The mission of Jackson was daring by every canon of war. Equally daring was the task to which Lee turned when Jackson's figure faded into the forest to the rhythm of the clanking canteens of his swiftly swinging soldiers. For Lee, defying the lesson of Sharpsburg, had divided his army into three parts — into four, if Rooney Lee's two regiments of cavalry, facing Stoneman, were counted as a separate unit. Jackson was carrying 28,000 men with him toward the right flank and rear of Hooker. Early's 10,000 were watching Sedgwick on the Fredericksburg sector, and Lee, with a scant 14,000, was left to hold off the main army of the Federals on a front of •three and a quarter miles.1
Lee planned his dispositions quickly. Tactically and strategically, the day's work was to be his, for he had no officer with him above the rank of division commander and he was unwilling to trust either of the major generals with direction of the field. He sent back Colonel Chilton, in person, to Fredericksburg to repeat the orders of the previous day, which were for Early to hold his position, to detach troops to the Chancellorsville line if the enemy reduced force in his front, and to join Lee with his entire command if the enemy disappeared from the Fredericksburg sector.2 Wilcox, who was watching Banks's Ford with his brigade, was similarly instructed to leave a small force there and march in support on the Plank road in case the Federals showed no intention of crossing.3 Then Lee moved Wright's brigade of Anderson's division from the Plank road up to the Furnace road, where it formed on the right of Posey.4 The map5 on page 527 shows the situation at p526 8 A.M. on May 2.º It represents not only the Confederate line but also the Federal positions, most of which were unknown at that time in detail to Lee.
Situation around Chancellorsville, about 8 A.M., May 2, 1863,
Orders were to hold the line, with skirmishers well out, but not to provoke attack.6 The guns were placed as advantageously as possible to cover the approaches,7 but the prospect remained one of dire danger. Even when Kershaw came up to fill the gap between McLaws's left and the right of Anderson, the men were •six feet apart on some sections of the line.8 They could not possibly hold their ground against a determined attack by the powerful enemy that faced them. If the divisions of Anderson and McLaws were forced to retreat, there would be a gap between Fredericksburg and Jackson's column; if Early were driven back, Lee's rear would be exposed and Jackson might be compelled to break off his turning movement; if Jackson were repulsed, the Federals might have opportunity of destroying him and then of turning on Lee and Early. Lee was fully conscious of the risks he was taking. "It is plain," he wrote in a dispatch to the President, "that if the enemy is too strong for me here, I shall have to fall back, and Fredericksburg must be abandoned. If successful here, Fredericksburg will be saved and our communications retained. I may be forced back to the Orange and Alexandria or the Virginia Central road, but in either case I will be in position to contest the enemy's advance upon Richmond. I have no expectations that any re-enforcements from Longstreet or North Carolina will join me in time to aid in the contest at this point, but they may be in time for a subsequent occasion. . . . If I had with me all my command, I should feel easy, but, as far as I can judge, the advantage of numbers and position is greatly in favor of the enemy."9
The morning opened quietly. Save when the skirmishers engaged angrily, or when the Southern batteries on the right growled in warning as the Federals showed themselves, the early hours were such as the army might have spent during the weeks of waiting in front of Richmond, eleven months before.
But what of Jackson? How was he faring on those narrow Wilderness roads that lent themselves so readily to ambuscade p528 and surprise? About 10 o'clock there was a sound of artillery fire by a few guns to the westward, and at 11 this grew heavier.10 As noon shortened the shadows, a sudden outburst of infantry fire was audible from the vicinity of the iron furnace past which Jackson's column was moving. Soon a courier brought ominous tidings — the enemy was attacking the wagon-train that was following the rear of the turning column! The possibly of frantic driving, wild confusion, and blocked roads were all conjured up by that dread phrase, "The enemy in the wagon-train."
Jackson, of course, could be counted upon to have made some provision against disaster from such a move, because he knew that Lee could not cover his line of march. However, Posey's brigade was sent toward the threatened point, and Wright was shifted to the left to support Posey. Ere long came the reassuring news that the enemy had been beaten off, that the trains were free,11 and that Jackson had thrown back two brigades to cover his rear.12 But as Posey's skirmishers were hotly engaged, he was left where he was to assist these brigades,13 and an effort was made to place a gun where it would help him.14
As the afternoon wore on, it became apparent that Jackson had not been held up a second time on the early stages of his march. Nor had the enemy shifted troops from the line to meet him. Where visible in front of Chancellorsville, the Federals were not decreasing in force, though they seemed more numerous around Catherine Furnace. On McLaws's front there was some lively firing by Wofford's brigade around 3:15, but nothing to indicate a general attack by the Federals.15
Just as the fusillade on Wofford's lines began to die away, a message in Jackson's autograph was delivered to Lee. It was a single sheet, scrawled in pencil and reading as follows:
Near 3 p.m.
