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#15170083
May 1863

On two of the three major fronts, Northern armies move in new offensives. The vast Army of the Potomac under mercurial Joseph Hooker is positioned at Chancellorsville in the Wilderness of Virginia, ready to move swiftly between Lee and Richmond. At Fredericksburg a portion of Hooker’s army under Sedgwick threatens the Confederates from that direction.

On the Mississippi Union attempts to capture or lay siege to the fortress of Vicksburg has long been frustrated. Now Grant is below the city and on Mississippi soil. To Confederates the threat is real, desperately crucial. It takes no genius to see the tragedy that will result if Vicksburg and the Mississippi Valley falls. Pemberton keeps a vigilant eye on Sherman’s demonstration north of Vicksburg. Johnston gathers strength, hoping to relieve Pemberton in an attempt to save both the city and the Confederate army. Only in east-central Tennessee, where Rosecrans and Bragg are largely inactive, is there no sense of immediate crisis. Smaller operations, such as Grierson’s in Mississippi and Streight’s in Georgia, also sting the South.

May 1, Friday

South of Vicksburg at 6 am, as McClernand’s Federal corps pushes forward from the vicinity of the Shaifer house, they divide forces; three divisions head southeast on the Plantation Road, while the fourth division, under Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus, marches due east on the Bruinsburg Road. Because of the thick woods that lies between them, neither force can go to the aid of the other. Grant’s numerical advantage is not helping him much. It is the kind of country, Grant will say, that makes it “easy for an inferior force to delay, if not defeat, a far superior one.” And sure enough, Bowen’s four Confederate brigades, though greatly outnumbered, manage to keep both roads blocked. The Federals counter by bringing up their artillery and pounding the Confederate lines. The 1st Indiana battery alone fires 1,050 rounds. Under the bombardment, the Confederate forces are almost helpless. Bowen now seeks to meet the threat, stepping to the front of two regiments from Mississippi and Alabama and leading them in a charge on the Federal artillery battery. Amid heavy fire, the Confederate soldiers go crashing through the brush behind their general, straight at the Union cannon. They drive the cannoneers out and take the guns, but now find themselves in an exposed position and are forced to abandon the guns and fall back. It has been a costly attack.

Around 11 am on the Federal right, Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey leads two regiments from Indiana and Ohio in a charge on a battery of Virginia artillery 150 yards to his front. The Federals give a cheer and start forward with fixed bayonets, but they don’t get far. Raked by canister and musket fire, many of Hovey’s men halt and begin to take cover. Seeing them waver, Hovey rides up and rallies his troops. Ahead, two Indiana companies flank the Confederate battery and begin shooting down the gunners and their horses. The blueclad ranks sweep over the battery, capturing two guns, the flag of the 15th Arkansas, and 220 prisoners.

The Federal breakthrough spurs General Bowen into desperate action. The Confederate commander leads two Missouri regiments in a counterattack that plugs the hole in his line, and even threatens for a moment to turn the Federal right. But fresh Federal troops then enter the battle. Confederate ammunition is running low, and as the afternoon wears on Bowen realizes his position is hopeless. Three miles to the north, the standoff on the Bruinsburg Road has finally been broken by Grant, who has sent part of McPherson’s XVII Corps to bolster Osterhaus’s division. McPherson’s troops, charging through brush and canebrake, manage to flank the smaller Confederate force. By late in the day the Confederates are retreating along both roads, although still in good order. When night falls, the Union force holds the field; Grant’s advance elements are within two miles of Port Gibson. Come the morning Bowen will be gone. He has fought magnificently against enormous odds, delaying the Union advance and inflicting 875 casualties. With substantial reinforcements he might have turned the battle around. But his small force has paid a stiff price, losing 832 men killed, wounded, or captured. As the Federals mop up during the next few days, another 1,000 Confederate soldiers will be captured. Bowen has lost more than a third of his command.

In Louisiana, so far Colonel Grierson has managed to avoid any direct confrontation with Confederate forces. But today, only a day’s ride from Baton Rouge, he finally runs headlong into a fight. At a bridge over the Tickfaw River an advance party of Grierson’s troopers ride straight into three mounted companies of Confederates under Major James De Baun. Almost immediately, five Federals are wounded and five captured. Moments later Grierson’s main force thunders down the road, unlimbers an artillery piece, and drives De Baun’s heavily outnumbered force back from the bridge. Grierson moves his wounded into a nearby plantation house so that they will be sheltered from the elements until the Confederates find them. Then the cavalrymen mount their horses and cross the bridge, riding fast.

At Chancellorsville, when General Jackson reaches his objective at 8 am, he finds Anderson’s men busily digging in. With an army of superior numbers advancing toward them, it is just the thing to do. But it is not Jackson’s way, under any circumstances, to wait for the enemy. He orders Anderson’s men to pack their tools and prepare to attack.

This same morning, Hooker slowly advances eastward out of Chancellorsville. Slocum’s XII Corps and Howard’s XI Corps move out on the right, along the Plank Road, while just to the north Generals George Sykes and Winfield Scott Hancock march their divisions along the Turnpike. Meade’s V Corps advances on the Federal left down the River Road, a rough trail between the Turnpike and the Rappahannock. Everything seems to be in Hooker’s favor. He has 70,000 troops moving out smartly against 40,000 Confederates. Hooker has said that God Almighty couldn’t stop him from destroying the Rebel army, and while the remark offended some of the more devout members of his command, it appears to be based on sound military judgment. As Syke’s division reaches the far edge of the Wilderness, the vanguard begins to exchange fire with skirmishers from McLaws’ division. Instead of recoiling before the Federal advance, Jackson orders Anderson’s men forward, and they begin to assail the Federal division on both flanks. Sykes reports his situation, and Hooker orders up Hancock’s division. Hancock moves forward and occupies a ridge in open country. Slocum is also holding a strong position, off to the right, and Meade is advancing unmolested along the River Road.

Thus far the Federals have suffered little damage; they have responded quickly and gained strong positions on high ground, and are ready to move forward again. Yet suddenly, Hooker orders his astonished corps commanders to break off the advance, abandon the ridges they hold, and return to the positions they occupied last night around Chancellorsville. Hooker’s subordinates cannot believe their ears. Couch sends an aide to Hooker’s headquarters to protest the order, but Hooker is adamant. On their return to Chancellorsville, the troops are ordered to dig in. Couch, fuming, goes to the army commander’s headquarters, where Hooker tries to reassure him that he has Lee right where he wants him. In the midst of a major offensive, at the first sting of enemy opposition, “Fighting Joe” Hooker has abandoned the attack and gone over to the defensive. The debate over what has triggered Hooker’s stunning loss of nerve will begin at once. A few will blame it on alcohol, but most who are around Hooker at this time will disagree. Several of his generals will subsequently testify before the Committee on the Conduct of the War that Hooker is not drunk. Indeed, Couch and others will suspect that a drink or two might have improved Hooker’s performance.

Come evening, Generals Lee and Jackson meet in the forest off Plank Road south of Chancellorsville, near an ironworks called Catherine Furnace. There they review the events of the day and make plans. Jackson is struck by Hooker’s timidity and thinks that the entire Federal army might withdraw across the river during the night. Lee doubts it will be that easy. He believes Hooker wants the Confederates to attack him where he is, and Lee is inclined to oblige. He rules out an attack on the Federals’ left flank, between the Rappahannock and the Turnpike, because of the dense trees and underbrush there. The generals send two engineers out to reconnoiter the enemy center, around Chancellorsville. Then Jeb Stuart rides up to Lee and Jackson with the news that Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry has scouted the Federal right. It is located about two miles to the northwest, along the road leading west from Chancellorsville, and is “in the air,” meaning that it isn’t anchored on any natural terrain feature and is vulnerable. Soon the engineers return to say that the combination of dense growth and abatis along the Federal center makes the line there invulnerable. The Federal right must be turned, Lee says, and leaves Jackson to figure out a way to do it.

Streight’s Federal raiders fight skirmishes throughout the day at Blountsville and on the east branch of the Big Warrior River, Alabama. Other fighting breaks out near Washington, Louisiana; South Quay Bridge near Suffolk, Virginia; La Grange, Arkansas; and between Murfreesboro and Lizzard, Tennessee. In Arkansas Marmaduke’s Confederate raid into Missouri ends with skirmishes today and tomorrow at Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis River.

