Tag Archives: Darius N. Couch

Confederates Invade Pennsylvania

June 20, 1863 – Federal and Confederate cavalries dueled as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia entered Pennsylvania and panic gripped the region.

With a full-scale Confederate invasion now imminent, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin and Major General Darius N. Couch, commanding the Department of the Susquehanna, frantically called for 30-day militia volunteers. However, Curtin could not accept blacks because, under Federal law, they could only be inducted in the Federal army, not the state militia, and only for three years’ service, not 30 days.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton initially directed Couch “to receive into service any volunteer troops that may be offered, without regard to color,” but then he realized the political trouble with recruiting blacks and told Couch that in case of “any dispute about the matter, it will be better to send no more. It is well to avoid all controversy in the present juncture, as the troops can be well used elsewhere.”

Maj Gen Alfred Pleasonton | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In northern Virginia, Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton’s Federal Cavalry Corps continued challenging the Confederate horsemen under Major General Jeb Stuart east of the Blue Ridge. Stuart had no infantry support, as the rest of the Confederate army had gone west into the Shenandoah Valley en route to Pennsylvania. After a day’s delay due to rain, the Federals again pressed their counterparts, driving Stuart back eight miles to Upperville. The Confederates withdrew through Ashby’s Gap in the Blue Ridge around 6 p.m.

The opposing cavalries had fought intermittently since the 16th, during which time the Federals lost 613 men while inflicting 510 casualties on the enemy. These engagements boosted Federal confidence and made Stuart seem less invincible. However, Pleasonton could not gather much intelligence based on these skirmishes, except to inform Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that the Confederates were moving into the Shenandoah Valley.

As the Confederates marched through the narrow section of western Maryland, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, issued General Order No. 72. This outlined how the army was to behave in enemy territory. The order was politically motivated, as Lee hoped to demonstrate his men’s high morality to foreign nations considering whether to recognize Confederate independence.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lee directed that “no private property shall be injured or destroyed by any person belonging to or connected with the army, or taken, excepting by officers hereinafter designated,” namely, members of the “commissary, quartermaster’s, ordnance, and medical departments.”

Property owners deprived of their goods must “be paid the market price for the articles furnished.” If property owners refused to accept Confederate money (which was nearly worthless), they were to be given receipts noting the property taken and its current market value.

Lee then declared, “If any person shall remove or conceal property necessary for the use of the army, or attempt to do so, the officers hereinbefore mentioned will cause such property, and all other property belonging to such person that may be required by the army, to be seized…”

On the 22nd, the vanguard of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate Second Corps, consisting of Major General Robert Rodes’s infantry and Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins’s cavalry, crossed the Pennsylvania border around 10 a.m. and advanced through Greencastle. Lee instructed Ewell:

“I think your best course will be toward the Susquehanna (River), taking the route by Emmitsburg, Chambersburg, and McConnellsburg… It will depend upon the quantity of supplies obtained in that country whether the rest of the army can follow. There may be enough for your command, but none for the others. If Harrisburg comes within your means, capture it.”

The “progress and directions” of Ewell’s advance were to be determined by the “development of circumstances.” Lee then sent discretionary orders to Stuart:

“I fear he (Hooker) will steal a march on us, and get across the Potomac before we are aware. If you find he is moving northward, and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland, and take position on General Ewell’s right.”

Lee sent an official order the next day, “which I wish you to see it strictly complied with.” The order went through Lieutenant General James Longstreet, whom Stuart was screening, and Longstreet added a suggestion that instead of joining Ewell, which could expose Lee’s entire movement, Stuart should ride around the rear of the Federal army. Lee approved, with the stipulation that once Hooker crossed the Potomac, Stuart “must immediately cross himself and take his place on our right flank.”

Late that night, Hooker received intelligence from Pleasonton that Longstreet’s corps was at Winchester, with Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s following. The next day, Ewell’s advance into Pennsylvania continued, with Major General Jubal Early’s division approaching Chambersburg.

Early ordered the destruction of the nearby Caledonia Iron Works. The works were owned by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican leader who despised slavery and called for subjugating the Confederate states. When the foreman argued that the company only operated to provide housing and jobs for the locals, Early replied, “Yankees don’t do business that way. They carry on their operations to make money.”

As Early later stated, the Confederates burned all the buildings because the Federals “invariably burned such works in the South wherever they had penetrated.” Early also admitted that he destroyed the works because “in some speeches in Congress Mr. Stevens had exhibited a vindictive spirit toward the people in the South.”

Longstreet began crossing the Potomac on the 24th at Shepherdstown and Williamsport. The main part of Ewell’s corps was at Hagerstown, Maryland, with his lead elements at Chambersburg and poised to continue to the Susquehanna River.

