Tag Archives: Daniel Butterfield

The Battle of New Hope Church

May 25, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals and General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates clashed northeast of Dallas, Georgia, as Sherman tried maneuvering around Johnston’s flank.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

By the morning of the 25th, two corps of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee–Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s and Lieutenant General William Hardee’s–held a line centered on New Hope Church, located at a crossroads about four miles northeast of Dallas. Polk’s troops were on the road leading east to Marietta, and Hardee’s men lined up at Polk’s left. Johnston’s third corps under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood came up on Polk’s right.

Sherman, commanding the three Federal armies marching toward Dallas, expected Johnston to fall back to Marietta, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad. He did not expect Johnston to block him at New Hope Church. Sherman was told that Confederates were east of Dallas, but he thought they were just part of a small force there to stall his advance.

The Federals approached Dallas from the north after marching through dense forest for two days. Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of XX Corps led the advance, five miles ahead of the rest of the armies. Geary’s men began exchanging fire with Hood’s troops around 10 a.m., and Geary soon learned that the entire Confederate army was in the area. He informed his corps commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, who hurried his other two divisions under Major Generals Alpheus Williams and Daniel Butterfield in Geary’s support.

Battlefield around New Hope Church | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Geary established defenses while awaiting reinforcements. Hood would not attack because he believed the rest of Sherman’s force would be arriving soon. The two sides faced each other until late afternoon, when Sherman finally directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland over Hooker, “Let Williams go in anywhere as soon as he gets up. I don’t see what they are waiting for in front now. There haven’t been 20 rebels there today.”

Hooker arranged his three divisions in line of battle and sent them forward after 4 p.m. The Federals advanced through heavy brush, which the Confederates behind their fortifications used to their advantage as they fired into the attackers. Visibility through the woods around New Hope Church was so poor and fighting was so intense that Federals called the area the “Hell Hole.”

Hooker’s men began running out of ammunition, and a heavy thunderstorm began around 7 p.m. that rendered much of the gunpowder useless. Hooker ordered a withdrawal around sundown, having sustained 1,665 casualties. Hood lost about half that total, with Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s division having done most of the fighting.

As the rest of the Federals came up during the night, Sherman still did not believe that Johnston’s whole army was at New Hope Church. He admonished Hooker for waiting so long to attack, believing that Geary alone could have broken through the Confederate line that morning. But Hood had been there all day, and considering he had repulsed Hooker’s entire corps, he might have destroyed Geary’s lone division.

Sherman wrote Major General James B. McPherson, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, “I don’t believe there is anything more than Hood’s corps (at New Hope), but still Johnston may have his whole army, and we should act on that hypothesis.” The Federals therefore came up and formed a line parallel to Johnston’s and began building defenses of their own. This campaign, which had been dominated thus far by maneuvering, would now focus more upon fortifications.

As dawn rose on the 26th, the Federals and Confederates were entrenched on a muddy six-mile front. Sherman ordered a series of probes to gauge Johnston’s strength:

  • McPherson’s army cautiously moved east from Dallas toward New Hope Church.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio scouted Hardee’s defenses on the Confederate left
  • Thomas’s army opposed Hood on the right (northeast).

After sporadic skirmishing all along the line, Sherman decided to try turning the Confederate right.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 50-53; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 413-14; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7274-7284, 7293-322; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 444-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 508-09; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 747

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The Battle of Chancellorsville: Federal Withdrawal

May 5, 1863 – The Federal Army of the Potomac retreated across the Rappahannock River to regroup in their original camps at Falmouth, Virginia.

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Both Major General Joseph Hooker’s main Federal army and Major General John Sedgwick’s separated VI Corps withdrew on the 5th. Sedgwick led his men across Banks’s Ford, partially concealed by thick fog. Hooker, who had been so boastful of victory, led the retreat of the rest of his army at United States Ford. The corps commanders were left behind to work out the logistics of such a complex withdrawal. That afternoon, rain began falling, which escalated into a violent thunderstorm that raised the river levels six feet by midnight.

