Although thoroughly beaten mentally, Hooker maintained his outward
bravado. He told Couch that Lee was "just where I want him; he must
fight me on my own ground." But neither Couch nor others at Federal
headquarters doubted the magnitude of the day's lost opportunity. "The
retrograde movement had prepared me for something of the kind," Couch
later wrote of Hooker's hollow claims, "but to hear from his own lips
that the advantages gained by the successful marches of his lieutenants
were to culminate in fighting a defensive battle in that nest of
thickets was too much." Couch left Hooker's presence "with the belief
that my commanding general was a whipped man." Late that afternoon
Federal corps chiefs at Chancellorsville received a prophetic message
from Hooker: "The major general commanding trusts that a suspension in
the attack to-day will embolden the enemy to attack him."
(click on image for a PDF version)
SITUATION: MAY 1, NIGHT|
Hooker falls back to a tight defensive line around Chancellorsville.
Meade holds a position on the river, Couch and Slocum occupy the center
of the line, and Howard's corps stretches west out the Orange Turnpike.
Sickles is in reserve at Chancellorsville. Lee, meanwhile, moves and
occupies the ridge abandoned by Hooker earlier in the day.
The initiative had passed to Leeof all Confederate generals the
one most likely to attack a vacillating enemy. The Army of Northern
Virginia remained in a perilous situation, lodged between Hooker and
Sedgwick. Lee and Jackson met that night where a narrow lane from
Catharine Furnace intersected the plank road about a mile southeast of
Hooker's headquarters. They sat on cracker boxes abandoned by the
retreating Yankees, light from a modest fire flickering in the damp air.
How could they get at the enemy? Lee had ridden toward the Union left
during the afternoon and found no opening. Rough ground, numerous
Federals, and an absence of roads rendered that Union flank safe.
Confederate engineering officers reconnoitered the enemy's center and
reported it also too strong to assail. Reports from various
sourcesincluding Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee of Stuart's
cavalry, various staff officers, and local residentssuggested that
Hooker's right might be vulnerable. If enough infantry could move
undetected across Hooker's front and hit the exposed flank, Lee might
forge a decisive victory. Key information about possible routes for the
flank march came from Charles Beverly Wellford, a veteran of Lee's army
now overseeing Catharine Furnace (a Wellford enterprise named for the
family's matriarch), Jackson's gifted cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss,
and Beverly Tucker Lacy, a clergyman with Jackson whose brother lived in
ON THE NIGHT OF MAY 1, LEE AND JACKSON MET TOGETHER TO PLAN THEIR
STRATEGY FOR THE COMING DAY. WHEN THEIR CAVALRY REPORTED THAT HOOKER'S
RIGHT FLANK WAS "IN THE AIR." LEE ORDERED JACKSON TO ATTACK IT.
Lee decided in the early hours of May 2 on a breathtakingly dangerous
gamble. He would divide his outnumbered army for a second time, sending
28,000 men of Jackson's Second Corps around Hooker's front to launch an
attack on the Union right flank. With the brigades under Anderson and
McLawsroughly 13,000 men supported by 24 gunsLee would
strive to occupy Hooker's attention until Jackson got into position.
Should Hooker discover Lee's intention, the Federals could crush the
pieces of the Army of Northern Virginia in detail (Jubal Early's small
force remained outnumbered about four to one at Fredericksburg).
Doubtless aware of that grim possibility, Lee and Jackson discussed the
path the Second Corps would take. Lee would leave all details of the
movement to Jackson. Illustrating by graphic example of what he hoped to
achieve, Lee chose a moment to align a batch of broomstraws on a
boxthen brushed them to the ground. The generals parted just
before dawn on May 2. Lee would see to the demonstration in front of
Hooker while Jackson started his divisions on a march that would
culminate in the Civil War's most famous flank attack.
IN THE AFTERNOON, DAVID BIRNEY'S DIVISION PUSHED SOUTH TO THE CATHARINE
FURNACE IN AN EFFORT TO DISRUPT JACKSON'S MARCH. HE WAS TOO LATE. (NPS)|
Jackson's column was in motion between seven and eight o'clock. Its
twelve-mile route would follow the Catharine Furnace Road to the
ironworks, continuing southwest to the junction with the Brock Road.
Turning left at that point, the men would march a few hundred yards
south before turning right onto a narrow woods road that eventually
deposited them back onto the Brock Road, which in turn would take them
to the plank road. The plan called for the attack to proceed east along
the plank road. Jackson rode near the front of Rodes's division, which
led the march. Colston's and then Hill's commands stretched out behind.