Hooker still could not confirm whether Lee’s movement indicated a northern invasion. He notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he would, “with all the force I can muster, strike for his line of retreat in the direction of Richmond.” However, Hooker soon received intelligence that Confederates were in force at Shepherdstown.

He dispatched Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps to Edwards’s Ferry, marking his first major move toward the Potomac. Confused by all the conflicting reports, Hooker then asked Halleck to send him orders because “outside of the Army of the Potomac I don’t know whether I am standing on my head or feet.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-26, 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 296; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 442; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313-15; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5842; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 370-71; 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. 649; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

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The Chancellorsville Aftermath: Lincoln Visits Hooker

May 7, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck arrived at Aquia Creek to meet with Major General Joseph Hooker regarding the Army of the Potomac’s latest defeat.

The president had arranged for a steamer to take him to Hooker’s headquarters after learning the extent of the Federal defeat at Chancellorsville. Lincoln and Halleck debarked on the morning of the 7th and took a special train to Falmouth, where they met with Hooker to discuss current and future operations.

Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln expressed relief to find that the “troops are none the worse for the campaign,” as evidenced by generally high morale and few desertions. He also said he was “agreeably surprised with the situation.” Lincoln did not assign blame for the defeat, but, knowing the indignation the defeat would cause throughout the North, he urged Hooker to begin a new offensive as soon as possible.

The meeting lasted just a few hours, after which Lincoln and Halleck left for Washington. As he left, Lincoln handed Hooker a letter:

“If possible I would be very glad of another movement early enough to give us some benefit from the fact of the enemies communications being broken, but neither for this reason or any other, do I wish anything done in desperation or rashness. If you have (a plan), prosecute it without interference from me. If you have not, please inform me, so that I, incompetent as I may be, can try and assist in the formation of some plan for the army.”

Lincoln told newspaper reporters at Falmouth that he was returning to Washington with “his confidence in Gen. Hooker and his army unshaken.” When a correspondent asked him if he would remove Hooker from command, Lincoln said that because he had stuck with George B. McClellan “a number of times, he saw no reason why he should not try General Hooker twice.”

Hooker responded the same day, writing:

“If in the first effort we failed, it was not for want of strength or conduct of the small number of troops actually engaged, but from a cause which could not be foreseen (i.e., the Confederate flank attack on May 2), and could not be provided against. As to the best time for renewing our advance upon the enemy, I can only decide after an opportunity has been afforded to learn the feeling of the troops. I have decided in my own mind the plan to be adopted in our next effort, if it should be your wish to have one made. It will be one in which the operations of all the corps… will be within my personal supervision.”

As the Federals returned to their old camps at Falmouth and resumed the daily routines of army life, northern newspapers spread blame among nearly everybody for the Chancellorsville debacle. Hooker reported that his present force totaled 136,704 officers and men, but many problems within the army delayed his plans to start another offensive.

From the White House, Lincoln responded with skepticism that Hooker could launch another offensive so quickly. He wrote that he would allow Hooker to stay put for now but would not object to Hooker putting the army in motion once more.

Lincoln then shifted focus to another concern: Hooker’s attitude. This bothered the president because it reflected a “cool, clear, and satisfied” air that refused to acknowledge responsibility for failure or willingness to learn from mistakes. Lincoln guessed that this attitude led to many of Hooker’s subordinates no longer wanting to serve under him.

Major General Darius N. Couch, Hooker’s second-in-command, was so disgusted by Hooker’s performance at Chancellorsville that he demanded to be transferred out of the army, away from Hooker. He joined with Major General Henry W. Slocum to urge Lincoln to replace Hooker with Major General George G. Meade. Major General John F. Reynolds had met with Lincoln at the White House and also recommended that Meade take Hooker’s place.

When Meade learned this, he told Lincoln he had no ambition to command the army, but he joined with Major General John Sedgwick in quietly expressing dissatisfaction with Hooker’s leadership. Only three of Hooker’s corps commanders–Major Generals Oliver O. Howard, George Stoneman, and Daniel Sickles–supported Hooker, but Hooker alienated Stoneman and Howard by asserting that they were the most responsible for the defeat.

Lincoln warned Hooker that “some of your corps and Division Commanders are not giving you their entire confidence.” This brought back memories of Hooker blatantly undermining Ambrose E. Burnside five months ago when Burnside commanded the army. Rather than fire back, Hooker left it up to Lincoln to decide what to do about it.

Lincoln rejected the calls to remove Hooker, saying that he was “not disposed to throw away a gun because it missed fire once,” but instead “would pick the lock and try it again.” But he did approve Couch’s transfer, with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock taking over Couch’s II Corps. Major General Alfred Pleasonton also took over for Stoneman as cavalry corps commander.