The retreat grew disorderly in the rain and dark, during which time rumors spread that Hooker was incapacitated. Major General Darius N. Couch, the ranking officer behind Hooker, found his II Corps unable to cross the rising river and announced, “We will stay where we are and fight it out.” Hooker learned of this around 2 a.m. on the 6th and quickly ordered Couch to find a way to cross. The Federals struggled to cross on a hastily erected bridge.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, prepared to renew his attacks in hopes of destroying Hooker’s army, but he soon learned that the enemy was falling back across the river. Lee chose not to pursue, reporting that the Federals “had sought safety beyond the Rappahannock.”

The exhausted Federals concluded their river crossing on the 6th and began returning to their camps at Falmouth. The Confederates returned to their old camps near Fredericksburg. This ended the Battles of Chancellorsville, Second Fredericksburg, and Salem Church. In the fighting from the 1st through the 4th, the Federals sustained 17,287 casualties (1,606 killed, 9,762 wounded, and 5,919 missing or captured). Federal wounded were taken to Aquia Creek, where they were loaded on steamers and sent to Washington.

Hooker issued a proclamation to his troops declaring that the troops did all they could under the circumstances, even though over 40,000 men did not see any combat. Hooker added, “Whenever we have fought, we have inflicted heavier blows than we have received.” When Hooker returned to Falmouth, he learned that Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry raid had not only failed, but it kept the troopers from providing intelligence Hooker could have used to turn the tide of the battle.

At Washington, President Abraham Lincoln was still trying to piece together all that was happening, mostly from newspaper accounts on both sides. In a cabinet meeting on the 5th, Lincoln shared Hooker’s message that the Confederates had most likely taken back the Fredericksburg heights. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles recalled in his diary:

“This reply communicates nothing of operations, but the tone and whole thing–even its brevity–inspire right feelings. It is strange, however, that no reliable intelligence reaches us from the army of what it is doing, or not doing. This fact itself forebodes no good.”

A wire from Major General Daniel Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff, reached Washington at 12:30 p.m. on the 5th stating, “The cavalry failed in executing their orders. General Sedgwick failed in executing his orders, and cross the river at Banks Ford last night.” Regarding the rest of the army, “circumstances, which in time will be fully explained, make it expedient, in the general’s judgment, that he should retire from this position to the north bank of the Rappahannock for his defensible position.”

Secretary of State William H. Seward responded to Senator Edwin Morgan of New York, who speculated that Hooker may need reinforcements:

“General Hooker has had, has now, and will have, everything he asks for by telegraph, which is always in full connection with the War Department. He reports confidentially that only three corps of his army, all told, have been engaged. You need not be told that this is less than half of the army in his command and actually with him. Further accumulation of troops, not called for by him, would exhaust his supplies and endanger his plans.”

Lincoln was still hopeful for good news after reading some Richmond newspapers not yet aware of the full Confederate victory. That hope evaporated with Butterfield’s wire at 3 p.m. reporting that the army had re-crossed the Rappahannock and would soon return to Falmouth.

News of another Federal defeat horrified Lincoln. He brought the telegram from the War Department to the White House. He gave it to Springfield friend Dr. Anson G. Henry and Sacramento Union reporter Noah Brooks and said, “Read it–news from the Army.” As the men read the message, Brooks later recalled:

“The appearance of the President as I read aloud these fateful words, was piteous. Never, as long as I knew him, did he seem to be so broken up, so dispirited, and so ghostlike. Clasping his hands behind his back, he walked up and down the room, saying ‘My God, my God, what will the country say! What will the country say!’”

Horace Greeley, influential editor of the New York Tribune, wrote, “My God, it is horrible. Horrible. And to think of it–130,000 magnificent soldiers so cut to pieces by less than 60,000 half-starved ragamuffins!” Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts spoke for the Radical Republicans when he cried, “Lost, lost, all is lost!” upon hearing the news. Lincoln quickly arranged for a steamer to take him to Hooker’s headquarters.

The Confederates captured 13 guns, 19,500 stands of arms, a huge stockpile of ammunition, and 17 battle flags in this remarkable victory, during which Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps was not even available (Longstreet abandoned the siege of Suffolk on the 3rd). But they also lost 12,764 men (1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded, and 2,018 missing or captured), or over 20 percent of their total. This included 11 brigade commanders, two division commanders (A.P. Hill and Henry Heth), and one corps commander (Thomas J. Jackson). Many Confederate wounded were taken aboard springless ambulances on the rutted roads to Fredericksburg, and then to Richmond.