Brigadier General Alfred H. Colquitt's brigade of Georgians had the
honor of leading the march. At about eight o'clock, the first of
Jackson's infantry passed Lee's bivouac on their way toward the furnace.
"Old Jack" reined in his sorrel to have a few quiet words with Lee. He
gestured toward Catharine Furnace, Lee nodded, and Jackson took his
leave. Lee never saw his redoubtable lieutenant again.
Hours of hard work and anxiety lay ahead for Lee. He helped place the
soldiers of Anderson and McLaws, watched carefully for Hooker's
reaction, and wondered about Jackson's progress and Jubal Early's
situation at Fredericksburg. The Confederate line fronting Hooker
eventually extended three and one-half miles from near Catharine Furnace
on the southwest, where Carnot Posey's brigade was posted, northwest
across the plank road and the turnpike to the Old Mine Road. Only seven
brigades strong, this force feigned numerous attacks. Individual
regiments frequently deployed huge numbers of skirmishers to create the
illusion of greater numbers. Federals easily repulsed the Confederate
feints but never followed up with counterattacks. Lee knew his thin line
could resist no serious northern advance. "It is plain that if the enemy
is too strong for me here," he informed Jefferson Davis, "I shall have
to fall back, and Fredericksburg must be abandoned." Lee also told the
president about the flank march: "I am now swinging around to my left to
come up in his [Hooker's] rear."
JACKSON'S INFANTRY SENSED THAT THEY WERE HEADED AROUND THE UNION ARMY,
AND IT PUT THEM IN HIGH SPIRITS. "TELL OLD JACK WE'RE ALL A-COMING,"
THEY JOKED TO PASSING STAFF OFFICERS. "DON'T LET HIM BEGIN THE FUSS TILL
WE GIT THAR!" (BL)|
Jackson's men trod on narrow paths damp and soft enough for easy
marching. Cavalry preceded the infantry and screened the right flank.
Each division marched with its artillery, ambulances, and ammunition
trains behind it. From head to tail the column stretched ten miles. Four
hours elapsed between the time the first and last brigades passed Lee's
bivouac. Jackson hoped to maintain his usual pace of one mile every
twenty-five minutes with a ten-minute break each hour. Pleasantly cool
under clear skies when the movement began, the temperature climbed
steadily as the day wore on. Colonel Charles T. Zachry of the
Twenty-Seventh Georgia, a regiment in Colquitt's brigade, remarked six
days later that "the march was a trying one for the men; the day was
very warm; many fell out of ranks exhausted, some fainting and having
Noted for prodigious marching in the Shenandoah Valley and elsewhere,
Jackson's famous "foot cavalry" would consume the entire day reaching
its jump-off point and forming for the assault. Why did it take so long?
One observer explained: "Every little inequality of ground, & every
mud hole, especially if the road be narrow, causes a column to string
out & lose distance. So that, though the head may advance steadily,
the rear has to alternately halt & start, & halt & start, in
the most heartbreaking way, wearing out the men and consuming precious
daylight, often beyond the calculations even of experienced
So many Confederates on so long a march invited detection. Scarcely a
mile beyond Lee's bivouac, the column became visible to Federals a mile
and a quarter northwest on the high plateau called Hazel Grove.
Brigadier General David Bell Birney's division of Sickles's corps held
Hazel Grove, and at about 8:00 A.M. Birney informed Sickles "that a
continuous column of infantry, trains, and ambulances was passing my
front toward the right." Birney ordered the rifled pieces of Battery B,
First New Jersey Artillery, to open fire on the Confederates, causing
them to double-quick past the gap in the woods. Sickles subsequently
rode to Hazel Grove to watch the passing Confederates. "The continuous
column . . . was observed for three hours moving apparently in a
southerly direction toward Orange Court-House," wrote Sickles in his
report of the battle. "I hastened to report these movements through
staff officers to the general-in-chief, and communicated the substance
of them in the same manner to Major-General Howard, on my right, and
also to Major-General Slocum, inviting their cooperation in case the
general-in-chief should authorize me to follow up the enemy and attack
ENGRAVINGS LIKE THIS ONE TENDED TO PORTRAY BATTLES AS TIDY, WELL MANAGED
AFFAIRS. SUE CHANCELLOR KNEW OTHERWISE. "IF ANYBODY THINKS THAT A BATTLE
IS AN ORDERLY ATTACK OF ROWS OF MEN, I CAN TELL HIM DIFFERENTLY," SHE
LATER ASSERTED. (LC)|
Shortly after nine o'clock, a courier from Birney found Hooker at the
Chancellor house and explained about the Confederate column. Hooker had
been up since before sunrise and already had examined his right flank.
