Battle History



                             

                                     CHANCELLORSVILLE, VA
                                      MAY 1ST -4TH, 1863

                     Chancellorsville, Va., May 1-4, 1863.  Army of the
                Potomac. Gen. Hooker superseded Gen. Burnside in command of
                the Army of the Potomac on Jan. 26, 1863.  As nothing in the
                way of active operations could be undertaken in the dead of
                winter, more than two months were spent in getting the army in
                good condition.  During that time it remained in its winter
                quarters on the left bank of the Rappahannock river opposite
                Fredericksburg.  It consisted of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th,
                11th and 12th army corps, respectively commanded by Maj.-Gens.
                John F. Reynolds, Darius N. Couch, Daniel E. Sickles, George
                G. Meade, John Sedgwick, Oliver O. Howard and Henry W. Slocum,
                and the cavalry corps, commanded by Brig.-Gen. George
                Stoneman.  In round numbers Hooker had 111,000 infantry,
                11,000 cavalry, and 8,000 artillery, with 404 guns.  Opposed
                to this force was Lee's army, the Army of Northern Virginia,
                made up of the 1st and 2nd army corps.  The former was
                commanded by Gen. James Longstreet and the latter by Gen.
                Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson.  Longstreet, with two divisions
                and two battalions of artillery, was absent in southeastern
                Virginia, so the troops with Lee numbered about 57,000
                infantry, 3,000 cavalry, and probably 170 pieces of artillery.
                This force lay at Fredericksburg, on the south side of the
                Rappahannock, where all winter Lee had been watching the
                movements of the Federals.

Early in April Hooker advised his officers of his plan of campaign. Stoneman, with the main body of the cavalry, was to move up the Rappahannock, cross at the upper fords and cut Lee's communication with his base of supplies at Richmond. After crossing the river the cavalry was to divide into two columns; one, under Gen. Averell, was to attack Gordonsville and Culpeper, and the other, commanded by Gen. Buford, was to reach the Fredericksburg railroad via Louisa Court House. The two divisions were then to unite south of the Pamunkey river to harass Lee's retreat from Fredericksburg which all felt was sure to come. Stoneman started on his mission on April 13, but heavy rains had made the river unfordable and he was compelled to wait until the 28th before he could effect a crossing. This delay interfered somewhat with the original plans, but on the evening of the 26th Hooker issued orders for the corps of Meade. Howard and Slocum to move the next morning in light marching order for Kelly's ford, 27 miles above Fredericksburg where they were to cross, then press rapidly forward, cross the Rapidan, sweep down the southern bank and strike the Confederate army on the left flank. Couch, with two of his divisions, was to proceed to the United States ford and be in readiness to cross as soon as the Confederate force there should be driven away by the Federal advance. Gibbon's division of this corps was left in camp at Falmouth, where it was in plain view of the Confederates, and to move it might give Lee some idea of Hooker's intentions. To further confuse the enemy demonstrations had been made for several days at various points along the river. To prevent Lee from sending a strong force against the four corps operating above Fredericksburg Sedgwick with his own corps and those of Reynolds and Sickles, was to cross below the town and make a demonstration to draw the attention of the enemy in that direction.

On Monday morning, April 27, the troops moved according to instructions, and reached Kelly's ford late in the afternoon next day. A detachment was sent across in boats to drive away the picket guard, and by daylight the next morning all were over and on the way to the Rapidan. Stoneman crossed his cavalry at the same time. Pleasonton's brigade of cavalry, with two batteries, was attached to Slocum's corps and this was all of that arm that participated in the battles of Chancellorsville, the rest of Stoneman's command moving toward Culpeper. Meade crossed the Rapidan at Ely's ford and the other two corps at Germanna ford, 10 miles above. As soon as Meade's column appeared on the south side of the Rappahannock opposite the United States ford Couch threw the pontoons across and passed his two divisions over. On the afternoon of the 30th the four corps were concentrated at Chancellorsville. Sedgwick waited until the 28th, to give the other division of the army time to reach Kelly's ford, and then moved down the river with the 1st, 3rd and 6th corps to a point near the old Franklin crossing, where they bivouacked for the night. Early the next morning the 1st and 6th corps were crossed over, leaving Sickles' corps on the north side as a reserve and to cover the advance with his artillery. A small force of the enemy in rifle pits disputed the passage of the river, but a detachment sent over in boats soon drove them from their position. The Confederates then contented themselves with shelling the advancing troops from the batteries on the heights. When it became evident that no serious attack was to be made on Sedgwick, Sickles' corps was ordered to join the forces at Chancellorsville and moved on the 30th. Sedgwick then disposed his forces in such a way as to lead Lee to think a large body of troops was below the town, and that an attack was likely to come from that quarter. Had the feint succeeded the story of Chancellorsville might have been differently told. In his report Lee says: "No demonstration was made opposite any other part of our lines at Fredericksburg, and the strength of the force that had crossed and its apparent indisposition to attack indicated that the principal effort of the enemy would be made in some other quarter. This impression was confirmed by intelligence received from Gen. Stuart that a large body of infantry and artillery was passing up the river. 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 toward Ely's ford on that river. The routes they were pursuing after crossing the Rapidan converge near Chancellorsville, whence several roads lead to the rear of our position at Fredericksburg."

