J.E.B. Stuart At Chancellorsville!
The Life And Campaigns Of Major-General J. E. B. Stuart
(Commander Of The Cavalry Of The Army Of Northern Virginia )
H. B. Mcclellan, A.M.
Late Major, Assistant Adjutant-General And Chief Of Staff Of The Cavalry Corps, Army Of Northern Virginia
EARLY in February, 1863, the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac was consolidated into one corps under the command of Brigadier-General George Stoneman, who soon afterwards received the rank of Major-General. Thus organized, the cavalry constituted a command of which any general might have been proud. On the 28th of February General Stoneman reported the strength of his corps at about 12,000 men and 13,000 horses present for duty; and the monthly report of the Army of the Potomac for the 30th of April, 1863, shows that the force of cavalry "actually available for the line of battle" was 11,079. Upon this splendid body of troops General Hooker depended for the successful opening of the campaign he had planned against Lee's army at Fredericksburg. It was intended that General Stoneman should cross the Rappahannock River at the fords west of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad with all of his command except one brigade; and after dispersing the small force of Confederate cavalry in Culpeper, a force which General Hooker estimated at not over 2,000 men, that he should interpose his command between Lee's army and Richmond. He was expected to destroy communication along the line of the Central Railroad, to capture the supply stations at Gordonsville and Charlottesville, and to inflict all possible damage along the Pamunkey River as far as West Point. But the main object of the expedition was to penetrate to the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, along the line of which it was anticipated that General Lee would retreat; and by breaking up that road and by destroying the bridges over the North and South Anna, to sever direct communication between Lee's army and Richmond. General Stoneman was assured that he might rely upon the fact that General Hooker would be in connection with him before his supplies were exhausted; for it was further intended that the Army of the Potomac should pass around the left of Lee's army, and, compelling the evacuation of the strong fortress at Fredericksburg, cause the Confederates to retreat toward Richmond by the direct line, or to withdraw through Spottsylvania toward Gordonsville. In either event General Stoneman would be in position to harass and delay the movements of the defeated army. The instructions which General Stoneman received closed with this solemn injunction:--
It devolves upon you, general, to take the initiative in the forward movement of this grand army, and on you and your noble command must depend in a great measure the extent and brilliancy of our success. Bear in mind that celerity, audacity, and resolution are everything in war, and especially is it the case with the command you have and the enterprise upon which you are about to embark.
General Stoneman received his orders on the 12th of April. On the night of the 13th his command was concentrated at Morrisville, ready to cross the Rappahannock on the following morning. In order that his movement might be unimpeded, a brigade of infantry and a battery of artillery from the 11th corps was directed to take possession of Kelly's Ford. On the same day the Army of the Potomac was ordered to prepare eight days' rations in haversacks, so that it might be ready to move when the cavalry had performed the part assigned to it.
To oppose the movement of this heavy column of cavalry Stuart had only the 9th and 13th regiments of Virginia Cavalry, 116 mounted men of the 2d North Carolina Cavalry, and 143 dismounted men (men whose horses had been lost in the service)of the same regiment. Two batteries of horse artillery were present. Fitz Lee's brigade had been moved northward toward Salem, and could not return in time to meet the enemy.(1) During the night of the 13th General W. H. F. Lee was informed by his scouts of the presence of the enemy at Morrisville, and he promptly reinforced his picket at Kelly's Ford by Captain S. Bolling's company of sharpshooters from the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Captain Bolling's force at the ford amounted to about 150 men. He was subsequently strengthened by one gun from Moorman's battery, and by the larger part of the 13th Virginia Cavalry, under Colonel J. R. Chambliss.
At daylight, on the 14th, General John Buford, commanding the Cavalry Reserve (U.S. Regulars), made his appearance and attempted to force a passage of the ford under cover of a large party of riflemen; but meeting with strong resistance the attempt was abandoned and was not renewed. General Buford's report
(1) Extract from the diary of Lieutenant-Colonel W. R. Carter, 3d Virginia Cavalry :
April 14th. Started to move camp nearer to Salem on Manassas Gap Railroad, but hearing that a large force of Yankee cavalry was at Morris-ville, preparing to cross at Kelly's Ford and attack General W. H. F. Lee's force, we were ordered to move back to Amissville, where we encamped for the night.
April 15th. Rainy and cold all day. Ordered to start for Culpeper Court House. Having marched two miles, the order was countermanded, and we returned to the same camp, with no dry place to pitch a tent.
states that his object at Kelly's Ford was merely to make a demonstration which should favor the passage of the rest of the corps at the upper fords; and this was undoubtedly the plan marked out in the orders which had been given to General Stoneman.
While General Buford was thus observing Kelly's Ford, General D. McM. Gregg's division was moved up to the ford at the railroad bridge. This point was defended by a few dismounted men (it does not appear from what regiment), who held a block-house which commanded the bridge; and by twenty men of company D, 13th Virginia Cavalry, under Lieutenant W. T. Gary, who occupied the adjacent rifle-pits. The 9th Virginia Cavalry and two sections of artillery, one from Moorman's and one from Breathed's battery, supported these riflemen. One hundred and sixteen mounted men of the 2d North Carolina Cavalry, commanded by Captain J. W. Strange, supported a Whitworth gun which was stationed one mile east of Brandy Station.
A party from General Gregg's command was allowed to cross at the bridge without opposition from the block-house, while at the same time a mounted party crossed the ford. Lieutenant Gary was outflanked and retired from the rifle-pits; but he soon gained position in the block-house, and without loss, except that he himself was wounded. When the 9th Virginia Cavalry moved down to attack, the Federals retired to the north bank of the river, and the remainder of the day was consumed in a desultory fire between the sharpshooters and the artillery on either side. General Gregg sent a squadron to Beverly's Ford, two miles above the bridge, and ascertained that a force of dismounted Confederates held the south bank. Nothing further was attempted on this day. From early morning the Federal cavalry had threatened the fords which were then entirely practicable. A determined effort on the part of General Gregg's command could not have failed to secure the passage of his division at the railroad and at Beverly's Ford; and success at these points would have caused the withdrawal of the Confederates at Kelly's Ford. General Stoneman, however, deferred a serious attempt until the following morning, and lost his opportunity. We are not surprised to read the following tart despatches which were sent by General Hooker to General Stoneman on the following day:---
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 15, 1863.
GENERAL STONEMAN,--Despatches of April 15th, from ------, signed by the chief of your staff, have been received. The commanding general desires me to call your attention to your letter of instruction. The tenor of your despatches might indicate that you were manoeuvring your whole force against the command of General Lee, numbering not over two thousand men. The commanding general does not expect, nor do your instructions indicate, that you are to act from any base or depot. When any messengers are coming this way please acknowledge the receipt of the despatch concerning the telegram from General Peck, sent for your information.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 15, 1863.
GENERAL STONEMAN,- Your despatches of 9 and 10.35 o'clock, of this date, are received. As you stated in your communication of yesterday that you would be over the river with your command at daylight this morning, it was so communicated to Washington, and it was hoped that the crossing had been made in advance of the rise of the river. If your artillery is your only hindrance to your advance, the major-gen-eral commanding directs that you order it to return and proceed to the execution of your orders without it. It is but reasonable to suppose that if you cannot make use of that arm of the service the enemy cannot. If it is practicable to carry into execution the general instructions communicated to you on the 12th instant, the major-general commanding expects you to make use of such means as will, in your opinion, enable you to accomplish it, and that as speedily as possible. This army is now awaiting your movement. I am directed to add that, in view of the swollen condition of the streams, it is not probable, in the event of your being able to advance, that you will be troubled by the infantry of the enemy.