May 2d, 1863
The enemy has made a stand at Chancellor's which is •about 2 miles from Chancellorsville. I hope as soon as practicable to attack.
p529 I trust that an ever kind Providence will bless us with great success. C Respectfully,
T. J. Jackson,
Genl. R. E. Lee
The leadg division is up & the next two appear to be well closed.
T. J. J.16
This was good news and bad — good because it indicated that Jackson was far around on the enemy's flank, bad because its reference to a "stand" by the enemy seemed to destroy all hope that the attack Jackson was about to make on the enemy could be a surprise. Until further reports came, Lee could only listen for the sound of firing. Apparently nothing had happened between the time the courier left Jackson and the time he reached headquarters, for the only echo of battle that came from the west was that of Posey's skirmishers opposite the iron furnace.
Suspense was rising. The day was far gone. Unless Jackson's guns were soon heard, his action would have to be deferred until morning, and, being postponed, would almost certainly be discovered. Orders were issued to press the enemy as soon as Jackson opened, so as to prevent the dispatch of reinforcements to oppose him.17
The next news did not come from the west but from the east, and was enough to make excitable men turn pale. Early had left Fredericksburg! Without firing a shot, he was marching to join Lee; the strong positions on the heights had virtually been abandoned to the enemy, to be occupied at his pleasure; the rear was open to Sedgwick! It was all due to a mistake in the transmission of ever-dangerous verbal orders. Colonel Chilton, who had not been in good spirits for some time,18 had reached Early's headquarters about 11 A.M. that day, and in some unaccountable fashion had confused the instructions he had been directed to p530 deliver. He had told Early that he was to leave one brigade at Fredericksburg, with artillery support, and was to march at once to Lee with the rest of his command. Early had protested in vain and then obediently had drawn out his guns and had put them on the road. Lee, of course, at once wrote him to correct the misunderstanding and to leave him full discretion, but he did not know what might have happened after Early had left the heights. The only reason for hoping that the enemy had not seized the positions was that no report to that effect had been forwarded by the brigade that had been left behind.19
In any case, the situation was one of acutest danger. Fredericksburg was exposed to the enemy; no further news had been received from Jackson about his advance or about the "stand" of the enemy; night was distant but two hours — it was a desperate moment in a desperate campaign. Yet, despite his recent illness, Lee did not show misgiving in a single doubtful word or impatient gesture. If Fredericksburg were occupied in force, or if Jackson had been balked in front of a line that had been strengthened at the news of his coming, then . . . but what was that rumble from the west, swelling like distant thunder above the rattle of Posey's skirmishers? Every ear was strained; every heart stopped for a moment. Then, as the fury of a cannonade swept over the wilderness, every eye brightened. It was Jackson at last, hurling his veterans desperately against the Federals to the wild music of his guns!
Quickly the word was passed to the right: Advance and hold the attention of the enemy; threaten him with attack, alarm him for the safety of his position. Not one man must Hooker be permitted to withdraw from his left to reinforce the right that Jackson was now crumpling up. As diligently as if engaged in a real offensive, the thin line sprang up and straightened and p531 stiffened and began steadily to move forward. Past the picket-posts it pressed, up to the Federal skirmishers, on toward the grim main position behind the felled trees in the thicket. The roads were to be covered, Lee said, and if any opening was found, the men were to make the most of it, but otherwise they were to content themselves with a demonstration and were gradually to incline to the left so as to join flanks with Jackson, if he succeeded in rolling up the enemy back on the centre. As the men approached the Federal entrenchments, they could see them lined with troops, against which the Confederate batteries played.20 No sign was there anywhere of any evidence that the enemy sensed a bluff and was drawing men off to oppose Jackson, the sound of whose battle was rising louder and louder, in a glorious chorus. As Lee shifted to the left in a tactically flawless move, a gap was made in McLaws's division, but the 10th Georgia was deployed in its full strength as a skirmish line and so admirably performed its duty that the front seemed unbroken.
