A LIFE OF GEN. ROBERT E. LEE.
BY JOHN ESTEN COOKE.
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language."
"Human virtue should be equal to human calamity." LEE. 1876
CHANCELLORSVILLE AND GETTYSBURG.
IV. Jackson's Attack and Fall
On the morning of the 2d of May, General Lee was early in the saddle, and rode to the front, where he remained in personal command of the force facing the enemy's main line of battle throughout the day.
This force consisted of the divisions of Anderson and McLaws, and amounted to thirteen thousand men. That left at Fredericksburg, as we have said, under General Early, numbered six thousand men; and the twenty-one thousand which Jackson had taken with him, to strike at the enemy's right, made up the full body of troops under Lee, that is to say, a little over forty thousand, artillerymen included. The cavalry, numbering four or five thousand, were, like the absent Federal cavalry, not actually engaged.
In accordance with the plan agreed upon between Lee and Jackson, the force left in the enemy's front proceeded to engage their attention, and desultory fighting continued throughout the day. General Lee meanwhile awaited the sound of Jackson's guns west of Chancellorsville, and must have experienced great anxiety at this trying moment, although, with his accustomed self-control, he displayed little or none. We shall now leave this comparatively interesting portion of the field, and invite the attention of the reader to the movements of General Jackson, who was about to strike his last great blow, and lose his own life in the moment of victory.
Jackson set out at early dawn, having under him three divisions, commanded by Rhodes and Trimble, in all about twenty-one thousand men, and directed his march over the Old Mine road toward "The Furnace," about a mile or so from and in front of the enemy's main line. Stuart moved with his cavalry on the flank of the column, with the view of masking it from observation; and it reached and passed "The Furnace," where a regiment with artillery was left to guard the road leading thence to Chancellorsville, and repel any attack which might be made upon the rear of the column. Just as the rear-guard passed on, the anticipated attack took place, and the regiment thus left, the Twenty-third Georgia, was suddenly surrounded and the whole force captured. The Confederate artillery, however, opened promptly upon the assailing force, drove it back toward Chancellorsville, and Jackson proceeded on his march without further interruption. He had thus been seen, but it seems that the whole movement was regarded by General Hooker as a retreat of the Confederates southward, a bend in the road at this point toward the south leading to that supposition.
"We know the enemy is flying," General Hooker wrote, on the afternoon of this day, to General Sedgwick, "trying to save his trains; two of Sickles's divisions are among them."
Soon after leaving "The Furnace," however, Jackson, following the same wood-road, turned westward, and, marching rapidly between the walls of thicket, struck into the Brock road, which runs in a direction nearly northwest toward Germanna and Ely's Fords. This would enable him to reach, without discovery, the Orange Plank-road, or Old Turnpike, west of Chancellorsville, as the woods through which the narrow highway ran completely barred him from observation. Unless Federal spies were lurking in the covert, or their scouting-parties of cavalry came in sight of the column, it would move as secure from discovery as though it were a hundred miles distant from the enemy; and against the latter danger of cavalry-scouts, Stuart's presence with his horsemen provided. The movement was thus made without alarming the enemy, and the head of Jackson's column reached the Orange Plank-road, near which point General Fitz Lee invited Jackson to ride up to a slight elevation, from which the defences of the enemy were visible. Jackson did so, and a glance showed him that he was not yet sufficiently upon the enemy's flank. He accordingly turned to an aide and said, pointing to the Orange Plank-road: "Tell my column to cross that road."
The column did so, continuing to advance toward the Rapidan until it reached the Old Turnpike running from the "Old Wilderness Tavern" toward Chancellorsville. At this point, Jackson found himself full on the right flank of General Hooker, and, halting his troops, proceeded promptly to form line of battle for the attack. It was now past four in the afternoon, and the declining sun warned the Confederates to lose no time. The character of the ground was, however, such as to dismay any but the most resolute, and it seemed impossible to execute the intended movement with any thing like rapidity in such a jungle. On both sides of the Old Turnpike rose a wall of thicket, through which it was impossible to move a regular line of battle. All the rules of war must be reversed in face of this obstacle, and the assault on General Hooker's works seemed destined to be made in column of infantry companies, and with the artillery moving in column of pieces.
Despite these serious obstacles, Jackson hastened to form such order of battle as was possible, and with Rodes's division in front, followed by Colston (Trimble) and Hill, advanced steadily down the Old Turnpike, toward Chancellorsville. He had determined, not only to strike the enemy's right flank, but to execute, if possible, a still more important movement. This was, to extend his lines steadily to the left, swing round his left wing, and so interpose himself between General Hooker and the Rapidan. This design of unsurpassed boldness continued to burn in Jackson's brain until he fell, and almost his last words were an allusion to it.