Assistant Adjutant- General.
On the same day President Lincoln thus wrote to General Hooker: --
MAJOR-GENERAL HOOKER,--It is now 10.15 P.M. An hour ago I received your letter of this morning, and a few moments later your despatch of this evening. The letter gives me considerable uneasiness. The rain and mud, of course, were to be calculated upon. General S. is not moving rapidly enough to make the expedition come to anything. He has now been out three days, two of which were unusually fair weather, and all three without hindrance from the enemy, and yet he is not twenty-five miles from where he started. To reach his point he still has sixty to go, another river (the Rapidan) to cross, and will be hindered by the enemy. By arithmetic, how many days will it take him to do it? I do not know that any better can be done, but I greatly fear it is another failure already. Write me often, I am very anxious.
The failure which President Lincoln feared had already been consummated when this letter was written. At 6.30 A.M. on the 15th, Buford's cavalry, which had moved up from Kelly's Ford, was at the railroad bridge and ready to cross. He was ordered to await further instructions. It seems that some Federal cavalry had been sent early in the day to Welford's Ford, where the small Confederate picket was easily driven back and a crossing was effected. Moving rapidly down the river this party approached Beverly's Ford, to which General Gregg's division had been moved, and surprised the dismounted men who, under Lieutenant-Colonel M. Lewis, guarded that point. But although surprised, this picket was not to be captured without a fight. Colonel Lewis and Lieutenant G. W. Beale, of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, boldly charged the advance of the enemy, and thus gained time to withdraw in safety. It seems strange that any could have escaped from such a position. They were cut off from their horses and lost them all, twelve in number; but the loss in men was only one killed and five captured.
As soon as this news was received, General W. H. F. Lee moved the 9th and 13th regiments to the threatened point. The enemy had partly recrossed the river, but Colonel Chambliss, at the head of about fifty men, charged their rear-guard and drove them into the stream. One lieutenant and twenty-four men, of the 3d Indiana Cavalry, were captured, and some were drowned in the rapid waters. The 9th Virginia Cavalry was also engaged in this charge. It is noticeable that the Federal reports are silent concerning this affair.
Thus ended this expedition. The bold action of two small cavalry regiments, aided by a swollen stream, thwarted the plans of the Federal commander and delayed for a fortnight the advance of the Grand Army of the Potomac.
The meaning of such a concentration of the enemy's cavalry as had just been witnessed could not be mistaken, and General Stuart was especially charged by his commander to do all in his power to prevent a foray upon his communications. Therefore, as soon as the flood had subsided, Fitz Lee's brigade was brought back Sperryville to Culpeper Court House. The force under Stuart's command was painfully small in comparison with the services demanded of it. It is impossible at the present day to give exact numbers, but General Hooker's statement that Stoneman was opposed by not over 2,000 cavalry is probably correct.(1) With this small force Stuart was required to cover a front of more than fifty miles, maintaining pickets at the fords of both the Rappahannock and the Rapidan.
For some days prior to the 28th of April, the north bank of the Rappahannock, at Kelly's Ford and at the railroad bridge, had been held by Federal infantry pickets, and this unusual appearance had placed the Confederates fully on the alert. On the afternoon of the 28th three corps of the Federal army were concentrated near Kelly's Ford, and at six o'clock in the evening a strong party crossed the river in boats below the ford, severing communication with the pickets lower down the river, and driving back the picket at the ford. A pontoon bridge was laid, and the passage of the 11th and 12th army corps was effected during the night. No effort was made to extend the advance further than was necessary to accommodate these troops for the night.
Stuart received notice of these movements by nine o'clock P.M., at Culpeper Court House. His scouts
(1) In his Chancellorsville Address General Fitzhugh Lee estimated his own brigade at 1,500 men, and that of W. H. F. Lee at 1,200 men. This estimate is based on the monthly report of March 31, 1863, and is probably an over-estimate. On the 30th of April, 1863, the Federal cavalry reported an effective total of 11,079. But the reports of Generals Stone-man and Averell show that only about 6,900 men were engaged in the "Stoneman Raid"; and yet this was all of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac except one brigade, which General Pleasonton calls a "small brigade," which was left with the main body of the army. If we apply the same ratio of discount to the Confederate cavalry, General Fitzhugh Lee's 2,700 men will be reduced to about 2,000.
had detected, and he had already reported to General R. E. Lee, the movement of a large force of infantry and artillery up the river from Falmouth, and unless the telegraph line was closed, he must have reported these facts also. It must be remembered, however, that the magnitude of the enemy's force was concealed by darkness, and that no forward movement was made until the following morning. Unless the most urgent necessity required it, Stuart had no right to move his command from a position where it would be able to confront the enemy's cavalry, which he had abundant reason to believe would now attempt to reach the interior of the State. So far as he could observe, the present advance might be intended solely as a diversion in favor of such a movement. He accordingly ordered that the enemy be enveloped with pickets, and, concentrating his command near Brandy Station, awaited the developments of the morning. At four o'clock A.M. on the 29th, the 12th corps advanced toward Germanna Ford, followed by the 11th corps, while the 5th corps commenced the passage of the pontoon bridge at eleven o'clock A.M., and moved at once on the road to Ely's Ford. To cover this movement, a force of infantry was sent out toward Brandy Station, and with these troops the 13th Virginia Cavalry was engaged in skirmishing during a considerable part of the morning.
Early in the afternoon Stuart learned that the enemy's column was moving toward Germanna Ford, and to ascertain the truth of the report he moved the larger part of his command to Willis Madden's, where he pierced the marching column and captured prisoners from the 11th, 12th, and 5th corps. The intentions of the enemy were now well developed, and this information was at once telegraphed to the commanding general. In reply, Stuart was not only instructed to swing around to join the left wing of Lee's army, but he was also charged to give the necessary orders for the protection of public property along the railroads. To accomplish this latter purpose, General W. H. F. Lee was ordered to proceed by way of Culpeper Court House to the Rapidan, and endeavor to cover Gordonsville and the Central Railroad. Two regiments, the 9th and 13th Virginia Cavalry, constituted the whole of his command. Fitz Lee's brigade was put in motion as soon as possible for Raccoon Ford. Before leaving the position he had gained at Madden's, Stuart detached a strong party of sharpshooters from the 4th Virginia Cavalry, who were ordered to remain at that point and annoy the enemy's trains and marching columns as much as possible; and, when driven away, to follow the brigade to Raccoon Ford. The reports of General Howard and of Colonel Devin show that this party occupied the attention of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry during the remainder of that day and during the night of the same, and prevented it from taking an active part in the advance of the army.