Lee was nearest at the time to Mahone's brigade and personally directed its advance. Watching the situation closely, he now ordered forward three companies of the 6th Virginia to make a feint as if the whole line were about to charge. The Virginians sprang forward, rushed over a difficult abatis and entered the enemy's works a little after dark. They could remain only a short time, as the Federals quickly rallied, but when the three companies returned they brought with them the beautiful colors of the 107th Ohio Regiment, which they delivered into Lee's own hands.21
The demonstration had served its purpose, for in the darkness that had now settled thickly over the Wilderness, the Federals could not move troops to their right in time to strengthen it. Lee ordered McLaws and Mahone back to their original lines and, with the rest of the army, listened in fascination to the swelling roar of Jackson's attack. It was evident that Jackson was advancing rapidly, but the volume of sound indicated a growing resistance. Soon the moon rose above the treesa in a sky of floating clouds and vaguely illuminated the landscape,22 but the western horizon was covered with a fiery curtain, draped into fantastic, he said-changing folds by the lighted fuses of the flying shells — a dazzling, p532 awesome sight.23 Now the din diminished, now it rose again: salvoes and volleys, the nervous, uneven fire of scattered, frantic batteries, the rattle of long lines of muskets. Hour after hour the night battle continued, slowly drawing nearer and shifting southward. At 11 o'clock it was still in its fury; not until midnight did it die away into silence, like the sullen growl of an exhausted dog. Then, as Lee prepared to lie down in a little pine thicket, with an oilcloth over him to keep off the dew, the whippoorwills began their dirge. And never were they "known to sing so long and loud as they did that Saturday night at Chancellorsville."24
Weariness overcame the questionings of an anxious mind, and Lee went to sleep on the ground. About 2:30 he was awakened by the sound of two voices, one of them Taylor's.
"Who is there?" Lee called.
"It is Captain Wilbourn," Taylor answered.
Lee raised himself on his elbow, and pointed to his outspread blankets. "Sit down here by me, Captain, and tell me about the fight last night."
Captain R. E. Wilbourn, who was Jackson's signal officer, was tired from hard riding and harder action, but he had to tell a tale the like of which had never been recounted in all the grim annals of America's wars. Jackson had marched straight on when the wagon-train of his rear division had been attacked. After writing Lee from the vicinity of Chancellor's house, he had discovered the right flank of the XI Corps "in the air" just north of the turnpike, •a mile beyond the Wilderness Church. The Federals, with their arms stacked, had been unsuspectingly cooking their supper. Not a sign had they given that they were anticipating an attack or had been warned to look for one. Jackson had then quietly extended his men in three lines on a wide front and had given the word. The bugles had sounded through the woods, and the corps had gone forward with a demoniac yell. The startled enemy had offered brief resistance and then had fled, Jackson in full pursuit. Wilderness Church had been reached and passed, the lines had pressed more than a mile farther eastward, and then, having rolled up the whole Federal flank, had been halted by p533 darkness and by stiffened resistance. Such a victory the army had never won, but . . . in the confusion, Jackson had ridden forward with a few of his officers, had been fired on . . . and had been wounded three times in the arms. He had been carried to the rear and was under a surgeon's care.25
Lee had heard Wilbourn without a comment or even an exclamation. At the announcement of Jackson's injuries, though Wilbourn said they were only flesh wounds, he could not contain himself. He moaned audibly and, for a moment, seemed about to burst into tears.26 With deep feeling he said, "Ah, captain, any victory is dearly bought which deprives us of the services of General Jackson, even for a short time!"
Wilbourn had been with Jackson when he had been shot and he began to describe how it happened and how Jackson had been borne back to the lines under heavy fire and in extreme pain. The story was more than Lee could endure. "Ah," he said, with rising emotion, "don't talk about it; thank God it is no worse!"
Then he fell silent, pondering, perhaps, the calamity the army would sustain if Jackson's wounds proved more serious than they seemed. He battled with that gloomy thought until he noticed that Wilbourn was rising in the belief that Lee had ended the interview. Stopping him, he asked him to stay. "I want to talk with you some more," he said, and started to ask what position the p534 troops held and who was in command. Wilbourn told him that A. P. Hill, as senior division commander, had taken Jackson's place, but that he, too, had been wounded slightly. Brigadier General Rodes had then assumed command, Wilbourn said, but Stuart had been summoned, as senior major general on that sector, to take charge of the corps. The leaders, Wilbourn went on, were anxious that Lee come in person to that flank.27
"Rodes," Lee broke in emphatically, "is a gallant, courageous, and energetic officer." And he asked where Stuart and Jackson were, that he might write to them.
Wilbourn volunteered that from what he had heard Jackson say, he thought the General had planned to seize the road to the United States Ford and to cut the enemy off from it that night or the next morning.
