The Battle of Chancellorville By General R. E. LEE
After the battle of Fredericksburg the army remained encamped on the south side of the Rappahannock until the latter part of April.
The Federal Army occupied the north side of the river opposite Fredericksburg, extending to the Potomac.
Two brigades of Anderson's division, those of Generals Mahone and Posey, were stationed near the United States Mine or Bark Mill Ford, and a third, under General Wilcox, guarded Banks' Ford.
The cavalry was distributed on both flanks, Fitzhugh Lee's brigade picketing the Rappahannock above the mouth of the Rapidan, and W. H. F. Lee's near Port Royal. Hampton's brigade had
been sent into the interior to recruit.
General Longstreet, with two divisions of his corps, was detached for service south of James River in February, and did not rejoin the army until after the battle of Chancellorsville.
With the exception of the engagement between Fitz Lee's brigade and the enemy's cavalry near Kelly's Ford on the 17th of March, of which a brief report has been already forwarded to the Department, nothing of interest transpired during this period of inactivity.
On the 14th of April intelligence was received that the enemy's cavalry was concentrating on the upper Rappahannock. Their efforts to establish themselves on the south side of the river were successfully resisted by Fitz Lee's brigade and two regiments of W. H. F. Lee's, the whole under the immediate command of GenI Stuart.
About the 21st small bodies of infantry appeared at Kelly's Ford and the Rappahannock Bridge, and almost at the same time a demonstration was made opposite Port Royal, where a party of infantry crossed the river about the 23d. These movements were evidently intended to
conceal the designs of the enemy, but taken in connection with the reports of scouts, indicated that the Federal Army, now commanded by Major General Hooker, was about to resume active operations.
At 5/2 a. m. on the 24th April the enemy crossed the Rappahannock in boats near Fredericksburg, and driving off the pickets on the river proceeded to lay down a pontoon bridge a short distance below the mouth of Deep Run. Later in the forenoon another bridge was constructed about a mile below the first. A considerable force crossed on these bridges during the day, and was massed out of view under the high banks of the river. The bridges as well as the troops were effectually protected from our artillery by the depth of the river's bed and the narrowness of the stream, while the batteries on the opposite heights completely commanded the wide plain between our lines and the river. As in the first battle of Fredericksburg it was thought best to select positions with a view to resist the advance of the enemy rather than incur the heavy loss that would attend any attempt to prevent his crossing. Our dispositions were accordingly made as on the former occasion.
No demonstration was made opposite any other point 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 General 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 fron Kelly's towards 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.
On the night of the 29th General Anderson was directed to proceed towards Chancellorsville, and dispose Wright's brigade and the troops from the Bark Mill Ford to cover these roads. Arriving at Chancellorsville about midnight, he found the commands of Generals Mahone and Posey already there, having been withdrawn from the Bark Mill Ford, with the exception of a small guard. Learning that the enemy had crossed the Rapidan and were approaching in strong force, General Anderson retired early on the morning of the 3oth to the intersection of the Mine and Plank roads near Tabernacle Church, and began to intrench himself. The enemy's cavalry skirmished with his rear guard as he left Chancellorsville, but being vigorously repulsed by Mahone's brigade offered no further opposition to his march. Mahone was placed on the old Turnpike, [Aibrose R. ] Wright and Posey on the Plank road. In the meantime General Stuart had been directed to endeavor to impede the progress of the column marching by way of Germanna Ford. Detaching W. H. F. Lee with his two regiments, the 9th and i3th Virginia, to oppose the main body of the enemy's cavalry, General Stuart crossed the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford with Fitz Lee's brigade on the night of the 29th. Halting to give his men a few hours' repose, he ordered Colonel Owen with the 3d Virginia Cavalry to throw himself in front of the enemy, while the rest of the brigade attacked his right flank at the Wilderness Tavern between Germanna Ford and Chancellorsville.
By this means the march of this column was delayed until 12 m., when learning that the one from Ely's Ford had already reached Chancellorsville, General Stuart marched by Todd's Tavern towards Spotsylvania Court House to put himself in communication with the main body of the army, and Colonel Owen fell back upon General Anderson.
