Two additional miles brought the van of Rodes's division to the
turnpike. Brigade after brigade turned east along that thoroughfare,
forming in long lines that straddled the road facing east and extended
nearly a mile in each direction. Soon two complete lines, separated by
about 100 yards, and part of a third were in place. Because the sun
inexorably dipped toward the western horizon, Jackson could not wait for
the last brigades of Hill's division to arrive. Thousands of soldiers
stood in position to smash directly into the unprotected right flank of
O. O. Howard's Eleventh Corps. Accounts vary as to the precise time, but
between 5:15 and 6:00 P.M. Jackson checked his watch, then looked at
Robert Rodes, the young brigadier general whose troops manned the front
line. "Are you ready, General Rodes?" asked Jackson. "Yes, sir," came
the steady reply. "You can go forward then."
AT 5:15 P.M., OR SHORTLY THEREAFTER, ROBERT RODES REPORTED HIS DIVISION
READY FOR ACTION. "YOU CAN GO FORWARD THEN," JACKSON REPLIED. (LC)|
Nearly 20,000 Confederates surged forward through trees and
underbrush. The unnerving whoop of the Rebel Yell floated through the
forest, and a wave of terrified animals rolled eastward in front of the
advancing human tide. Startled Federals at first pointed and laughed as
rabbits and deer scattered through their linesthen frantically
sought to form when they realized why the beasts had burst from the
woods. Howard's men never had a chance. Only five regiments faced the
oncoming Rebels. Confronting enemy lines that far overlapped their own,
they offered token resistance before falling hack in disorder. Near
Wilderness Church, Carl Schurz shifted his division's alignment from
south to west. "Round came his line like a top, swinging sharply as
though upon a pivot," wrote an admiring Union soldier of Schurz's
maneuver. "Not more than two minutes before Schurz's men were facing
south. Now their front was to the westin unbroken line, shoulder
to shoulder, to stem the torrent of men." Twenty minutes of hard
fighting settled the issue. Flanked on both ends of his line, Schurz
ordered a retreat at about 6:30 P.M. Other pockets of Federals also
fought fiercely, and artillery Captain Hubert Dilgercalled
"Leather-breeches" because he affected doeskin trousersheroically
worked a cannon on the turnpike.
(click on image for a PDF version)
JACKSON'S FLANK ATTACK: MAY 2, 5-6 P.M.|
While Lee spars with Hooker south and east of Chancellorsville,
Jackson leads three divisions of the Second Corps on a daylight march
around the Union army's right flank. Observing Jackson's march, Hooker
sends Sickles to harass the Confederate column at Catharine Furnace and
later orders Slocum forward as well. This isolates Howard's corps, which
later folds under the weight of Jackson's afternoon assault.
O. O. Howard's splendid behavior during the fighting partially
redeemed his careless deployment. He seized a standard and shouted for
his men to stand. Oblivious to minie balls that whizzed around him, he
managed to rally small knots of soldiers before witnessing the complete
disintegration of his corps. "More quickly than it could be told," he
sadly observed, "with all the fury of the wildest hailstorm, everything,
every sort of organization that lay in the path of the mad current of
panic-stricken men had to give way and be broken into fragments."
THE CONFEDERATES SWEPT DOWN THE ORANGE TURNPIKE LIKE A HURRICANE,
OVERPOWERING ANY UNIT THAT STOOD IN THEIR WAY. IN LESS THAN TWO HOURS,
THEY HAD DEMOLISHED THE ELEVENTH CORPS. (BL)|
Eleventh Corps resistance had collapsed by about 7:00 P.M. Several
thousand of Howard's men collected over the next hour at Fairview, a
large clearing across the plank road from Chancellorsville. Captain
Clermont L. Pest, chief of artillery in the Twelfth Corps, massed 37
guns at Fairview and directed an effective fire westward toward the
advancing Confederates. Rodes's division, badly disorganized in victory,
halted at 7:15 near a set of abandoned works that Slocum's soldiers had
erected across the plank road roughly a mile west of Chancellorsville.
Soon to be excoriated as the "damned Dutchmen" who fled rather than
fighting Jackson's veterans, the Eleventh Corps had performed reasonably
well under the circumstances. Nearly 2,500 casualties (roughly 25
percent of its strength), among them a dozen of twenty-three regimental
commanders, attested to its efforts.
Joseph Hooker had roused himself from a curious lethargy to assist in
stabilizing the Union line west of Chancellorsville. He and members of
his staff vainly sought to stem the tide of fugitives pouring east along
the plank road. At one point, Hooker encouraged Major General Hiram G.
Berry, who led the Third Corps division the commanding general himself
had organized nineteen months earlier, to "throw your men into the
breachreceive the enemy on your bayonetsdon't fire a
shotthey can't see you." Berry's men went into line perpendicular
to the plank road a half mile west of Chancellorsville about the time
Jackson's attack lost momentum.
CAPTAIN HUBERT DILGER'S BATTERY FIRED DOUBLE ROUNDS OF CANISTER DOWN THE
PLANK ROAD IN AN EFFORT TO CHECK JACKSON'S ADVANCE. HIS GUNS HINDERED
THE CONFEDERATES BUT COULD NOT STOP THEM. (BL)|
CLUTCHING A U.S. FLAG UNDER THE STUMP OF HIS AMPUTATED ARM, HOWARD TRIED
VALIENTLY TO RALLY HIS TROOPS. (BL)|
The Confederate assault might have accomplished a great deal more.
Alfred Colquitt, a Georgia politician whose brigade occupied the right
of the first line of attackers, ignored Jackson's stern orders to move
ahead without regard to his flanks. Imagining a Union threat from the
south, Colquitt halted his brigade after a brief time, in the process
stacking up Dodson Ramseur's fine brigade of North Carolinians in the
second line as well as the Stonewall Brigade, which was attempting to
move east along the plank road. Five thousand Confederates remained
stationary while a furious Ramseur demanded to know why. Colquitt
finally moved on, leaving Ramseur to search in vain for the phantom
enemy. Ramseur subsequently reported that "not a solitary Yankee was to
be seen" where the rattled Georgian had concocted a Federal menace.
MANY OF HOWARD'S SOLDIERS THREW DOWN THEIR WEAPONS AND RAN FOR THE REAR.
"WE WERE ORDERED TO STOP THEM." REMEMBERED ONE TWELFTH CORPS SOLDIER.
"BUT WE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE TRIED TO STOP A CYCLONE. . . . ONE CAN HARDLY
CONCEIVE OF THE TERROR THAT POSSESSED THEM." (BL)|