This reference to the resumption of the battle galvanized Lee. He rose on the instant. "These people must be pressed today," he said.28 He wrote immediately to Stuart:
May 3, 1863 — 3 a. m.
It is necessary that the glorious victory thus far achieved be prosecuted with the utmost vigor, and the enemy given no time to rally. As soon, therefore, as it is possible, they must be pressed, so that we may unite the two wings of the army.
Endeavor, therefore, to dispossess them of Chancellorsville, which will permit the union of the whole army.
I shall myself proceed to join you as soon as I can make arrangements on this side, but let nothing delay the completion of the plan of driving the enemy from his rear and from his positions.
I shall give orders that every effort be made on this side at daybreak to aid in the junction.29
In a few minutes the General had on his boots and spurs and ordered his staff to make ready. With his own hands he spread out for Wilbourn a breakfast from a basket some lady had sent him, and he told Wilbourn to lie down and get some sleep as p535 soon as he had finished eating. Lee had mounted when a second messenger arrived from the left in the person of Captain Jed Hotchkiss, Jackson's topographical engineer. He had other details of the battle and of the position of the troops. Lee listened to his report but would not let him tell of Jackson's wounding. "I know all about it," he said, "and do not wish to hear any more — it is too painful a subject."30 When Hotchkiss prepared to ride off, Lee gave him further instructions for Stuart. "It is all important," he said in his dispatch to Stuart, "that you continue pressing to the right, turning, if possible, all the fortified points, in order that we can unite both wings of the army. Keep the troops well together, and press on, on the general plan, which is to work by the right wing, turning the positions of the enemy, so as to drive him from Chancellorsville, which will again unite us. Everything will be done on this side to accomplish the same object. Try and keep the troops provisioned and together and proceed vigorously."31 Early was notified of what had happened and was told that the army hoped to make its victory complete that day.32
When Lee rode off to do battle for a junction with Jackson's corps, the situation was much confused. Stuart, Lee knew, was •a mile and three-quarters northwest of him and would soon be advancing toward him. Wright and Posey, of Anderson's division, were facing west, •a mile beyond the nearest point of the Confederate line held by the troops under Lee's immediate command. Stretching from the vicinity of the Plank road, running east and northeast, was the remainder of Anderson's division and the whole of McLaws's. Their faces were toward Chancellorsville. Presumably the lines of the enemy formed a great dipper, with the handle from northeast to southwest. The sides of the dipper were east and west and the bottom to the south. But what forces the Federals had outside this dipper, between his left and Stuart's right, Lee could not tell. His position was roughly as shown on page 536.
Position of Army of Northern Virginia and assumed position of the Army of the Potomac,
Lee now prepared to attack the eastern and the southern sides of the dipper with his own forces. He believed that if he did this and Stuart continued to press eastward, he could speedily uncover Chancellorsville and, in that way, more quickly than in any other, could unite the two wings of the army for a joint advance that would throw Hooker back against the Rappahannock. The situation, however, had changed during the night,33 and rough work lay ahead. Perry's small brigade, which had been moved back from the line at daylight, was sent down the Catharpin road with p537 instructions to move around to the furnace, to feel out the Federals and to form on the extreme left of Anderson's division.34 Posey and Wright were to pivot on the eastern flank of Wright's brigade, were to face north, were to extend their line, and were to advance35 simultaneously with the rest of Anderson's division and the whole of McLaws's.
The brigade commanders entrusted with this important movement knew nothing of the difficult ground through which they had to lead their troops. Their force was much too small to cover their assigned front adequately. They went to their task, however, with fine initiative, their left supported by three guns that Lee personally ordered into position.36 Perry cleared the ground on his part of the front. Posey engaged hotly. Wright found himself called upon with 1600 to sweep the far-stretching tangle of woodland on a front of •one mile. He wisely contracted his own line, throwing out a heavy skirmish line to connect with the brigades to right and to left, and pressed vigorously northward.37 Lee himself started to the left to direct the junction of Stuart's column and his own.