After marching more than half the night, Fitz Lee's brigade crossed the Rapidan and rested for a few hours. The 3d Virginia Cavalry, under Colonel Thomas H. Owen, was sent on without stopping, and early the next morning interposed between the enemy and Fredericksburg, at Wilderness Run.(1) The darkness of the
(1) The conduct of General Stuart on the present occasion has been criti-cised by the Hon. William E. Cameron, of Petersburg, Va., in the Philadelphia Weekly Times, of the 5th of July, 1879, as wanting in the vigor and watchfulness which usually characterized him. An examination of the Official Records will not establish the justice of this criticism. The roads leading southward from Kelly's Ford to the Rapidan were not left unobserved. Pickets were placed upon them, and this was all that could be done or ought to have been done, for no one will venture to assert that, with the facts which were before him on the night of the 28th, Stuart would have been justified in separating any portion of his small command from the apparently paramount duty of guarding the railroads. Moreover, General Howard states that the 11th corps commenced the passage of the pontoon bridge at Kelly's Ford only at ten o'clock on the night of the 28th; and General Slocum states that the advance of the 12th corps began on the following morning at four o'clock. Superhuman penetration and personal ubiquity, but nothing less, might have enabled Stuart to ascertain these facts in time to interpose cavalry on the roads leading to Ely's and Germanna fords. But Slocum's advance instantly closed access to the former road, and although Stuart sent couriers to notify the pickets on the Rapidan, they were captured and failed to reach their destination.
The march of Slocum's column was not, however, unopposed. We have the testimony of his report for the fact that "during the entire march from the Rappahannock to the Rapidan, the advance-guard, consisting of the 6th New York Cavalry, Lieutenant-Colonel McVicker commanding, was opposed by small bodies of cavalry." What officer was in command of this Confederate picket does not appear; nor can it be stated why he failed to notify the Ely's Ford picket; nor why he failed to communicate his movements to General Stuart. It is reasonable, as well as charitable, to suppose that he made the effort to perform these evident duties, but that his couriers also were captured.
There is one portion of the Hon. Mr. Cameron's criticism which produces an unpleasant impression. He brings forward General R. E. Lee as a witness to the tardiness of his lieutenant. He says :-
"But Major-General Anderson arrived at Chancellorsville at twelve o'clock on Thursday night, the 29th of April, having been sent by General Lee 'as soon as he had intelligence of the enemy's movement.' This proves that the Confederate commander received his first notice of the great events maturing on his left late in the afternoon of the 29th, and then Slocum and Meade were within easy striking distance."
The words which I have italicized appear as if quoted from General Lee's report. It seems impossible to put any other construction upon them. And yet, neither these words nor anything like them can be found in that report. On the contrary, after acknowledging that he had been informed by General Stuart, on the 28th, that a large body of infantry and artillery was moving up the river, General Lee says :--
"During the forenoon of the 29th that officer reported that the enemy had crossed in force near Kelly's Ford on the preceding evening. Later in the day he announced that a heavy column was moving from Kelly's toward Germanna Ford, on the Rapidan, and another towards Ely's Ford, on that river."
Toward the close of his report, General Lee gives the following explicit testimony to the vigilance and energy of his cavalry :--"The cavalry of the army, at the time of these operations, was much reduced. To its vigilance and energy we were indebted for timely information of the enemy's movements before the battle, and for impeding his march to Chancellorsville. It guarded both flanks of the army during the battle at that place, and a portion of it, as has already been stated, rendered valuable service in covering the march of Jackson to the enemy's rear."
These quotations may be verified by reference to pages 258 and 266 of the preliminary print of Confederate Reports from November 15, 1862, to June 3, 1863, issued by the War Records Office, Washington, D.C.
I should have thought it unnecessary to answer the criticisms of Mr. Cameron were it not for the fact that Major I. Scheibert, of the Prussian army, who is, I am persuaded, an admirer of General Stuart, has thought Mr. Cameron's paper of sufficient importance to translate it into the German language.
night and the excessive fatigue of his men produced a separation of several companies from Colonel Owen's regiment, and he was able to oppose only the smaller part of his force to the advance of the 6th New York Cavalry on the morning of the 30th. He made, however, a spirited fight for the possession of the bridge over Wilderness Run, as is testified by Colonel Devin, who commanded the cavalry brigade operating with the right of Hooker's army; and when forced away, retired skirmishing toward Chancellorsville. Stuart, with the remainder of Fitz Lee's brigade, reached the Germanna road in the vicinity of the Wilderness Tavern soon after Colonel Owen had retired, and opened on the enemy's column with artillery and dismounted men. Stuart claims that he delayed the enemy at this point until midday. General Slocum states that he sent two regiments to oppose this attack, but that his "main body continued its march." It is clear, however, that some delay occurred; for the distance from Germanna Ford to Chancellorsville is less than ten miles, and although Slocum's advance division left the ford at daylight, it did not reach Chancellorsville until two o'clock P.M. Meantime Colonel Owen had discovered and reported that the 5th corps, under Meade, had reached Chancellorsville by the Ely's Ford road. Stuart therefore withdrew from the Wilderness Tavern, and directed his march by way of Todd's Tavern toward Spottsylvania Court House. Night had fallen when the command reached Todd's Tavern. Here Stuart proposed that his troops should bivouac, while he himself, with his staff, rode to army headquarters to receive instructions. A bright moon was shining. Stuart had not proceeded far on his way when he found himself confronted by the enemy's cavalry. The 6th New York regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel McVicker, had been sent on a reconnoissance toward Spottsylvania Court House, and was now returning. Stuart's party readily yielded the right of way to this regiment, while he sent for aid to the brigade, which fortunately had not yet dismounted. The 5th Virginia Cavalry, being nearest, advanced against the enemy, who, warned of danger by contact with Stuart's staff, had left the road and were drawn up in line in Hugh Alsop's field. The 5th regiment kept the road past this field. The 6th New York charged upon the rear of the column of fours as it passed on, took some prisoners, gained the road in rear of the 5th regiment, and moved on to occupy the forks of the road, which it was necessary for them to hold in order to make good their way to Chancellors-ville. Here they met that portion of the 3d Virginia Cavalry which had rejoined the brigade under Lieuten-ant-Colonel W. R. Carter. The 3d regiment charged with vigor, and a scene of indescribable confusion ensued. Many of the 5th regiment were mingled with the 6th New York, some unrecognized, and some as prisoners; and as soon as the heads of the two columns closed, the cry arose, "Don't shoot ! don't shoot! we're friends!" The place where the encounter occurred was shaded by woods on one side of the road, and the light was insufficient to distinguish between friends and foes. The 6th New York scattered for the moment in the woods, and, all uncertain whether he had not made a mistake and charged one of our own regiments, Colonel Carter withdrew his men a short distance and awaited further developments. This gave the 6th New York the road to Chancellorsville, and they speedily availed themselves of it, leaving at the forks of the road a picket, which was soon afterward captured by the 2d Virginia Cavalry. The 3d regiment lost one man wounded in this affair. During the fight all of the prisoners which had been taken from the 5th Virginia Cavalry made their escape. Lieutenant-Colonel McVicker was killed at the head of his regiment. His body was carried off by his friends; but several of his men were buried on the field on the following day.
While these events were transpiring on his left flank, General R. E. Lee was moving the larger part of his army from Fredericksburg toward Chancellorsville, and at eight o'clock A.M. on the 1st of May had concentrated near that point all of his force except Early's division of Jackson's corps and Barksdale's brigade of Mc-Laws' division, which remained at Fredericksburg. At eleven o'clock A.M. Anderson's and McLaws' divisions advanced, and were soon engaged in severe fighting, the result of which was that the Federal army fell back within the strong defensive line which later surrounded their position at Chancellorsville. During the movements of this day the 4th Virginia Cavalry, under Colonel Williams C. Wickham, and a portion of the 3d Virginia Cavalry, under Colonel Thomas H. Owen, guarded the right flank of the Confederate army from the Mine Road to the Rappahannock, while the remainder of Fitz Lee's brigade protected the left flank. At about six o'clock in the evening, Wright's brigade of Anderson's division was engaged at Welford's Old Furnace. Having no artillery, General Wright requested Stuart to aid him in this respect. Four guns belonging to the horse artillery battalion, under the immediate command of Major R. F. Beckham, were sent to General Wright, and were soon engaged with a superior force of the enemy's artillery. Major Beckham states that" One gun from McGregor's battery, commanded by Lieutenant Burwell, had every man about it wounded, except one. The axle of another gun of the same battery was cut nearly in two." General Stuart himself was present on this occasion, and it was here that he sustained an irreparable loss in the death of his assistant adjutant-gen-eral, Major R. Channing Price. A piece of a shell cut an artery, and before medical assistance could be procured he had bled beyond recovery. He had won his promotion from the rank of lieutenant and aid-de-camp under the eyes of his own general, to whom he had made himself a necessity. His years were few, but his character was strong and mature.