The Federal line of works, which the Confederates thus advanced to assault, extended across the Old Turnpike near the house of Melzi Chancellor, and behind was a second line, which was covered by the Federal artillery in the earthworks near Chancellorsville. The Eleventh Corps, under
General Howard, was that destined to receive Jackson's assault. This was made at a few minutes past five in the evening, and proved decisive. The Federal troops were surprised at their suppers, and were wholly unprepared. They had scarcely time to run to their
muskets, which were stacked near at hand, when Rodes burst upon them, stormed their works, over which the troops marched almost unresisted, and in a few minutes the entire corps holding the Federal right was in hopeless disorder. Rodes pressed on, followed by the division in his rear, and the affair became rather a hunt than a battle. The Confederates pursued with yells, killing or capturing all with whom they could come up; the Federal artillery rushed off at a gallop, striking against tree-trunks and overturning, and the army of General Hooker seemed about to be hopelessly routed. This is the account given by Northern writers, who represent the effect of Jackson's sudden attack as indescribable. It had a serious effect, as will be subsequently shown, on the _morale_ both of General Hooker and his army. While opposing the heavy demonstrations of General Lee's forces on their left and in front, this storm had burst upon them from a quarter in which no one expected it; they were thus caught between two fires, and, ignorant as they were of the small number of the Confederates, must have regarded the army as seriously imperilled.
[Footnote 1: "Their arms were stacked, and the men were away from them and scattered about for the purpose of cooking their suppers."--_General Hooker_.]
Jackson continued to pursue the enemy on the road to Chancellorsville, intent now upon making his blow decisive by swinging round his left and cutting off the Federal army from the Rappahannock. It was impossible, however, to execute so important a movement until his troops were well in hand, and the two divisions which had made the attack had become mixed up in a very confused manner. They were accordingly directed to halt, and General A.P. Hill, whose division had not been engaged, was sent for and ordered to advance to the front, thus affording the disordered divisions an opportunity to reform their broken lines.
Soon after dispatching this order, Jackson rode out in front of his line, on the Chancellorsville road, in order to reconnoitre in person, and ascertain, if possible, the position and movements of the enemy, then within a few hundred yards of him. It was now between nine and ten o'clock at night. The fighting had temporarily ceased, and the moon, half-seen through misty clouds, lit up the dreary thickets, in which no sound was heard but the incessant and melancholy cries of the whippoorwills. Jackson had ridden forward about a hundred yards in advance of his line, on the turnpike, accompanied by a few officers, and had checked his horse to listen for any sound coming from the direction of Chancellorsville, when suddenly a volley was fired by his own infantry on the right of the road, apparently directed at him and his companions, under the impression that they were a Federal reconnoitring-party. Several of the party fell from their horses, and, wheeling to the left, Jackson galloped into the wood to escape a renewal of the fire. The result was melancholy. He passed directly in front of his men, who had been warned to guard against an attack of cavalry. In their excited state, so near the enemy, and surrounded by darkness, Jackson was supposed to be a Federal cavalryman. The men accordingly fired upon him, at not more than twenty paces, and wounded him in three places--twice in the left arm, and once in the right hand. At the instant when he was struck he was holding his bridle with his left hand, and had his right hand raised, either to protect his face from boughs, or in the strange gesture habitual to him in battle. As the bullets passed through his arm he dropped the bridle of his horse from his left hand, but seized it again with the bleeding fingers of his right hand, when the animal, wheeling suddenly, darted toward Chancellorsville. In doing so he passed beneath the limb of a pine-tree, which struck the wounded man in the face, tore off his cap, and threw him back on his horse, nearly dismounting him. He succeeded, however, in retaining his seat, and regained the road, where he was received in the arms of Captain Wilbourn, one of his staff-officers, and laid at the foot of a tree.
The fire had suddenly ceased, and all was again still. Only Captain Wilbourn and a courier were with Jackson, but a shadowy figure on horseback was seen in the edge of the wood near, silent and motionless. When Captain Wilbourn called to this person, and directed him to ride back and see what troops had thus fired upon them, the silent figure disappeared, and did not return. Who this could have been was long a mystery, but it appears, from a recent statement of General Revere, of the Federal army, that it was himself. He had advanced to the front to reconnoitre, had come on the group at the foot of the tree, and, receiving the order above mentioned, had thought it prudent not to reveal his real character. He accordingly rode into the wood, and regained his own lines.
A few words will terminate our account of this melancholy event in the history of the war--the fall of Jackson. He was supported to the rear by his officers, and during this painful progress gave his last order. General Pender recognized him, and stated that he feared he could not hold his position. Jackson's eye flashed, and he replied with animation, "You must hold your ground, General Pender! You must hold your ground, sir!"
He was now so weak as to be unable to walk, even leaning on the shoulders of his officers. He was accordingly placed on a litter, and borne toward the rear. Before the litter had gone far a furious artillery-fire swept the road from the direction of Chancellorsville, and the bearers lowered it to the earth and lay down beside it. The fire relaxing, they again moved, but one of the bearers stumbled over a root and let the litter fall. Jackson groaned, and as the moonlight fell upon his face it was seen to be so pale that he appeared to be about to die. When asked if he was much hurt, he opened his eyes, however, and said, "No, my friend, don't trouble yourself about me."
He was then borne to the rear, placed in an ambulance, and carried to the hospital at the Old Wilderness Tavern, where he remained until he was taken to Guinea's station, where he died.
Such was the fate of Lee's great lieutenant--the man whom he spoke of as his "right arm"--whose death struck a chill to the hearts of the Southern people from which they never recovered.