As he approached Catherine Furnace, the fury of a battle to the northwest was borne upon him. Stuart had attacked before sunrise and was pushing forward. Thanks alike to the good judgment of Stuart's acting chief of artillery, Colonel E. P. Alexander, and to a bad blunder on the part of the Federals, Stuart had been able to seize an excellent artillery position known as Hazel Grove, •about 2000 yards southwest of Chancellorsville, and had massed thirty guns there.38 This strong battery gave him an immediate advantage. But on the left of Stuart's command the enemy was attacking violently. Stout brigades were shaken. Regiments whose flags were covered with the bloody names of many proud victories were broken. Reinforcements had to be hurried to that part of the line until the right was almost without reserves. The centre of the Second Corps was hard beset also. Its dispositions had not been tactically good. Some of the brigade commanders were fighting without knowledge of Stuart's plan or of the manoeuvres of the troops to right or to left. From a knoll •750 p538 yards west of Chancellorsville, known as Fairview, the best position on the entire front, the Federal artillery was pouring a murderous fire. Still Stuart's men pressed on; still their leader rode recklessly up and down the line, cheering, singing, and exhorting as if he were a cavalry colonel in the first exuberant days of the war.
Was it possible that the butternut lines could sweep on and pinch off the salient at Chancellorsville? Could it be that Lee's bold plan to divide his army between Fredericksburg and the Wilderness and then to divide it again in the Wilderness would be crowned with an incredible victory? Or would those massed thousands of infantry, backed up by that superb artillery, dash out of the thickets in some new coup and overwhelm the scant divisions that were slowly closing in on them?
As the battle raged beyond the furnace, men were carried beyond themselves and fought as if the fumes of gunpowder were a mysterious hashish that gave them the strength of madness. Rarely in the whole war did frenzy mount to wilder heights; never before had the exaltation of a common cause so completely possessed the Army of Northern Virginia that mistakes were disregarded, enfilading fire was ignored, and attacks from flanks and rear were met without a tremor and repulsed without a stampede. Above the din that the thickets seemed to amplify into a paralyzing thunder, could be heard the fiendish rebel yell rolling from the end of the line, clear and defiant. And in the midst of it all, at the very climax of the battle, when failure to effect a junction of the two wings of the army might mean ruin, Lee sat calmly on his horse, conversing with a German military observer, Captain Justus Scheibert.39 As he saw the steady advance of the lines, he wondered what those young men would do to improve themselves when the war was over, and he fell to talking with Scheibert of the future education of the Southern people.40 It may have been at this bloody moment that he sowed the seeds that were later to ripen into the resolution to devote his own life after the war to the education of youth. The Orange plank road pointed the way to Lexington.
p539 As Lee discussed these things with Scheibert, the Confederate flags planted on the works at Fairview and then went down under a wave of blue; another furious cannonade swept the ground and again the flags went forward; again there was a Federal rally and the lines gave way in confusion. From the southeast, Union troops that were withdrawing before Anderson's assault threatened the rear of the attacking force in front of Fairview. But the Confederates were following them fast. Perry's men were coming up. With one more thrust the enemy might be pushed back, the two wings of the army united, and the victory driven home. Lee rode over in person to Hazel Grove, found Archer's brigade of Stuart's command, and ordered the men forward. For •400 or 500 yards they advanced and then halted. Again they went on, dividing on either side of the open ground in front of Fairview and disappearing in the woods. In this manoeuvre, the right flank of Archer established contact with the left of Perry. A continuous line was now moving forward.41 Quickly Lee sent word to Stuart that the junction had been formed.42 Soon a staff officer came back from Stuart, reporting his situation and asking for orders from Lee. "I found him," wrote this officer, "with our twenty-gun battery, looking as calm and dignified as ever, and perfectly regardless of the shells bursting round him, and the solid shot ploughing up the ground in all directions."43 Lee was ready for the final blow: Stuart was ordered to advance with his whole command up the Orange plank road; McLaws and Anderson would co-operate.
The line now swept on without a break. On the Confederate right, McLaws met with little opposition, for the Federals saw their fate and were withdrawing toward an inner line that was little more than a vast bridge-head covering the avenues of retreat across the Rappahannock.44 Mahone's task was easy.45 Wright, Posey, and Perry met with resistance but soon were close to the plank road.46 The vigilant commander of the newly formed artillery battalions hurried their batteries to Fairview. With Lee's consent, Colonel Tom Carter added his guns to those that were p540 racing for the eminence.47 Soon twenty-five pieces, manned by some of the best artillerists in the army, were at Fairview, with Chancellorsville in plain sight.48
By 10 o'clock these guns were beating a fast accompaniment for the approaching climax. The resistance to the advance of Stuart's left wing was immediately reduced. Troops facing Anderson fell back beyond the plank road. Like a wedge, the artillery at Fairview was riving the whole line. From that point the retreat of the Federals through the Chancellorsville clearing could be seen plainly, though their ordnance still stubbornly challenged the Confederate advance. The Chancellor house was breaking into flames from chance shots. The dry leaves in the woods and the abatis of the Federal defenses were afire, their smoke blending with that of the firearms. At intervals through the smoke, where the forest was thin, glimpses could be had of bright Confederate battle flags and shining bayonets as Anderson's men worked their way almost unopposed to the plank road.