Part of Longstreet’s command arrived at Richmond on the 6th, where Longstreet arranged to hurry the divisions under Major Generals John Bell Hood and George Pickett to Lee. However, Lee notified Longstreet:

“The emergency that made your presence so desirable has passed for the present, so far as I can see, and I desire that you will not distress your troops by a forced movement to join me, or sacrifice for that purpose any public interest that your sudden departure might make it necessary to abandon.”

The heavy losses, along with confidence that he could defeat the Federal army, prompted Lee to make another daring gamble, one that threatened to finally exceed his capabilities.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 306; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17847-57, 17890; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 281-82; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9243-54, 9275; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 261, 313-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 293; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-39, 159-61; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 62-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 349-50; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 644-45; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 203-10; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126-27

The Battle of Salem Church or Second Fredericksburg

May 3, 1863 – Federals attacked the Confederate defenders on Marye’s Heights in a fight reminiscent of the Federal disaster at Fredericksburg last December.

Maj Gen J. Sedgwick | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal Major General John Sedgwick, commanding VI Corps, received orders from Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, to break through the Confederate lines west of Fredericksburg and join the rest of the army falling back around Chancellorsville. Sedgwick then received a message from Major General Daniel Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff, at 2:35 a.m.: “Everything in the world depends upon the rapidity and promptness of your movement. Push everything.”

Lee learned before dawn on the 3rd that Sedgwick’s Federals had crossed a pontoon bridge and reentered Fredericksburg, just as they had done five months earlier. Major General Jubal Early’s division held the ridges south of the town, while Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade held Marye’s Heights and the high ground west of Fredericksburg. Lee planned to demonstrate against Hooker’s front while sending reinforcements to Early, the overall commander.

Sedgwick sent 20,000 Federals to take on Early’s 10,000 men. This opened a second front in the battle between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker was numerically superior on both fronts, yet he was retreating to the west while Sedgwick attacked to the east.

Barksdale repelled the first attack. A truce was called ostensibly to collect the wounded, but really for the Federals to gauge the enemy’s strength. Sedgwick was informed that the Confederates had suffered heavy losses, so he split his column in two and directed them to charge with bayonets. They were not to stop to reload their rifles.

This unusual bayonet charge worked, as the Federals managed to break through. They forced the Confederates out of their defenses on Marye’s Heights and took about 1,000 prisoners. The Federals began moving west toward Chancellorsville by around 11 a.m.

Confederate General Cadmus M. Wilcox had been guarding Banks’s Ford on the Rappahannock with a brigade when he discovered the Federals coming through from Fredericksburg. As Early withdrew southwest, Wilcox blocked the Federals’ westward path atop a ridge near Salem Church, about five miles from Fredericksburg (or midway between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville) on the Orange Turnpike.

The Federals attacked, but the Confederates held their ground, giving Lee more time to respond. When Lee learned that Marye’s Heights had fallen, he sent two divisions to reinforce the Confederates to the east. General Lafayette McLaws’s division soon arrived to reinforce Wilcox, and the combined force sustained Federal artillery and a charge through heavy underbrush. The Confederates then counterattacked, driving the Federals back.

Nightfall ended the pursuit, as Hooker did nothing to reinforce Sedgwick. The Confederates lost Fredericksburg and the high ground outside that town, but they prevented Sedgwick from reaching Hooker. Near midnight, Early proposed to retake Marye’s Heights and cut Sedgwick’s communications with Fredericksburg before attacking with reinforcements from McLaws. Lee approved.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 304, 306; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cullen, Joseph P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 287-88; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17811-29; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 280-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 290-91; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5433-45, 5491-515; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 147-56; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 62-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 347-48; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 643-44; Oder, Broeck N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 824-25; Robertson, James I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 652; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 171; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126-27

The Battle of Chancellorsville: Fighting Resumes

May 3, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates resumed their attacks in hopes of cutting off the Army of the Potomac before it could reach the Rapidan River.