The enemy in our front near Fredericksburg continued inactive, and it was now apparet that the main attack would bc madc upon our flank and rear. It was therefore determined to leave sufficient troops to hold our lines, and with the main body of the army to give battle to the approaching column.
Early's division of Jackson's corps, and Barkesdale's brigade, of McLaws' division, with part of the reserve artillery under General Pendleton, were entrusted with the defence of our position at Fredericksburg, and at midnight on the 30th General McLaws marched with the rest of his command towards Chancellorsville. General Jackson followed at dawn next morning with the remaining divisions of his corps. He reached the position occupied by General Anderson at 8 a. m. and immediately began preparations to advance. At 11 a. m. the troops moved forward upon the Plank and old Turnpike roads, Anderson with the brigades of Wright and Posey leading on the former, McLaws with his three brigades preceded by Mahone's on the latter. Generals Wilcox andPerry of Anderson's division, cooperated with McLaws. Jackson's troops followed Anderson on the Plank road. Colonel Alexander's battalion of artillery accompanied the advance. The enemy was soon encountered on both roads and heavy skirmishing with infantry and artillery ensued, our troops pressing steadily forward. A strong attack upon General McLaws was repulsed with spirit by Semmes' brigade, and General Wright by direction of General Anderson diverging to the left of the Plank road marched by way of the un
finished railroad from Fredericksburg to Gordonsville and turned the enemy's right. His whole line thereupon retreated rapidly, vigorously pursued by our troops until they arrived within about one mile of Chancellorsville. Here the enemy had assumed a position of great natural strength surrounded on all sides bv a dense forest filled with a tangled undergrowth, in the midst of which breastworks of logs had been constructed with trees felled in front so as to form an almost impenetrable abatis.
His artillery swept the few narrow roads by which his position could be approached from the front, and commanded the adjacent woods. The left of his line extended from Chancellorsville towards the Rappa hannock, covering the Bark Mill Ford, where he communicated with the north bank of the river by a pontoon bridge.
His right stretched westwards along the Germanna Ford road more than two miles. Darkness was approaching before the strength and extent of his line could be ascertained, and as the nature of the country rendered it hazardous to attack by night, our troops were halted and formed in line of battle in front of Chancellorsville at right angles to the Plank road extending on the right to the Minc road and to the left in the direction of the Catharine Furnace. Colonel Wickham with the 4th Virginia Cavalry and Colonel Owen's regiment was stationed between the Mine road and the Rappahannock. The rest of the cavalry was upon our left flank.
It was evident that a direct attack upon the enemv would be attended with great difficulty and loss, in view of the strength of his position and his superiority of numbers. It was therefore resolved to endeavor to turn his right flank and gain his rear, leaving a force in front to hold him in check and conceal the movement. The execution of this plan was entrusted to Lieut General Jackson with his three divisions. The commands of Generals McLaws and Anderson, with the exception of Wilcox's brigade, which during the night had been ordered back to Banks' Ford, remained in front of the enemy.
Early on the morning of the 2d, General Jackson marched by the Furnace and Brock roads, his movement being effectually covered by Fitz Lees cavalry under General Stuart in person.
As the rear of the train was passing the furnace a large force of the enemy advanced from Chancellorsville and attempted its capture. General Jackson had left the 23d Georgia Regiment under Colonel Best at this point to guard his flank, and upon the approach of the enemy Lieut Colonel John T. Brown, whose artillery was passing at the time, placed a battery in position to aid in checking his advance. A small number of men who were Iflarching to join their commands, in
cluding Captain Aloore with two companies of the 14th Tennessee Regiment of Archer's brigade, reported to Colonel Brown and supported his guns. The enemy was kept back by this small force until the train had passed, but his superior numbers enabled him subsequently to surround and capture the greater part of the 23d Georgia Regiment. General Anderson was directed to send a brigade to resist the further progress of this column, and detached General Posey for that purpose. General Posey became warmly engaged with a superior force, but being reinforced by General Wright, the enemy's advance was arrested.
After a long and fatiguing march General Jackson's leading division under General Rodes reached the old Turnpike about three miles in rear of Chancellorsville at 4 p. m. As the different divisions arrived they were formed at right angles to the road, Rodes in front, Trimble's division under Brig General Colston in the second, and A. P. Hill's in the third line.
