced his steps towards his own lines. “General,” said an officer who was with him, “you should not expose yourself so much.” “There is no danger, sir, the enemy is routed. Go back and tell General Hill to press on.”

Once more, when he was only sixty or eighty yards from where the 18th North Carolina were standing in the trees, he drew rein and listened—the whole party, generals, staff-officers, and couriers, hidden in the deep shadows of the silent woods. At this moment a single rifle-shot rang out with startling suddenness.

A detachment of Federal infantry, groping their way through the thickets, had approached the Southern lines.

The skirmishers on both sides were now engaged, and the lines of battle in rear became keenly on the alert. Some mounted officers galloped hastily back to their commands. The sound startled the Confederate soldiers, and an officer of the 18th North Carolina, seeing a group of strange horsemen riding towards him through the darkness—for Jackson, hearing the firing, had turned back to his own lines—gave the order to fire.

The volley was fearfully effective. Men and horses fell dead and dying on the narrow track. Jackson himself received three bullets, one in the right hand, and two in the left arm, cutting the main artery, and crushing the bone below the shoulder, and as the reins dropped upon his neck, “Little Sorrel,” frantic with terror, plunged into the wood and rushed towards the Federal lines. An overhanging bough struck his rider violently in the face, tore off his cap and nearly unhorsed him; but recovering his seat, he managed to seize the bridle with his bleeding hand, and turned


into the road. Here Captain Wilbourn, one of his staff-officers, succeeded in catching the reins; and, as the horse stopped, Jackson leaned forward and fell into his arms. Captain Hotchkiss, who had just returned from a reconnaissance, rode off to find Dr. McGuire, while Captain Wilbourn, with a small penknife, ripped up the sleeve of the wounded arm. As he was doing so, General Hill, who had himself been exposed to the fire of the North Carolinians, reached the scene, and, throwing himself from his horse, pulled off Jackson’s gauntlets, which were full of blood, and bandaged the shattered arm with a handkerchief. “General,” he said, “are you much hurt?” “I think I am,” was the reply, “and all my wounds are from my own men. I believe my right arm is broken.”

To all questions put to him he answered in a perfectly calm and self-possessed tone, and, although he spoke no word of complaint, he was manifestly growing weaker. It seemed impossible to move him, and yet it was absolutely necessary that he should be carried to the rear. He was still in front of his own lines, and, even as Hill was speaking, two of the enemy’s skirmishers, emerging from the thicket, halted within a few paces of the little group. Hill, turning quietly to his escort, said, “Take charge of those men,” and two orderlies, springing forward, seized the rifles of the astonished Federals. Lieutenant Morrison, Jackson’s aide-de-camp, who had gone down the road to reconnoitre, now reported that he had seen a section of artillery unlimbering close at hand. Hill gave orders that the general should be at once removed, and that no one should tell the men that he was wounded. Jackson, lying on Hill’s breast, opened his eyes, and said, “Tell them simply that you have a wounded Confederate officer.” Lieutenants Smith and Morrison, and Captain Leigh of Hill’s staff, now lifted him to his feet, and with their aid he walked a few steps through the trees. But hardly had they gained the road when the Federal batteries, along their whole front, opened a terrible fire of grape and canister. The storm of bullets, tearing through the foliage, was fortunately directed too high, and the three young officers,


laying the general down by the roadside, endeavoured to shield him by lying between him and the deadly hail. The earth round them was torn up by the shot, covering them with dust; boughs fell from the trees, and fire flashed from the flints and gravel of the roadway. Once Jackson attempted to rise; but Smith threw his arm over him, holding him down, and saying, “General, you must be still—it will cost you your life to rise.”

After a few minutes, however, the enemy’s gunners, changing from canister to shell, mercifully increased their range; and again, as the Confederate infantry came hurrying to the front, their wounded leader, supported by strong arms, was lifted to his feet. Anxious that the men should not recognise him, Jackson turned aside into the wood, and slowly and painfully dragged himself through the undergrowth. As he passed along, General Fender, whose brigade was then pushing forward, asked Smith who it was that was wounded. “A Confederate officer” was the reply; but as they came nearer Fender, despite the darkness, saw that it was Jackson. Springing from his horse, he hurriedly expressed his regret, and added that his lines were so much disorganised by the enemy’s artillery that he feared it would be necessary to fall back. “At this moment,” says an eye-witness, “the scene was a fearful one. The air seemed to be alive with the shriek of shells and the whistling of bullets; horses riderless and mad with fright dashed in every direction; hundreds left the ranks and hurried to the rear, and the groans of the wounded and dying mingled with the wild shouts of others to be led again to the assault. Almost fainting as he was from loss of blood, desperately wounded, and in the midst of this awful uproar, Jackson’s heart was unshaken. The words of Fender seemed to rouse him to life. Pushing aside those who supported him, he raised himself to his full height, and answered feebly, but distinctly enough to be heard above the din, ‘You must hold your ground, General Fender; you must hold out to the last, sir.’ ”

His strength was now completely gone, and he asked to be allowed to lie down. His staff-officers, however,


refused assent. The shells were still crashing through the forest, and a litter having been brought up by Captain Leigh, he was carried slowly towards Dowdall’s Tavern. But before they were free of the tangled wood, one of the stretcher-bearers, struck by a shot in the arm, let go the handle. Jackson fell violently to the ground on his wounded side. His agony must have been intense, and for the first time he was heard to groan.