Lee was awoken at 2:30 a.m. by Captain R.E. Wilbourn, signal officer to Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Wilbourn reported on yesterday’s fighting, as well as Jackson’s wounding and amputation. Lee said, “Thank God it is not worse. God be praised that he is yet alive.” Lee asked about the Federal positions and was told that the enemy’s back was to the Rapidan. Lee said, “Those people must be pressed today.”

Lee wrote Major General Jeb Stuart, who now commanded Jackson’s corps:

“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.”

Lee instructed Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s topographer, to ensure that Stuart would “press the enemy vigorously.”

By the morning of the 3rd, Major General Joseph Hooker had received Federal reinforcements from Fredericksburg, giving him 76,000 men to face an enemy of about 43,000 separated by a day’s march. But Hooker had no intention of attacking Lee before he could unite his two wings; he instead planned to stay on the defensive and fend off attacks on his new, compact lines. Had Hooker brought his entire force to bear at any one time, he could have overwhelmed Lee’s smaller, divided army with sheer numbers alone.

Commanding from the Chancellor House, Hooker finally responded to a long line of telegrams from Washington asking for a status report; he had not notified his superiors of any activity since April 27. Hooker informed President Abraham Lincoln that the fighting so far “has resulted in no success to us, having lost a portion of two lines, which had been selected for our defense.”

Hooker ordered Major General John Sedgwick, commanding 40,000 Federals threatening the Confederate defenses at Fredericksburg, to push through the enemy and move west to join the main army. He also ordered Major General Daniel Sickles, holding the salient of a “V”-shaped line at Hazel Grove, to pull back a mile west of the Chancellorsville crossroads. Hooker feared that Sickles was vulnerable to attack on three sides, but he would not move up any additional troops to support him. Thus, Hooker gave up an ideal position from which to keep Lee’s army divided.

Sickles’s Federals began withdrawing from Hazel Grove around 6 a.m., just as Stuart, shifting right to try reuniting with Lee, attacked both there and the Federal entrenchments west of Chancellorsville. The Confederates briefly penetrated the enemy line around 7:30 a.m., but a Federal counterattack pushed them back.

Fighting on May 3 | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hooker ordered his men to withdraw to more compact defenses near the Chancellor House as Stuart seized Hazel Grove, one of the few places in the Wilderness where artillery could be used effectively. Stuart placed 50 cannon on the high ground and began a heavy bombardment. He then rode among the troops, singing, “Old Joe Hooker, won’t you come out and fight?”

Hooker consulted with his staff on the porch of the Chancellor House. Around 9 a.m., a Confederate shell split a nearby pillar in two, with one part hitting Hooker on the head and knocking him unconscious. Some nearby officers thought he had been killed. Hooker quickly came to and refused pleas from both Major Generals George G. Meade (commanding V Corps) and John F. Reynolds (commanding I Corps) to counterattack Stuart’s vulnerable left flank.

Trying to mount his horse, Hooker nearly lost consciousness again. He relinquished army command to Major General Darius N. Couch around 9:30, saying, “I turn the command of the army over to you. You will withdraw it and place it in the position designated on this map.” Had Couch been given the authority to act as he saw fit, he might have authorized Meade and Reynolds to attack. But Couch only had authority to order a withdrawal. He reluctantly complied and informed all the other disappointed corps commanders to prepare for yet another retreat.

The Federals began falling back across the Rapidan, toward U.S. Ford. Three of Hooker’s corps had seen no action on this day. Hooker’s chief of staff, Major General Daniel Butterfield, reported to Washington on the results of the day’s fighting and Hooker’s injury.

Lee advanced with his army and arrived at the Chancellor House that afternoon, where he was cheered by nearby residents. The Confederates seized the Chancellorsville crossroads and worked to reunite their two wings. A courier delivered a message from Jackson congratulating Lee on his tremendous victory.

By day’s end, the Federal army had pulled back into the shape of a “U,” with both ends on the Rappahannock guarding the fords. Lee prepared to attack this new position when he received word that Sedgwick had broken through the Confederate defenses at Fredericksburg and was approaching his rear from the east.

