Tag Archives: John F. Reynolds

The Battle of Gettysburg: Day One

July 1, 1863 – Advance elements of the Federal and Confederate armies clashed in southern Pennsylvania, beginning what would grow into the most terrible battle in American history.

By this time, part of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had gathered north of Gettysburg, while Federal cavalry from the Army of the Potomac had arrived south of the town. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, commanding the Confederate Third Corps, directed one of his division commanders, Major General Henry Heth, “to ascertain what force was at Gettysburg, and, if he found infantry opposed to him, to report the fact immediately, without forcing an engagement.”

Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew, one of Heth’s brigade commanders, had reported seeing enemy cavalry outside the town the previous day, but both Heth and Hill believed that Federal infantry was still far behind. Part of Heth’s division moved out to reconnoiter at 5 a.m., with no cavalry or pickets leading the way.

Brig Gen John Buford | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Brigadier General John Buford’s two brigades of 3,000 Federal horsemen had arrived the day before and were conducting a reconnaissance of their own. Buford was convinced that the Confederate army would converge on this strategically important town. He intended to hold the vital roads northwest of Gettysburg until the closest Federal infantry under Major General John F. Reynolds (commanding operations for I, III, and XI corps) could come up in support.

Buford’s pickets sighted the Confederates approaching on the Chambersburg Pike about four miles west of Gettysburg and opened fire. Heth’s men fanned out in line of battle and advanced, and skirmishing began around 8 a.m. Buford ordered his troopers to dismount and engage the oncoming enemy with their rapid-fire Spencer breech-loading carbines.

The Confederates pushed the Federals back to Herr Ridge, and then back again into the low ground in front of McPherson’s Ridge. Buford watched the action from atop a Lutheran seminary, where he could see both the fight to the west and the expected approach of more Confederates from the north. As his men continued withdrawing, Buford directed them to make a stand on McPherson’s Ridge.

The Federal troopers held off an enemy three times their size for two hours. This proved that cavalry could indeed stand up to infantry if tested. Commanders on both sides sent messages summoning reinforcements. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army, had issued orders not to provoke a general engagement, but that was exactly what had begun.

Reynolds arrived ahead of his men around 10 a.m., where Buford told him, “The devil’s to pay!” When Reynolds asked if he could hold until the infantry arrived, Buford said, “I reckon I can.” Reynolds then sent a message to Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal army and still in Maryland, that the troops would make a stand to keep the Confederates out of Gettysburg, or at least keep them off the high ground south of town.

Elements of I Corps arrived first, with Reynolds sending them northwest through Gettysburg. They began relieving Buford’s defenders on McPherson’s Ridge around 10:30 a.m. Hill countered by sending Major General William D. Pender’s division to join Heth in the Confederate attack. Neither side had wanted to fight here, but the clash soon developed into a major battle nonetheless.

Reynolds began deploying men into McPherson’s Woods as the Confederates advanced to within 60 paces. He shouted, “Forward! For God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods!” A sharpshooter’s bullet struck him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Reynolds had been one of the army’s most beloved and respected commanders. He was temporarily replaced by Major General Abner Doubleday.

As the vicious fighting continued, Major General Oliver O. Howard’s “Dutch” (i.e., predominantly German-speaking) XI Corps arrived around 12 p.m. Howard, noting the importance of the high ground south of town as he passed, left a division there and then moved north through Gettysburg to take positions on Doubleday’s right. Two Confederate divisions from Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps, led by Major Generals Jubal Early and Robert Rodes, soon approached from the north to oppose Howard.

Approximate army positions on July 1 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

About 24,000 Confederates now faced some 19,000 Federals along a disjointed three-mile-line north and west of Gettysburg. Lee arrived, still without Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps and angry that Hill and Ewell had brought on such a large fight against orders. Nevertheless, he ordered them to attack in full force. At 3 p.m., the strongest assault of the day began when Early and Rodes attacked XI Corps from the north, while Pender and Heth attacked I Corps from the west.