Smith sprang to his side, and as he raised his head a bright beam of moonlight made its way through the thick foliage, and rested upon his white and lacerated face. The aide-de-camp was startled by its great pallor and stillness, and cried out, “General, are you seriously hurt?” “No, Mr. Smith, don’t trouble yourself about me,” he replied quietly, and added some words about winning the battle first, and attending to the wounded afterwards. He was again placed upon the litter, and carried a few hundred yards, still followed by the Federal shells, to where his medical director was waiting with an ambulance.

Dr. McGuire knelt down beside him and said, “I hope you are not badly hurt, General?” He replied very calmly but feebly, “I am badly injured, doctor, I fear I am dying.” After a pause he went on, “I am glad you have come. I think the wound in my shoulder is still bleeding.” The bandages were readjusted and he was lifted into the ambulance, where Colonel Crutchfield, who had also been seriously wounded, was already lying. Whisky and morphia were administered, and by the light of pine torches, carried by a few soldiers, he was slowly driven through the fields where Hooker’s right had so lately fled before his impetuous onset. All was done that could ease his sufferings, but some jolting of the ambulance over the rough road was unavoidable; “and yet,” writes Dr. McGuire, “his uniform politeness did not forsake him even in these most trying circumstances. His complete control, too, over his mind, enfeebled as it was by loss of blood and pain, was wonderful. His suffering was intense; his hands were cold, his skin clammy. But not a groan escaped him—not a sign of suffering, except the


light corrugation of the brow, the fixed, rigid face, the thin lips, so tightly compressed that the impression of the teeth could be seen through them. Except these, he controlled by his iron will all evidence of emotion, and, more difficult than this even, he controlled that disposition to restlessness which many of us have observed upon the battle-field as attending great loss of blood. Nor was he forgetful of others. He expressed very feelingly his sympathy for Crutchfield, and once, when the latter groaned aloud, he directed the ambulance to stop, and requested me to see if something could not be done for his relief.

“After reaching the hospital, he was carried to a tent, and placed in bed, covered with blankets, and another drink of whisky and water given him. Two hours and a half elapsed before sufficient reaction took place to warrant an examination, and at two o’clock on Sunday morning I informed him that chloroform would be given him; I told him also that amputation would probably be required, and asked, if it was found necessary, whether it should be done at once. He replied promptly, ‘Yes, certainly, Dr. McGuire, do for me whatever you think best.’

“Chloroform was then administered, and the left arm amputated about two inches below the shoulder. Throughout the whole of the operation, and until all the dressings were applied, he continued insensible. About half-past three, Colonel (then Major) Pendleton arrived at the hospital. He stated that General Hill had been wounded, and that the troops were in great disorder. General Stuart was in command, and had sent him to see the general. At first I declined to permit an interview, but Pendleton urged that the safety of the army and success of the cause depended upon his seeing him. When he entered the tent the general said, ‘Well, Major, I am glad to see you; I thought you were killed.’ Pendleton briefly explained the position of affairs, gave Stuart’s message, and asked what should be done. Jackson was at once interested, and asked in his quick way several questions. When they were answered, he remained silent, evidently trying to think; he contracted his brow, set his mouth,


and for some moments lay obviously endeavouring to concentrate his thoughts. For a moment we believed he had succeeded, for his nostrils dilated, and his eye flashed with its old fire, but it was only for a moment: his face relaxed again, and presently he answered, very feebly and sadly: ‘I don’t know—I can’t tell; say to General Stuart he must do what he thinks best.’ Soon after this he slept.”

So, leaving behind him, struggling vainly against the oppression of his mortal hurt, the one man who could have completed the Confederate victory, Pendleton rode wearily through the night. Jackson’s fall, at so critical a moment, just as the final blow was to be delivered, had proved a terrible disaster. Hill, who alone knew his intention of moving to the White House, had been wounded by a fragment of shell as he rode back to lead his troops. Boswell, who had been ordered to point out the road, had been killed by the same volley which struck down his chief, and the subordinate generals, without instructions and without guides, with their men in disorder, and the enemy’s artillery playing fiercely on the forest, had hesitated to advance. Hill, remaining in a litter near the line of battle, had sent for Stuart. The cavalry commander, however, was at some distance from the field. Late in the evening, finding it impossible to employ his command at the front, he had been detached by Jackson, a regiment of infantry supporting him, to take and hold Ely’s Ford. He had already arrived within view of a Federal camp established at that point, and was preparing to charge the enemy, under cover of the night, when Hill’s messenger recalled him.

When Stuart reached the front he found the troops still halted, Rodes and Colston reforming on the open fields near Dowdall’s Tavern, the Light Division deployed within the forest, and the generals anxious for their own security.

So far the attack had been completely successful, but Lee’s lack of strength prevented the full accomplishment of his design. Had Longstreet been present, with Pickett and Hood to lead his splendid infantry, the


Third Corps and the Twelfth would have been so hardly pressed that Chancellorsville, Hazel Grove, and the White House would have fallen an easy prize to Jackson’s bayonets. Anderson, with four small brigades, was powerless to hold the force confronting him, and marching rapidly northwards, Sickles had reached Hazel Grove before Jackson fell. Here Pleasonton, with his batteries, was still in position, and Hooker had not yet lost his head. As soon as Birney’s and Whipple’s divisions had come up, forming in columns of brigades behind the guns, Sickles was ordered to assail the enemy’s right flank and check his advance. Just before midnight the attack was made, in two lines of battle, supported by strong columns. The night was very clear and still; the moon, nearly full, threw enough light into the woods to facilitate the advance, and the tracks leading north-west served as lines of direction.