At 6 p. m. the advance was ordered. The enemy were taken by surprise and fled after a brief resistance. General Rodes' men pushed for-ward with great vigor and enthusiasm, followed closely by the second and third lines. Position after position was carried, the guns captured, and every effort of the enemy to rally defeated by the impetuous rush of our troops. In the ardor of pursuit through the thick and tangled woods the first and second lines at last became mingled and moved on together as one. The enemy made a stand at a line of breastworks across the road at the house of Melzie Chancellor, but the troops of Rodes and Colston dashed over the entrenchments together, and the flight and pursuit were resumed, and continued until our advance was arrested by the abati in front of the line of works near the central position at Chancellorsville. It was now dark and General Jackson ordered the third line under General Hill to advance to the front and relieve the troops of Rodes and Colston, who were completely blended and in such disorder from their rapid advance through intricate woods and over broken ground that it was necessary to reform them.
As Hill's men moved forward, General Jackson with his staff and escort returning from the extreme front met his skirmishers advancing, and in the obscurity of the night were mistaken for the enemy and fired upon. Captain Boswell, Chief Engineer of the corps and several others were killed, and a number wounded. General Jackson himself received a severe injury, and was borne from the field. The command devolved upon Major General Hill, whose division under General Heth was advanced to the line of entrenchments which had been reached by Rodes and Colsron.
A furious fire of artillery was opened upon them by the enemy, under cover of which his infantry advanced to the attack. They were handsomely repulsed by the 55th Virginia Regiment under Colonel Mallory, who was killed while bravely leading his men. General Hill was soon afterwards disabled, and Major General Stuart, who had been directed by General Jackson to seize the road to Ely's Ford in rear of the enemy, was sent for to take command.
At this time the right of Hill's division was attacked by the column of the enemy already mentioned as having penetrated to the furnace which had been recalled to Chancellorsville to avoid being cut off by the advancc of Jackson. This attack was gallantly met and repulsed by the 18th and 28th and a portion of the 33d North Carolina Regiments, Lane's brigade.
Upon General Stuart's arrival soon afterwards, the command was turned over to him by General Hill. He immediately proceeded to reconnoiter the ground and make himself acquainted with the disposition of the troops. The darkness of the night and the difficulty of moving through the woods and undergrowth rendered it advisable to defer further operations until morning, and the troops rested on their arms in line of battle. Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield, Chief of Artillery of the corps, was severely wounded, and Colonel Edward P. Alexander, senior artillery officer present, was engaged during the entire night in selecting positions for our batteries.
As soon as the sound of cannon gave notice of Jackson's attack on the enemy's right, our troops in front of Chancellorsville were ordered to press him strongly on the left to prevent reinforcements being sent to the point assailed. They were directed not to attack in force unless a favorable opportunity should present itself, and while continuing to cover the roads leading from their respective positions towards Chancellorsville, to incline to the left so as to connect with Jackson's right as he closed in upon the center. These orders were well executed, our troops advancing up to the enemy's entrenchments, while several batteries played with good effect upon his lines until prevented by the increasing darkness.
Early on the morning of the 3d General Stuart renewed the attack upon the enemy, who had strengthened his right during the night with additional breastworks, while a large number of guns, protected by entrenchments, were posted so as to sweep the woods through which our troops had to advance. Hill's division was in front, with Colston in the second line and Rodes in the third.
The second and third lines soon advanced to the support of the first, and the whole became hotly engaged. The bteworks at which the
attack was suspended the preceding evening were carried by assault under a terrible fire of musketry and artillery. In rear of these breast-works was a barricade from which the enemy was quickly driven.
The troops on the left of the Plank road, pressing through the woods, attacked and broke the next line, while those on the right bravely assailed the extensive earthworks behind which the enemy's artillery was posted. Three times were these works carried, and as often were the brave assailants compelled to abandon them, twice by the retirement of the troops on their left, who fell back after a gallant struggle with superior numbers, and once by a movement of the enemy on their right, caused by the advance of General Anderson. The left being reinforced finally succeeded in driving back the enemy, and the artillery under Lieut-Colonels Carter and Jones being thrown forward to occupy favorable positions secured by the advance of the infantry, began to play with great precision and effect.