This was the first intimation Lee had of Hooker's real purpose. Upon receipt of this information he sent a dispatch to Gen. Anderson, as follows: "I have received reliable intelligence that the enemy have crossed the river in force. Why have you not kept me informed? I wish to see you at my headquarters at once." The bearer of that dispatch was captured by some of the Union cavalry. The cavalry had also captured a picket, among whom was an engineer officer belonging to Stuart's staff, and who had in his possession a diary containing the record of a council, held by the Confederate generals some weeks before, in which it was decided that the next battle was likely to be fought in the vicinity of Chancellorsville, and that it would be well to seize and prepare a position there. This diary and Lee's dispatch were turned over to Hooker by Pleasonton, who suggested that, as Lee was now advised of the movements of the Union forces and was expecting a fight at Chancellorsville, it might be good tactics to forestall him by moving on toward Fredericksburg and selecting a new position. Here was Hooker's golden opportunity, but he allowed it to pass. Lee remained in Fredericksburg until the 30th, still uncertain as to Sedgwick's motives, and fearing to move in either direction until he had a better understanding of the situation. Hooker on the 29th had over 45,000 men, and Sickles had orders to join him the next day with his corps, numbering 18,000 more. Failing to receive Lee's dispatch ordering him to headquarters, Anderson retired to Tabernacle Church and commenced entrenching. This was the only force to prevent Hooker from pressing forward, seizing Banks' ford, thus shortening the distance between himself and Sedgwick by at least 10 miles, and forcing Lee to meet him at a disadvantage on ground where the superior numbers of the Federals meant certain victory.

Late on the 30th Lee became fully convinced that Sedgwick did not intend to attack. Leaving Early's division and Barksdale's brigade to hold Fredericksburg, the remainder of the Confederate forces were concentrated in front of Hooker. A little after sunrise on May 1 McLaws' division joined Anderson, and three divisions of Jackson's corps arrived on the field about 8 o'clock. Three hours later Hooker began his advance in four columns, each preceded by a detachment of cavalry. Howard and Slocum moved on the plank road to the right, Sykes' division of Meade's corps and Hancock's division of Couch's took the turnpike; the other two divisions of Meade's corps (Humphreys' and Griffin's) took the river road toward Banks' ford; French's division was to march south to Todd's tavern, while Sickles' corps was held at Chancellorsville and Dowdall's tavern, as a reserve and to guard the ford against Fitz Hugh Lee's cavalry. Hooker's object was to form a line of battle with his left resting on Banks' ford and his right on Tabernacle Church, which was to be his headquarters. But the ground, which might have been occupied the day before almost without a struggle, was now in possession of the enemy. When Jackson reached Tabernacle Church, he stopped the work of entrenching and moved forward to meet Hooker. Sykes, therefore, had not proceeded more than a mile before he encountered McLaws' division deployed on both sides of the pike. McLaws fell back steadily for a mile, when he was reinforced by Anderson and Ramseur, and the Confederates now assumed the offensive. Sykes tried to connect his line with Slocum by throwing out a regiment as skirmishers, but the movement failed. Anderson succeeded in getting on his flank, and he was compelled to fall back behind Hancock, whose command then came to the front and engaged the enemy. Sykes then secured a strong position, which he was preparing to hold, when the orders came for all to fall back to the positions they held early in the morning. Couch and Hancock protested against anything like a retreat. The general position was a good one. The infantry was almost clear of the woods and thickets, and there was plenty of open space in which the artillery could be used effectively. Gen. Warren, chief engineer on Hooker's staff, urged Couch and Hancock to hold their positions until he could consult Hooker, but the latter would not rescind the order to retire. Subsequently he countermanded the order and directed the troops to return to their positions, but it was too late, as the enemy was already in possession of the ridge.