Before adjourning, the third session of the First Confederate Congress creates a Provisional Navy in addition to the Regular Navy; authorizes the President to contract for construction of vessels in Europe; provides for election of delegates to Congress from some Amerind nations; creates the office of Commissioner of Taxes; tightens some of the exemptions in the draft law; and adopts a new national flag known as the Stainless Banner. A resolution states that captured White officers of Northern Black troops should be put to death or otherwise punished at the discretion of a court-martial for inciting insurrection.
#15170265
May 2, Saturday

In Virginia before dawn, General Jackson dispatches his topographical engineer, Major Jedediah Hotchkiss, to gather information about roads from the owner of Catherine Furnace, Colonel Charles Wellford. Before long, Hotchkiss returns with a detailed map he has sketched with Wellford’s help. Hotchkiss has learned of a concealed route of march to the Federal right flank. From Catherine Furnace a road runs southwest to the Brock Road. On the Brock Road the troops can move northwest, eventually gaining the Orange Plank Road, which will lead them back east toward Chancellorsville and the Federal lines. Generals Jackson and Lee listen intently, then engage in a typically laconic exchange of enormous portent. Jackson proposes one of the most daring gambles of the War. With the Army of Northern Virginia outnumbered by more than two to one overall, and already divided between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, he suggests a further division of forces in the face of the enemy. Leaving only 14,000 men with Lee to face Hooker’s 75,000 head-on, Jackson would take 26,000 men through the woods to Hooker’s right flank. His troops will have to march twelve miles; it would take all day, during which time they would be strung out along the roads and out of touch with Lee. Despite the danger, Lee’s response is unhesitating. “Well, go on.”

The weather is warm this spring morning as the ten-mile-long column of infantrymen snakes through the woods. The men are in high spirits and move along at a good pace, marching for fifty minutes and then resting for ten. Yet it is nothing like the clip that Jackson’s so-called “foot cavalry” maintained during the Valley Campaign last year. The long hard winter has taken its toll, and soldiers who have been forced to subsist on little more than wild onions, sassafrass buds, and poke sprouts have lost some of the snap from their stride. Jackson rides in the vanguard, an oilcloth cap pulled down over his eyes. Leaning forward on his horse as if to speed the march, he continually urges the troops on.

General Hooker’s Federal line forms an arc that runs southwestward from the Rappahannock, curves around Chancellorsville, and then juts northwestward to its terminus along the Turnpike beyond the Wilderness Chapel. Brigadier General David Birney, a division commander in Sickles’ corps in the immediate area of the Chancellorsville crossroads, spots Jackson’s movement from his vantage point on a ridge known as Hazel Grove, roughly a mile southwest of Chancellorsville. As early as 8 am, Birney begins dispatching couriers to tell Hooker that a large Confederate force is moving from left to right across his front. For a time Hooker can see the column for himself as it comes into view while crossing a hill. Hooker immediately realizes what is going on—Lee is flanking him. He dashes off a message to General Howard, whose troops are deployed to defend against an attack from the south; Hooker warns the XI Corps commander to be prepared for a flank attack from the west. Howard is ordered to push his pickets well out to keep track of the enemy’s movements. Howard reports at 11 am: “I am taking measures to resist an attack from the west.” Because he doesn’t check, Hooker doesn’t know that all Howard has done is to face two regiments and his reserve artillery to the west and send just one Signal Corps captain out on picket duty.

In the meantime, General Sickles has requested permission to attack the Confederate column moving across his front with his entire corps. Hooker temporizes, finally sending word that Sickles is to “advance cautiously toward the road followed by the enemy and harass the movement as much as possible.” But the combative Sickles does far more than that: He assaults the rear of the Confederate column with two divisions. The attackers drive in the Confederate pickets and overwhelms a Georgia regiment, inflicting 300 casualties. But regiments from Anderson’s and A.P. Hill’s divisions move in and hold the Federals off. The rest of Jackson’s men march resolutely on.

At this point, Hooker changes his mind again. From the results of the skirmish, and the numbers of ambulances and wagons observed in the enemy column, he jumps to the conclusion that the entire Confederate army is on the move, in which case Lee can only be retreating. The assumption takes hold among Hooker’s officers on the right flank, and from this time on they blithely ignore the continuing reports of Jackson’s approach. And the alarms come thick and fast. At 1 pm, and again an hour later, Colonel John C. Lee of an Ohio regiment reports to his division commander, Brigadier General Charles Devens, that enemy infantry and artillery are approaching the division’s flank on the extreme right of Howard’s line. Devens replies that the reports must be false because he has received no information to that effect from corps headquarters. A short time later, Lieutenant Colonel C.W.F. Friend, another of Devens’ officers, comes from the division’s picket line and reports the Confederate movement to Devens, who again flatly refuses to believe it. Friend then goes to corps headquarters, where he is upbraided for risking panic with such irresponsible reports. At about 3 pm, Colonel Leopold von Gilsa, who commands Devens’ 1st Brigade, receives a message from Major Owen Rice of a Pennsylvania regiment—one of the regiments facing west: “A large body of the enemy is massing on my front. For God’s sake make disposition to receive him!” Von Gilsa takes the report to General Howard, who responds angrily that the woods are too thick in Devens’ area for an attacker to penetrate. Captain Hubert Dilger, who commands an XI Corps battery, runs into Jackson’s column while making a reconnaissance. He is chased by Confederate cavalry and almost captured. Dilger reports his experience at Hooker’s headquarters and is told to go peddle his imaginings at XI Corps headquarters. There he is informed that General Lee is in full retreat.

Earlier this afternoon, around 2 pm, Jackson has ridden to a hill off the Brock Road, at the place where his men are to turn right onto the Orange Plank Road to make their assault. From his vantage point, Jackson can see that the Union right extends farther west than he thought, and he finds himself facing a solid line of entrenchments. Federals are relaxing in the sun, laughing, talking, and smoking, some of them lying on their knapsacks. Others are slaughtering beef cattle. Their arms are stacked; all are oblivious to their peril. Jackson realizes at once that in order to turn the Federal flank he first will have to march farther north, to the Turnpike, and on a piece of paper held against the pommel of his saddle scrawls out a message to Lee of his intention to attack as soon as practicable. But it takes another two hours for the Confederate columns to reach the Turnpike, close up, and form for the assault. The troops deploy in three lines perpendicular to the road and extending a mile on either side of it. Jackson’s first objective is the high ground at Taylor’s Farm, a thousand yards down the Turnpike. Just beyond the farm, the Turnpike runs into the Plank Road, which continues east to Chancellorsville. Jackson intends to push down that road and link his right with Lee’s divisions around Catherine Furnace; he will also detach a force from his left to take the high ground on Chandler’s Farm, north of the Plank Road. From that promontory his artillery would command Chancellorsville and his infantry could block the roads north to Ely’s and United States Fords, trapping Hooker’s army. The attackers form ranks quietly, with orders given in undertones. Shortly after 5 pm, Jackson turns to General Rodes and asks, “Are you ready?” Rodes calmly answers yes, and the line surges forward.

Seconds after the Confederate attackers step off, they are spotted and fired on by startled Federal pickets. The moment the stillness is broken, Confederate bugles blare and the bloodcurdling Rebel yell reverberates through the forest, raising a wave of frightened rabbits, deer, and foxes. The attackers dash forward, ignoring the dense undergrowth that rips their clothes and flesh, and overrunning the Federal pickets. Then they descend on the astonished men of the Pennsylvania and New York regiments on Howard’s flank that are facing to the west. Remarkably, the Federals are able to leap to their arms, form ranks, and fire three volleys, momentarily checking the Confederate advance before giving ground. The two other westernmost regiments—both from New York—are taken in the flank by a murderous fire. They break for the rear without firing a shot. One of the few units in the XI Corps not taken by surprise is the 75th Ohio, in reserve behind the front line. At about 4:30 in the afternoon, the regiment’s commanding officer, Colonel Robert Reiley, had come to his own conclusion about the reports of the Confederate movement. Highly agitated, he made an impassioned speech to his troops, warning them that a great battle was imminent. Then, telling his men to lie down and rest by their guns, he rode to the front of their line and waited for the onslaught. Now that it has arrived a half hour later, the regiment springs to arms and deploys into line, even as the two stampeded regiments in their front are rushing through their ranks. The 75th Ohio opens fire when the oncoming Confederates are only thirty paces away, and keeps at it until both flanks are overlapped by the enemy. In the space of ten minutes Colonel Reiley is killed, his adjutant and 149 other officers and men are killed or wounded, and the rest of the regiment is swept away.

