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.
V. The Battle of Chancellorsville
General Lee was not informed of the misfortune which had befallen his great lieutenant until toward daybreak on the next morning.
This fact was doubtless attributable to the difficult character of the country; the interposition of the Federal army between the two Confederate wings, which rendered a long detour necessary in reaching Lee; and the general confusion and dismay attending Jackson's fall. It would be difficult, indeed, to form an exaggerated estimate of the condition of Jackson's corps at this time. The troops had been thrown into what seemed inextricable disorder, in consequence of the darkness and the headlong advance of the Second (Calston's) Division upon the heels of Rhodes, which had resulted in a complete intermingling of the two commands; and, to make matters worse, General A.P. Hill, the second in command, had been wounded and disabled, nearly at the same moment with Jackson, by the artillery-fire of the enemy. This transferred the command, of military right, to the brave and skilful General Rhodes, the ranking officer after Hill; but Rhodes was only a brigadier-general, and had, for that reason, never come into personal contact with the whole corps, who knew little of him, and was not aware of Jackson's plans, and distrusted, under these circumstances, his ability to conduct to a successful issue so vitally important an operation as that intrusted to this great wing of the Southern army. Stuart, who had gone with his cavalry toward Ely's Ford to make a demonstration on the Federal rear, was therefore sent for, and rode as rapidly as possible to the scene of action, and the command was formally relinquished to him by General Rhodes. Jackson sent Stuart word from Wilderness Tavern to "act upon his own judgment, and do what he thought best, as he had implicit confidence in him;" but, in consequence of the darkness and confusion, it was impossible for Stuart to promptly reform the lines, and thus all things remained entangled and confused.
It was essential, however, to inform General Lee of the state of affairs, and Jackson's chief-of-staff, Colonel Pendleton, requested Captain Wilbourn, who had witnessed all the details of the painful scene in the wood, to go to General Lee and acquaint him with what had taken place, and receive his orders. From a MS. statement of this meritorious officer, we take these brief details of the interview:
Lee was found lying asleep in a little clump of pines near his front, covered with an oil-cloth to protect him from the dews of the night, and surrounded by the officers of his staff, also asleep. It was not yet daybreak, and the darkness prevented the messenger from distinguishing the commander-in-chief from the rest. He accordingly called for Major Taylor, Lee's adjutant-general, and that officer promptly awoke when he was informed of what had taken place. As the conversation continued, the sound awoke General Lee, who asked, "Who is there?" Major Taylor informed him, and, rising upon his elbow, Lee pointed to his blankets, and said: "Sit down here by me, captain, and tell me all about the fight last evening."
He listened without comment during the recital, but, when it was finished, said with great feeling: "Ah! captain, any victory is dearly bought which deprives us of the services of General Jackson, even for a short time."
From this reply it was evident that he did not regard the wounds received by Jackson as of a serious character--as was natural, from the fact that they were only flesh-wounds in the arm and hand--and believed that the only result would be a temporary absence of his lieutenant from command. As Captain Wilbourn continued to speak of the incident, Lee added with greater emotion than at first: "Ah! don't talk about it; thank God it is no worse!"
He then remained silent, but seeing Captain Wilbourn rise, as if to go, he requested him to remain, as he wished to "talk with him some more," and proceeded to ask a number of questions in reference to the position of the troops, who was in command, etc. When informed that Rhodes was in temporary command, but that Stuart had been sent for, he exclaimed: "Rhodes is a gallant, courageous, and energetic officer;" and asked where Jackson and Stuart could be found, calling for paper and pencil to write to them. Captain Wilbourn added that, from what he had heard Jackson say, he thought he intended to get possession, if possible, of the road to United States Ford in the Federal rear, and so cut them off from the river that night, or early in the morning. At these words, Lee rose quickly and said with animation, "These people must be pressed to-day."
It would seem that at this moment a messenger--probably Captain Hotchkiss, Jackson's skilful engineer--arrived from Wilderness Tavern, bringing a note from the wounded general. Lee read it with much feeling, and dictated the following reply:
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 have been disabled in your stead.