The attack, however, although gallantly made, gained no material advantage. The preliminary movements were plainly audible to the Confederates, and Lane’s brigade, most of which was now south of the plank road, had made every preparation to receive it. Against troops lying down in the woods the Federal artillery, although fifty or sixty guns were in action, made but small impression; and the dangers of a night attack, made upon troops who are expecting it, and whose moral is unaffected, were forcibly illustrated. The confusion in the forest was very great; a portion of the assailing force, losing direction, fell foul of Berry’s division at the foot of the Fairview heights, which had not been informed of the movement, and at least two regiments, fired into from front and rear, broke up in panic. Some part of the log breastworks which Jackson’s advanced line had occupied were recaptured; but not a single one of the assailants, except as prisoners, reached the plank road. And yet the attack was an exceedingly well-timed stroke, and as such, although the losses were heavy, had a very considerable effect on the issue of the day’s fighting. It showed, or seemed to show, that the Federals were still in good heart, that they were rapidly concentrating, and that the Confederates might be met by


vigorous counter-strokes. “The fact,” said Stuart in his official dispatch, “that the attack was made, and at night, made me apprehensive of a repetition of it.”

So, while Jackson slept through the hours of darkness that should have seen the consummation of his enterprise, his soldiers lay beside their arms; and the Federals, digging, felling, and building, constructed a new line of parapet, protected by abattis, and strengthened by a long array of guns, on the slopes of Fairview and Hazel Grove. The respite which the fall of the Confederate leader had brought them was not neglected; the fast-spreading panic was stayed; the First Army Corps, rapidly crossing the Rappahannock, secured the road to the White House, and Averell’s division of cavalry reached Ely’s Ford.

May 3   On the left, between Chancellorsville and the river, where a young Federal colonel, named Miles,1 handled his troops with conspicuous skill, Lee’s continuous attacks had been successfully repulsed, and at dawn on the morning of May 3 the situation of the Union army was far from unpromising. A gap of nearly two miles intervened between the Confederate wings, and within this gap, on the commanding heights of Hazel Grove and Fairview, the Federals were strongly intrenched. An opportunity for dealing a crushing counterblow—for holding one portion of Lee’s army in check while the other was overwhelmed—appeared to present itself. The only question was whether the moral of the general and the men could be depended upon.

In Stuart, however, Hooker had to deal with a soldier who was no unworthy successor of Stonewall Jackson. Reluctantly abandoning the idea of a night attack, the cavalry general, fully alive to the exigencies of the situation, had determined to reduce the interval between himself and Lee; and during the night the artillery was brought up to the front, and the batteries deployed wherever they could find room. Just before the darkness began to lift, orders were received from Lee that the assault was to be made as early as possible; and the right wing, swinging round in order to come abreast of the centre,

1  Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army, 1898.


became hotly engaged. Away to the south-east, across the hills held by the Federals, came the responding thunder of Lee’s guns; and 40,000 infantry, advancing through the woods against front and flank, enveloped in a circle of fire a stronghold which was held by over 60,000 muskets.

It is unnecessary to describe minutely the events of the morning. The Federal troops, such as were brought into action, fought well; but Jackson’s tremendous attack had already defeated Hooker. Before Sickles made his night attack from Hazel Grove he had sent orders for Sedgwick to move at once, occupy Fredericksburg, seize the heights, and march westward by the plank road; and, at the same time, he had instructed his engineers to select and fortify a position about a mile in rear of Chancellorsville. So, when Stuart pressed forward, not only had this new position been occupied by the First and Fifth Army Corps, but the troops hitherto in possession of Hazel Grove were already evacuating their intrenchments.

These dispositions sufficiently attest the demoralisation of the Federal commander. As the historian of the Army of the Potomac puts it: “The movement to be executed by Sedgwick was precisely one of those movements which, according as they are wrought out, may be either the height of wisdom or the height of folly. Its successful accomplishment certainly promised very brilliant results. It is easy to see how seriously Lee’s safety would be compromised if, while engaged with Hooker in front, he should suddenly find a powerful force assailing his rear, and grasping already his direct line of communication with Richmond. But if, on the other hand, Lee should be able by any slackness on the part of his opponent to engage him in front with a part of his force, while he should turn swiftly round to assail the isolated moving column, it is obvious that he would be able to repulse or destroy that column, and then by a vigorous return, meet or attack his antagonist’s main body. In the successful execution of this plan not only was Sedgwick bound to the most energetic action, but Hooker also was engaged by every


consideration of honour and duty to so act as to make the dangerous task he had assigned to Sedgwick possible.”1

But so far from aiding his subordinate by a heavy counter-attack on Lee’s front, Hooker deliberately abandoned the Hazel Grove salient, which, keeping asunder the Confederate wings, strongly facilitated such a manœuvre; and more than this, he divided his own army into two portions, of which the rear, occupying the new position, was actually forbidden to reinforce the front.

It is possible that Hooker contemplated an early retreat of his whole force to the second position. If so, Lee and Stuart were too quick for him. The cavalry commander, as soon as it became light, and the hills and undulations of the Wilderness emerged from the shadows, immediately recognised the importance of Hazel Grove. The hill was quickly seized; thirty pieces of artillery, established on the crest, enfiladed the Federal batteries, facing west, on the heights of Fairview; and the brigade on Stuart’s extreme right was soon in touch with the troops directed by General Lee. Then against the three sides of the Federal position the battle raged. From the south and south-east came Anderson and McLaws, the batteries unlimbering on every eminence, and the infantry, hitherto held back, attacking with the vigour which their gallant commanders knew so well how to inspire. And from the west, formed in three lines, Hill’s division to the front, came the Second Army Corps. The men knew by this time that the leader whom they trusted beyond all others had been struck down, that he was lying wounded, helpless, far away in rear. Yet his spirit was still with them. Stuart, galloping along the ranks, recalled him with ringing words to their memories, and as the bugles sounded the onset, it was with a cry of “Remember Jackson!” that his soldiers rushed fiercely upon the Federal breastworks.