In less than an hour, Jackson’s men have taken possession of their first objective, Taylor’s Farm. Gaining momentum, they roll inexorably eastward, driving before them brigade after brigade of the hapless XI Corps. General Howard is at his headquarters at Dowdall’s Tavern on the Plank Road as Jackson approaches. Hearing firing off to the west, he rides to a ridge to see what is happening. At first he only sees the rabbits and deer tearing through the woods toward him. But then comes the panic-stricken men of his entire 1st Division. An aide suggests that Howard fire into the mob to try to stop the terrified soldiers. But Howard refuses to fire on his own men. Instead, he grabs a United States flag and clutches it under the stump of the right arm he lost at the Battle of Fair Oaks during last year’s Peninsula Campaign. Then, waving a revolver in his good hand, he shouted over and over for his men to halt, that he was ruined. Just before the rout of XI Corps became complete, one unit managed to make a stand. Colonel Adolphus Buschbeck’s brigade had been deployed in reserve in a line of rifle pits at right angles to the Plank Road near Dowdall’s Tavern. There, in the corps’s last line of defense, Buschbeck’s men manage to delay the Confederate onslaught for half an hour. Volleys delivered by the Federal infantry, along with canister fired by the artillery, mow a road clear through their attackers again and again, but the Confederates just close up with a yell and come on again. Finally the blue line gives way.

As the Confederate tide sweeps past Dowall’s Tavern, Sickles’ Federals off to the south of Chancellorsville are still unaware of the disaster to the right. Distracted by a demonstration mounted by Lee at Catherine Furnace, Sickles refuses to believe an aide to General Howard who brings him the news of the attack to the west. But when it is confirmed, Sickles orders a Pennsylvania cavalry regiment under Major Pennock Huey to ride to Howard’s assistance. Huey’s troopers ride down a country lane—straight into Rodes’s Confederates. Although his troopers are surrounded and vastly outnumbered, Huey orders a charge. At first they cut their way through, trampling down all that can’t get out of the way, but then a murderous Confederate volley halts the cavalry in its tracks. Major Peter Keenan, commander of Huey’s 1st Battalion, goes down in a hail of enemy fire, along with the regimental adjutant, thirty men, and eighty horses. Thirteen bullets will later be counted in Keenan’s dead body and nine in the adjutant’s lifeless form. Some of the regiment’s survivors manage to dash away through the woods to Plank Road, and join a new Federal defensive line closer to Chancellorsville. The Pennsylvania cavalry’s ill-fated charge has given Union gunners time to form another line along the Plank Road. Artillery at Hazel Grove joins in the firing, and the barrage begins to slow Jackson’s advance.

General Hooker, meanwhile, has been sitting on the porch of the Chancellor House with his aides, Captains William Candler and Harry Russell, enjoying the balmy evening. Because of a freakish atmospheric effect, the uproar of Jackson’s attack cannot be heard at the Chancellor House. Suddenly hearing something, Captain Russel leaps to his feet, trains his field glasses up the road, and shouts, “My God! Hear they come!” Panic-stricken soldiers along with ambulances and wagons burst into view along the Plank Road. Hooker and his aides run for their horses and gallop up the road directly into the mob, trying in vain to stop the fleeing soldiers. Hooker remembers that his old III Corps division, now under the command of his good friend, Major General Hiram Berry, is in reserve and close at hand. Extricating himself from the swirling mob, he rides over the Berry and shouts, “General, throw your men into the breach—receive the enemy on your bayonets.” Berry’s men form a line running south from the Plank Road just west of Chancellorsville, and around them Hooker builds a new line of defense. More artillery pieces are hurriedly massed at Hazel Grove, and guns are positioned on Fairview Heights, a ridge just south of Chancellor House, A division from XII Corps covers Berry’s left flank; stragglers from Howard’s corps are sent to form on Berry’s right. Along the road running north from Chancellorsville, a brigade of Couch’s II Corps is posted and ordered to halt any XI Corps fugitives who get that far. A division of Meade’s V Corps shifts to cover the northern end of the line, to Couch’s right. Meanwhile, troops of General John Reynold’s I Corps, ordered this morning to move toward Chancellorsville, push across the river at United States Ford.

As darkness closes in, Jackson’s attack begins to lose its momentum. In the tangled thickets, officers lose contact with their men, units become scrambled and confused, and the Confederates have no choice but to halt and regroup. For the past two hours, Stonewall Jackson has been riding forward to urge his men on. Each time wild cries of victory resound through the forest, he lifts his head and gives thanks to the Lord. Now, as the attack sputters and a lull descends over the battlefield, Jackson grows impatient. He sends orders to A.P. Hill to move forward, relieve Rodes’s weary troops, and prepare for a night attack. Then, a little before 9 pm, Jackson rides ahead with several of his staff officers to scout the enemy lines near the Plank Road. Moving slowly over the unfamiliar ground in the moonlight, Jackson and his party work their way close enough to the Federal positions to hear trees being felled and orders being given, then the horsemen turn and start back. As they approach their own lines, pickets of a North Carolina regiment take them for Federal cavalry and open fire, shooting several members of the party from their horses. Ignoring shouts from Jackson’s aide and brother-in-law, Lieutenant Joseph Morrison, another volley rakes the mounted officers. This time Jackson is hit, taking a bullet in the right hand and two more in his left arm. One ball severs an artery just below the shoulder. Jackson’s terrified horse wheels and bolts into the woods toward the Federal lines; Jackson is struck on the head by branches and almost knocked to the ground, but he manages to rein in the horse with his wounded hand and turns the animal onto the Plank Road. Bleeding profusely and in great pain, Jackson is helped off his horse and carried to the side of the road. As an aide is ripping the sleeve of Jackson’s wounded arm, A.P. Hill rides up and learns of Jackson’s wounding and that he is now in charge.

A surgeon comes up, inspects Jackson’s wounds, and sees that the bleeding has slowed. Moving him could start the flow of blood again, but he has to be taken away because a Federal counterattack seems imminent. Jackson tries to walk but is quickly exhausted. A litter is brought from the nearby lines and he is persuaded to lie down on it just as Federal artillery opens up. Shrapnel sweeps the road along which they are moving. One of the litter-bearers falls, wounded in both arms; as the litter is lowered, another panics and runs for safety in the woods. When the firing veers away, Captain James Power Smith, of Jackson’s staff, gets Jackson to his feet and they stagger into the protection of the woods. The litter is brought up, and Smith and three others raise it to their shoulders and start again for the rear. They have not gone far when one of them catches a foot in the undergrowth and falls headlong. Jackson is thrown to the ground and lands on his shattered arm. For the first time a groan escapes his lips. At length the men carrying Jackson find an ambulance, and he is taken to a field hospital at Wilderness Tavern. There Jackson is placed in the care of his friend and corps medical director, Dr. Hunter McGuire, chloroform is administered, and his left arm is amputated just below the shoulder. About an hour after the operation, while Jackson is still befuddled, Major Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton arrives on an urgent mission. A.P. Hill has also been wounded. Jeb Stuart, now in command, wants to know what he should do. Jackson struggles to come up with an answer. Finally, he says in a sad, feeble voice, “I don’t know; I can’t tell. Say to General Stuart he must do what he thinks best.”

Despite the spectacular success of Jackson’s flanking attack, the Confederates are still far from victory when the battlefield at last falls silent in the night. Jackson’s corps has, in fact, failed to reach two crucial objectives; his right has not been able to link up with Lee’s forces north of Catherine Furnace, and his left has been stopped far short of the high ground at Chandler’s Farm. The Federals, hard hit and off balance, spend the night frantically reorganizing to stave off another Confederate attack. The new Federal lines form a loop around Chancellorsville, with Couch’s II Corps manning the area north of the Plank Road and Slocum’s XII Corps deployed to the south. From Slocum’s lines, a long, narrow salient manned by Sickles’ III Corps juts southwestward to the high ground at Hazel Grove, about a mile from the Chancellor House. The Federals facing Jackson’s forces—the westernmost lines of Couch’s and Slocum’s corps—work feverishly through the night to construct three lines of defense. They clear a field of fire about 100 yards wide and use the felled trees and underbrush to erect an abatis behind it. Roughly 100 yards east of the abatis they put together a solid breastwork of logs. Finally, on the swampy ground at the foot of Fairview Heights, close by Chancellorsville, another wide belt of felled trees and underbrush is laid down. The remaining Federal forces are deployed in the outline of a crude V, with its point resting on the top of the Chancellorsville defensive loop and its two branches stretching north all the way to the Rappahannock. Meade’s and Reynolds’ corps hold the northwestern line; Howard’s battered corps mans the northeastern wing. Protected within these lines are the roads leading to United States Ford, the Federals’ logical route to retreat across the river.

The arrival of Reynolds’ corps during the night brings the Federal strength at Chancellorsville to 76,000 men. They face 43,000 attackers, who are divided into two wings separated by almost a day’s march. The situation demands a vigorous Federal counterattack, and Hooker has been elevated to the army command because of his reputation as an aggressive combat commander. But ever since the first contact with the enemy in this campaign, Hooker has been thinking only of defense and the safety of his army, and he shows no inclination to change his posture now. The most he does this night is to send word to General Sedgwick, who is still in his bridgehead below Fredericksburg, to march immediately to Chancellorsville and attack Lee’s forces there from the rear. With his 76,000 men, Hooker intends to wait for Sedgwick’s force of 23,000 to fight its way to his rescue. Having thus handed Sedgwick the responsibility and Lee the initiative, Hooker goes to bed.