I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy. R.E. LEE, _General_.
This was dispatched with a second note to Stuart, directing him to assume command, and press the enemy at dawn. Lee then mounted his horse, and, just as the day began to break, formed line of battle opposite the enemy's front, his line extending on the right to the plank-road running from Chancellorsville in the direction of Fredericksburg. This force, under the personal command of Lee, amounted, as we have said, originally to about thirteen thousand men; and, as their loss had not been very severe in the demonstrations made against the enemy on the preceding days, they were in good condition. The obvious course now was to place the troops in a position which would enable them, in the event of Stuart's success in driving the Federal right, to unite the left of Lee's line with the right of Stuart, and so press the Federal army back on Chancellorsville and the river. We shall now return to the left wing of the army, which, in spite of the absence of the commanding general, was the column of attack, which was looked to for the most important results.
In response to the summons of the preceding night, Stuart had come back from the direction of Ely's Ford, at a swift gallop, burning with ardor at the thought of leading Jackson's great corps into battle. The military ambition of this distinguished commander of Lee's horse was great, and he had often chafed at the jests directed at the cavalry arm, and at himself as "only a cavalry-officer." He had now presented to him an opportunity of showing that he was a trained soldier, competent by his nerve and military ability to lead any arm of the service, and greeted the occasion with delight. The men of Jackson had been accustomed to see that commander pass slowly along their lines on a horse as sedate-looking as himself, a slow-moving figure, with little of the "poetry of war" in his appearance. They now found themselves commanded by a youthful and daring cavalier on a spirited animal, with floating plume, silken sash, and a sabre which gleamed in the moonlight, as its owner galloped to and fro cheering the men and marshalling them for the coming assault As he led the lines afterward with joyous vivacity, his sabre drawn, his plume floating proudly, one of the men compared him to Henry of Navarre at the battle of Ivry. But Stuart's spirit of wild gayety destroyed the romantic dignity of the scene. He led the men of Jackson against General Hooker's breastworks bristling with cannon, singing "Old Joe Hooker, will you come out of the Wilderness!"
This sketch will convey a correct idea of the officer who had now grasped the baton falling from the hand of the great marshal of Lee. It was probable that the advance of the infantry under such a commander would partake of the rush and rapidity of a cavalry-charge; and the sequel justified this view.
At early dawn the Southern lines began to move. Either in consequence of orders from Lee, or following his own conception, Stuart reversed the movement of Jackson, who had aimed to swing round his left and cut off the enemy. He seemed to have determined to extend his right, with the view of uniting with the left of Anderson's division under Lee, and enclosing the enemy in the angle near Chancellorsville. Lee had moved at the same moment on their front, advancing steadily over all obstacles, and a Northern writer, who witnessed the combined attack, speaks of it in enthusiastic terms: "From the large brick house which gives the name to this vicinity," says the writer, speaking of Chancellorsville, "the enemy could be seen, sweeping slowly but confidently, determinedly and surely, through the clearings which extended in front. Nothing could excite more admiration for the qualities of the veteran soldiers than the manner in which the enemy swept out, as they moved steadily onward, the forces which were opposed to them. We say it reluctantly, and for the first time, that the enemy have shown the finest qualities, and we acknowledge on this occasion their superiority in the open field to our own men. They delivered their fire with precision, and were apparently inflexible and immovable under the storm of bullets and shell which they were constantly receiving. Coming to a piece of timber, which was occupied by a division of our own men, half the number were detailed to clear the woods. It seemed certain that here they would be repulsed, but they marched right through the wood, driving our own soldiers out, who delivered their fire and fell back, halted again, fired, and fell back as before, seeming to concede to the enemy, as a matter of course, the superiority which they evidently felt themselves. Our own men fought well. There was no lack of courage, but an evident feeling that they were destined to be beaten, and the only thing for them to do was to fire and retreat."