Anderson in the meantime pressed gallantly forward directly upon Chancellorsville, his right resting upon the Plank road and his left extending around towards the furnace, while McLaws made a strong demonstration to the right of the road. As the troops advancing upon the enemy's front and right converged upon his central position Anderson effected a junction with Jackson's corps, and the whole line pressed irresistibly on. The enemy was driven from all his fortified positions with heavy loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and retreated towards the Rappahannock. By 10 a. m. we were in full possession of the field.
The troops having become somewhat scattered by the difficulties of the ground and the ardor of the contest were immediately reformed preparatory to renewing the attack. The enemy had withdrawn to a strong position nearer to the Rappahannock, which he had previously fortified. His superiority of numbers, the unfavorable nature of the ground, which was densely wooded, and the condition of our troops after the arduous and sanguinary conflict in which they had been engaged rendered great caution necessary. Our preparations were just completed when further operations were arrested by intelligence received from Fredericksburg.
General Early had been instructed, in the event of the enemy withdrawing from his front and moving up the river, to join the main body of the army with so much of his command as could be spared from the defence of his lines. This order was repeated on the 2d, but by a misapprehension on the part of the officer conveying it, General Early was directed to move unconditionally. Leaving Hays' brigade and one regiment of Barksdale's at Fredericksburg, and directing a part of General Pendleton's artillery to be sent to the rear, in compliance with the order delivered to him General Early moved with the rest of his command towards Chancellorsville. As soon as his withdrawal was perceived the enemy began to give evidence of an intention to advance, but the mistake in the transmission of the order being corrected General Early returned to his original position.
The line to be defended by Barksdale's brigade extended from the Rappahannock above Fredericksburg, to the rear of Howison's house, a distance of more than two miles. The artillery was posted along the heights in rear of the town. Before dawn on the morning of the 3d General Barksdale reported to General Early that the enemy had occupied Fredericksburg in large force and laid down a bridge at the town. Hays brigade was sent to his support and placed on his extreme left, with the exception of one regiment stationed on the right of his line behind Howison's house. Seven companies of the 21st Mississippi Regiment were posted by General Barksdale between the Marye house and the Plank road, the i8th and the three other companies of the ZiSt occupied the Telegraph road at the foot of Marye's Hill, the two remaining regiments of the brigade being further to the right on the hills near Howison's house. The enemy made a demonstration against the extreme right which was easily repulsed by General Early. Soon afterwards a column moved from Fredericksburg along the river bank as if to gain the heights on the extreme left which commanded those immediately in rear of the town. This attempt was foiled by General Hays and the arrival of General Wilcox from Banks' Ford, who deployed a few skirmishers on the hill near Taylor's house, and opened on the enemy with a section of artillery. Very soon the enemy advanced in large force against Marye's and the hills to the right and left of it. Two assaults were gallantly repulsed by Barksdale's men and the artillery. After the second, a flag of truce was sent from the town to obtain permission to provide for the wounded.
Three heavy lines advanced immediately upon the return of the flag and renewed the attack. They were bravely repulsed on the right and left, but the small force at the foot of Marye's Hill, overpowered by more than ten times their numbers, was captured after a heroic resistance, and the hill carried. Eight pieces of artillery were taken on Marye's and the adjacent heights. The remainder of Barksdale's brigade together with that of General Hays and the artillery on the right retired down the Telegraph road.
The success of the enemy enabled him to threaten our communications by moving down the Telegraph road, or to come upon our rear at Chancellorsville by the Plank road. He at first advanced on the former, hut was checked by General Early, who had halted the Commands of Barksdale and Hays with the artillery about two miles from Marye's Hill, and reinforced them with three regiments of Gordon's brigade.
The enemy then began to advance up the Plank road, his progress being gallantly disputed by the brigade of General Wilcox, who had moved from Banks' Ford as rapidly as possible to the assistance of General Barksdale, but arrived too late to take part in the action. General Wilcox fell back slowly until he reached Salem Church on the Plank road about five miles from Fredericksburg.