During the day, on the fringes of the major battle, fighting also breaks out at Ely’s Ford and near Louisa Court House. Lee’s other brilliant corps leader, Longstreet, at Suffolk, skirmishes for two days near Hill’s Point and Reed’s Ferry on the Nansemond River and at Chuckatuck, Virginia.

In Louisiana, Colonel Grierson dared not stop last night, for Confederate forces are now swarming about them. The troopers are so tired that they nod off as they ride; some have their legs tied together under their horses’ bellies to keep from falling off. Captain Forbes and Company B are detailed to bring up the rear and collect stragglers, of which there are many. Forbes finds sleeping soldiers riding as much as a mile behind their units. It often takes a shaking of shoulders or a whack on the back to wake them. At last, when the raiders are only six miles from Baton Rouge and Grierson concludes that they are safely inside Federal lines, he stops at a plantation house and allows the men to fall out and rest. Grierson himself feels that he has to stay awake; the plantation house has a piano, and he sits down and plays it. Suddenly one of his men rushes in and reports that Confederate troops are approaching. Grierson knows better. He rides out alone to meet the troops, without waking his command. Cautiously riding up the road are two companies of Union cavalry. As it happened, one of Grierson’s sleeping riders had been carried by his horse into a Union encampment outside Baton Rouge; the troopers have been dispatched to check this man’s incredible story that he is part of a Federal force that has just ridden through enemy territory all the way from Tennessee. Grierson’s arrival causes a sensation. Major General Christopher Augur, Federal commander in Baton Rouge, is awestruck by Grierson’s achievement and insists that his troopers must parade through the city. Grierson demurs, but Augur will not be refused. So the raiders are awakened and—ragged, caked with dust, and still half asleep—they stage a two-hour parade this afternoon through the streets of Baton Rouge, some of them dozing on their horses.

It has been an amazing exploit. During the expedition, Grierson will write in his report to General Grant, they killed and wounded about one hundred of the enemy, captured and paroled over 500 prisoners, many of them officers, destroyed between fifty and sixty miles of railroad and telegraph, captured and destroyed over 3,000 stand of arms, and an immense amount of other army stores and government property; they also captured 1,000 horses and mules. Union losses, he says, total 26 men killed, wounded, captured, or missing. His troopers have come 600 miles in sixteen days, and in the last day and a half covered an astonishing 76 miles without stopping to eat or sleep. Aside from the statistical results, the venture has magnificently served its principal purpose, capturing the almost total attention of General John Pemberton at a time when much more important events were occurring right on his doorstep.

Grant’s force near Vicksburg moves speedily inland from Bruinsburg and Port Gibson, fanning out into Mississippi with a skirmish on the south fork of Bayou Pierre.

Meanwhile, Streight’s Federal cavalry raid has run into trouble, with fighting at Black Creek near Gadsden, Blount’s Plantation, and near Center, Alabama.

Forgotten on this day of headline events is a skirmish near Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, and another near Lewisburg, West Virginia.

For a week Union gunboats fight Confederates in and around Greenville, Mississippi.
#15170422
May 3, Sunday

During the night at Chancellorsville, General Sickles sends an aide to ask General Hooker to reinforce the Federals holding Hazel Grove. This rise juts between the two wings of Lee’s army; Sickles’ guns massed there prevent the two Confederate forces from linking and impede communications between them. Moreover, the hill is an ideal place from which to launch an attack against either enemy wing. But Sickles’ position on Hazel Grove is precarious. The Confederates are pressing him from both sides, and he is in danger of being overrun when the fighting resumes. Earlier in the evening, in fact, he was cut off for a time by a Confederate probe. The development caused Hooker “great alarm, and preparations were at once made to withdraw the whole front, leaving General Sickles to his fate; but that officer showed himself able to take care of his rear, and communication was restored at the point of the bayonet.” Hooker is asleep when Sickles’ aide arrives to request reinforcements, and no one is willing to rouse the slumbering general until daybreak. Then, instead of granting the request, the fearful Hooker orders Sickles to abandon Hazel Grove without delay, to pull his infantry back to new entrenchments nearer the Plank Road and to redeploy his artillery to Fairview Heights. As Sickles grudgingly complies around 6 am, Jeb Stuart launches his attack.

A rapid succession of events has thrust Jeb Stuart into command of Stonewall Jackson’s corps. When Jackson was wounded, leadership passed to General A.P. Hill. But within minutes of taking over, Hill himself was knocked down and so badly bruised by a spent shell fragment that his legs are temporarily paralyzed. He handed over command to the next-senior division officer, General Rodes. But Hill then had second thoughts and, possibly on Jackson’s advice, sent for Jeb Stuart to replace Rodes. This is a highly unusual move; Stuart is a cavalry commander, not an infantry officer. But Hill was more concerned that the venerated Jackson be replaced by a man the troops know and trust. Rodes is little known outside his own division, while Stuart is widely admired. Rodes has gracefully acquiesced to his instant demotion. All through the night, Stuart has reorganized the Confederate lines to prepare for a renewed attack west of Chancellorsville this morning. Most of Rodes’s battered division has fallen back to Dowall’s Tavern to regroup, and A.P. Hill’s division, now commanded by Brigadier General Henry Heth, moved into the front line with General Raleigh Colston’s division forming the second line. Messengers sent by Stuart made the long ride around Sickles’ position on Hazel Grove to inform General Lee of the latest developments. The commanding general has been shaken by the news of Jackson’s wounds. He approves of Stuart’s moves, but has thought it necessary to stress one point. “It is all-important,” he writes to Stuart at 3:30 am, “that you continue pressing to the right (toward me), turning, if possible, all the fortified points, in order that we can unite both wings of the army.” The key fortified point between the two wings is, of course, Hazel Grove.

Heth’s skirmishers move out early this morning. While most of them are feeling their way toward the Federal positions through the dewy underbrush, Brigadier General James Archer’s brigade on the right, encountering no opposition, advances up the slopes of Hazel Grove. Archer’s men arrive on the crest as the last of Sickles’ units are departing. The grayclads rush forward, capture 100 men and three guns, and give chase to the retreating Federals. The Confederates are quick to capitalize on their surprisingly easy conquest. During the night, Colonel E. Porter Alexander hid thirty guns in the woods near Hazel Grove. The moment the position is overrun he rushes the batteries onto the heights; soon his guns are pouring a devastating fire on the Federal artillery on Fairview Heights and into Slocum’s lines to the east. Heth’s division now descends on the first Federal line of defense across the Plank Road west of Chancellorsville. The attack is preceded by a hellish rain of shot and shell. Units on either side of a New York regiment disintegrate, but the New Yorkers hold on. At one point the regiment’s colonel, Augustus Van Horne Ellis, rides to the front and leads his men into the smoke. They stop the attackers and fight until their ammunition is exhausted and they are in danger of being flanked on both sides. Only then do the New Yorkers fall back, having lost 24 of their 550 men.

But the Confederate attack is sputtering in places. The order to advance was given before all of Heth’s brigades had completed their alignment; as they move forward through the difficult terrain, gaps develop and widen, and the flanks of brigades become dangerously exposed. Driving the Federals back south of the Plank Road, Brigadier General Samuel McGowan’s South Carolina brigade loses contact with Archer’s brigade on Hazel Grove to its right. Brought to a halt before the third Federal line in front of Fairview Heights, McGowan’s men are decimated by musket fire and then driven back by Brigadier General Thomas Ruger’s brigade—an avalanche of bluecoats that crash into McGowan’s exposed right flank. As his men retreat, McGowan falls, severely wounded. The woods themselves pose a terrible threat to the combatants. Exploding artillery shells splinter the trees and send huge limbs hurtling to the ground to crush or maim unwary soldiers. In several places, the trees and underbrush catch fire and the spreading flames trap many of the wounded men.

Shortly before the retreat of McGowan’s Confederates, two brigades of South Carolinians under Generals James Lane and William Dorsey Pender strike the Federal center on either side of the Plank Road. Lane’s men, just south of the road, quickly brush aside a Maryland regiment of green Federals and overrun the log breastwork that constitutes the Union’s second line. But then Lane’s men are checked by two New Jersey regiments, and come under heavy fire from Fairview Heights. At this moment, as McGowan’s brigade gives way on the right, the Federals opposite Lane counterattack and threaten both of his flanks. Lane’s command breaks apart and is driven back in great confusion. While the survivors are trying to reassemble on the far side of the breastwork, General Ruger’s pursuing Federals catch them milling around and mow them down at point-blank range.