The advanced line, within the forest, was taken at the first rush; the second, at the foot of the Fairview heights, protected by a swampy stream, a broad belt of abattis, and

Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, pp. 241–242.


with thirty guns on the hill behind, proved far more formidable, and Hill’s division was forced back. But Rodes and Colston were in close support. The fight was speedily renewed; and then came charge and counter-charge; the storm of the parapets; the rally of the defenders; the rush with the bayonet; and, mowing down men like grass, the fearful sweep of case and canister. Twice the Confederates were repulsed. Twice they reformed, brigade mingled with brigade, regiment with regiment, and charged again in the teeth of the thirty guns.

On both sides ammunition began to fail; the brushwood took fire, the ground became hot beneath the foot, and many wounded perished miserably in the flames. Yet still, with the tangled abattis dividing the opposing lines, the fight went on; both sides struggling fiercely, the Federals with the advantage of position, the Confederates of numbers, for Hooker refused to reinforce his gallant troops. At length the guns which Stuart had established on Hazel Grove, crossing their fire with those of McLaws and Anderson, gained the upper hand over the Union batteries. The storm of shell, sweeping the Fairview plateau, took the breastworks in reverse; the Northern infantry, after five hours of such hot battle as few fields have witnessed, began sullenly to yield, and as Stuart, leading the last charge, leapt his horse over the parapet, the works were evacuated, and the tattered colours of the Confederates waved in triumph on the hill.

“The scene,” says a staff-officer, “can never be effaced from the minds of those that witnessed it. The troops were pressing forward with all the ardour and enthusiasm of combat. The white smoke of musketry fringed the front of battle, while the artillery on the hills in rear shook the earth with its thunder and filled the air with the wild shrieking of the shells that plunged into the masses of the retreating foe. To add greater horror and sublimity to the scene, the Chancellorsville House and the woods surrounding it were wrapped in flames. It was then that General Lee rode to the front of his advancing battalions. His presence was the signal for one of those uncontrollable out-


bursts of enthusiasm which none can appreciate who have not witnessed them.

“The fierce soldiers, with their faces blackened with the smoke of battle, the wounded, crawling with feeble limbs from the fury of the devouring flames, all seemed possessed of a common impulse. One long, unbroken cheer, in which the feeble cry of those who lay helpless on the earth blended with the strong voices of those who still fought, hailed the presence of the victorious chief.

“His first care was for the wounded of both armies, and he was among the foremost at the burning mansion, where some of them lay. But at that moment, when the transports of his troops were drowning the roar of battle with acclamations, a note was brought to him from General Jackson. It was handed to him as he sat on his horse near the Chancellorsville House, and unable to open it with his gauntleted hands, he passed it to me with directions to read it to him. I shall never forget the look of pain and anguish that passed over his face as he listened. In a voice broken with emotion he bade me say to General Jackson that the victory was his. I do not know how others may regard this incident, but for myself, as I gave expression to the thoughts of his exalted mind, I forgot the genius that won the day in my reverence for the generosity that refused its glory.”

Lee’s reply ran:—

“General,—I have just received your note, informing me that you were wounded. I cannot express my regret at the occurrence. Could I have directed events, I should have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.

“I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy.

“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,       
R. E. LEE, General.”    

Such was the tribute, not the less valued that it was couched in no exaggerated terms, which was brought to the bedside in the quiet hospital. Jackson was almost alone. As the sound of cannon and musketry, borne across


the forest, grew gradually louder, he had ordered all those who had remained with him, except Mr. Smith, to return to the battle-field and attend to their different duties.

His side, injured by his fall from the litter, gave him much pain, but his thoughts were still clear, and his speech coherent. “General Lee,” he said, when his aide-de-camp read to him the Commander-in-Chief’s brief words, “is very kind, but he should give the praise to God.”

During the day the pain gradually ceased; the general grew brighter, and from those who visited the hospital he inquired minutely about the battle and the troops engaged. When conspicuous instances of courage were related his face lit up with enthusiasm, and he uttered his usual “Good, good,” with unwonted energy when the gallant behaviour of his old command was alluded to. “Some day,” he said, “the men of that brigade will be proud to say to their children, ‘I was one of the Stonewall Brigade.’ He disclaimed all right of his own to the name Stonewall: ‘It belongs to the brigade and not to me.’ That night he slept well, and was free from pain.

Meanwhile the Confederate army, resting on the heights of Chancellorsville, preparatory to an attack upon Hooker’s second stronghold, had received untoward news. Sedgwick, at eleven o’clock in the morning, had carried Marye’s Hill, and, driving Early before him, was moving up the plank road. Wilcox’ brigade of Anderson’s division, then at Banks’ Ford, was ordered to retard the advance of the hostile column. McLaws was detached to Salem Church. The Second Army Corps and the rest of Anderson’s division remained to hold Hooker in check, and for the moment operations at Chancellorsville were suspended.

McLaws, deploying his troops in the forest, two hundred and fifty yards from a wide expanse of cleared ground, pushed his skirmishers forward to the edge, and awaited the attack of a superior force. Reserving his fire to close quarters, its effect was fearful. But the Federals pushed forward; a school-house occupied as an advanced post was captured, and at this point Sedgwick was within an ace of breaking through. His second line, however, had not yet


deployed, and a vigorous counterstroke, delivered by two brigades, drove back the whole of his leading division in great disorder. As night fell the Confederates, careful not to expose themselves to the Union reserves, retired to the forest, and Sedgwick, like Hooker, abandoned all further idea of offensive action.