Information of the state of affairs in our rear having reached Chancellorsville, as already stated, General McLaws, with his three brigades and one of General Anderson's was ordered to reinforce General Wilcox. He arrived at Salem Church early in the afternoon, where he found General Wilcox in line of battle, with a large force of the enemy, consisting, as was reported, of one army corps and part of another under Major General Sedgwick, in his front. The brigades of Kershaw and Wofford were placed on the right of Wilcox, those of Semmes and Mahone on his left. The enemy's artillery played vigorously upon our position for some time, when his infan try advanced in three strong lines, the attack being directed mainly against General Wilcox, but partially involving the brigades on his left.
The assault was met with the utmost firmness, and after a fierce struggle the first line was repulsed with great slaughter. The second then came forward, but immediately broke under the close and deadly fire which it encountered, and the whole mass fled in confusion to the rear.
They were pursued by the brigades of Wilcox and Semmes, which advanced nearly a mile, when they were halted to reform in the presence of the enemy's reserve, whic]i now appeared in large force. It being quite dark, General Wilcox deemed it imprudent to push the attack with his small numbers, and retired to his original position, the enemy making no attempt to follow. The next morning General Early advanced along the Telegraph road and recaptured Marye's and the adjacent hills without difficulty, thus gaining the rear of the enemy's left. He then proposed to General McLaws that a simultaneous attack should be made by their respective commands, but the latter officer not deeming his force adequate to assail the enemy in front, the proposition was not carried into effect.
In the meantime the enemy had so strengthened his position near Chancellorsville that it was deemed inexpedient to assail it with less than our whole force, which could not be concentrated until we were relieved from the danger that menaced our rear. It was accordingly resolved still further to reinforce the troops in front of General Sedgwick, in order, if possible, to drive him across the Rappahannock. Accordingly, on the 4th, General Anderson was directed to proceed with his remaining three brigades to join General McLaws, the three divisions of Jackson's corps holding our position at Chancellorsville. Anderson reached Salem Church about noon, and was directed to gain the left flank of the enemy and effect a junction with Early. McLaws' troops were disposed as on the previous day, with orders to hold the enemy in front, and to push forward his right brigades as soon as the advance of Anderson and Early should be perceived, so as to connect with them and complete the continuity of our line
Some delay occurred in getting the troops into position, owing to the broken and irregular nature of the ground and the difficulty of ascertaining the disposition of the enemy's forces. The attack did not begin until 6 p. m., when Anderson and Early moved forward and drove General Sedgwick's troops rapidly before them across the Plank road in the direction of the Rappahannock. The speedy approach of darkness prevented General McLaws from perceiving the success of the attack until the enemy began to recross the river a short distance below Banks' Ford, where he had laid one of his pontoon bridges. His right brigades, under Kershaw and Wofford, advanced through the woods in the direction of the firing, but the retreat was so rapid that they could only join in the pursuit. A dense fog settled over the field increasing the obscurity, and rendering great caution necessary to avoid collision between our own troops. Their movements were consequently slow. General Wilcox, with Kershaw's brigade and two regiments of his own, accompanied by a battery, proceeded nearly to the river, capturing a number of prisoners and inflicting great damage upon the enemy. General McLaws also directed Colonel Alexander's artillery to fire upon the locality of the enemy's bridge, which was done with good effect. The next morning it was found that General Sedgwick had made good his escape and removed his bridges. Fredericksburg was also evacuated, and our rear no longer threatened. But as General Sedgwick had it in his power to recross, it was deemed best to leave General Early with his division and Barksdale's brigade to hold our lines as before, McLaws and Anderson being directed to return to Chancellorsville. They reached their destination during the afternoon, in the midst of a violent storm, which continued throughout the night and most of the following day.
Preparations were made to assail the enemy's works at daylight on the 6th, but on advancing our skirmishers it was found that under cover of the storm and darkness of the night he had retreated over the river.
A detachment was left to guard the battle field while the wounded
were being removed and the captured property collected. The rest of the army returned to its former position.