In the meantime, most of Pender’s brigade, deployed just north of the Plank Road, is making no headway against the first Federal line. But one North Carolina regiment on Pender’s left manages to link up with Brigadier General Edward L. Thomas’ brigade, farther to the north. Together they overrun the first two defensive positions and advance toward Fairview Heights. On the way, the North Carolinians capture a Federal General, William Hays, along with all but one of his staff officers. The advancing Confederates are on the verge of flanking the Federal guns on Fairview Heights when they run into stiff resistance from Colonel Emlen Franklin’s brigade in their center, combined with a sudden Federal countercharge on their left. This counterthrust is the result of one of General Hooker’s only aggressive moves of the day. A short time earlier, around 7:30, he came upon General William French forming a line of battle just off the Plank Road and ordered French to drive the enemy back. French’s men eagerly comply, pushing Thomas’s men and the North Carolinians back to the log breastwork and taking several hundred prisoners.

General Hooker’s old division, commanded by his friend, General Hiram Berry, has borne the brunt of Pender’s and Thomas’ advance. Before French’s counterattack relieved the pressure, Berry walked across the Plank Road to confer with one of his brigade commanders. He is halfway back when there’s a crack of a sharpshooter’s musket and a wreath of smoke in the foliage of a distant tree, and Berry falls to the road, mortally wounded. In a matter of moments one of Hooker’s most trusted officers is dead. Berry’s command falls to Brigadier General Joseph B. Carr. However, Brigadier General Joseph Revere, out of touch with Carr, mistakenly considers himself to be the senior officer in the division. Each man assumes command of a segment of the division. Carr orders his men to stand their ground. But at the height of the battle, over the protests of his men, Revere suddenly marches his units—the better part of nine regiments in all—off the field of battle. Revere will maintain afterward that the troops needed to be reorganized and resupplied, but his excuse will not be accepted. He will be tried by a court-martial and sentenced to dismissal from the service—a disgrace President Lincoln later mitigates by permitting him to resign. Revere isn’t the only one who fails to meet the test of fortitude and character posed by the terrible arena of the Wilderness. Hooker deploys two regiments of cavalry behind the lines to stop deserters, and they have a busy day returning to duty fleeing officers and men. Two entire batteries of the demoralized XI Corps gallop for United States Ford on hearing the first sounds of the attack. On the III Corps line, Colonel Louis Francine of the 7th New Jersey becomes so hoarse from shouting orders that he loses his voice and is advised by a surgeon to go to the rear. He does so—taking the 400 survivors of his battered regiment with him.

In little more than an hour of fighting, Heth’s attacking troops have penetrated two of the three Federal defensive positions, but his brigades have been shattered, separated, and driven back. While General Colston’s division grimly holds on in support of Heth’s line, trying to forestall a general retreat, Stuart orders Rodes’s division to attack. As Rodes’s troops advance, some Confederate units are retreating, others are moving laterally to plug gaps in the line, and still others are clinging tightly to their hard-won ground. In the smoke and dense brush, Stuart’s three lines become hopelessly jumbled and confused—occasionally with tragic results. On the right, between the Plank Road and Hazel Grove, some of Colston’s troops move up to support McGowan’s exhausted brigade. but instead of pushing forward, the men fling themselves to the ground and start firing over the heads of McGowan’s troops. Some of the South Carolinians are wounded, and a young lieutenant is killed, by the fire of the men coming to their relief. Now McGowan’s men and those behind them freeze in place, and nothing that their officers can say or do will make any of them move forward. The Stonewall Brigade is ordered down from the left flank to get the advance moving again, and find “a large number of men of whom fear had taken the most absolute possession.” Federal troops in the area begin massing for a counterattack, and Colston orders the Stonewall Brigade to attack before the Confederates are overrun. As the veterans of Jackson’s illustrious Shenandoah Valley Campaign move up, they disdainfully tell McGowan’s men, “We will show you the way to clear a Yankee line.” Then, supported by Colonel Thomas S. Garnett’s brigade of Virginians, they pour a withering fire into the Federal line and hurtle it back. But quickly the tide turns again. Both Garnett and the Stonewall Brigade’s commander, Brigadier General Elisha Paxton, are mortally wounded, and before the two brigades have pushed very far they come under a hurricane of fire and are forced to retire.

To the north, the brigade commanded by the fiery young North Carolinian, Brigadier General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, comes up behind some of Colston’s men who are cowering on the ground. Ramseur orders the soldiers to advance, but not a man moves. Ramseur pleads and cajoles to no avail. Then he angrily gives his own brigade the order, “Forward, march!” and they clamber over the prostrate soldiers and rush forward. Colonel Bryan Grimes of the 4th North Carolina furiously steps on an officer’s head and grinds the man’s face in the dirt. Ramseur boldly pushes his brigade far out in front, but a gap of nearly 600 yards opens on his right, perilously exposing his flank. He goes back twice through the musket and artillery fire, trying in vain to persuade the soldiers of Paxton’s, Garnett’s, and McGowan’s brigades to move forward on his right. He sends word to General Rodes that he will have to withdraw unless something is done to protect the exposed flank. Rodes goes up the line and tries his powers of persuasion on the shaken soldiers, but without success. When Jeb Stuart is informed of the crisis, he gallops up to the Stonewall Brigade, which is lying exhausted on the ground after its earlier attack. The jaunty Stuart, in plumed hat and red-lined cape, rides up and down happily exhorting the men to make yet another effort—singing a parody of a popular song, “Old Joe Hooker, Won’t You Come Out of the Wilderness?” Stuart’s theatrics and his confident manner turn the trick. The weary men of the Stonewall Brigade, led now by Colonel Funk, press forward and close the gap on Ramseur’s right. By this time, however, the exhausted North Carolinians are almost out of ammunition and most of them have to fall back to the log works. Yet the Stonewall Brigade drives forward, reaches the foot of Fairview Heights, and launches an assault against the Federal artillery positioned on the crest. When the attackers get within 100 yards of the batteries, the Federal gunners open up with canister and cut the Stonewall Brigade to ribbons. One third of the attackers go down. And since no support is forthcoming, the survivors slowly and reluctantly fall back.

General Stuart’s attack has as yet achieved no breakthrough, but the assaults have succeeded in wearing the Federals down. The Confederate batteries at Hazel Grove have kept up a relentless fire on the Federal infantry and on the opposing artillery on Fairview Heights. At about 9 am, French’s troops on the Federal right are attacked by two of Rodes’s brigades. Soon, the Federal line is being driven back on both sides of the Plank Road. The Federal gunners on Fairview Heights, running low on ammunition and threatened with encirclement, abandon their position, pulling back to a new line close to Chancellorsville. As the pressure mounts, General Sickles sends his aide, Major Henry E. Tremain, to ask Hooker for reinforcements. Hooker is standing with his staff on the porch of the Chancellor House when Tremain rides up, and he leans down over the railing to talk with the young officer. Just then a shell from one of the Confederate batteries at Hazel Grove hits a pillar next to Hooker and splits it from end to end. Part of the pillar strikes Hooker violently on the head. The commander is knocked senseless, and some of the officers around him think he is dead. General Couch, who is next in seniority to Hooker, reaches the Chancellor House shortly after the mishap. He finds Hooker mounted, with his staff also in their saddles. Couch briefly congratulates Hooker on his escape and leaves for the front. Hooker, in great pain and with his right side partially paralyzed, rides off for the rear without notifying Couch or giving him any orders whatsoever. As Hooker rides, his pain becomes more intense. Growing faint, he is helped to the ground, laid on a blanket, and given some medicine. After a time he gets up again and is starting to remount his horse when a shell from Hazel Grove strikes the blanket on which he had been lying. Shaken, he continues on his way. Still he has not relinquished command.

Couch works feverishly to steady the lines of his II Corps. The Confederates are now within about 500 yards of the Chancellor House. To the north, they threaten to turn the Federal right flank. A portion of the line there is being held by troops under the command of the youthful Colonel Nelson Miles, who has barely recovered from the terrible throat wound he received at Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg five months ago. Although he has only a handful of understrength regiments at his disposal, Miles has succeeded in holding off several full-scale Confederate assaults, and his division commander, General Hancock, considers him worth his weight in gold. But Miles’s luck turns sour. A round fired by a Confederate sharpshooter strikes his belt buckle, pierces his stomach, fractures his pelvis, and lodges in his thigh. Once again presumed to be dying, he is carried from the field, and his thin line falls back. (The indomitable Miles will recover in time to see action again.) Couch has a Maine Battery brought up to a position just north of Chancellorsville to aid in stemming the Confederate tide. Instead, it is caught in a murderous crossfire. The Confederates now have thirty guns in action on the Federal right, and even more firing from Fairview Heights and Hazel Grove. Soon all of the Maine battery’s officers have been wounded and all but two of the guns have been put out of commission.