Lincoln then met with Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to discuss Hooker’s fate. They agreed that the atmosphere was too politically charged to remove Hooker at this time, but if Hooker submitted his resignation some time in the future, they would accept.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14-16, 34; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18962; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 282-84; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9275, 9318; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 300; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 520-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 350, 353, 356-57

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

Fighting at Fredericksburg and Salem Church Continues

May 4, 1863 – Confederates regained Marye’s Heights outside Fredericksburg, as Federals retreated across the Rappahannock River.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General Jubal Early’s Confederates, who had been driven out of their defenses outside Fredericksburg yesterday, now had reinforcements from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to the west. Federal Major General John Sedgwick, commanding VI Corps in the Army of the Potomac, broke through the Confederates to join Major General Joseph Hooker’s main Federal army, but today Early planned to counterattack.

As Lee guessed, Hooker made no effort to take the offensive, instead holding defensive positions with his back to the Rappahannock River. Hooker sent Sedgwick a message at 6:30 a.m. expressing hope that Lee would attack his impregnable defenses. Lee of course would not. Hooker then advised Sedgwick to fall back to Banks’s Ford on the Rappahannock if the Confederates put up too much resistance. He sent Sedgwick no reinforcements to fend off the pending enemy counterattack.

That morning, Sedgwick renewed his attacks in an effort to break through the Confederate defenses and join forces with Hooker. The Federals fought well under Sedgwick; they generally respected their commander, whom they nicknamed “Uncle John.” Lee dispatched General Richard Anderson’s division to reinforce the Confederate defenders. This gave Lee just 25,000 men to face Hooker’s 75,000 Federals.

Confederate counterattacks pushed Sedgwick’s left flank inward, thus cutting him off from Fredericksburg. Meanwhile, Early’s Confederates advanced and regained Marye’s Heights west of Fredericksburg. Early stationed a detachment on the high ground and led his remaining force to reinforce the Confederates on the ridge near Salem Church, five miles west.

As the 21,000 Confederates began surrounding Sedgwick’s 20,000 men on three sides, Sedgwick called off trying to reach Hooker and instead fell back toward the Rappahannock. Federal engineers hurried to build pontoon bridges for Sedgwick’s men to cross. Hooker rejected pleas from his subordinates to send troops to Sedgwick’s aid. Hooker’s lack of activity enabled Lee to focus mainly on Sedgwick, but the size of Hooker’s remaining army prevented Lee from doing him any further damage.

The Confederates failed to cut Sedgwick off from Banks’s Ford, which his men used (along with Scott’s Ford farther upriver) to cross the Rappahannock that night. The fighting at Salem Church was another Confederate victory, as Hooker remained seemingly unable to do anything against Lee’s smaller, divided army. But Lee had failed to destroy either Hooker or Sedgwick, and now they were both in nearly impregnable positions still holding superior numbers.

Salem Church became a field hospital; an observer wrote that “the floors, the benches, even the chancel and pulpit were all packed almost to suffocation” with wounded troops. President Jefferson Davis received Lee’s victory message and thanked him on behalf of the Confederate people “reverently united with you in giving praise to God for the success with which He has crowned your arms.” He then acknowledged reports of heavy losses and expressed grief for “the good and the brave who are numbered among the killed and the wounded.”

President Abraham Lincoln, who had heard nothing from army headquarters since Hooker’s chief of staff, Major General Daniel Butterfield, vaguely reported on yesterday’s fighting, wrote Hooker asking him to confirm a report, possibly from a Confederate newspaper, that the Confederates took back the Fredericksburg heights. Hooker replied, “I am informed that it is so, but attach no importance to it.” He offered no further details.

Hooker held a council of war with five of his corps commanders (John F. Reynolds, Darius N. Couch, Daniel Sickles, George G. Meade, and Oliver O. Howard) near midnight on the 4th. He described the army’s condition as best he knew it and reminded the men of the general orders from his superiors to not risk destroying the army or its ability to “cover Washington.” He and Butterfield then left the room to allow the corps commanders to decide what they wanted to do.

Reynolds, Meade, and Howard voted to continue fighting. Sickles, whose command had sustained heavy losses, wanted to withdraw. Couch wanted to stay and fight, but because he had no confidence in Hooker’s leadership, he ultimately sided with Sickles. Thus, three commanders wanted to fight and two wanted to retire. Hooker returned, asked for the generals’ opinions, and then announced that he had already decided to retreat. It would begin at 5 a.m.

Hooker then received a message from Sedgwick asking what he should do. Hooker told him to withdraw across the Rappahannock, but before Sedgwick received this directive, he had consulted with his engineer and informed Hooker that he would hold firm where he was. Hooker read this message and tried countermanding his order to fall back, but Sedgwick had already received Hooker’s first order. When the second order arrived, Sedgwick replied, “Yours just received, countermanding order to withdraw. Almost my entire command has crossed over.”

