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Civil War Series

The Battle of Chancellorsville

   

Night enveloped a chaotic field. The moon rose over the Wilderness to create a fantastic landscape of shadows broken by shafts of light. The men of Rodes and Colston, "mingled together in inextricable confusion" during the attack, would have to be sorted out. Hill's brigades made their way to the front. The Eleventh Corps lay scattered over several miles, and thousands of its soldiers would not be available for further service for many hours. Third Corps units involved in the fighting at Catharine Furnace and the Wellford house found themselves isolated from the main Union position and struggled to link up with comrades along the plank road and at Chancellorsville.

By 9:00 P.M., Sickles's men had settled into position at Hazel Grove facing northwest. To their right, Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams's division of Slocum's corps extended the line to the plank road. Its right touched the left of Berry's division, positioned north of the plank road and, like Williams's command, facing west. Other units of the Second and Twelfth corps were spread around the Chancellorsville crossroads. The Fifth Corps line angled from a position just north of Chancellorsville toward Scott's Dam on the Rappahannock, and the divisions of John Reynolds's First Corps, which had begun the day on the Confederate side of the river at Fredericksburg, were slowly making their way from United States Ford to Chancellorsville. Between 11:00 P.M. and midnight, Sickles mounted a groping assault from Hazel Grove toward the plank road during which his men came under artillery and musket fire from the Twelfth Corps. "I have no information as to the damage suffered by our troops from our own fire," confessed Henry Slocum, "but fear that our losses must have been severe."


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SITUATION: MAY 2, 9 P.M. — MIDNIGHT
Jackson's afternoon assault routs the Eleventh Corps, but throws Rodes's and Colston's divisions into disorder. While they reform near Wilderness Church, Jackson orders A. P. Hill's corps to the front to continue the assault. As Hill moves into position, Jackson reconnoiters in front of Lane's brigade and is injured. Sickles unsuccessfully attacks the Confederates from Hazel Grove at midnight, while Reynolds's First Corps crosses the river at U.S. Ford and hurries into position on Hooker's right.


AT CHANCELLORSVILLE, SOME ELEVENTH CORPS SOLDIERS TURNED NORTH AND HEADED FOR THE FORDS. OTHERS CONTINUED THEIR HEAD-LONG FLIGHT, PASSING THROUGH THE UNION LINES INTO THE ARMS OF MCLAWS'S CONFEDERATES BEYOND. (LC)

Lee continued to oversee the Confederate right. There Richard H. Anderson's division held a line between Scott's Run, just east of Catharine Furnace, and the plank road. Lafayette McLaws's brigades nestled between the plank road and turnpike.


THE WOUNDING OF JACKSON

During a lull in the fighting, Stonewall Jackson rode out to his skirmish line on a personal reconnaissance of the Union position. As he and members of his party were returning, a line of Confederate soldiers mistook them for Union cavalrymen and fired a volley into them. Several horsemen were hit, including Jackson, who was struck by three bullets: two in the left arm and one in the right hand. Lieutenant Joseph G. Morrison was the general's brother-in-law and a member of his staff. In an article later published by Confederate Veteran magazine, he described that tragic night in the Wilderness.

"It was now nine o'clock, and Gen. Jackson, who had been for some time near the front line, rode a little in advance of it to reconnoiter the enemy's position. A heavy skirmish line had been ordered to the front, and he supposed he was in the rear of this line. He was at this time accompanied by Capt. J. K. Boswell, of the engineers, Capt. R. F. Wilburne [sic], of the signal corps, Lieut. J. G. Morrison, aid-de-camp, and five or six couriers, and had ridden but a short distance down the pike when a volley was fired at the party by the Federals in front and to the right of the road. To escape this fire the party wheeled out of the road to the left and galloped to the rear, when our own men, mistaking them for Federal cavalry making a charge, and supposing the firing in front to have been directed at the skirmish line, opened a galling fire, killing several men and horses and causing the horses that were not struck to dash panic-stricken toward the Federal lines, which were but a very short distance in front. The General was struck in three places, and was dragged from his horse by the bough of a tree. Capt. Boswell was killed instantly.

WHEN RETURNING FROM A RECONNAISSANCE AT THE FRONT, JACKSON WAS MISTAKENLY SHOT BY HIS OWN TROOPS. (BL)

Lieut. Morrison, leaping from his horse that was dashing into the enemy's lines, ran to an interval in our line and exclaimed: 'Cease firing! You are firing into our own men.' A colonel commanding a North Carolina regiment in Lane's Brigade cried out: 'Who gave that order? It's a lie! Pour it into them.' Morrison then ran to the colonel, told him what he had done, and assisted him to arrest the firing as soon as possible. He then went to the front in search of the General, and found him lying upon the ground, with Capt. Wilburne and Mr. Wynn, of the signal corps, bending over him examining his wounds. In a few moments Gen. Hill, accompanied by Capt. Leigh and a few couriers, rode up to where the General was lying and dismounted. On examining his wounds, they found his left arm broken near the shoulder and bleeding profusely. A handkerchief was tried around the arm, so as partially to stop the bleeding.

While this was being done, and while the party were bending over the General, two Federal soldiers, with muskets cocked, stepped up to the party from behind a cluster of bushes and looked quietly on. Gen. Hill turned to several of his couriers and said in an undertone, 'Seize those men,' and it was done so quickly that they made no resistance. Lieut. Morrison. thinking these were scouts in front of an advancing line, stepped to the pike, about twenty yards distant, to see if it were so, and distinctly saw cannoneers unlimbering two pieces of artillery in the road, not a hundred yards distant.