Couch believes that the Federals can still save the day if he finds a way to counterattack. But it is not to be. Around 9:30 am, he receives a summons from Hooker. Couch finds the commanding general lying in a tent near the Chandler House, half a mile north of Chancellorsville. Hooker turns command of the army over to Couch, but only to command a retreat, for Hooker produces a map and orders the army withdrawn to the north, closer to the Rappahannock. Hooker will still make the big decisions for his army. When Couch emerges from the tent, General Meade and others who are waiting expect that the army will go over to the attack at last. They are bitterly disappointed to learn differently. As the first Federal units head for the rear, the Maine battery is still firing, although by now it only has one gun. Lieutenant Edmund Kirby, who has taken charge of what is left, is hit by a shell that almost severs his leg. The two remaining gunners fire canister at the approaching Confederates until a shell strikes their weapon in the muzzle, disabling it. The wounded lieutenant is asked for permission to carry him from the field, but refuses. Only after all the guns have been dragged away by infantrymen—the battery’s horses have all been killed—does Kirby consent to be carried off. Before he dies a month later, Kirby will be promoted to brigadier general by President Lincoln.

With General Hancock’s division as a rear guard, the Federals withdraw to a new perimeter north of Chancellorsville. The line—an arc with both ends anchored on the river—is completed by noon. At about this time, General Lee, whose divisions have at last linked up with Stuart’s forces, rides into the clearing at the Chancellorsville crossroads, where the Chancellor House is burning furiously. The Confederate soldiers, faces blackened by the smoke of battle, some wounded and crawling away from the devouring flames, all break out in a cheer at Lee’s arrival. As Lee watches the flames devour the Chancellor House, taking a moment to savor his triumph, a message arrives from Stonewall Jackson. Jackson simply confirms that he has been wounded and congratulates Lee on the victory. Lee’s voice trembles as he dictates a reply: “Could I have directed events, I should have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead. I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy.” Lee is about to press the attack northward when he is distracted by a messenger bringing news from Fredericksburg: General Sedgwick is on the move.

Hooker’s orders to Sedgwick—to cross the Rappahannock in the night and march at once to Chancellorsville—reflected a complete misunderstanding of Sedgwick’s situation. Hooker seemed not to know that Sedgwick had long since crossed the river below Fredericksburg, and the Federal commander was under the erroneous impression that there are virtually no Confederate troops left in Fredericksburg. Not surprisingly, therefore, Sedgwick was dumbfounded when he received the orders at about 11 pm last night. To follow the orders would be absurd. Sedgwick would have to recross the river below Fredericksburg in the night, move north, throw bridges across the town under fire, smash through Jubal Early’s defenses, and only then take up the march for Chancellorsville. And Hooker expects him to attack the rear of Lee’s army at dawn. Sedgwick decides to follow the spirit, not the letter, of his orders. He will take the most direct route toward Chancellorsville—the Old Richmond Road north from his bridgehead into Fredericksburg, then the Plank Road west toward Lee. This movement has nothing to recommend it; to gain the Plank Road, Sedgwick will be forced to advance up Marye’s Heights, attacking the very stone wall on which the Army of the Potomac had been smashed last December. But it seems the only way that Sedgwick can obey his commanding general.

General John Gibbon, still at Falmouth, is ordered to lay a bridge across the river at Fredericksburg and join Sedgwick there before dawn. Now history begins to repeat itself with terrible exactitude. The Confederate riflemen in Fredericksburg—the same Mississippi units that so effectively delayed Burnside’s crossing there in December—have enough moonlight to shoot by, and they stop Gibbon’s first attempt cold. Gibbon decides to wait until dawn. At 2:35 am, Sedgwick receives a message from General Daniel Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff: “Everything in the world depends upon the rapidity and promptness of your movement. Push everything.” Around 4 am, a follow-up message from Hooker grandly informs Sedgwick that the forces facing him are negligible and must not be allowed to slow his advance. In fact, Early has 9,000 men at his disposal. They are spread thin but backed by 56 guns, and the works on Marye’s Heights are more formidable than ever. A week earlier Major Sandier Pendleton of Jackson’s staff wrote in awe of the “long lines of trenches and the redoubts which crown every hillside from ten miles above Fredericksburg to twenty miles below. The world has never seen such a fortified position.”

Despite continual harassment by Confederate skirmishers, Sedgwick’s corps reaches Fredericksburg by about 5 am, and in the first light of dawn he directs General John Newton, whose division has led the march, to make a reconnaissance toward the stone wall at the foot of Marye’s Heights. Newton’s troops are hurled back by a storm of shot and shell as Sedgwick watches glumly from horseback. By now Gibbon’s division is crossing the river, and Sedgwick orders him to assault the Confederate line to the right of the stone wall while the division under General Albion Howe attacks to the left. Meanwhile, Newton, commanding his own and Colonel Hiram Burnham’s divisions, will demonstrate against the center. Under constant artillery fire from Marye’s Heights, the troops take up their positions and begin the advance around 10 am. The movement immediately founders. The Federals have neglected to consider a couple of key terrain features in the path of their attack. Gibbon’s entire division slows to a crawl at the canal that crosses the plain just outside town, and quickly comes under withering artillery fire. Howe’s division, meanwhile, becomes ensnarled on the left in the deep gully formed by Hazel Run. The only option seems to be a frontal assault on the stone wall by Newton’s divisions. At least the Federal commanders now remember the bitter lessons learned during Sumner’s ill-fated attacks over the ground. Instead of forming in lines of battle—the tactic that proved so costly before—ten of Newton’s regiments are deployed in two columns for the attack. There are 4,700 men in all. And they are told not to stop and fire but to advance at the double-quick with unloaded muskets and rely on the bayonet to clear the Sunken Road.

When the Federals trot to within 300 yards of the stone wall, a pair of Confederate howitzers firing canister obliterate the leading ranks of the right column. The left column presses forward to within fifty yards of the wall, and then all at once a sheet of flame and hail of lead leaps out from the defenders’ muskets. The column staggers and reels back, then surges forward again before wavering in the face of the devastating fire. The men fall back and take cover. A Massachusetts regiment takes refuge behind a high board fence around a house. Peering at the Confederate position through the fence, the men think they can see a section near the end of the wall that is lightly held. A party of stretcher-bearers is sent out under a flag of truce and confirms that the wall is indeed vulnerable on the right. Impulsively, with a shout of “Massachusetts colors to the front!” the men swarm out from behind the fence and toward the wall. On their left a Wisconsin regiment joins the charge, and together they clear the stone wall in fierce hand-to-hand fighting and rush up the hill. All of Newton’s regiments now join in the attack, sweeping up Marye’s Heights and capturing six guns from the Washington Artillery. Gaining the crest, they see Early’s soldiers, wagons, horses, and artillery pieces dashing off along the Telegraph Road to the south. Sedgwick doesn’t bother to pursue them, but concentrates on starting his column toward Chancellorsville as ordered, leaving some of Gibbon’s troops to hold the heights. The Federals have won 2nd Fredericksburg, but it is 11 am and Sedgwick is six hours behind schedule.

At Chancellorsville, General Lee dispatches McLaws’ division eastward to intercept Sedgwick. McLaws’ four brigades march to the Salem Church, about four miles west of Fredericksburg, and there form a line on the edge of a wood. They are joined by five regiments of Alabama infantry under Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox, who has sent some of his men ahead to skirmish with Sedgwick’s lead elements. The Confederates in the vicinity number 10,000. Sedgwick, a brave but methodical general, is so slow in getting his divisions moving toward Chancellorsville from Marye’s Heights that General Butterfield talks of relieving him three different times. But nothing is done, and Sedgwick is still in command when his vanguard approaches Salem Church at about 3:30 pm.

The Confederate regiments are deployed on both sides of the Plank Road; just south of the road one company of the 9th Alabama occupies a schoolhouse and another holds the church. After driving back Wilcox’s skirmishers, Sedgwick’s men charge the Confederate position and come under heavy fire. Their lines waver, but the men keep moving. Soldiers from two regiments from New Jersey and New York surround the schoolhouse and capture the defenders there. the Confederate line is broken, and a Federal victory seems imminent. But then Wilcox hurls the eight remaining companies of the 9th Alabama into battle. The Alabamians drive back the Federal line and recapture the school, freeing the prisoners. When three more Alabama regiments sweep forward, the Federals break for the rear. Sedwick had launched his attack aggressively, but he had used only one division—4,000 men of the 19,000 in his command. Two fresh divisions arrive in time to stabilize his shattered lines, but it is too late in the day to organize a new attack.