The Federal artillery fire fell off. The batteries limbered up and disappeared. Where the horses were killed the guns were valiantly removed by hand. The blue infantry that had fought so vigorously at dawn were making for the thickets that lay between Chancellorsville and the river. Everything indicated a precipitate retreat to the fords and pontoon bridges on the Rappahannock. If all went well, the enveloping lines would tighten, the retreat would become a rout — and there would be no gunboats to stay Lee's hand, as they had ten months before on the James. Strategy and the valor of his small army had apparently achieved the impossible. The burning thickets would be the pyre of the puissant Army of the Potomac.
And now word came back that Chancellorsville had been taken. From Hazel Grove, Lee rode over to the plank road and thence eastward to the clearing, along the route the Federals had followed in their confident march from Germanna Ford. Everywhere was the debris of the lost battle, wrecked caissons, p541 dying horses, abandoned rifles, knapsacks thrown away in the flight, blankets, oil cloths, cartridge boxes. Scattered playing cards, face up, told of interrupted games. Plundered haversacks showed where hungry Confederate skirmishers had stopped in their pursuit to gulp down the ample Federal rations. And the dead — some lay where the Confederate shell had blasted them into hideous masses of flesh; some had their weapons in their hands and had fallen with their faces to the rear; others had dragged themselves back with mortal wounds and had expired by the road. Where life still lingered, there was terror in the eyes, for now the thickets were burning fiercely, and from the copses came the screams of wounded boys, crying to be saved from a death worse than that of battle.
Past woods on the left of the road, Lee rode beyond Fairview, where, with elevated guns, the jubilant artillerists were firing at a distant target, retreating fragments of broken regiments. Beyond Fairview, the woods on the left gave place to the Chancellorsville clearing, in itself a paltry stake on which to gamble the lives of 125,000 men. But what a sight it was under the warm sun of that May noon! There in the centre of the picture was the Chancellor house, burning as if it had been a bonfire set to celebrate the victory. Beyond it, gray and raw against the thickets, were the abandoned Federal works, scarcely visible in the smoke and in the throng of men in butternut. Wright's brigade, coming up from the south, had been the first to reach the clearing; the rest of Anderson's division had quickly crowded up to the road. All of them, now, in the wild jubilation of victory, were eager to drive the enemy into the river. As Lee rode toward the Chancellor house they recognized him. Sensing that he had fashioned their victory, they broke into the wildest demonstration they had ever made in his presence.49 "The fierce soldiers with their faces blackened with the smoke of battle, the wounded crawling with feeble limbs from the fury of the devouring flames, all seemed possessed with a common impulse. One long, unbroken cheer, in which the feeble cry of those who lay helpless on the earth, blended with the strong voices of those who still fought, rose p542 high above the roar of battle, and hailed the presence of the victorious chief. He sat in the full realization of all that soldiers dream of — triumph; and as I looked upon him," wrote one of his staff officers, "in the complete fruition of the success which his genius, courage, and confidence in his army had won, I thought that it must have been from such a scene that men in ancient times rose to the dignity of gods."50
It was the supreme moment of his life as a soldier. The sun of his destiny was at its zenith. All that he earned by a life of self-control, all that he had received in inheritance from pioneer forbears, all that he had merited by study, by diligence, and by daring was crowded into that moment. The life of stern duty that had carried him from a West Point classroom through the mud flats of Cockspur Island, across the pedregal to Padierna, over the passes in West Virginia, and to the brink of the Potomac at Sharpsburg, had brought him to that plain of military glory.
But it was not given to this man ever to know as a Confederate soldier a single hour when the fates that had favored him in body and in mind did not threaten him with ruin. As he turned modestly from the acclaim of his troops to direct the relief of the wounded Federals in the Chancellor house, a courier placed a dispatch in his hand. He fumbled at it with gauntleted fingers and handed it Major Marshall to read to him. It was from Jackson. Nothing in it indication that Jackson had dictated the paper in the first consciousness after an operation for the amputation of the wounded left arm. In brief, soldierly phrases, Jackson expressed his congratulations on the victory, and announced that he had been compelled by wounds to turn over the command of his corps to Major General A. P. Hill. Not for a moment had Lee forgotten his great lieutenant, but this note and the news that it had been necessary to remove the injured member shook Lee more violently than if one of the shells that were still roaring overhead had exploded under the flank of Traveller. His calm face was overcast with anguish on the instant. What was another victory if it meant that Jackson's flesh wounds were serious and that he might . . . ? Perhaps Lee would not let himself think p543 how the wounds might terminate. With shaking voice, choked by emotion, he bade Major Marshall reply to Jackson that the victory was his, that the congratulations were due him, and that he wished he had been wounded in his stead. Quickly Marshall wrote out the message and gave it to Lee to sign. It read:
"General:— I have just received your note, informing me that you were wounded. I cannot express my regret at the occurrence. Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.