May 4   The next morning Lee himself, with the three remaining brigades of Anderson, arrived upon the scene. Sedgwick, who had lost 5,000 men the preceding day, May had fortified a position covering Banks’ Ford, and occupied it with over 20,000 muskets. Lee, with the divisions of McLaws, Anderson, and Early, was slightly stronger. The attack was delayed, for the Federals held strong ground, difficult to reconnoitre; but once begun the issue was soon decided. Assailed in front and flanks, with no help coming from Hooker, and only a single bridge at Banks’ Ford in rear, the Federals rapidly gave ground.

Darkness, however, intensified by a thick fog, made pursuit difficult, and Sedgwick re-crossed the river with many casualties but in good order. During these operations, that is, from four o’clock on Sunday afternoon until after midnight on Monday, Hooker had not moved a single man to his subordinate’s assistance.1 So extraordinary a situation has seldom been seen in war: an army of 60,000 men, strongly fortified, was held in check for six-and-thirty hours by 20,000; while not seven miles away raged a battle on which the whole fate of the campaign depended.

Lee and Jackson had made no false estimate of Hooker’s incapacity. Sedgwick’s army corps had suffered so severely in men and in moral that it was not available for immediate service, even had it been transferred to Chancellorsville; and Lee was now free to concentrate his whole force against the main body of the Federal army. His men, notwithstanding their extraordinary exertions, were confident of victory. ”As I sheltered myself,” says an

1  It is but fair, however, to state that Hooker, during the cannonade which preceded the final assault at Chancellorsville, had been severely bruised by a fall of masonry.


May 5   eye-witness, “in a little farmhouse on the plank road the brigades of Anderson’s division came splashing through the mud, in wild tumultuous spirits, singing, shouting, jesting, heedless of soaking rags, drenched to the skin, and burning again to mingle in the mad revelry of battle.”1 But it was impossible to push forward, for a violent rain-storm burst upon the Wilderness, and the spongy soil, saturated with the deluge, absolutely precluded all movement across country. Hooker, who had already made preparations for retreat, took advantage of the weather, and as soon as darkness set in put his army in motion for the bridges.

May 6   By eight o’clock on the morning of the 6th the whole force had crossed; and when the Confederate patrols pushed forward, Lee found that his victim had escaped.

The Army of the Potomac returned to its old camp on the hills above Fredericksburg, and Lee reoccupied his position on the opposite ridge. Stoneman, who had scoured the whole country to within a few miles of Richmond, returned to Kelly’s Ford on May 8. The raid had effected nothing. The damage done to the railroads and canals was repaired by the time the raiders had regained the Rappahannock. Lee’s operations at Chancellorsville had not been affected in the very slightest degree by their presence in his rear, while Stoneman’s absence had proved the ruin of the Federal army. Jackson, who had been removed by the Commander-in-Chief’s order to Mr. Chandler’s house, near Gurney’s Station, on the morning of May 5, was asked what he thought of Hooker’s plan of campaign. His reply was: “It was in the main a good conception, an excellent plan. But he should not have sent away his cavalry; that was his great blunder. It was that which enabled me to turn him without his being aware of it, and to take him in the rear. Had he kept his cavalry with him, his plan would have been a very good one.” This was not his only comment on the great battle. Among other things, he said that he intended to cut the Federals off from the United States Ford, and, taking a position between them and the

1  Hon. Francis Lawley, the Times, June 16, 1863.


river, oblige them to attack him, adding, with a smile, “My men sometimes fail to drive the enemy from a position, but they always fail to drive us away.” He spoke of General Rodes, and alluded in high terms to his splendid behaviour in the attack on Howard. He hoped he would be promoted, and he said that promotion should be made at once, upon the field, so as to act as an incentive to gallantry in others. He spoke of Colonel Willis, who had commanded the skirmishers, and praised him very highly, and referred most feelingly to the death of Paxton, the commander of the Stonewall Brigade, and of Captain Boswell, his chief engineer. In speaking of his own share in the victory he said: “Our movement was a great success; I think the most successful military movement of my life. But I expect to receive far more credit for it than I deserve. Most men will think I planned it all from the first; but it was not so. I simply took advantage of circumstances as they were presented to me in the providence of God. I feel that His hand led me—let us give Him the glory.”

It must always be an interesting matter of speculation what the result would have been had Jackson accomplished his design, on the night he fell, of moving a large part of his command up the White House road, and barring the only line of retreat left open to the Federals.

Hooker, it is argued, had two corps in position which had been hardly engaged, the Second and the Fifth; and another, the First, under Reynolds, was coming up. Of these, 25,000 men might possibly, could they have been manœuvred in the forest, have been sent to drive Jackson back. And, undoubtedly, to those who think more of numbers than of human nature, of the momentum of the mass rather than the mental equilibrium of the general, the fact that a superior force of comparatively fresh troops was at Hooker’s disposal will be sufficient to put the success of the Confederates out of court. Yet the question will always suggest itself, would not the report that a victorious enemy, of unknown strength, was pressing forward, in the darkness of the night, towards the only line of retreat,