Lee is so confident that Hooker isn’t going to attack that he orders Anderson’s division to leave Chancellorsville and reinforce McLaws at Salem Church. Early’s division, which had withdrawn to a position four miles southwest of Fredericksburg, is ordered to reoccupy the town. This leaves only 25,000 men—the three divisions of Jackson’s old corps—to keep watch on Hooker’s 75,000. But Lee has taken Hooker’s measure by now and thinks the risk small.

Then Confederates evacuate Grand Gulf on the Mississippi. Though it has staunch batteries, Grant’s inland movement makes it a useless position. Skirmishing occurs along the edges of Grant’s advance on the north fork of Bayou Pierre, at Willow Springs, Ingraham’s Heights, Jones’ Cross Roads, Forty Hills, and Hankinson’s Ferry on the Big Black River. Grant marches steadily toward Jackson, Mississippi.

At Cedar Bluff, Alabama, a tired, discouraged band under Colonel A.D. Streight surrenders to Nathan Bedford Forrest after a skirmish. Forrest thereby partly avenges Grierson’s success and thwarts Streight’s main purpose, which is to destroy Southern railroads.

Longstreet abandons his siege of Suffolk, Virginia, on being recalled to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. There is skirmishing at Warrenton Junction, Virginia; a Federal scout in Cass and Bates counties, and a Union expedition on the Sante Fe Road, Missouri. A Yankee scout moves from Triune to Eagleville, Tennessee.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Iowa warns Church members that they have two weeks to leave the pro-Southern Knights of the Golden Circle or face excommunication.
#15170533
May 4, Monday

In the morning at Fredericksburg, Early drives Gibbon’s pickets from the high ground behind Fredericksburg. He leaves General William Barksdale’s brigade there to watch the Federals in town, and sets out for Salem Church with the rest of his division. By the middle of the morning, General Lee has arrived at Salem Church to take command of the three Confederate divisions—21,000 men—that are converging there. Sedgwick, meanwhile, has shifted his 19,000 Federal troops northward toward the Rappahannock, forming them in the shape of a horseshoe to cover his line of retreat over Scott’s Mill Ford. There General Hooker’s chief engineer, Brigadier General Henry Benham, has supervised the construction of two pontoon bridges in case the Federals have to withdraw. Lee intends to destroy Sedgwick’s force. Early is to attack from the east and push the defenders before him into the path of Anderson, who is to advance from the south, and McLaws, who is to press along the river to Early’s right.

It is 5:30 pm before everyone gets into position for the attack. Two brigades of Early’s division push westward as planned, throwing a New York regiment and an artillery brigade back in confusion. But instead of marching north as intended, Anderson moves to the right, toward the sounds of battle, to join in Early’s attack. Some of the Confederate units become entangled in the thick underbrush and start firing at each other, even as the Federal resistance stiffens; the attackers have to pull back and regroup. Gordon does manage to drive back the Federal skirmishers on his front, but is halted when he reaches the main enemy line. McLaws’ troops advance on the left through dense woods, but unaccountably fail to make contact with the enemy.

Though the Confederates haven’t broken through his perimeter, Sedgwick decides around 6:45 pm to pull his lines in closer to the river. All the while, the Confederate gunners keep up their barrage. The pontoon bridges at Scott’s Mill Ford remain intact, but Sedgwick is worried. Shortly before midnight he sends a message to Hooker: “If I had only this army to care for, I would withdraw tonight. Do your operations require that I should jeopardize it by retaining it here? An immediate reply is indispensable, or I may feel obliged to withdraw.” Sedgwick is obviously in trouble. But Hooker, snug in his entrenchments, hasn’t even probed the weak enemy line in front of him and feels no obligation to assist the outnumbered and beleaguered force he has ordered to come to his relief. Throughout the evening he has listened to the guns pounding Sedgwick and done nothing, even though some of his subordinates have begged to be allowed to attack. At midnight, Hooker summons his corps commanders to a council of war. Meade, Howard, Reynolds, Couch, and Sickles are present; Slocum, whose corps is farthest from Hooker’s headquarters, doesn’t arrive until the meeting is over. Hooker poses the question: Should they withdraw across the river, or fight it out on the south side of the Rappahannock? After much discussion, Meade, Reynolds, and Howard vote to attack. Sickles favors withdrawal, and Couch—who actually wants to attack, but has no confidence in Hooker—reluctantly sides with Sickles. Once the vote is taken, Hooker blithely ignores it and gives orders for the entire army, Sedgwick included, to withdraw across the river. Hooker is among the first over the Rappahannock, leaving the details of the complicated and dangerous retreat to his corps commanders. An angry Reynolds exclaims to his fellow officers, “What was the use of calling us together at this time of night when he intended to retreat anyhow?”

From Richmond President Davis wires Lee his thanks in the name of the people “reverently united with you in giving praise to God for the success with which He has crowned your arms.” He adds his regrets for “the good and brave who are numbered among the killed and wounded.” President Lincoln, in suspense in Washington, asks Hooker if it is true that the enemy has reoccupied the heights above Fredericksburg.

Meanwhile, Grant’s army, some of it still crossing the Mississippi, spreads out south of Vicksburg, with another skirmish at Hankinson’s Ferry on the Big Black River. Further south three gunboats attack Fort De Russy on the Red River in Louisiana, but after severe damage to Albatross, the Federals are forced to retire.

Stoneman’s Federal cavalry initiates skirmishes at Flemmings’ or Shannon’s Crossroads, Tunstall’s Station, and Ashland Church, Virginia. A brief skirmish flares at Leesville, Virginia, as the Suffolk campaign concludes. Other action includes fighting at Hungary Station, Hanovertown Ferry, Ayletts, Virginia; a six-day Union scout from Winchester, Virginia, into Hampshire County, West Virginia; an affair at Murray’s Inlet, South Carolina; another affair near Nashville, Tennessee; and operations about Lexington, Missouri. Also an expedition begins against Amerinds to the Snake Indian Country of Idaho Territory, that will last until October 26.
#15170535
Though the Confederates haven’t broken through his perimeter, Sedgwick decides around 6:45 pm to pull his lines in closer to the river. All the while, the Confederate gunners keep up their barrage. The pontoon bridges at Scott’s Mill Ford remain intact, but Sedgwick is worried. Shortly before midnight he sends a message to Hooker: “If I had only this army to care for, I would withdraw tonight. Do your operations require that I should jeopardize it by retaining it here? An immediate reply is indispensable, or I may feel obliged to withdraw.” Sedgwick is obviously in trouble. But Hooker, snug in his entrenchments, hasn’t even probed the weak enemy line in front of him and feels no obligation to assist the outnumbered and beleaguered force he has ordered to come to his relief. Throughout the evening he has listened to the guns pounding Sedgwick and done nothing, even though some of his subordinates have begged to be allowed to attack. At midnight, Hooker summons his corps commanders to a council of war. Meade, Howard, Reynolds, Couch, and Sickles are present; Slocum, whose corps is farthest from Hooker’s headquarters, doesn’t arrive until the meeting is over. Hooker poses the question: Should they withdraw across the river, or fight it out on the south side of the Rappahannock? After much discussion, Meade, Reynolds, and Howard vote to attack. Sickles favors withdrawal, and Couch—who actually wants to attack, but has no confidence in Hooker—reluctantly sides with Sickles. Once the vote is taken, Hooker blithely ignores it and gives orders for the entire army, Sedgwick included, to withdraw across the river. Hooker is among the first over the Rappahannock, leaving the details of the complicated and dangerous retreat to his corps commanders. An angry Reynolds exclaims to his fellow officers, “What was the use of calling us together at this time of night when he intended to retreat anyhow?”

Once again, an astounding failure of command on the part of the Union army. I suspect that Hooker may have suffered a severe concussion as a result of the pillar striking him at Chancellor House. Several days later, one of Hooker’s aide-de-camps, Captain Candler, wrote: “The blow which the General received seems to have knocked all the sense out of him. For the remainder of the day he was wandering, and was unable to get any ideas into his head… In fact, at no time of trip after Sunday did he seem to be compos mentis." He seemed unable to take even the simplest decisions, and seemed unable to recognise even that he should relinquish command to someone else. Even when he finally did so, to Couch, he told Couch what to do with the army - to retreat. He relinquished command without relinquishing command. Lol.
#15170539
@Potemkin, that all makes sense, but it doesn't take into account Hooker's behavior before the battle even began, pulling his army--almost twice the size of Lee's army--away from good ground in open country back into the tangled mess around Chancellor House. Any result of his physical injuries simply reinforced his predilections. He might have been physically courageous and (mostly) fine as a subordinate commander, but he failed the test of ultimate responsibility.
#15170541
Doug64 wrote:@Potemkin, that all makes sense, but it doesn't take into account Hooker's behavior before the battle even began, pulling his army--almost twice the size of Lee's army--away from good ground in open country back into the tangled mess around Chancellor House. Any result of his physical injuries simply reinforced his predilections. He might have been physically courageous and (mostly) fine as a subordinate commander, but he failed the test of ultimate responsibility.