This description of the steady advance of the Southern line applies rather to the first portion of the attack, which compelled the front line of the Federal army to retire to the stronger ground in rear. When this was reached, and the troops of Lee saw before them the last citadel, the steady advance became a rush. The divisions of Anderson and McLaws, on the right, made a determined charge upon the great force under Generals
Slocum, and others, in that quarter, and Stuart closed in on the Federal right, steadily extending his line to join on to Anderson.
The spectacle here was superb. As the troops rushed on, Stuart shouted, "Charge! and remember Jackson!" and this watchword seemed to drive the line forward. With Stuart leading them, and singing, in his joyous voice, "Old Joe Hooker, will you come out of the Wilderness!"--for courage, poetry, and seeming frivolity, were strangely mingled in this great soldier--the troops went headlong at the Federal works, and in a few moments the real struggle of the battle of Chancellorsville had begun.
From this instant, when the lines, respectively commanded in person by Lee and by Stuart, closed in with the enemy, there was little manoeuvring of any description. It was an open attempt of Lee, by hard fighting, to crush in the enemy's front, and force them back upon the river. In this arduous struggle it is due to Stuart to say that his generalship largely decided the event, and the high commendation which he afterward received from General Lee justifies the statement. As his lines went to the attack, his quick military eye discerned an elevated point on his right, from which it appeared an artillery-fire woulden filade the Federal line. About thirty pieces of cannon were at once hastened to this point, and a destructive fire opened on the lines of General Slocum, which threw his troops into great confusion. So serious was this fire that General Slocum sent word to General Hooker that his front was being swept away by it, to which the sullen response was, "I cannot make soldiers or ammunition!"
General Hooker was indeed, it seems, at this moment in no mood to take a hopeful view of affairs. The heavy assault of Jackson appears to have as much demoralized the Federal commander as his troops. During the night he had erected a semicircular line of works, in the form of a redan, in his rear toward the river, behind which new works he no doubt contemplated falling back. He now awaited the result of the Southern attack, leaning against a pillar of the porch at the Chancellorsville House, when a cannon-ball struck the pillar, throwing it down, and so stunning the general as to prevent him from retaining the command, which was delegated to General Couch.
The fate of the day had now been decided. The right wing of the Southern army, under Lee, had gradually extended its left to meet the extension of Stuart's right; and this junction of the two wings having been effected, Lee took personal command of all, and advanced his whole front in a decisive assault. Before this the Federal front gave way, and the disordered troops were huddled back--now only a confused and disorganized mass--upon Chancellorsville. The Southern troops pursued with yells, leaping over the earthworks, and driving all before them. A scene of singular horror ensued. The Chancellorsville House, which had been set on fire by shell, was seen to spout flame from every window, and the adjoining woods had, in like manner, caught fire, and were heard roaring over the dead and wounded of both sides alike. The thicket had become the scene of the cruellest of all agonies for the unfortunates unable to extricate themselves. The whole spectacle in the vicinity of the Chancellorsville House, now in Lee's possession, was frightful. Fire, smoke, blood, confused yells, and dying groans, mingled to form the dark picture.
Lee had ridden to the front of his line, following up the enemy, and as he passed before the troops they greeted him with one prolonged, unbroken cheer, in which those wounded and lying upon the ground united. In that cheer spoke the fierce joy of men whom the hard combat had turned into blood-hounds, arousing all the ferocious instincts of the human soul. Lee sat on his horse, motionless, near the Chancellorsville House, his face and figure lit up by the glare of the burning woods, and gave his first attention, even at this exciting moment, to the unfortunates of both sides, wounded, and in danger of being burned to death. While issuing his orders on this subject, a note was brought to him from Jackson, congratulating him upon his victory. After reading it, with evidences of much emotion, he turned to the officer who had brought it and said: "Say to General Jackson that the victory is his, and that the congratulation is due to him."
The Federal army had fallen back in disorder, by this time,
toward their second line. It was about ten o'clock in the
morning, and Chancellorsville was in Lee's possession.