have so demoralised the Federal commander and the Federal soldiers, already shaken by the overthrow of the Eleventh Army Corps, that they would have thought only of securing their own safety? Would Hooker, whose tactics the next day, after he had had the night given him in which to recover his senses, were so inadequate, have done better if he had received no respite? Would the soldiers of the three army corps not yet engaged, who had been witnesses of the rout of Howard’s divisions, have fared better, when they heard the triumphant yells of the advancing Confederates, than the hapless Germans? “The wounding of Jackson,” says a most careful historian of the battle, himself a participator in the Union disaster, was a most fortunate circumstance for the Army of the Potomac. At nine o’clock the capture or destruction of a large part of the army seemed inevitable. There was, at the time, great uncertainty and a feeling akin to panic prevailing among the Union forces round Chancellorsville; and when we consider the position of the troops at this moment, and how many important battles have been won by trivial flank attacks—how Richepanse (attacking through the forest) with a single brigade ruined the Austrians at Hohenlinden—we must admit that the Northern army was in great peril when Jackson arrived within one thousand yards of its vital point (the White House) with 20,000 men and 50 cannon.”1 He must be a great leader indeed who, when his flank is suddenly rolled up and his line of retreat threatened, preserves sufficient coolness to devise a general counterstroke. Jackson had proved himself equal to such a situation at Cedar Run, but it is seldom in these circumstances that Providence sides with the “big battalions.”

The Federal losses in the six days’ battles were heavy: over 12,000 at Chancellorsville, and 4,700 at Fredericksburg, Salem Church, and Banks’ Ford; a total of 17,287. The army lost 13 guns, and nearly 6,000 officers and men were reported either captured or missing.

The casualties were distributed as follows:—

1  Chancellorsville, Lt.-Colonel A. C. Hamlin.


First Army Corps
Second Army Corps
Third Army Corps
Fifth Army Corps
Sixth Army Corps
Eleventh Army Corps
Twelfth Army Corps
Pleasonton’s Cavalry Brigade


The Confederate losses were hardly less severe. The killed and wounded were as under:—


A. P. Hill’s Division
Rodes” Division
Colston’s Division
Early’s Division
Anderson’s Division
McLaws” Division
Prisoners (estimated)


But a mere statement of the casualties by no means represents the comparative loss of the opposing forces. Victory does not consist in merely killing and maiming a few thousand men. This is the visible result; it is the invisible that tells. The Army of the Potomac, when it retreated across the Rappahannock, was far stronger in mere numbers than the Army of Northern Virginia; but in reality it was far weaker, for the moral of the survivors, and of the general who led them, was terribly affected. That of the Confederates, on the other hand, had been sensibly elevated, and it is moral, not numbers, which is the strength of armies. What, after all, was the loss of 12,200 soldiers to the Confederacy? In that first week of May there were probably 20,000 conscripts in different camps of instruction, more than enough to recruit the depleted regiments to full strength. Nor did the slaughter of Chancellorsville diminish to any appreciable degree the vast hosts of the Union.


And yet the Army of the Potomac had lost more than all the efforts of the Government could replace. The Army of Virginia, on the other hand, had acquired a superiority of spirit which was ample compensation for the sacrifice which had been made. It is hardly too much to say that Lee’s force had gained from the victory an increase of strength equivalent to a whole army corps of 80,000 men, while that of his opponent had been proportionately diminished. Why, then, was there no pursuit?

It has been asserted that Lee was so crippled by his losses at Chancellorsville that he was unable to resume operations against Hooker for a whole month. This explanation of his inactivity can hardly be accepted.

The Battlefields of Chancellorsville, Salem Church and Fredericksburg, May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 1862.

On June 16 and 18, 1815, at Quatre-Bras and Waterloo, the Anglo-Dutch army, little larger than that of Northern Virginia, lost 17,000 men; and yet on the 19th Wellington was marching in pursuit of the French; nor did he halt until he arrived within sight of Paris. And on August 28, 29, and 30, 1862, at Groveton and the Second Manassas, Stonewall Jackson lost 4,000 officers and men, one-fifth of his force, but he was not left in rear when Lee invaded Maryland. Moreover, after he had defeated Sedgwick, on the same night that Hooker was recrossing the Rappahannock, Lee was planning a final attack on the Federal intrenchments, and his disappointment was bitter when he learned that his enemy had escaped. If his men were capable of further efforts on the night of May 5, they were capable of them the next day; and it was neither the ravages of battle nor the disorganisation of the army that held the Confederates fast, but the deficiency of supplies, the damage done to the railways by Stoneman’s horsemen, the weakness of the cavalry, and, principally, the hesitation of the Government. After the victory of Chancellorsville, strong hopes of peace were entertained in the South. Before Hooker advanced, a large section of the Northern Democrats, despairing of ultimate success, had once more raised the cry that immediate separation was better, than a hopeless contest, involving such awful sacrifices, and it needed all Lincoln’s strength to stem the tide of disaffection.


The existence of this despondent feeling was well known to the Southern statesmen; and to such an extent did they count upon its growth and increase that they had overlooked altogether the importance of improving a victory, should the army be successful; so now, when the chance had come, they were neither ready to forward such an enterprise, nor could they make up their minds to depart from their passive attitude. But to postpone all idea of counterstroke until some indefinite period is as fatal in strategy as in tactics. By no means an uncommon policy, it has been responsible for the loss of a thousand opportunities.

Had not politics intervened, a vigorous pursuit—not necessarily involving an immediate attack, but drawing Hooker, as Pope had been drawn in the preceding August, into an unfavourable situation, before his army had had time to recover—would have probably been initiated. It may be questioned, however, whether General Lee, even when Longstreet and his divisions joined him, would have been so strong as he had been at the end of April. None felt more deeply than the Commander-in-Chief that the absence of Jackson was an irreparable misfortune. “Give him my affectionate regards,” he said to an aide-de-camp who was riding to the hospital; “tell him to make haste and get well, and come back to me as soon as he can. He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.” “Any victory,” he wrote privately, “would be dear at such a price. I know not how to replace him.”