During the 2d of May that part of the cavalry which was on the Confederate left was engaged in the delicate operation of screening from view the movement of Jackson's three divisions around the Federal right wing. The 1st Virginia Cavalry marched in advance of Jackson's column, while the 2d and 5th regiments and part of the 3d interposed between the enemy and its right flank. After the rear of A. P. Hill's division had passed the Furnace, and while Jackson's ordnance train was on the road, the enemy made another determined attempt to pierce the line at this point. Two divisions of the 3d army corps, under the personal command of General D. E. Sickles, penetrated to the Furnace, and ultimately gained possession of the road upon which Jackson's corps had passed. Lieu-tenant-Colonel W. R. Carter, of the 3d Virginia Cav-airy, commanded the picket at the Furnace; and by his activity a sufficient force was obtained to check the attack. Colonel J. Thompson Brown furnished two guns from his battalion of artillery; two companies of the 14th Tennessee Infantry, under Captain W. S. Moore, who had just been relieved from picket, were induced to move immediately to the point of danger; and General Archer, when notified by Colonel Carter of the attack, moved back his own brigade and Thomas', and engaged the enemy. Sickles' advance was checked until the last of Jackson's train had passed in safety; when General Archer, having been relieved by troops from McLaws' division, moved on to join his corps.
Meanwhile General Fitz Lee, who commanded in person the cavalry which preceded Jackson's column, had reached the plank road, and had halted his command to await the arrival of the infantry. To improve the time he made a personal reeonnoissance, which revealed the fact that a force advancing on the turnpike would take in reverse the right of the enemy's line of battle. Fully appreciating the importance of the discovery he had made, General Lee hurriedly returned along the line of march until he met General Jackson, whom he conducted in person to the same point of observation. "Below, and but a few hundred yards distant, ran the Federal line of battle. There was the line of defence, with abatis in front, and long lines of stacked arms in rear. Two cannon were visible in the part of the line seen. The soldiers were in groups in the rear, laughing, chatting, smoking; probably engaged, here and there, in games of cards, and other amusements indulged in when feeling safe and comfortable, awaiting orders. In the rear were other parties driving up and butchering beeves."
General Jackson immediately ordered his troops to cross the plank road and take position on the turnpike. At six o'clock P.M. everything was ready for the attack, and before dark the right of Hooker's army had been hurled back upon the position at Chancellorsville. The only artillery employed in this attack was from the battalion of horse artillery, under the command of Major R. F. Beckham, who thus modestly describes the part taken by his guns:-
Under instructions from Major-General Stuart I had placed two pieces in the turnpike, under the command of Captain Breathed, and held them in readiness for the advance of our infantry. Two other pieces, immediately in rear, were kept as a relief to Breathed from time to time, the width of road not allowing more than two pieces in action at once. Captain Moorman's battery was still farther in rear, to be brought up in case of accident. I was directed by the major-general commanding as our line started forward to advance with them, keeping a few yards in rear of our line of skirmishers. This we did not entirely succeed in doing, owing to the narrow space in which the pieces had to be manoeuvred and the obstructions encountered at various points along the road. I am glad, however, that I can report that we were able to keep up almost a continuous fire upon the enemy from one or two guns, from the very starting-point up to the position where our lines halted for the night.
Major Beckham reaped a rich reward for his services. His conduct attracted the attention of General Jackson. Meeting him in the road at the first pause of the battle, Jackson leaned forward on his horse, and extended his hand to Beckham, with the words, "Young man, I congratulate you."
The two sections of Breathed's battery were commanded by Captain James Breathed and Lieutenant (afterwards Major) P. P. Johnston. While the front section was engaged in firing, the section in rear was limbered up and ready to move. When the infantry had advanced beyond the guns, the front section ceased firing, and the rear section was moved forward at a gallop, often taking position in advance of the infantry. The strain upon the gunners was excessive, and Breathed's men were aided by volunteers from Moor-man's battery in the rear, who came forward to supply the places of those who fell from exhaustion.
Finding no room for the use of his cavalry on the field of battle, Stuart asked permission of Jackson to take it and a small force of infantry, and hold the road to Ely's Ford. The permission was readily granted, and the 16th North Carolina Infantry was placed under his orders. Stuart reached the hills adjacent to the ford and found there Averell's division of cavalry. While making dispositions for an attack, he received the information, through Captain Adams, of General A. P. Hill's staff, that both Jackson and Hill had been wounded, and that the command of Jackson's corps devolved on him. The 16th North Carolina had already been deployed in line. Stuart ordered the officer commanding this regiment to fire three rounds into the enemy's camp, and then retire and rejoin his brigade. Without awaiting the result of this attack, and leaving Fitz Lee and his cavalry to guard the road from Ely's Ford, he hastened to assume the responsibility which had so unexpectedly devolved upon him.
The circumstances under which General Stuart took command of Jackson's corps were of a trying nature. It was about midnight when he reached the line of battle. The fact that Jackson had been borne wounded from the field could not be concealed; and there was unmistakable evidence that the troops were shaken by the great disaster. Stuart had no information from the commanding general concerning his plans for the movement which Jackson had commenced; and he was of course ignorant of the positions of the troops and the condition of the field. There was no possibility of receiving immediate instructions from General Lee; and when he requested suggestions from General Jackson he received the reply: "Tell General Stuart to act upon his own judgment and do what he thinks best; I have implicit confidence in him." He was even denied the assistance of a staff who could work efficiently under these trying circumstances; for none of General Jackson's staff reported to him except Colonel A. S. Pendleton; and his own staff made almost their first personal acquaintance with the commanders of Jackson's corps during that night and the following day. Moreover, the fall of Jackson developed the fact that no one of his subordinates had received from him the least intimation of his plans and intentions; and that every one was ignorant of the topography of the battle-field. The enemy's artillery, of which a large force was concentrated near the Chancellorsville House, commanded the plank road, and ever and anon swept it with a fearful fire. A part of A. P. Hill's division, now thrown in advance and formed at right angles to the road, presented a solid front to the enemy; but Rodes and Colston had become mingled in great confusion by the ardor with which they had pursued the defeated enemy, and had been withdrawn to reform. On the right this confusion was greatly increased by an attack which had thrown back that flank until it rested nearly upon and parallel with the plank road. These facts were duly presented to Stuart by the infantry commanders, and he decided to defer further attack until morning.
In order that the situation in which Stuart found Jackson's corps may be understood, it is necessary to enter somewhat minutely into the details of the movements of the brigades which composed it, as they are presented in the Official Reports.