"I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy."51
At the moment, the success of the operations that Lee generously credited to Jackson seemed to promise the immediate retreat of the enemy across the Rappahannock. Lee so advised the President. "We have again to thank Almighty God for a great victory," he said.52 Speed was necessary if the victory was to be capitalized, but the troops were scattered and many of them had already been fighting since dawn. Lee felt compelled to call a temporary halt to rest the men and to organize the next stage of the offensive, which had to be conducted in one of the densest parts of the Wilderness against a position of unknown strength.53 In the confidence of victory, the officers quickly reorganized their men, who, anxious to press on, were disposed on a long front, with Anderson thrown out on the right along the turnpike east of Chancellorsville.54
Then, again, as if they had not already done mischief enough in marring Lee's most spectacular victory by the wounding of p544 Jackson, those twin conspirators against the South fate and circumstance, the Castor and Pollux of Northern success, again rode into the Wilderness. Just as Lee was about to give the orders for the resumption of the attack on the bewildered Federals, Lieutenant Andrew L. Pitzer, of General Early's staff, reached him with news of a disaster. Before dawn that morning the enemy had thrown a pontoon bridge across at Fredericksburg. A little later, General Sedgwick had made a demonstration below the town on Early's right. It had been easily repulsed. Then an attack had been made on the extreme right, near Doctor Taylor's, above Beck's Island. This, too, had been beaten off with the help of Wilcox's brigade, which had marched most opportunely from Banks's Ford.55 Thereupon the enemy had assailed Marye's Heights, which were very thinly held.56 Twice the Federals had recoiled and then, in a heavy assault, they had overwhelmed the position. Pitzer had seen them in force on top the dominating ground, and then, without waiting to communicate with Early, he had spurred on to inform Lee.57 The enemy, by this time, was almost certainly in Lee's rear, marching down the plank road.
Fredericksburg lost, the left of Early's line turned, the main army now between Sedgwick and Hooker — this in the hour when one more blow, untroubled from the rear, had seemed to promise an overwhelming triumph!
1 The front here computed is that of the V and XII Corps from the Rappahannock to the left of Posey's brigade at 8 A.M. The XII Corps extended farther to the westward, but Lee made no effort to parallel the flank to its junction with the left of the XI Corps.
5 Redrawn with the permission of the publishers, The Yale University Press, from Map 16, opposite page 274, in Major John Bigelow's exhaustive Chancellorsville.
7 For their location, see Bigelow, 279.
8 Fitz Lee, 246.
10 Bigelow, 275.
17 It is impossible, from evidence now available, to say when these orders were issued. Lee wrote, in his report (O. R., 25, part 1, p799), as if they were not sent until after the sound of Jackson's cannon reached headquarters. McLaws intimated (O. R., 25, part 1, p826) that the instructions reached him earlier.
19 O. R., 25, part 1, pp800, 811, 814, 1001; Early, 200‑203. Here, again, there is an element of doubt as to time. Early left Lee's Hill at 2 P.M. (O. R., 25, part 1, p812). He stated (Early, 203) that he received Lee's later letter, explaining Chilton's mistake, "a little before dark," which would be around 7 o'clock. As Lee's courier had to find him, it is reasonable to assume that the letter was not delivered until two hours after it was written. This would make the hour of its dispatch about 5 P.M. The only fault in this chronology is that it assumes that Chilton did not reach Lee's headquarters, or did not tell Lee of the orders he had given Early, until nearly six hours after he is known to have been at Fredericksburg, as it may be taken for granted that Lee wrote Early as soon as he was informed of the misunderstanding of orders.