His words were prophetic. Exactly two months after Chancellorsville the armies met once more in the clash of battle. During the first two days, on the rolling plain round Gettysburg, a village of Pennsylvania, four Federal army corps were beaten in succession, but ere the sun set on the third Lee had to admit defeat.

And yet his soldiers had displayed the same fiery courage and stubborn persistence which had carried them victorious through the Wilderness. But his “right arm” had not yet been replaced. “If,” he said after the war, with unaccustomed emphasis, “I had had Jackson at


Gettysburg I should have won the battle, and a complete victory there would have resulted in the establishment of Southern independence.”

It was not to be. Chancellorsville, where 130,000 men were defeated by 60,000, is up to a certain point as much the tactical masterpiece of the nineteenth century as was Leuthen of the eighteenth. But, splendid triumph as it was, the battle bore no abiding fruits, and the reason seems very clear. The voice that would have urged pursuit was silent. Jackson’s fall left Lee alone, bereft of his alter ego; with none, save Stuart, to whom he could entrust the execution of those daring and delicate manœuvres his inferior numbers rendered necessary; with none on whose resource and energy he could implicitly rely. Who shall say how far his own resolution had been animated and confirmed at other crises by the prompting and presence of the kindred spirit? “They supplemented each other,” said Davis, “and together, with any fair opportunity, they were absolutely invincible.”

Many a fierce battle still lay before the Army of Northern Virginia; marvellous was the skill and audacity with which Lee manœuvred his ragged regiments in the face of overwhelming odds; fierce and unyielding were the soldiers, but with Stonewall Jackson’s death the impulse of victory died away.

May 7   It is needless to linger over the closing scene at Gurney’s Station. For some days there was hope that the patient would recover; pneumonia, attributed to his fall from the litter as he was borne from the field, supervened, and he gradually began to sink. On the Thursday his wife and child arrived from Richmond; but he was then almost too weak for conversation, and on Sunday morning it was evident that the end was near.

May 10   As yet he had scarcely realised his condition. If, he said, it was God’s will, he was ready to go, but he believed that there was still work for him to do, and that his life would be preserved to do it. At eleven o’clock Mrs. Jackson knelt by his side, and told him that he could not live beyond the evening. “You are frightened, my


child,” he replied, “death is not so near; I may yet get well.” She fell upon the bed, weeping bitterly, and told him again that there was no hope. After a moment’s pause, he asked her to call Dr. McGuire. “Doctor,” he said, “Anna tells me I am to die to-day; is it so?” When he was answered, he remained silent for a moment or two, as if in intense thought, and then quietly replied, “Very good, very good; it is all right.” About noon, when Major Pendleton came into the room, he asked, “Who is preaching at headquarters to-day?” He was told that Mr. Lacy was, and that the whole army was praying for him. “Thank God,” he said; “they are very kind to me.” Already his strength was fast ebbing, and although his face brightened when his baby was brought to him, his mind had begun to wander. Now he was on the battle-field, giving orders to his men; now at home in Lexington; now at prayers in the camp, Occasionally his senses came back to him, and about half-past one he was told that he had but two hours to live. Again he answered, feebly but firmly, “Very good; it is all right. These were almost his last coherent words. For some time he lay unconscious, and then suddenly he cried out: “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front! Tell Major Hawks “then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Once more he was silent; but a little while after he said very quietly and clearly, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees,” and the soul of the great captain passed into the peace of God.



[From General Lee’s letter-book.]

Lexington, Virginia, 25th January, 1866.


MY DEAR MRS. JACKSON,—Dr. Brown handed me your note of the 9th, when in Richmond on business connected with Washington College. I have delayed replying since my return, hoping to have sufficient time to comply with your request. Last night I received a note from Mrs. Brown, enclosing one from Dr. Dabney, stating that the immediate return of his manuscript was necessary. I have not been able to open it; and when I read it when you were here, it was for the pleasure of the narrative, with no view of remark or correction; and I took no memoranda of what seemed to be errors. I have not thought of them since, and do not know that I can now recall them; and certainly have no desire that my opinions should be adopted in preference to Dr. Dabney’s. . . . I am, however, unable at this time to specify the battles to which my remark particularly refers. The opinion of General Jackson, in reference to the propriety of attacking the Federal army under General McClellan at Harrison’s Landing, is not, I think, correctly stated. Upon my arrival there, the day after General Longstreet and himself, I was disappointed that no opportunity for striking General McClellan, on the retreat, or in his then position, had occurred, and went forward with General Jackson alone, on foot; and after a careful reconnaissance of the whole line and position, he certainly stated to me, at that time, the impropriety of attacking. I am misrepresented at the battle of Chancellorsville in proposing an attack in front, the first evening of our arrival. On the contrary, I decided against it, and stated to General Jackson, we must attack on our left as soon as practicable; and the necessary movement of the troops began immediately. In consequence of a report received about that time, from General Fitzhugh Lee, describing the position of the Federal army, and the roads which he held with his cavalry leading to its rear, General Jackson, after some inquiry concerning the roads leading to the Furnace, undertook to throw his command entirely in Hooker’s rear, which he accomplished with equal skill and boldness; the rest of the army being moved to the left flank to connect with him as he advanced. I think there is some mistake, too, of a regiment of infantry being sent by him to the ford on the Rapidan, as described by Dr. Dabney. The cavalry was ordered to make such a demonstration. General Stuart had proceeded to that part of the field to co-operate in General Jackson’s movement, and I always supposed it was his dismounted cavalry. As well as I now recollect, something is said by