Troops had cheered as he rode by, and he remarked that the Union
position seemed strongwhich it was if Confederates attacked from
the south. Alerted by Birney's message, Hooker scanned the area near
Catharine Furnace through his fieldglasses. He caught glimpses of the
Confederates in two places the break in the woods where Birney had
seen them and a section of the Furnace Road that ran south from the iron
works toward the Wellford house. Lee's men might be retreating, thought
Hooker, but they also might be searching for an opening to strike the
Union right flank. His morning inspection had revealed that Howard's
line offered little strength facing west. In a dispatch dated 9:30 A.M.,
Hooker warned Howard to prepare for trouble from that direction: "We
have good reason to suppose the enemy is moving to our right. Please
advance your pickets for purposes of observation as far as may be safe
in order to obtain timely information of their approach."
RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE UNION DISASTER ON MAY 2 FELL SQUARELY ON THE
SHOULDERS OF O. O. HOWARD, WHO FAILED TO HEED NOT ONLY HOOKER'S WARNING
BUT THE WARNINGS OF HIS OWN MEN. (LC)|
Although Howard later claimed this dispatch never reached him, he
knew from other sources that Confederates might be marching toward his
right. He informed Hooker at 10:50 A.M. about "a column of infantry
moving westward on a road parallel with this [the turnpike] on a ridge
about 1-1/2 to 2 m[iles] south of this." Howard assured his commander
that he was "taking measures to resist an attack from the west." In
fact, he did virtually nothing to rearrange his corps, the vast majority
of which continued to face south along the turnpike.
While Howard contented himself with nominal adjustments to his line,
Hooker remained cautious and Dan Sickles exuded a restless determination
to strike the Rebels. Passing up the chance to launch a major assault
against the enemy's column, Hooker did send discretionary orders for
Sedgwick "to attack the enemy in his front" if "an opportunity presents
itself with a reasonable expectation of success." Sickles received
permission at noon "to advance cautiously toward the road followed by
the enemy, and harass the movement as much as possible."
WILDERNESS CHURCH STOOD AT THE CENTER OF HOWARD'S LINE. CARL SCHURZ
WOULD LATER FORM HIS DIVISION NEAR THE CHURCH. FACING WEST, IN AN EFFORT
TO MEET JACKSON'S ATTACK. (NPS)|
These instructions came too late to interfere with Jackson's main
body. The trains, ambulances, and other vehicles accompanying the column
had left the Furnace Road to follow alternate paths that carried them
safely beyond Federal pressure at the ironworks. Jackson also had
detached the Twenty-third Georgia of Colquitt's brigade to guard the
rear of the column. The Georgians engaged elements of Birney's division
and Colonel Hiram Berdan's sharpshooters near Catharine Furnace during
the early afternoon. Driven south from the furnace, the Twenty-third
made a stand just north of the Wellford house in a portion of the same
unfinished railroad cut Wright's brigade had used the day before. The
Federals finally overran this position about 5:00 P.M., capturing most
of the defenders (Colonel Emory Fiske Best of the Twenty-third fled the
cut and subsequently was court-martialed and convicted of cowardice).
Two brigades from A. P. Hill's division, which had turned back to
support Best's regiment and now deployed on an open plateau near the
Wellford place, efficiently contained Sickles's success.
Most of Jackson's infantry marched on unaware that Sickles's troops
nipped at the rear of their column. They reached the Brock Roadthe
principal north-south artery through that part of the
Wildernessand turned left as planned, crossed a pair of small
ridges, then made a right turn onto a narrow woods path that took them,
four abreast, northward to a reunion with the Brock Road. A short
distance more and they reached the junction of the Brock and Orange
Plank roads. Here Jackson had envisioned turning east on the plank road
to cover the final two miles before striking the enemy at Wilderness
Church. Instead he found Fitzhugh Lee with exciting news. Taking Jackson
east along the plank road, Lee ascended to high ground on the Burton
farm whence he gestured toward a memorable sight: To their front, spread
out along the turnpike, were thousands of Federal soldiers at rest. Arms
stood stacked, and wisps of smoke from campfires climbed lazily skyward.