Granted. But it then devolves responsibility for the debacle onto the person who put Hooker in that position of command in the first place.
#15170542
@Potemkin, yes and no. Lincoln had to pick somebody to replace Burnside, and like Pope before him, Hooker looked good. When it comes to top-level military leadership, you can't really tell if someone is up to the job until you give them the job.
#15170543
Doug64 wrote:@Potemkin, yes and no. Lincoln had to pick somebody to replace Burnside, and like Pope before him, Hooker looked good. When it comes to top-level military leadership, you can't really tell if someone is up to the job until you give them the job.

That's a rather precarious way to fight a war. But then, war is always a precarious business, and is best avoided in the first place. Lol.
#15170545
@Potemkin, it’s no different than how we choose our presidents. :hmm:
#15170546
Doug64 wrote:@Potemkin, it’s no different than how we choose our presidents. :hmm:

Now there's a depressing thought. :)
#15170685
May 5, Tuesday

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia spends the day preparing to attack Hooker’s failing forces near Chancellorsville. But once again the Army of the Potomac shows more skill in retreat than it has in battle. By 5 am, Sedgwick reports that his troops are across the river and that the bridges at Scott’s Mill Ford have been dismantled. It takes the main body of the army to the west much longer. New roads have to be cut through the Wilderness to the crossing point at United States Ford. It rains hard during the day and come night the river rises, submerging the ends of the three pontoon bridges at the ford. One bridge has to be dismantled to extend the other two, and the crossing will be completed by tomorrow morning. In Washington the Administration begins to realize it faces another failure. In the days that follow, Hooker will do his best to shift responsibility to others and to present the debacle in the best possible light. A message from Butterfield informing Lincoln of the withdrawal reflects Hooker’s interpretation of events: “The Cavalry have failed in executing their orders. General Sedgwick failed in the execution of his orders.” The President is horrified to learn that the Army of the Potomac has been defeated yet again. “My God! My God!” he exclaims. “What will the country say?” Stoneman’s cavalry skirmishes at Thompson’s Crossroads, Virginia.

“At Chancellorsville we gained another victory,” Lee will later say. “Our people were wild with delight. I, on the contrary, was more depressed than after Fredericksburg; our losses were severe, and again we had gained not an inch of ground, and the enemy could not be pursued.” The Battle of Chancellorsville will come to be known as Lee’s masterpiece, an almost perfect example of the military arts. Of the at least 133,868 Federals at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, 1,606 have been killed, 9,762 wounded, and 5,919 are missing for a total of 17,287 casualties between April 27 and May 11. But of the Confederate effectives estimated at 60,000, 1,665 have been killed, 9,081 wounded, and 2,018 missing for a total of 12,764 casualties—a higher casualty percentage by far than the Federal have suffered. And the resources of the South are strained to the point where losses of this magnitude can no longer be sustained. What is more, the Army of Northern Virginia has suffered a disproportionate number of casualties among its high command—division commanders A.P. Hill and Henry Heth, eleven brigade commanders, including Dorsey Pender, and forty regimental commanders. Overshadowing all of these, of course, is the loss of corps commander Stonewall Jackson. This morning, Jackson is taken to a field hospital at Guinea Station, about ten miles south of Fredericksburg, and seems to be recovering from the amputation of his arm.

Other action includes skirmishing at Big Sandy Creek and action at King’s Creek, near Tupelo, Mississippi. Skirmishes also occur at Peletier’s Mill, North Carolina; Rover, Tennessee, and Obion Plank Road Crossing, Tennessee. In the West Federals scout from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Sherwood, Missouri, with skirmishes, until May 9; and Federals launch an expedition against Amerinds from Fort Douglas, Utah Territory, to Soda Springs on the Bear River, Idaho Territory, which lasts until May 30.

A reinforced Federal flotilla under Porter moves up to Fort De Russy on the Red River to cooperate with General Banks’ advance on Louisiana from New Orleans. Porter finds that the Confederates have abandoned the works and removed all but one gun.

The leader of the Peace Democrats or Copperheads of the Northwest, former congressman Clement L. Vallandigham, is arrested in Dayton, Ohio.
#15170687
“At Chancellorsville we gained another victory,” Lee will later say. “Our people were wild with delight. I, on the contrary, was more depressed than after Fredericksburg; our losses were severe, and again we had gained not an inch of ground, and the enemy could not be pursued.” The Battle of Chancellorsville will come to be known as Lee’s masterpiece, an almost perfect example of the military arts. Of the at least 133,868 Federals at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, 1,606 have been killed, 9,762 wounded, and 5,919 are missing for a total of 17,287 casualties between April 27 and May 11. But of the Confederate effectives estimated at 60,000, 1,665 have been killed, 9,081 wounded, and 2,018 missing for a total of 12,764 casualties—a higher casualty percentage by far than the Federal have suffered. And the resources of the South are strained to the point where losses of this magnitude can no longer be sustained. What is more, the Army of Northern Virginia has suffered a disproportionate number of casualties among its high command—division commanders A.P. Hill and Henry Heth, eleven brigade commanders, including Dorsey Pender, and forty regimental commanders. Overshadowing all of these, of course, is the loss of corps commander Stonewall Jackson. This morning, Jackson is taken to a field hospital at Guinea Station, about ten miles south of Fredericksburg, and seems to be recovering from the amputation of his arm.

"If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined." - Pyrrhus of Epirus

Even if the South had won every battle it fought against the North, it would still have lost the War. All the North had to do was to keep fighting, just as the Romans had.
#15170691
@Potemkin, you’re assuming that the North would have kept fighting. In 1864 Lincoln was afraid that he was going to lose the election, and without a few victories in the months before the election—especially Sherman’s at Atlanta—he probably would have. Napoleon said that in war “the moral is to the physical as three to one,” and by November 1864 the North was tired. With no victories, morale would have been much worse and Lincoln would have been out.
#15170704
Doug64 wrote:@Potemkin, you’re assuming that the North would have kept fighting. In 1864 Lincoln was afraid that he was going to lose the election, and without a few victories in the months before the election—especially Sherman’s at Atlanta—he probably would have. Napoleon said that in war “the moral is to the physical as three to one,” and by November 1864 the North was tired. With no victories, morale would have been much worse and Lincoln would have been out.

These are all good points. People don't always (or even usually) do what is objectively or rationally correct. The North actually didn't need stunning victories against the South in set-piece battles in order to win the War. This was not true for the South. Their only hope - as Lee realised - was to degrade the North's willingness to keep fighting by destroying their morale by, yes, winning stunning victories against the North in set-piece battles. Luckily for the United States, Grant and Sherman were around to stop him....
#15170709
@Potemkin, one “what-if” I saw had A.S. Johnston surviving the Battle of Shiloh. When Grant advanced on Vicksburg, this Johnston had the moral authority to order Pemberton to get out and make it stick. The result is that Grant took Vicksburg months earlier, but the South still had Johnston’s leadership and an additional 30,000 men in the Western Theater. Things didn’t go well for the Union in the West after that. A.S. Johnston was pushed back out of Tennessee, but Sherman hadn’t gotten to Atlanta before the election, Grant was hung up outside of Richmond, and Lincoln lost.
#15170733
Doug64 wrote:@Potemkin, one “what-if” I saw had A.S. Johnston surviving the Battle of Shiloh. When Grant advanced on Vicksburg, this Johnston had the moral authority to order Pemberton to get out and make it stick. The result is that Grant took Vicksburg months earlier, but the South still had Johnston’s leadership and an additional 30,000 men in the Western Theater. Things didn’t go well for the Union in the West after that. A.S. Johnston was pushed back out of Tennessee, but Sherman hadn’t gotten to Atlanta before the election, Grant was hung up outside of Richmond, and Lincoln lost.

The American Civil War lends itself to these types of "what if" scenarios, much more so than almost any other big event in human history. This is partly because of the complexities and the sheer messiness of the War, and also because of the larger-than-life personalities, with all their brilliancies and all their terrible flaws, who played such prominent roles in how it all went down....
#15170756
late wrote:It started 160 years ago, ended in 1865. How long before this thread will have lasted longer than the war?

I believe it is timed to last the same length of time as the war itself. I like the idea of that.
#15170771
@late, @Potemkin is correct, it says it in the title—“day by day.” Though it will sort of peter out as word that it’s all over spreads after Appomattox and other armies (and at least one ship) surrender or disband. The war doesn’t so much end as fade away.
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