22 Long, 256.
24 Slocum and His Men, 164, quoted in Bigelow, 328.
25 Wilbourn's MS. account of this interview is summarized in Cooke, 238‑39. The classic account of Jackson's assault, one of the finest passages in military historiography, is that of Henderson, op. cit., 2, 439 ff. The fullest description of the action from the Federal point of view, with an elaborate defense of the conduct of the XI corps, is that of Augustus Choate Hamlin: The Battle of Chancellorsville: The Attack of Stonewall Jackson. Bigelow covered the whole operation exhaustively in his Chancellorsville, 271 ff. There are many narratives of the wounding of Jackson. One of the fullest was that of Captain R. E. Wilbourn in Early, 213 ff. n. Another was that of J. P. Smith in 3 B. and L., 211 ff., republished in modified form in 43 S. H. S. P., 50 ff. Dabney (op. cit., 686 ff.), gave much valuable data; so did Mrs. Jackson (op. cit., 427 ff.). In 1 N. C. Regiments, 667‑68, is set forth the contention of the 13th North Carolina that it was not responsible for the wounding of Jackson. In Blackwood's Magazine for October, 1930, 487 ff., appeared a graphic account by an unnamed officer who took upon himself the responsibility for firing the volley that brought Jackson down. For this reference the writer is indebted to his correspondent, Newton Wanliss, Esq., of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. Major Benjamin Watkins Leigh's account appeared in 6 S. H. S. P., 230 ff. Major M. N. Moorman gave his in 30 ibid., 110; the narrative of one of the litter-bearers was published in 10 ibid., 143; General Lane's will be found in 8 ibid., 493. A feeling narrative is that of the commander of Jackson's body-guard, Captain W. F. Randolph: With Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. Doctor Hunter McGuire, Jackson's surgeon, was not with him when he was wounded, but is an invaluable witness on all that followed. See infra, p560.
26 8 S. H. S. P., 230 ff.
28 Cooke, 239.
30 8 S. H. S. P., 230 ff.
31 O. R., 25, part 2, p769. Hotchkiss, in 3 C. M. H., 387. Captain (later Major) Hotchkiss quoted his own interview with Lee and said that "Captain Wilbourn . . . reached General Lee at about the same time . . ."; but it is evident from Captain Wilbourn's account and from the timing of Lee's dispatches to Stuart that Wilbourn arrived before 3 A.M. and that Hotchkiss came about 3:30 A.M.
33 Bigelow, 342.
39 For Scheibert's presence at headquarters, see 2 von Borcke, 201.
40 Scheibert, Der Bürgerkrieg in den Nordamerikanischen Staaten, 39.
42 2 von Borcke, 239.
43 2 von Borcke, 239.
48 Major Bigelow (op. cit., 368n) insisted that the Confederates had forty-four pieces at Fairview and he cited Major W. J. Pegram's list of participating batteries to prove it; but he wrongly assumed that all the guns of McIntosh and of Carter reached the hill. Both Carter (O. R., 25, part 1, p1000) and Pegram (O. R., 25, part 2, p938), stated that the number of participating pieces was about twenty-five.
49 M. D. Martin to J. J. Martin, May 8, 1863, 37 Va. Magazine of History and Biography, 226.
50 Marshall, 173.
51 O. R., 25, part 2, p769; Marshall, 173‑74. Hotchkiss (3 C. M. H., 387) and Dabney (op. cit., 702) made it appear that this note was dispatched soon after Hotchkiss came to headquarters before daylight on May 3, but Smith, who was with Jackson at the time, stated that it was received in reply to a note written at Jackson's dictation and presumably after 9 A.M. (3 B. and L., 213‑14). The internal evidence bears this out. It has also been stated that Jackson's note, which has been lost, made no reference to his wounds, but this seems contradicted by the opening sentence of Lee's answer.
53 O. R., 25, part 1, 800. Von Borcke (op. cit., 2, 241) said that this was done at 11 A.M. It is not certain whether Lee knew at this hour that Hooker had fortified a strong line north of Chancellorsville. In his report (O. R., 25, part 1, p800), he mentioned a "strong position" that Hooker had "previously fortified," but this fact may readily have been discovered later in the operations.
56 McCabe, 359, quoting Barksdale in Richmond Dispatch, May 31, 1863.
a Like several other lunar references in Freeman or his sources, this one isn't quite right, but it comes closer.
According to the U. S. Naval Observatory the moon rose at Fredericksburg (38N18, 77W28) at 1820h EST, and the sun set at 1902h. Now Eastern Standard Time did not exist in 1862; mean local times for the town, 2.47° west of the 75° central meridian, would be 10 minutes earlier: the moon, one day short of full, rose over the town and its environs at about 1810h, and after sunset at 1852h. The moon would indeed have been rising above the trees, but would already have been visible in the glow of twilight, well before darkness set in, on the darker eastern horizon.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Robert E. Lee
Chancellorsville: primary sources
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 22 Sep 21