This communication symbolized the confusion that plagued the Federal army throughout this battle.

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References

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 17829; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 281; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 313, 316-17; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 292; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5525; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-59; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 348-49; 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; 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

The Battle of Chancellorsville: Hooker Pulls Back

May 1, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee rushed to trap the Federal Army of the Potomac in the Wilderness, while portions of the two armies clashed outside Fredericksburg to the east.

By this time, Lee had correctly guessed that the 40,000 Federals at Fredericksburg were merely a diversion to Major General Joseph Hooker’s main attack to the west, near Chancellorsville. Lee left just 10,000 men to defend Fredericksburg and sent his remaining 46,000 troops west to confront Hooker’s 75,000 Federals.

As Lee supervised artillery emplacements at Fredericksburg, Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson began assembling the Confederate divisions under Generals Lafayette McLaws and Richard H. Anderson. By 11 a.m., their men were moving west on the Orange Turnpike and Plank Road to face Hooker’s Federals heading east from Chancellorsville.

Artillery opened around 11:20 a.m., and heavy skirmishing began between Chancellorsville and the Tabernacle Church. The Federals surged forward into a clearing outside the Wilderness and seized high ground, from which they could launch a strong counterattack.

Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, the Federal army aeronautics chief, reported from an observation balloon that Lee’s entire army was coming from Fredericksburg to stop the Federal advance. At 2 p.m., Hooker, who had sworn that God Almighty could not save Lee from destruction, ordered his men to immediately disengage and fall back to their previous positions around the Chancellorsville crossroads.

Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren, the Federal army chief engineer, saw that the Federals had gained a major advantage and pleaded with Hooker to reconsider. Major General Darius N. Couch, commanding II Corps, also sent a messenger to headquarters saying, “In no event should we give up our ground.” Hooker revised his order to, “Hold on until 5 o’clock.” But by the time the message reached Couch, he told the courier, “Tell General Hooker he is too late. The enemy are already on my right and rear. I am in full retreat.”

Federal Major General Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Sonofthesouth.net

Hooker’s decision to surrender the initiative dumbfounded his subordinates and gave Lee the opportunity to launch an offensive of his own. The decision may have been prompted by the fact that Lee had used Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry to command all roads leading out of Chancellorsville. This prevented Hooker from getting an accurate idea of where Lee’s army truly was.

Some officers thought that Hooker might have been drunk, but others later testified before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War that he had not been drinking that day. Some even believed that alcohol might have actually improved Hooker’s performance. Hooker later explained his decision by saying, “For once, I lost confidence in Hooker.”

Nevertheless, Hooker’s confidence seemed restored by day’s end, when he sent a message to his subordinates: “The major general commanding trusts that a suspension in the attack today will embolden the enemy to attack him.” But his troops were back where they started that morning, in the woods and not the clearing where the Confederates had stopped them. The heavy brush of the Wilderness offset Hooker’s advantage in both numbers and artillery.

Lee, who had arrived from Fredericksburg that afternoon, met with Jackson just after nightfall southeast of Chancellorsville. They sat on hardtack boxes in front of a fire and discussed upcoming strategy. Jackson reported that the Federals had stopped withdrawing and were now stationed behind defenses.

Stuart reported that General Fitzhugh Lee, one of his cavalry commanders who had scouted the Orange Turnpike, found that the Federal right flank was “in the air” and vulnerable to attack. The troops on the Federal right consisted of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps, which was largely disliked by the rest of the army because its men were predominantly German immigrants who spoke little English. Having not yet proved themselves in battle, they were placed on the right, believed to be farthest from any upcoming action.

With Lee’s army already divided between Fredericksburg and the Wilderness outside Chancellorsville, Jackson proposed splitting it a third time by moving his corps on a 14-mile march around to attack the Federal right flank. A local resident showed one of Jackson’s aides a path that could be used, off the main road, to get to the Federal flank without detection.

Lee told Jackson, “General Stuart will cover your movement with his cavalry.” Jackson said, “My troops will move at 4 o’clock.” While Jackson led his corps around Hooker’s right, Lee would demonstrate against Hooker’s front with the divisions of Anderson and McLaws.

This defied all military logic and was the greatest gamble ever yet attempted by Lee. Facing an army of nearly 130,000 men, Lee would send 28,000 to assail the right while holding the front with 18,000 and Fredericksburg with just 10,000. But believing that Hooker had lost his nerve by withdrawing, Lee told Jackson, “Well, go on.”

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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. 357; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 292, 299; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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. 276-81, 281-83; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 288; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5360-95; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124-26; 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. 344-46; 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. 639-40; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 203-210; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126-27

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