Meantime Meade's column had come within sight of Banks' ford without seeing anything of the enemy when the order was received to fall back to Chancellorsville. Both divisions started to return, but Griffin was ordered to form on Hancock's left, where about 6 p. m. he aided in repulsing the enemy in an advance on Sykes' position, after which they went into bivouac for the night. Humphreys was sent to the extreme left of the line to guard the approaches to the United States ford. French, who had moved in the morning via Todd's tavern, came within sight of the Confederates, but was ordered to fall back before he could engage them. During the afternoon a new line was formed with Meade on the left toward Fredericksburg facing east, Slocum in the center facing south, Howard on the right facing west, with Couch and Sickles in reserve, except one brigade from each division, which occupied positions in the front line. The left and center were protected in front by ravines, through which ran small brooks, but on the right there was nothing but the thickets to hinder a near approach of the enemy in an attack on Howard. As thus formed the line covered all the roads passing through Chancellorsville. Late in the day an assault was made by Wright and Stuart on the advance portion of Slocum's corps and it was driven back on the main body. Artillery was then brought up and a heavy fire directed against Slocum, but he held his position. An artillery fire was also opened on Hancock's line, when Knap's battery replied with such effectiveness that the Confederates gave up the attempt to drive the Union troops back by this method. Owing to the thickets, which screened the Federal army, Lee was at a loss where to direct his attacks, and the waning hours of the day were spent in a number of pretended assaults at various points to ascertain if possible, just how Hooker's forces were posted. These demonstrations developed the fact that the lines in front of Chancellorsville were impregnable. Lee and Jackson held a consultation about dark to determine the course they should pursue on the following day. Stuart had learned the weakness of the Union right and had communicated his knowledge to Jackson, who now advised a flank movement against that part of the line.

During the night the roads were picketed by the Federal cavalry while within the lines of both armies could be heard the sound of the ax as the contending forces engaged in strengthening their fronts by log breastworks, etc. In some places along the Union line this work was continued far into the next day. Long before daylight on the morning of the 3rd Jackson was up and studying a rough map of the country to find a route to the right and rear of the Union army. An old resident was found, who pointed out a way, and at sunrise Jackson with his three divisions, was on the march. For some distance the movement was hidden by the dense forest, and then a point was reached where the by-road ran over a hill in plain view of Sickles' position. It was readily seen that it was a movement in force, but as the road here ran due south and directly away from the Federals, it was thought the Confederate retreat was begun. Gen. Birney reported the matter to Sickles and at the same time directed a section of Clark's rifled battery to fire a few shots at the moving column. The range was easily found and Birney ordered the rest of the battery to the same position. The artillery fire was so effective that the column was apparently thrown into confusion, hurrying forward to get out of range of the guns. This fact added to the belief that the enemy was in full retreat. This was about 8 a. m. Hooker was at once notified of the affair and was inclined to believe that the Confederates were retiring. Realizing, however, that it might be one of the flank movements for which Jackson was noted, he issued orders to Slocum and Howard to strengthen their lines as much as possible and advance their pickets "to obtain timely information of their approach."

At noon Sickles received orders to follow Jackson and harass his movements. Birney's division, with two battalions of Berdan's sharpshooters and Randolph's battery, were hurried forward, supported by Whipple's division. Birney's advance was checked by a 12-pounder battery at the iron foundry near Welford's house, but Livingston's battery was brought up and soon silenced the enemy's guns. Pleasonton's cavalry was also brought up as a reinforcement, but the woods being too thick to permit its use to advantage, Sickles advised Pleasonton to return to the open space near Scott's run. Sickles wanted to cut off the divisions of Anderson and McLaws and capture them, and sent for reinforcements for that purpose. He was promised the rest of his own corps, as well as support from Slocum and Howard, and was preparing to attack, when Hooker changed his mind and recalled the reinforcements. About 300 prisoners were taken, however, and from these it was learned that Jackson's purpose was to strike a blow on the right. But the information came too late to be of service.