Nightfall ended the fighting, some of which was the fiercest of the entire war. Lee wired President Jefferson Davis, “We have again to thank Almighty God for a great victory.” However, he also acknowledged Jackson’s wounding, saying, “Any victory is a dear one that deprives us of the services of Jackson, even for a short time.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 358; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 125-27; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 304, 306; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 280-81; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 302-06; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 290-91; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5433-45, 5491-515; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-39, 147-56, 160-61; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 62-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 347-48; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 643-44; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126-27

Northern Virginia: Hooker Reaches Chancellorsville

April 30, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker arrived at the Chancellor House as his Army of the Potomac moved through the Wilderness on its way to attack the left flank of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Gen R.E. Lee and Maj Gen J. Hooker | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As one section of Hooker’s army prepared to land on Lee’s flank, the second section began diverting Lee’s attention by crossing the Rappahannock River and threatening Fredericksburg in his front. On the morning of the 29th, one of Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson’s aides woke Lee and told him that Federals were advancing in force near Hamilton’s Crossing, site of the battle south of Fredericksburg last December.

Lee replied, “Tell him (Jackson) that I am sure he knows what to do. I will meet him at the front very soon.” He rode out to see that the Federals had crossed over two pontoon bridges but did not appear poised to give battle. Nevertheless, he issued orders for the Confederates to prepare to defend the ridges.

Around noon, Major General Jeb Stuart, commanding the Confederate cavalry, reported that nearly 15,000 Federals with cavalry and artillery had crossed Kelly’s Ford, north of Fredericksburg. Lee initially believed that this northern movement was a feint, as he reported to Richmond:

“He is certainly crossing in large force here (below Fredericksburg), and it looks as if he was in earnest. I hear of no other point at which he is crossing, except below Kelly’s Ford, where General (Oliver) Howard has crossed with his division, said to be 14,000, six pieces of artillery, and some cavalry.”

Lee later sent another message, still thinking the main thrust would not be to the north: “I have nothing to oppose to all that force up there except the two brigades of cavalry under General Stuart.” As more details trickled in, Lee began thinking that the northern movement might be toward the Virginia Central Railroad at Gordonsville. He wrote, “If any troops can be sent by rail to Gordonsville, under a good officer, I recommend it.”

Lee then requested the return of Lieutenant General James Longstreet and his men from Suffolk, even though he did not expect Longstreet to arrive in time for action. Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper wired Longstreet that Hooker’s massive army had crossed the Rappahannock, “and it looks as if he was in earnest. Move without your delay your command to this place to effect a junction with General Lee.” This ended any hopes Longstreet had of capturing Suffolk. He left command of the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia to Major General D.H. Hill and began arranging to rejoin Lee.

News soon arrived at Lee’s headquarters that the Federals were crossing the Rapidan River at Ely’s and Germanna fords. Lee quickly guessed that the movement south of Fredericksburg was just a feint, while the real attack would come from the north and west. This was confirmed at 6:30 p.m., when Lee received confirmation that the Federals were fording the Rapidan. From there, they advanced on the roads that met at Chancellorsville, a hamlet consisting of a single house (the Chancellor House) in a clearing surrounded by woods.

Lee sent Major General Richard Anderson’s division west to guard the converging roads between Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. He then began turning the rest of his troops around to meet the threat to the west.

Meanwhile, Major General George Stoneman’s Federal cavalry continued its mission to disrupt Lee’s communication and supply lines. Part of Stoneman’s force rode toward Gordonsville to wreck the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, while another part rode toward the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad. This had been part of Hooker’s original plan, but it did not fit well with the revised plan underway. In fact, it deprived Hooker of much needed cavalry support in the densely wooded Wilderness around Chancellorsville.

By the morning of the 30th, the Federal vanguard had crossed the Rapidan and was marching through the forbidding Wilderness on its way to Chancellorsville. Major General George G. Meade’s V Corps began arriving in the 50-acre clearing around the Chancellor House at 11 a.m. Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XII Corps began arriving three hours later, with Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps following.

Although they were several hours behind schedule, Hooker had brilliantly moved 75,000 men 30 miles down the south bank of the Rappahannock and 10 miles behind Lee without detection. Meade enthusiastically greeted Slocum upon his arrival: “This is splendid, Slocum, hurrah for old Joe! We are on Lee’s flank and he does not know it!” It appeared that the Federals were finally poised to trap and destroy Lee’s elusive army.