Returning hastily, he announced this to the party, when Gen. Hill, who was now in command of the army, immediately mounted and rode to the head of Pender's column (which was coming up by the flank) to throw it into line. He left Capt. Leigh, of his staff, to assist in removing Gen. Jackson. About this time Lieutenant J. P. Smith, aide-de-camp, who had been sent to deliver an order, rode up and dismounted.


"Once the General attempted to rise, but Lieut. Smith threw his arms across his body and urged him to lie quiet a few moments, or he would certainly be killed."

Capt. Wilburne had gone a few moments previous after a litter. The party thought it best not to await Wilburne's return, and suggested that they bear the General off in their arms, when he replied: 'No; I think I can walk.' They assisted him to rise, and supported him as he walked through the woods to the pike and toward the rear. Soon after reaching the road they obtained a litter, and placed him on it; but had not gone over forty yards when the battery in the road opened with canister. The first discharge passed over their heads; but the second was more accurate, and struck down one of the litter bearers, by which the General received a severe fall. The firing now increased in rapidity, and was so terrific that the road was soon deserted by the attendants of the General with the exception of Capt. Leigh and Lieuts. Smith and Morrison. These officers lay down in the road by the General during the firing, and could see on every side sparks flashing from the stones of the pike caused by the iron canister shot. Once the General attempted to rise, but Lieut. Smith threw his arms across his body and urged him to lie quiet a few moments, or he would certainly be killed.

After the road had been swept by this battery with a dozen or more discharges, they elevated their guns and opened with shell. So the little party now had an opportunity of removing their precious burden from the road to the woods on their right, and continued their course to the rear, carrying the General most of the way in their arms. Once they stopped that he might rest, but the fire was so heavy they thought it best to go on. The whole atmosphere seemed filled with whistling canister and shrieking shell, tearing the trees on every side. After going three or four hundred yards an ambulance was reached, containing Col. S. Crutchfield, Gen. Jackson's chief of artillery, who had just been severely wounded, a canister shot breaking his leg. The General was placed in this ambulance, and at his request one of his aids got in to support his mangled arm.

During all of this time he had scarcely uttered a groan, and expressed great sympathy for Col. Crutchfield, who was writhing under the agonies of his shattered limb. After proceeding over half a mile the ambulance reached the house of Mr. Melzi Chancellor, where a temporary hospital had been established. Here Dr. Hunter McGuire, medical director of Gen. Jackson's Corps, checked the bleeding of the General's arm and administered some stimulants. He was then taken to a field infirmary, some two miles to the rear, and about two o'clock in the night his arm was amputated by Dr. McGuire, assisted by Surgeons Black, Wells, and Coleman."

Nightfall did not extinguish Stonewall Jackson's offensive spirit. He hoped renewed assaults would carry his troops to a position between the Army of the Potomac and the fords over the Rappahannock (a vain desire because thousands of Federals blocked the way and the ground favored Hooker). Jackson and a small party of riders moved east along the plank road about 9:00 P.M in search of information about the ground across which any new attacks would pass. Accompanied by a nineteen-year-old private in the Ninth Virginia Cavalry named David Kyle, who had grown up on the Bullock farm north of Chancellorsville and thus knew local roads intimately, Jackson spurred slightly ahead of the rest of the group on the Mountain Road. That small track branched off the plank road slightly more than a mile west of Hooker's headquarters at Chancellorsville and paralleled the main route a few dozen yards to the north.

Eventually satisfied that he had ventured far enough east, Jackson turned Little Sorrel back to the west on the Mountain Road. He had covered but a short distance when scattered shots and then a volley rang out from North Carolinians of Brigadier General James H. Lane's brigade to his left front. Struck by three balls, Jackson was helped to the ground, carried rearward, and eventually transported to a field hospital several miles behind Confederate lines where surgeons amputated his left arm. Command of the Second Corps devolved briefly on A. P. Hill, Jackson's senior lieutenant, who shortly received his own disabling wound. Authority passed finally to Jeb Stuart, summoned from his troopers during the night to take charge of the westernmost piece of the Army of Northern Virginia.

AFTER BEING SHOT, JACKSON WAS TAKEN TO A FIELD HOSPITAL AT THE WILDERNESS TAVERN. THERE, DOCTORS REMOVED HIS INJURED LEFT ARM. (NPS)

Jackson's flank attack on May 2 marked one of the most dramatic moments in Confederate military history—yet it conveyed no substantive advantage to Lee. Only Howard's corps had been seriously damaged, and the arrival at Chancellorsville of the First Corps during the night of May 2-3 more than made up for Federal losses. The two parts of Lee's army remained separated by many thousands of Hooker's soldiers. Indeed, Hooker enjoyed a situation favorable beyond the imaginings of most generals. With nearly 90,000 available men, he could overwhelm the much smaller forces under Stuart and Lee. Darius Couch argued vigorously after the war that the Confederate dilemma on Stuart's front was "a desperate one . . . front and right flank being in the presence of not far from 25,000 men, with the left flank subject to an assault of 30,000, [from] the corps of Meade and Reynolds." Although writing many years after the events he described, Couch still evinced passion in concluding that "it only required that Hooker should brace himself up to take a reasonable, common-sense view of the state of things, when the success gained by Jackson would have been turned into an overwhelming defeat."

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