It has already been indicated that Jackson's march toward the right of the Federal army had been observed at the point where his column passed near the Welford Furnace. This movement was interpreted by the Federal commander as the beginning of a retreat toward Gordonsville; and as early as twelve o'clock General Sickles, commanding the 3d army corps, was ordered to push forward two of his divisions on a reconnoissance. Three regiments of cavalry, under General Pleasonton, accompanied him. General Sickles advanced beyond the We]ford Furnace, and gained the road upon which Jackson had passed. To oppose this movement, and to secure Jackson's trains, Archer's and Thomas' brigades, of A. P. Hill's division, which were at that time about two miles from the Furnace, moved back and checked Sickles' advance until they were relieved by some of McLaws' troops. This delay prevented these brigades from taking any part in the battle of the evening of the 2d. General Sickles was well pleased with the early success of his reconnoissance. He had advanced nearly two miles; had captured a number of prisoners; and, having made satisfactory disposition of his forces, was about to advance to fresh conquests, when he was informed of the disaster which had overtaken the 11th corps. His own position was now precarious. Jackson's advance threatened to enclose his rear and cut off his retreat. General Sickles immediately commenced to withdraw his two divisions; and, in order to gain time, requested General Pleasonton to check the enemy as much as possible with his cavalry and with artillery. The 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, under Major Keenan, was ordered to interpose if possible between Jackson and he fugitives of the 11th corps. Major Keenan reached he plank road with a portion of his command, and made gallant charge, which, it is claimed, checked for a short ime the advance of Jackson's men. The interval was improved by General Pleasonton, who succeeded in massing twenty-two pieces of artillery on a clearing about eight hundred yards from the plank road,(2) and in such position as to command the front and right flank of the advancing Confederates. The importance of this position, which is designated in many of the reports as Fairview, but which is properly known as Hazel Grove, will appear as our narrative advances. To this place General Sickles conducted his two divisions. Although exposed to the demoralizing influence of the panic-stricken fugitives of the 11th corps, Sickles' troops maintained an unbroken formation; and to them and to the artillery under General Pleasanton must be ascribed the honor of placing the first check upon Jackson's advance. This is made clear in the reports of Lieutenant-Colonel D. R. E. Winn and Colonel J. T. Mercer, commanding the 4th and 21st Georgia regiments of Doles' brigade. Colonel Winn states that when he reached this place he found himself in charge of about two hundred men of various commands, and facing two regiments of the enemy, which, with artillery, were posted on the cleared ridge obliquely to his left. While forming his line for attack, an officer, whom he supposed to be the commander of the Federal troops in his front, rode toward his line. His men were ordered not to fire; but when the officer had approached within a hundred yards, two men shot at him; whereupon he returned to his lines, and a heavy artillery and infantry fire was opened. Colonel Winn returned this fire until his ammunition was exhausted. When his fire ceased, that of the enemy ceased also; and without having been relieved or reinforced his command retired, after dark, to the plank road. General Pleasonton describes this same incident. Being uncertain whether the troops in sight were Confederates or a portion of the 11th corps, he sent his aid, Lieutenant Thompson, of the 1st New York Cavalry, to clear up the doubt. Lieutenant Thompson was induced to approach within fifty yards of the Confederate line, along which no color was visible except an American flag in the centre battalion. In another moment "the whole line in a most dastardly manner opened on him with musketry, dropped the American color, and displayed eight or ten rebel battle-flags." Lieutenant Thompson escaped unhurt, and Pleasonton opened on the Confederates with his guns. "This terrible discharge staggered them and threw the heads of their columns back on the woods, from which they opened a tremendous fire of musketry, bringing up fresh forces constantly, and striving to advance as fast as they were swept back by our guns."
The importance of the position held by Pleasonton can hardly be exaggerated; but he over-estimated the troops opposed to him. Two hundred men, under Lieu-tenant-Colonel Winn, supported on their left by the 21st Georgia regiment, under Colonel Mercer, were the only troops attacking that point. In this same connection it is worthy of notice how small a portion of Rodes' division operated on his right of the road. Colquitt's and Ramseur's brigades had been diverted, early in the action, by a reported advance on their right flank; and were, as General Rodes states, "deprived of any active participation." The brunt of the battle on the right fell on Doles' brigade, with which was mingled a portion of Colston's brigade from the second line. As we have now seen, these were the troops which were confronted and checked by Pleasonton and Sickles.
Night had now come on. The confusion in Rodes' and Colston's divisions was so great that an advance seemed inadvisable. General Rodes says:--
I at once sent word to Lieutenant-General Jackson, urging him to push forward the fresh troops of the reserve line, in order that mine might be reformed. Riding forward on the plank road, I satisfied myself that the enemy had no line of battle between our troops and the heights of Chancellorsville, and on my return informed Colonel S. Crutchfield, chief of artillery of the corps, of the fact, and he opened his batteries on that point. The enemy instantly responded by a most terrific fire, which silenced our guns, but did little execution on the infantry, as it was mainly directed down the plank road, which was unoccupied except by our artillery. When the fire ceased General Hill's troops were brought up, and as soon as a portion were deployed in my front as skirmishers I commenced withdrawing my men under orders from the lieutenant-general.
It had not been an easy matter for A. P. Hill's division to maintain its formation and still keep pace with the pursuit in which Rodes and Colston had been engaged; and we find that only one of the four brigades present in this division was ready immediately to take the place of Rodes' men. This brigade was Lane's. General Lane says :--
Here General A. P. Hill ordered me (at dark) to deploy one regiment as skirmishers across the road, to form line of battle in rear with the rest of the brigade, and to push vigorously forward. In other words, we were ordered to make a night attack and capture the enemy's batteries in front if possible. Just then they opened a terrific artillery fire, which was responded to by our batteries. As soon as this was over I deployed the 33d North Carolina troops forward as skirmishers, and formed line of battle to the rear,--the 7th and 87th to the right, and the 18th and 28th to the left,- the left of the 37th and the right of the 18th resting on the road.
It is manifest from the reports both of General Lane and of General Rodes that the fire of the Federal artillery from the Chancellorsville hill delayed the movements of Hill's division in relieving Rodes' line; and that Rodes' division was withdrawn, by order of General Jackson, before even one brigade had completely deployed in its front. Lane's brigade, being at first required to occupy both sides of the road, could not, and did not cover the line from which Rodes withdrew. Confirmation of this is to be found in the reports of the officers commanding the 4th and 21st Georgia regiments of Doles' brigade, which show that these regiments were withdrawn from the position confronting Pleasonton and the two divisions of Sickles' corps, without having been replaced by any other troops. More interesting proof of the same fact is found in the following extract from a letter written to the author by General James H. Lane, under date of May 14, 1885: --
I was not in line, but was ordered to move along the road by the right flank, immediately in rear of the artillery commanded by my friend, Stapleton Crutchfield. When this artillery halted in the road near the last line of breastworks from which the enemy had been driven, I was immediately behind it, and was kept standing in the road a short time. Here, about dark, I was ordered by General A. P. Hill in person to form my brigade, as described in my official report, for a night attack. As General Hill rode off I called my command to attention; and just then our artillery opened fire down the plank road in the direction of Chancellorsville. This drew a most terrific fire from the enemy's artillery in our front, and I at once ordered my men to lie down, as they were enfiladed, and I thought it would be madness to attempt to move them under such circumstances, in the dark, and through such a woods. Not long afterwards I heard Colonel Palmer, of General Hill's staff, inquiring for me, as it was too dark for him to recognize me, though we were not far apart. I called him; and he informed me that General Hill wished to know why I did not form my command as I had been ordered. I requested him to tell General Hill, if he wished me to do so successfully, he would have to order our artillery to cease firing, as I thought the enemy's fire was in reply to ours. The message was delivered, and Hill at once ordered Braxton, through Palmer, to cease firing; and as I expected, the enemy also ceased.