The particulars of these operations will be found in the reports of the several commanding officers which are herewith transmitted. They will show more fully than my limits will suffer me to do the dangers and difficulties which, under God's blessing, were surmounted by the fortitude and valor of our army. The conduct of the troops cannot be too highly praised.
Attacking largely superior numbers in strongly entrenched positions their heroic courage overcame every obstacle of nature and art, and achieved a triumph most honorable to our arms.
I commend to the particular notice of the Department the brave officers and men mentioned by their superiors for extraordinary daring and merit, whose names I am unable to enumerate here. Among them will be found some who have passed by a glorious death beyond the reach of praise, but the memory of whose virtues and devoted patriotism will ever be cherished by their grateful countrymen.
The returns of the Medical Director will show the extent of our loss, which from the nature of the circumstances attending the engagements could not be otherwise than severe. Many valuable officers and men were killed or wounded in the faithful discharge of duty. Among the former, Brigadier General Paxton fell while leading his brigade with conspicuous courage in the assault on the enemy's works at Chancellorsville. The gallant Brigadier General Nicholls lost a leg. Brigadier General McGowan was severely and Brigadier Generals Heth and Pender were slightly wounded in the same engagement. The latter officer led his brigade to the attack under a destructive fire bearing the colors of a regiment in his own hands up to and over the entrenchments with the most distinguished gallantry. General Hoke received a painful wound in the action near Fredericksburg.
The movement by which the enemy's position was turned and the fortune of the day decided was conducted by the lamented Lieutenant General Jackson, who, as has already been stated, was severely wounded near the close of the engagement on Saturday evening. I do not propose here to speak of the character of this illustrious man, since removed from the scene of his eminent usefulness by the hand of an inscrutable but all wise Providence. I nevertheless desire to py the tribute of my admiration to the matchless energy and skill that marked this last act of his life, forming as it did, a worthy conclusion of that long series of splendid achievements which won for him the lasting love and gratitude of his country.
Major General A. P. Hill was disabled soon after assuming command, but did not leave the field until the arrival of Major General Stuart. The latter officer ably discharged the difficult and responsible duties which he was thus unexpectedly called to perform. Assuming the command late in the night, at the close of a fierce engagement, and in the immediate presence of the enemy, necessarily ignorant in a great measure of the disposition of the troops and of the plans of those who had preceded him, General Stuart exhibited great energy, promptness, and intelligence. During the continuance of the engagement the next day, he conducted the operations on the left with distinguished capacity and vigor, stimulating and cheering the troops by the example of his own coolness and daring.
While it is impossible to mention all who were conspicuous in the several engagements, it will not be considered an invidious distinction to say that General Jackson, after he was wounded, in expressing the satisfaction he derived from the conduct of his whole command, comended to my particular attention the services of Brigadier General (now Major General) Rodes and his gallant division.
Major General Early performed the important and responsible duty entrusted to him in a manner which reflected credit upon himself and his command. Major General R. H. Anderson was also distinguished for the promptness, courage, and skill with which he and his division executed every order, and Brigadier General (now Major General) Wilcox is entitled to especial praise for the judgment and bravery displayed in impeding the advance of General Sedgwick towards Chancellorsville, and for the gallant and successful stand at Salem Church.
To the skillful and efficient managernent of the artillery the successful issue of the contest is in great measure due. The ground was not favorable for its employment, but every suitable position was taken with alacrity, and the operations of the infantry supported and assisted with a spirit and courage not second to their own. It bore a prominent part in the final assault which ended in driving the enemy from the field at Chancellorsville, silencing his batteries, and by a destructive enfilade fire upon his works opened the way for the advance of our troops.
Colonels Crutchfield, Alexander, and Walker, and Lieutenant Colonels Brown, Carter, and Andrews, with the officers and men of their commands, are mentioned as deserving especial commendation. The batteries under General Pendleton also acted with great gallantry.
The cavalry of the army at the time of these operations was much reduced. To its vigilance and energy we were indebted for timely in-formation of the enemy's movements before the battle, and for impeding his march to Chancellorsville. It guarded both flanks of the army during the battle at that place, and a portion of it, as has been already stated, rendered valuable service in covering the march of Jackson to the enemy's rear.