No sign indicated any expectation of a Confederate assault from the
west. Fitz Lee later recalled that Jackson's eyes "burned with a
brilliant glow, lighting his sad face."
JACKSON VIEWS THE UNION LINES
On May 2,1863, Stonewall Jackson led his corps through the Wilderness
toward the Union army's right flank, held by Major General Oliver O.
Howard's Eleventh Corps. Jackson believed Howard's line ended near the
Wilderness Church and therefore planned to make his attack up the Orange
Plank Road. As he neared the plank road that afternoon, however, he met
Major General Fitzhugh Lee, whose cavalry was screening his march. Lee
asked Jackson to follow him down the plank road to the Burton farm,
which stood on a knoll just half a mile from the Union line. There,
Jackson saw that Howard's line actually extended a mile beyond the
church, making an attack up the plank road impractical. Based on this
information, he had his corps continue up the Brock Road to the Orange
Turnpike, thereby placing it squarely on Howard's exposed flank. In a
speech made sixteen years after the battle, Fitz Lee described his
meeting with Jackson at the Burton farm:
FITZHUGH LEE (BL)|
"Jackson was marching on. My cavalry was well in his front. Upon
reaching the Plank road, some five miles west of Chancellorsville, my
command was halted, and while waiting for Jackson to come up, I made a
personal reconnaissance to locate the Federal right for Jackson's
attack. With one staff officer, I rode across and beyond the Plank road,
in the direction of the Old turnpike, pursuing a path through the woods,
momentarily expecting to find evidence of the enemy's presence. Seeing a
wooded hill in the distance, I determined, if possible, to get upon its
top, as it promised a view of the adjacent country. Cautiously I
ascended its side, reaching the open spot upon its summit without
molestation. What a sight presented itself before me! Below, and but a
few hundred yards distant, ran the Federal line of battle. I was in rear
of Howard's right. There were the line of defence, with abatis in front,
and long lines of stacked arms in rear. Two cannon were visible in the
part of the line seen. The soldiers were in groups in the rear,
laughing, chatting, smoking, probably engaged, here and there, in games
of cards, and other amusements indulged in while feeling safe and
comfortable, awaiting orders. In rear of them were other parties driving
up and butchering beeves ... So impressed was I with my discovery, that
I rode rapidly back to the point on the Plank road where I had left my
cavalry, and back down the road Jackson was moving until I met
'Stonewall' himself. 'General,' said I, 'if you will ride with me,
halting your column here, out of sight, I will show you the enemy's
right, and you will perceive the great advantage of attacking down the
Old turnpike instead of the Plank road, the enemy's lines being taken in
reverse. Bring only one courier, as you will be in view from the top of
the hill.' Jackson assented, and I rapidly conducted him to the point of
observation. There had been no change in the picture.
"His eyes burned with a brilliant glow, lighting up a sad face.
His expression was one of intense interest, his face was colored
slightly with the paint of approaching battle, and radiant at the
success of his flank movement."
I only knew Jackson slightly. I watched him closely as he gazed upon
Howard's troops. It was then about 2 P.M. His eyes burned with a
brilliant glow, lighting up a sad face. His expression was one of
intense interest, his face was colored slightly with the paint of
approaching battle, and radiant at the success of his flank movement....
To the remarks made to him while the unconscious line of blue was
pointed out, he did not reply once during the five minutes he was on the
hill, and yet his lips were moving. From what I have read and heard of
Jackson since that day, I know now what he was doing then. Oh! 'beware
of rashness,' General Hooker. Stonewall Jackson is praying in full view
and in rear of your right flank!...
'Tell General Rodes,' said he, suddenly whirling his horse towards
the courier, 'to move across the Old plank-road; halt when he gets to
the Old turnpike, and I will join him there.' One more look upon the
Federal lines, and then be rode rapidly down the hill."
It was nearly 3:00 P.M. Much of the day already had been taken up by
marching, hut Jackson might achieve complete surprise if his column
continued on to the turnpike before turning east. "Tell General Rodes to
move across the Plank Road" he snapped to a courier, "halt when he gets
to the old turnpike, and I will join him there." Before riding to join
his men, Jackson scribbled a note to R. E. Lee: "I hope as soon as
practicable to attack... The leading division is up and the next two
appear to be well closed."
AFTER VIEWING THE UNION LINE FROM THE BURTON FARM, JACKSON TOOK A MOMENT
TO SCRIBBLE THIS DISPATCH TO ROBERT E. LEE. THREE HOURS LATER HE