When I threw forward my first regiment as skirmishers, I ordered them to go well to the front, as we were to make a night attack; and to be very careful not to fire into any of Rodes' men, whom we would relieve. When the colonel commanding this regiment reported to me after the deployment, he informed me that there were none of Rodes' men in my front.
As soon as I had formed my whole command as ordered, I rode back from the right to the plank road, to know of General Hill if I must advance at once or await orders. On reaching the road I met General Jackson, who, strange to say, recognized me first, and remarked: "Lane, for whom are you looking ?" (I was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute under the old hero.) I told him, and for what purpose; and then remarked that as General Hill was acting under his orders, and I did not know where to find him, it would save time were he to tell me what to do. He replied: "Push right ahead, Lane!" accompanying his order with a pushing gesture of his right hand in the direction of Chancellor's house, and then rode forward. I at once rode to the right to put my line in motion; when the colonel on that flank advised me not to move, as his men had heard the talking and movement of troops on their flank. Lieutenant Emack and four men were sent out to reconnoitre, and they soon returned with the 128th Pennsylvania regiment, commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel Smith. Emack, on encountering them, put on a bold front and advised them to throw down their arms, as they were cut off by Jackson's corps. I was present when the lieutenant marched them in from the right, between my line of skirmishers and the main line, and they were without arms. Soon after they were halted in front of my right regiment, some one rode up from the front to the right of my skirmish line, and called for General Williams. Instead of capturing this individual, some of my skirmishers fired upon him, and he escaped unhurt, as far as we know. This seemed to cause a fire along the skirmish line, and the enemy's artillery again opened a terrific fire. It was then that General Jackson was wounded, as I have always thought, by the 18th regiment, of my brigade. This regiment undoubtedly fired into Hill and his staff; and they were not to blame, as I had told them that the enemy only were in their front, and that they must keep a sharp lookout. They were formed in low, dense, scrubby oaks, on the left of the road, and knew nothing of these generals having gone to the front. When the skirmish and artillery fire caused them and their staffs to turn back, there was a loud clattering of horses' hoofs, and some one cried out, "Yankee cavalry !"
From that unknown person's riding up, and calling for the Yankee General Williams, it is evident that they had a line in our front, possibly at the edge of the woods, Chancellors-ville side, where they had their breastworks the next morning. My skirmish line was in the woods on the crest of the hill, and my main line on the right of the works last captured by Rodes. My line on the left was further advanced. General Pender rode into the woods inquiring for me just as I had ordered my right forward, and advised me not to advance, as Generals Jackson and Hill had both been wounded, and it was thought by my command. I did not advance; and was subsequently ordered by General Heth to withdraw that part of my brigade on the left of the road and prolong my line on the right.
This, then, seems to have been the exact position of the troops when Jackson was wounded: Rodes' and Colston's divisions had been withdrawn, incapable of action on account of the disorder consequent on the victory which they had won. Of A. P. Hill's brigades, Lane's alone was formed in line of battle, and in such position that any immediate advance would have exposed his right flank and rear, now uncovered by the withdrawal of Doles' brigade. Heth, Pender, and McGowan were on the plank road, marching through the confused regiments and brigades of Rodes and Colston; while Archer and Thomas were still some miles in the rear, hurrying on to overtake their division, from which they had been separated by the necessity of meeting Sickles at the Welford Furnace.
It is proper now to notice the location of the Federal troops. The position of the two divisions of the 3d corps, which were with General Sickles, has already been described. The 1st division of the 12th corps, commanded by Major-General A. S. Williams, had been sent forward early in the afternoon to co÷perate with General Sickles' attack at the Welford Furnace. Upon the first intelligence of the defeat of the 11th corps, Williams' division was ordered to return to its former line. Before it could reach this point the Confederates had it in possession, but this division did reach the plank road in time to form line of battle on the south side of that road before dark. The 2d division of the 3d corps, Hooker's old division, commanded by Major-General Berry, together with one brigade of the 2d corps, had been held in reserve near Chancellorsville. These troops were now moved forward through the tide of the fugitives of the 11th corps, and formed line of battle on the north side of the plank road, connecting with General Williams. This line of battle was formed on the Chancellorsville side of the woods in which the Confederate advance had halted, and in which the battle was renewed on the following morning. About five hundred yards in rear of this line Captain C. L. Best, chief of artillery of the 12th corps, had massed thirty-four pieces of artillery. The official reports leave no reasonable doubt that all of these troops were in the positions indicated at the time when Lane's brigade formed line of battle, with orders to "push right ahead."
While Jackson was being carried from the field, Heth's brigade was approaching, marching by the flank. General Heth says:--
On reaching the position on the road occupied by General Hill, he directed me to deploy two regiments -- one on the right the other on the left of the road -- to check the enemy, who were then advancing. These movements had not been completed before the enemy opened heavily upon the 55th Virginia regiment. It was here that gallant and promising officer, Colonel F. Mallory, was killed. Soon after, General Hill informed me that he was wounded, and directed me to take command of the division. General Lane's brigade at this time was in line of battle on the right of the road, occupying the breastworks from which the enemy had been driven. I directed General Pender to form his brigade in line of battle on the left of the road, occupying the deserted breastworks of the enemy. Before the remaining brigade could be placed in line of battle, the enemy, under General Sickles, advanced and attacked General Lane's right.
The "remaining brigade" to which General Heth refers was McGowan's, which, we learn from the reports of General Rodes and Colonel D. H. Hamilton, had been halted to guard one of the roads leading from the plank road to the position held by Pleasonton and Sickles.
As soon as Heth's and Pender's brigades came into position, Lane withdrew his two regiments, which had been on the left of the road, and with them extended his right flank. Even then he was not able to occupy the whole of the line from which Doles' brigade had been withdrawn. General Lane says:--
General A. P. Hill being wounded, the night attack was not made, as at first contemplated. I withdrew the left wing of the 33d, which formed on the right of the 7th, and extended our line still further to the right with the 18th and 28th regiments, the right of the 28th resting on a road running obliquely to the plank road, with two of its companies broken back to guard against a flank movement. Between twelve and one o'clock that night the enemy could be heard marshalling their troops along our whole front, while their artillery was rumbling up the road on our right. Soon after, their artillery opened right and left, and Sickles' command rushed upon us with loud and prolonged cheering. They were driven back on our left by our skirmishers, but the fight was more stubborn on the right, which was their main point of attack. The 18th, 28th, and left wing of the 33d engaged them there and gallantly drove them back, although they had outflanked us, and encountered the two right companies of the 28th, which had been deflected in anticipation of such a movement. A subsequent attack made about half an hour later was similarly repulsed. The 28th captured a staff officer. The colors of the 3d Maine volunteers were taken by Captain Niven Clark's company, of the same regiment. The 18th also captured an aid to General Williams. A number of field and company officers and a large number of men were captured along our whole line. After the enemy were repulsed, General McGowan was ordered forward with his brigade and took position on our right.