The corps commanders looked to continue advancing until they were out of the Wilderness and could begin pounding Lee’s flank with artillery. But Hooker’s chief of staff, Major General Daniel Butterfield, sent them a message: “The general directs that no advance be made from Chancellorsville until the columns are concentrated. He expects to be at Chancellorsville tonight.”

Hooker set up headquarters in the Chancellor House around 4:30 p.m. A New York Herald correspondent reported, “It is rumored that the enemy are falling back toward Richmond, but a fight tomorrow seems more than probable. We expect it, and we also expect to be victorious.”

Hooker knew that rumors of a Confederate retreat toward Richmond were false because he received word that they were still opposing the Federal feint west and south of Fredericksburg. But by this time, Lee had determined that the Federals in his front would make no effort to attack, and therefore the main threat was to his flank and rear. This was the gravest threat that Lee faced since taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia last June.

In a desperate gamble, Lee left just one division of 10,000 men under Major General Jubal Early to face the 40,000 Federals at Fredericksburg. Lee then turned his remaining 50,000 troops to meet the Federals to the west. Riding west, he could see the Federals crossing the Rapidan beyond the Wilderness ahead. Lee resolved to attack the enemy in the Wilderness, using the dense brush to offset the superior Federal numbers and artillery.

Hooker’s decision for the advance guard to wait for the rest of the troops meant that the Federals would remain in the Wilderness, just as Lee wanted. That night, Hooker issued a proclamation to be read in the army camps:

“It is with heartfelt satisfaction that the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 355-57; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 297; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17744; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 279; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 260, 269-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 287; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5314-37, 5348-60; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 120-24; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 343-44; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 536-37; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 639; Power, J. Tracy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 721; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126-29

The Army of the Potomac: The Grand Review

April 4, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln headed a group leaving Washington to review Major General Joseph Hooker’s revamped Army of the Potomac.

Lincoln boarded the steamer Carrie Martin to go to Hooker’s headquarters at Falmouth in northern Virginia. He was accompanied by First Lady Mary Lincoln, his son Tad (celebrating his 10th birthday), Attorney General Edward Bates, old Springfield friend Dr. Anson G. Henry, Sacramento Union correspondent Noah Brooks, and others. The trip began amidst a heavy snowstorm.

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

At Falmouth, Hooker proceeded with plans to destroy the Confederate army and march on Richmond. He directed all corps commanders to move surplus baggage to the rear and notified the War Department to have siege equipment ready for when the army arrived outside the Confederate capital. This included shovels, picks, axes, and sandbags, along with a naval flotilla to bring 1.5 million rations up the Pamunkey River for the troops.

The presidential party arrived on the 5th, Easter Sunday. They disembarked at Aquia Creek, which had been decorated with patriotic bunting and flags to welcome them. A special train took them to Hooker’s headquarters, three miles from the Rappahannock River. Hooker’s chief of staff, Major General Daniel Butterfield, showed the guests to their quarters, which consisted of three large hospital tents.

Lincoln met with Hooker and began discussing strategy. When Lincoln said, “If you get to Richmond, General,” Hooker cut him off: “Excuse me, Mr. President, but there is no ‘if’ in this case. I am going straight to Richmond if I live.” Lincoln later told Noah Brooks, “That is the most depressing thing about Hooker. It seems to me that he is over-confident.” The president later added, “The hen is the wisest of all the animal creation, because she never cackles until the egg is laid.”

Lincoln also disapproved of Hooker’s ongoing debate with his commanders on how best to get around the Confederate army and take Richmond. Hooker’s recent request for siege equipment indicated that his grand objective was the enemy capital and not the enemy army. Lincoln tried settling this matter with a memorandum making it clear that “our prime object is the enemies’ army in front of us, and is not with, or about, Richmond…”

Hooker planned a cavalry review of the “finest army on the planet” for his visitors that day, but the snowstorm postponed it to the 6th. On that date, the presidential party watched over 15,000 horsemen pass them in the largest concentration of cavalry ever assembled on the continent. This was the new Cavalry Corps that Hooker had created, led by Major General George Stoneman.