All day Lee had been keeping up a demonstration against the Union left and center; now directing a heavy cannonade against Meade; now a musketry fire against Couch and Slocum; followed by an attack on Hancock, who occupied a position in advance of the main line. These movements were intended to create the impression that the principal assault was to be made in that quarter, and to draw attention from Jackson. By 3 p. m. Jackson had reached the plank road, within 2 miles of Howard's corps. Howard had neglected to observe Hooker's order of the morning to advance his pickets in order to guard against a surprise. Even when informed by Capt. Farmer, of Pleasonton's staff, that a Confederate battery was posted directly on his flank he did not believe that any attack was intended against his corps. The Confederate pickets, therefore crept through the thickets unmolested and accurately reported Howard's position. Jackson formed his forces in three lines, Rodes in front, then Colston, then A. P. Hill, his formation reaching some distance on either side of the road and completely enveloping the front, flank and rear of the 11th corps. Anderson and McLaws had orders, as soon as the sound of Jackson's guns was heard, to make a feint of attacking the Union left to prevent aid being sent to Howard, and at the same time to press gradually to their left until they connected with Jackson's right, when the whole force was to close on the Federal center. It was 5 p. m. when Jackson formed his lines for the final attack Howard's men had stacked their arms and were preparing their suppers. Some were playing cards, and all were unprepared for the assault that was soon to arouse them from their fancied security. Entrenchments had been thrown up but they were not manned. Not even the shot of a solitary picket alarmed the corps. With a yell and a volley of musketry the Confederates dashed out of the woods upon the defenseless Federals, who fled in confusion without firing a shot. A few made an attempt to withstand the advance, but they were swept from their position and joined their comrades now streaming through the woods toward Chancellorsville. The wild rush of the fugitives aroused Hooker to action. His staff vainly tried to rally the panic-stricken troops, making it necessary to form a new line immediately to prevent Jackson from sweeping everything before him. But it was not an easy matter to find men for the formation of this new line, for as soon as Lee heard the sound of Jackson's attack he immediately engaged tile whole line to prevent any aid being sent to Howard. Berry's division happened to be in reserve at a convenient distance. He was ordered to move at once, form across the plank road and drive the Confederates back, or at least hold them in check until reinforcements could be sent to him. But the check to Jackson's impetuous onslaught came from a different and somewhat unexpected quarter. When Pleasonton left Sickles at the iron foundry he proceeded leisurely back to Hazel grove with the 8th and 17th Penn. cavalry and Martin's battery of horse artillery. Upon reaching the open space he had left a short time before he found it filled with a confused mass of men, guns, caissons and ambulances, all bent on getting out of the way as soon as possible. Charging upon this disorderly aggregation he cleared the space for action. To gain time, for the enemy was already forming for another attack, he ordered Maj. Keenan of the 8th Penn. to charge the Confederate lines. This was bravely done, though Keenan and 32 of his men never returned. Pleasonton next ordered Martin to bring his guns into battery, load them with double charges of canister, and aim so that the shot would strike the ground some distance in advance of the approaching enemy, but not to fire until orders were given. Just at this juncture Lieut. Crosby, of the 4th U. S. artillery, reported to Pleasonton that he had a battery of 6 guns at hand. This was placed by the side of Martin's battery, giving Pleasonton l2 guns, and to get more a detachment of the 17th Penn. charged on the stragglers and took possession of 10 pieces, which were brought quickly into line. It was now dusk. Keenan's charge, although disastrous to himself, had gained for Pleasonton a valuable quarter of an hour. The Confederate line emerged from the woods bearing a Union flag which had been dropped by some of the flying troops. They called out not to shoot as they were friends, but a moment later discharged a volley directly at the men behind the guns. Pleasonton then gave the order to fire. The whole line of guns, double-shotted and aimed low, belched forth a murderous discharge of iron hail that swept the advancing Confederates off their feet. Before the line could be reformed the guns were again loaded and again that shower of death-dealing missiles was sent hurtling through the ranks of the enemy. The cannonade continued for fully 20 minutes, when the Confederates gave up the attempt to storm the battery and retired to the woods.

When Berry received the order to move out and recapture the works of the routed 11th corps he promptly obeyed, but found a large force of the enemy in possession. He then formed his line in the valley in front and held his position there to await developments. Warren had stopped several of the retreating batteries and now formed them across the plank road in the rear of the infantry. When Pleasonton opened fire on the enemy Warren's guns were also brought into action and rendered effective service, while Berry steadily advanced his line, meanwhile keeping up an incessant fire of musketry up the road and into the woods. About 8:30 the firing began to decrease and half an hour later ceased altogether. Jackson ordered A. P. Hill's division to the front for the purpose of continuing the fight, and with his staff rode forward to examine the position. He had not proceeded far when a fire from Berry's pickets warned him that the Federals were on the alert. As he rode back to his lines Hill's men were just taking position. Mistaking Jackson and his staff for Union cavalry some of them fired. Half of his escort were killed or wounded. He was struck by three balls, being wounded in both hands and his left arm. He was taken to Guiney's station, to keep him from being captured, pneumonia set in and he died on May 10.

End of Report

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