General Sickles claims as the result of this night attack that "all of our guns and caissons and a portion of Whipple's mule train were recovered, besides two pieces of the enemy's artillery and three caissons captured." General Sickles also claims to have reached the plank road with a portion of his command. In the last statement General Sickles is certainly in error; for the plank road was closely occupied with troops as far back as Melzi Chancellor's, and none of them were aware of his presence. But there can be no doubt that he made the recoveries, and perhaps even the captures he claims; and this circumstance reveals to us in the strongest light the extremely hazardous position of Jackson's corps so long as Hazel Grove was in the possession of the enemy. Had Sickles actually thrown a heavy force as far forward as the plank road, he would have divided Jackson's corps. But this much praised night attack seems to have been of short duration and feeble character. On his right, General Sickles' troops made no impression on the firm lines of Lane's brigade; on his left, they were content to regain the lines which had been carried in the evening by Doles' brigade, and abandoned soon after dark. The heavy artillery fire which accompanied the night attack penetrated to the plank road and caused many casualties; but Lane's brigade was the only body of Confederate troops which was assailed. The reports from Colquitt's brigade, which relieved McGowan's, concur in stating that the brigade was moved forward to support a battery, and was subjected for a short time to a severe artillery fire, and even to musketry fire; but that no engagement ensued.
Stuart's report seems to be at fault as to the hour when he took command of Jackson's corps. He states that he reached the front at ten o'clock P.M., but his subsequent description of the positions in which he found the troops shows that he was not on the field until after the attack made by Sickles, which a majority of the reports locate at midnight. General Rodes' report agrees with this. He says:--
Soon after this occurrence I was informed that Lieutenant-General Jackson was wounded, and also received a message from Major-General Hill that he likewise was disabled, and that the command of the corps devolved on me. Without loss of time I communicated with Brigadier-Generals Heth and Colston, commanding respectively the divisions of A. P. Hill and Trimble, and made the necessary arrangements for a renewal of the attack in the morning, it being agreed that the troops were not in condition to resume operations that night. Just at this time (about twelve o'clock) the enemy made an attack on our right, but, being feeble in its character and promptly met, it lasted but a short time. Very soon after, Major-General J. E. B. Stuart, who had been sent for by Major A. S. Pendleton, assistant adjutant-general of Lieutenant-General Jackson, arrived on the ground and assumed command.
The report of General A. P. Hill confirms General Rodes' statements, and both of these reports show that before Stuart's arrival the judgment of the ranking officers of Jackson's corps was opposed to any further advance on that night.
Such was the situation when Stuart reached the field. The details have been thus minutely described in order that an intelligent opinion may be formed as to whether his action was all that the occasion demanded.
Soon after Stuart assumed command he directed Colonel (afterwards Brigadier-General) E. P. Alexander, upon whom the command of Jackson's artillery had devolved when Colonel Crutchfield was wounded, to make reconnoissance of the field of battle, and post artillery in readiness for an attack early in the morning. General Alexander's report contains the following accurate description of the ground on which the fighting occurred on the 3d of May:--
A careful examination showed that our attack must be made entirely through the dense wood in front of us, the enemy holding his edge of it with infantry protected by abatis and breastworks, supported by a numerous and powerful artillery in the fields behind, within canister range of the woods. There were but two outlets through which our artillery could be moved--one on the plank road, debouching within four hundred yards of twenty-seven of the enemy's guns protected by breastworks and enfiladed for a long distance by a part of them, as well as by two guns behind a breastwork thrown up across the road abreast of their line of abatis and infantry cover; the second outlet was a cleared vista or lane through the pines (a half mile south of the plank road) some two hundred yards long by twenty-five wide. This opened on a cleared ridge, held by the enemy's artillery, about four hundred yards distant. This vista was reached from the plank road by two small roads: No. 1 leaving the plank road near our infantry lines and running parallel with and close behind them to the head of the vista, where it crossed them and went perpendicularly down the vista to the enemy's position; thence it bore to the left and north, and, crossing a ravine, came upon the plateau in front of Chancellorsville at the south end of the enemy's line of artillery breastworks. Road No. 2 left the plank road a half mile behind our lines and ran into Road No. 1 at the head of the vista.
It is hardly necessary to say that the "cleared ridge" of which General Alexander speaks was Hazel Grove, the position held by Pleasonton and Sickles on the evening of the 2d, and that Road No. 1 was the outlet by which the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry gained the plank road and charged upon Iverson's brigade. Colonel Alexander's reconnoissance convinced Stuart that Hazel Grove was the key to the Federal line; and to this part of the field Stuart directed a large share of his personal attention on the morning of the 3d.
Jackson's men had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours except such provisions as they had obtained from the haversacks of the 11th corps. Rations were on hand for a part of the command, and some of the general officers were urgent that the men be allowed time to eat. But Stuart had received orders just before day, from General Robert E. Lee, to begin the attack as soon as possible. Before sunrise the right flank, which had been thrown back during the night, was advanced to bring it parallel with the rest of the line, and the battle opened at once with great fury. It is unnecessary to describe with minuteness the movements of this morning. Immediately on the plank road the battle assumed the phase of an infantry duel, and the opposing lines stood for hours delivering steady volleys into each other's faces. On the Confederate left there was greater activity. Charges were made, and ground was gained, lost, and retaken. The deciding contest was all this time raging on the Confederate right, where Pender's and McGowan's brigades, of A. P. Hill's division (Heth's command), parts of Rodes' and Iverson's brigades, of D. H. Hill's division (Rodes' command), and Colston's, Jones', and Paxton's brigades, of Trimble's division (Colston's command), united in the attack upon Hazel Grove, where the Federal artillery and infantry were posted in force. The contest here was of the most desperate nature, but the ridge was at last carried, and its great importance was apparent at a glance. Nearly the whole of the Federal line about Chancellorsville was enfiladed from this ridge, and a position was gained which commanded the Federal artillery about the Chancellorsville House. Stuart immediately ordered thirty pieces of artillery to occupy the ridge, and, aided by their fire, his whole line was advanced. A desperate struggle now ensued for the possession of the Chancellorsville clearing. Two unsuccessful charges were made upon the Federal entrenchments. They were carried by the third charge; connection was made with Anderson on the right, and the whole Federal force was swept back into the woods north of Chancellorsville.
The personal bearing of Stuart created great enthusiasm among the troops. General Lane says in his report that Stuart led two charges which were made by the 28th North Carolina regiment, and in the letter from which an extract has already been made he says:--
That afternoon, when the 28th rejoined me on the left, where I had been ordered to support Colquitt, its colonel, Thomas L. Lowe, was perfectly carried away with Stuart. He not only spoke of his dash, but he told me he heard him singing, "Old Joe Hooker, won't you get out of the wilderness!" and he wound up by saying," Who would have thought it? Jeb Stuart in command of the 2d army corps!"