Attorney General Bates called the cavalry parade “the grandest sight I ever saw.” Young Tad especially enjoyed the pageantry. Hooker made sure to stage the review in plain sight of the Confederates across the Rappahannock as an impressive show of force. Hooker also hoped that staging such reviews would boost army morale. He told Lincoln, “I only regret that your party is not as large as our hospitality.”

Lincoln and the other guests spent the next few days observing more reviews and riding among the troops. Hooker staged a “Grand Review” of the infantry on the 9th, which a Pennsylvania officer called “the most magnificent military pageant ever witnessed on this continent.”

Nearly 85,000 troops marched past President and Mrs. Lincoln and their son in lines stretching for miles on Falmouth Heights. A correspondent on the scene reported that “the President merely touched his hat in return salute to the officers, but uncovered to the men in the ranks.”

Lincoln and Hooker sat upon their horses beside each other, with Lincoln in his usual tailcoat and stovepipe hat, and Hooker in full dress uniform. Many soldiers considered Lincoln “an ungainly looking man,” but they cheered him out of respect “for his integrity, and good management of the war.” A soldier described the first lady as “a pleasant, but not an intelligent looking woman.”

The president met with Hooker and Major General Darius N. Couch, the senior corps commander, before returning to Washington on the morning of the 10th. The Army of the Potomac now numbered 133,450 effectives and 70 batteries totaling 412 guns. The Confederates had less than half this strength. Lincoln told Hooker and Couch, “I want to impress upon you two gentlemen, in your next fight, put in all your men.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 271-72; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9192-203, 9214-25; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 235, 249-51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 278; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 513-16; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102-03, 111; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 335-36; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 585; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 127-29

Hooker Reorganizes the Army of the Potomac

February 5, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker worked to reorganize and revitalize the demoralized Federal Army of the Potomac.

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hooker began the main part of his reorganization with General Order No. 6, which declared that former commander Ambrose E. Burnside’s “Grand Division” structure was “impeding rather than facilitating the dispatch of its current business.” He therefore replaced it with a traditional nine-corps organization:

  • Major General John F. Reynolds commanded I Corps
  • Major General Darius N. Couch commanded II Corps
  • Major General Daniel E. Sickles commanded III Corps
  • Major General George G. Meade commanded V Corps
  • Major General John Sedgwick commanded VI Corps
  • Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith commanded IX Corps
  • Major General Franz Sigel commanded XI Corps
  • Major General Henry W. Slocum commanded XII Corps
  • Major General George Stoneman commanded the new Cavalry Corps

IV Corps was stationed at Fort Monroe, on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers, detached from the Army of the Potomac. The VII, VIII, and X corps were also detached. Hooker arranged for IX Corps, which had been Burnside’s, to be transferred to Fort Monroe along with IV Corps. He also arranged for Smith to command that corps, knowing that Smith had been one of the conspirators against Burnside and not wanting him around to conspire against himself (Hooker).

For the first time, the army’s cavalry would be combined into a single unit; previously it had been scattered among the various divisions, brigades, and regiments, making it difficult for commanders to concentrate their horsemen against the swarming Confederate troopers. Hooker envisioned using Stoneman just as Robert E. Lee used Jeb Stuart in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker did the opposite for the artillery, dispersing the batteries throughout the corps, divisions, and brigades as needed.

Hooker’s new chief of staff was General Daniel Butterfield, who had composed the song “Taps,” by slightly modifying the “Tattoo” composed by General Winfield Scott in 1835. His father had formed the Butterfield Overland Mail Company.

Army morale sank to a new low in early February, as 10 percent of the troops deserted. Hooker worked to change this by improving army sanitation, health care, food, clothing, shelter, and discipline. He cracked down on corruption in the quartermaster’s department, saw to it that soldiers received their back pay, and granted homesick soldiers furloughs.

Hooker also directed all troops to wear badges signifying the corps to which they belonged. This was similar to the “Kearny” patches that General Philip Kearny had his men wear to better identify them during the Peninsula campaign. Each corps had its own badge shape, and the colors indicated the division numbers (i.e., red was the first division of the corps, white was the second, blue was the third, etc.). The badges were sewn onto the men’s caps, and they helped instill a new sense of pride in their fighting units.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 260; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 233; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 262; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-19; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 585