NOTE I  473

Dr. Dabney as to General Jackson’s opinion as to the propriety of delivering battle at Sharpsburg. When he came upon the field, having preceded his troops, and learned my reasons for offering battle, he emphatically concurred with me. When I determined to withdraw across the Potomac, he also concurred; but said then, in view of all the circumstances, it was better to have fought the battle in Maryland than to have left it without a struggle. After crossing the Potomac, General Jackson was charged with the command of the rear, and he designated the brigades of infantry to support Pendleton’s batteries. I believed General McClellan had been so crippled at Sharpsburg that he could not follow the Confederate army into Virginia immediately; but General Stuart was ordered, after crossing the Potomac, to recross at once at Williamsport, threaten his right flank, and observe his movements. Near daylight the next, morning, General Pendleton reported to me the occurrence at Shepherdstown the previous evening, and stated that he had made a similar report to General Jackson, who was lying near me on the same field. From his statement, I thought it possible that the Federal army might be attempting to follow us; and I sent at once to General Jackson to say that, in that event, I would attack it; that he must return with his whole command if necessary; that I had sent to Longstreet to countermarch the rest of the army; and that upon his joining me, unless I heard from him to the contrary, I should move with it to his support. General Jackson went back with Hill’s division, General Pendleton accompanying him, and soon drove the Federals into Maryland with loss. His report, which I received on my way towards the river, relieved my anxiety, and the order of the march of the troops was again resumed. I have endeavoured to be as brief as possible in my statement, and with the single object of calling Dr. Dabney’s attention to the points referred to, that he may satisfy himself as to the correctness of his own statements; and this has been done solely in compliance with your request. Other points may have attracted my attention in the perusal of the narrative; but I cannot now recall them, and do not know that those which have occurred to me are of importance. I wish I could do anything to give real assistance, for I am very anxious that his work should be perfect.

With feelings of great esteem and regard, I am,

Very truly yours,              
(Signed) R. E. LEE.

The production of this letter is due to the kindness of Dr. Henry A. White, and of R. E. Lee, Esquire, of Washington, youngest son of General Lee.


The following details, communicated to the author by one of Lee’s generals, as to the formations of the Confederate infantry, will be found interesting:—

NOTE II  474

“Our brigades were usually formed of four or five regiments, each regiment composed of ten companies. Troops furnished by the same State were, as far as possible, brigaded together, in order to stimulate State pride, and a spirit of healthy emulation.

“The regiment was formed for attack in line two-deep, covered by skirmishers.

“The number of skirmishers, and the intervals between the men on the skirmish line, depended altogether on the situation. Sometimes two companies were extended as skirmishers; sometimes one company; sometimes a certain number of men from several companies. In rear of the skirmishers, at a distance ranging from three hundred to one hundred and fifty paces, came the remainder of the regiment.

“When a regiment or a brigade advanced through a heavily wooded country, such as the Wilderness, the point of direction was established, and the officers instructed to conform to the movements of the ‘guide company’ or ‘guide regiment’ as the case might be, the ‘guide’ company or regiment governing both direction and alignment.

“The maintenance of direction under such circumstances was a very difficult matter. Our officers, however, were greatly assisted by the rank and file, as many of the latter were accomplished woodsmen, and accustomed to hunt and shoot in the dense forests of the South. Each regiment, moreover, was provided with a right and a left ‘general guide,’ men selected for their special aptitudes, being good judges of distance, and noted for their steadiness and skill in maintaining the direction.

“Then, again, the line of battle was greatly aided in maintaining the direction by the fire of the skirmishers, and frequently the line would be formed with a flank resting on a trail or woods-road, a ravine or watercourse, the flank regiment in such cases acting as the guide: (at Chancellorsville, Jackson’s divisions kept direction by the turnpike, both wings looking to the centre.) In advancing through thick woods the skirmish line was almost invariably strengthened, and while the ‘line of battle,’ covered by the skirmishers, advanced in two-deep line, bodies in rear usually marched in columns of fours, prepared to come, by a ‘forward into line,’ to the point where their assistance might be desired. I never saw the compass used in wood-fighting. In all movements to attack it was the universal custom for the brigade commander to assemble both field and company officers to the ‘front and centre,’ and instruct them particularly as to the purpose of the movement, the method in which it was to be carried out, the point of direction, the guide regiment, the position of other brigades, etc., etc. Like action was also taken by the regimental commander when a regiment was alone.

“This precaution, I venture to think, is absolutely indispensable to an orderly and combined advance over any ground whatever, and, so far as my knowledge goes, was seldom omitted, except when haste was imperative, in the Army of Northern Virginia. Practical experience taught us that no movement should be permitted until every


officer was acquainted with the object in view, and had received his instructions. I may add that brigade and regimental commanders were most particular to secure their flanks and to keep contact with other troops by means of patrols; and, also, that in thick woods it was found to be of very great advantage if a few trustworthy men were detailed as orderlies to the regimental commander, for by this means he could most easily control the advance of his skirmishers and of his line of battle.

                    “N. H. HARRIS,

General, late Army of Northern Virginia.”


Before the campaign of 1864, the theatre of which embraced the region between the Rappahannock and Petersburg, including the Wilderness, corps of sharp-shooters, each 180 strong, were organised in many of the brigades of Lee’s army. These “light” troops undertook the outpost, advanced, flank, and rear guard duties. The men were carefully selected; they were trained judges of distance, skilful and enterprising on patrol, and first-rate marksmen, and their rifles were often fitted with telescopic sights. In order to increase their confidence in each other they were subdivided into groups of fours, which messed and slept together, and were never separated in action. These corps did excellent service during the campaign of 1864.



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