The imagination of the people of the South has drawn a picture of the annihilation of Hooker's army on this field, as a catastrophe which was averted only by the fall of Jackson. The real foundation of this opinion is perhaps to be found in that valuable work, "The Life of Lieutenant-General Jackson," by the Rev. R. L. Dabney, D. D., whose distinguished abilities, as well as the confidential relations he held with General Jackson as major and assistant adjutant-general on his staff, entitle his statements to the fullest credence. On page 699 Dr. Dabney says:--
But we are not left in doubt concerning General Jackson's own designs. Speaking afterwards to his friends, he said that if he had had an hour more of daylight, or had not been wounded, he should have occupied the outlets toward Ely's and United States fords, as well as those on the west. (It has already been explained that of the four roads diverging from Chancellorsville, the one which leads north, after proceeding for a mile and a half in that direction, turns northwestward, and divides into two, the left-hand leading to Ely's and the right-hand to United States Ford. And the point of their junction, afterwards so carefully fortified by Hooker, was on Saturday night entirely open.) General Jackson proposed, therefore, to move still further to his left during the night, and occupy that point. He declared that if he had been able to do so the dispersion or capture of Hooker's army would have been certain. "For," said he, "my men sometimes fail to drive the enemy from their position, but the enemy are never able to drive my men from theirs." . . . General Stuart now departed from the plans of General Jackson by extending his right rather than his left, so as to approximate the Confederate troops on the southeast of Chancellorsville, under the immediate command of General Lee. Thus the weight of his attack was thrown against the southwest side of Hooker's position. General Jackson would rather have thrown it against the northwest. But the true design of the latter was to assume the defensive for a few hours on Sabbath morning, after occupying both the Orange turnpike and the road to Ely's Ford. He purposed to stand at bay there, and receive amidst the dense thickets the attack which he knew this occupation of his line of retreat would force upon Hooker, while General Lee thundered upon his other side. Then after permitting him to break his strength in these vain assaults he would have advanced upon his disheartened masses, over ground defended by no works, and Hooker would have been crushed between the upper and the nether millstones. To comprehend the plausibility of this design, it must be remembered that Chancellorsville, with its few adjoining farms, was an island, completely environed by a sea of forests, through whose tangled depths infantry could scarcely march in line, and the passage of carriages was impossible. Of the four roads which centred at the Villa General Lee held two,--the old turnpike and the plank road leading toward Fredericksburg. General Jackson proposed to occupy the other two. Had this been done, the strong defence of the surrounding woods, in which Hooker trusted, would have been his ruin, for he would have found his imaginary castle his prison. The necessity which compelled him again to take the aggressive in the leafy woods would have thrown the advantage vastly to General Jackson, by rendering the powerful Federal artillery, in which they so much trusted, a cipher, and by requiring the Federals to come to close quarters with the terrible Confederate infantry. And this was work always more dreaded by them than the meeting of a "bear bereaved of her whelps." But on the southwest side of his position, within the open farm of Chancellor, Hooker had constructed a second and interior line of works, upon the brow of a long declivity, consisting of a row of lu-nettes, pierced for artillery, and of rifle-pits. General Stuart's line of battle, after winning the barricade, once before won by General Jackson, and emerging from the belt of woods which enveloped it, found themselves confronted by these works, manned by numerous batteries, and hence the cruel loss at which the splendid victory of Sunday was won.
However presumptuous it may appear to say that anything was impossible to Jackson, the assertion is ventured that the successful execution of such a plan as that indicated by Dr. Dabney was not possible, and that had Jackson remained in command of his corps he must have adopted the plan which Stuart so successfully carried out.
To have gained the junction of the roads to Ely's and United States fords on the night of the 2d of May it would have been necessary for Jackson either to proceed along the plank road to Chancellorsville, turning thence northward, or to march his men through the dense and pathless forest for the distance of a mile, leaving Chancellorsville on his right hand, and still in the possession of Hooker. In the former case it would have been necessary for him to drive before him the entire Federal force then concentrated at Chancellors-ville, still leaving open to it the line of retreat to the United States Ford. In the latter case, even if it had been possible for the infantry to have overcome the difficulties of such a march, Jackson, deprived of his artillery, would have found himself enclosed between Hooker, at Chancellorsville, and the 1st army corps, under Reynolds, which, fresh except from marching, reached the United States Ford at sunset, and, hurrying on toward the battle-field, took position before daylight on the very ground which Jackson would have covered. General Doubleday states that Hooker had 37,000 men who "were kept out of the fight, most of whom had not fired a shot, and all of whom were eager to go in. The whole of the 1st corps and three fourths of the 5th corps had not been engaged." Had Jackson been assailed by these troops, in front and rear, at the junction of the roads to the fords, the result must have been disastrous.
I am informed by Dr. Dabney that the statements which I have quoted from his "Life of Jackson" were made on the authority of the gentlemen of Jackson's staff who attended him during his last days. There can, therefore, be no doubt of their accuracy, and no doubt of the fact that Jackson's original intention was to fight by his left rather than by his right. But Jackson was too great a soldier to hold to a preconceived plan when the developments of the battle-field pointed in another direction. Darkness had overtaken his incomplete victory. He was ignorant of the topography of the battle-field, and really lost his life in the attempt to acquaint himself with it. He was ignorant of the position held by Pleasonton and Sickles, so close to his right flank and on ground which commanded the whole field. He was probably ignorant of the existence of a line of battle in his front, for General Rodes says that he satisfied himself that there was none, and so informed Colonel Crutchfield. Perhaps he gave the same information to Jackson. The events of the next few minutes must have disclosed the true state of affairs. Had Lane pushed "right ahead" he would have encountered two divisions of Federal infantry. Had he been able to put these to flight, he would have been at once exposed to attack by Sickles' two divisions on his right and rear, as well as to the fire of Captain Best's thirty-four guns in his front. This would have revealed the necessity of dislodging Sickles; and when the battle was once joined on the right, it could not have been relaxed until a junction was effected with Anderson.
Almost immediately after the cessation of the battle at Chancellorsville, McLaws' division was sent towards Fredericksburg, to aid Early against Sedgwick. On the following day Anderson's division was sent in the same direction, leaving Stuart with Jackson's corps to watch Hooker at Chancellorsville. When the whole of the Federal army had retired across the Rappahannock, A. P. Hill resumed the command of Jackson's corps, and Stuart returned to his own division.
I am permitted to make the following extract from a letter written to me on the 16th of May, 1885, by General E. P. Alexander, whose distinguished abilities and eminent services give great weight to his utterances.
Stuart rode with the first battery we brought out of the woods, and I well remember his enthusiasm and delight in recognizing the Chancellorsville House from the plank road where it debouches on the edge of the woods.
Altogether, I do not think there was a more brilliant thing done in the war than Stuart's extricating that command from the extremely critical position in which he found it as promptly and as boldly as he did. We knew that Hooker had at least 80,000 infantry at hand, and that his axemen were entrenching his position all night; and in that thick undergrowth very little cutting gave an abatis or entanglement that a rabbit could hardly get through. The hard marching and the night fighting and manoeuvring had thinned our ranks to less than 20,000; and we had little chance in the night even to hunt for the best place to make our attack. But Stuart never seemed to hesitate or to doubt for one moment that he could just crash his way wherever he chose to strike. He decided to attack at daybreak; and, unlike many planned attacks that I have seen, this one came off promptly on time, and it never stopped to draw its breath until it had crashed through everything and our forces stood united around Chancellor's burning house.
I always thought it an injustice to Stuart and a loss to the army that he was not from that moment continued in command of Jackson's corps. He had won the right to it. I believe he had all of Jackson's genius and dash and originality, without that eccentricity of character which sometimes led to disappointment. For instance: Jackson went into camp near Shady Grove Church before sunset on the 26th of June, 1862, when he might have participated in the battle of Mechanicsville. This, and his feeble action at White Oak Swamp, on the 30th of June, 1862, show that Jackson's spirit and inspiration were uneven. Stuart, however, possessed the rare quality of being always equal to himself at his very best.
That Sunday morning's action ought to rank with whatever else of special brilliancy can be found in the annals of the Army of Northern Virginia; and as a test of the mettle of a commander it would be hard to conceive severer demands or more satisfactory results.
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