Howard’s XI Corps fell back through town in confusion, just as they had when the Confederate Second Corps (then led by “Stonewall” Jackson) surprised them at Chancellorsville two months ago. They fled to the high ground southeast of town, consisting of Culp’s and Cemetery hills. Culp’s Hill anchored the northeastern end of the Federal line, which was the extreme Federal right. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commanding the Federal II Corps, recognized this position’s strength and sent a division to hold it. Howard’s fleeing men stopped when they were reinforced by Hancock’s troops on the hills.

The XI Corps retreat crumbled Doubleday’s right flank, so he too fell back, first to Seminary Ridge and then through Gettysburg to join his comrades on Cemetery Hill. The Federals also occupied the formidable Cemetery Ridge, an elevation a mile and a half east of the parallel Seminary Ridge. Buford’s cavalry and I Corps had fought stubbornly and held the Confederates off long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

Lee rode onto Seminary Ridge and saw the Federals falling back onto the heights to the east. He immediately directed Hill to seize that important position, but Hill argued that his losses were too high and his men too exhausted to take it. Lee then dispatched Major Walter Taylor to instruct Ewell that it “was only necessary to press those people in order to secure possession of the heights,” and Ewell’s men should seize them “if practicable.”

Confederate Lt Gen Richard Ewell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Ewell, having been accustomed to rigid orders when serving under “Stonewall” Jackson, was confused by these vague instructions and ultimately decided not to launch a final assault before nightfall. Had his men taken those heights, they might have routed the exhausted and demoralized Federals instead of giving them time to regroup and strengthen their defenses.

During this time, Longstreet arrived ahead of his men and urged Lee to move around the Federal left, seize the high ground between the Federals and Washington, and defend against an attack. However, Lee still had received no intelligence from his cavalry commander, Major General Jeb Stuart, therefore he could not be sure that the Federals had not reinforced that area. Lee said, “No, the enemy is there, and I am going to attack him there.” Both Ewell and Stuart failed Lee on this day.

Fighting died down after nightfall, as three more Federal corps began arriving and reinforcing the high ground southeast of Gettysburg. The battle had been horrible, as I Corps alone sustained 10,000 casualties. The famed Iron Brigade was virtually destroyed, losing 1,212 of its 1,883 men. The 24th Michigan, part of the Iron Brigade, lost 316 of its 496 officers and men, including seven color bearers. The 2nd Wisconsin suffered a casualty rate of 77 percent; the 19th Indiana suffered 72 percent.

Meade began arranging to execute his original plan of falling back to Pipe Creek, occupying the high ground there, and awaiting a Confederate attack. However, Hancock assured him that the high ground outside Gettysburg was where he should make his stand. The line featured convex interior lines, enabling Meade to shift reinforcements to the most threatened points quickly.

In contrast, Lee’s lines were concave, making an attack more difficult. Lee ordered his army to concentrate southwest of Gettysburg that night, where he hoped to complete his victory by taking Culp’s and Cemetery hills the next day.

During this time, Stuart’s Confederate cavalry rode to Carlisle, where they shelled the town and burned the army barracks after the Federal garrison refused to surrender. They then rode to Dover, where one of the eight messengers that Lee had dispatched finally caught up to Stuart and informed him of the engagement at Gettysburg. Stuart was ordered to rejoin Lee’s army as soon as possible.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129-33; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 295; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 62-63, 65-67, 73; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 69-75; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19009-17; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 298; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 319; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727-28; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 118-123, 166-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 374-75; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 385; 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. 653-55; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172, 177-78; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196, 305-06, 308-09, 625-26

Armies Converge in Southern Pennsylvania

June 30, 1863 – Cavalry from the Federal Army of the Potomac arrived at Gettysburg from the south, just as infantry from the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia left to the north.

Federal Maj Gen G.G. Meade and Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederate corps of Lieutenant Generals James Longstreet and A.P. Hill reached Chambersburg on the 27th. Major General Jubal Early, commanding a Confederate division in Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps, was at York, poised to destroy a railroad bridge over the Susquehanna River. The other part of Ewell’s corps was at Carlisle, poised to wreck the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Confederates seized food, clothing, livestock, and anything else useful from civilians.

Ewell’s cavalry under Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins camped within four miles of Harrisburg on the night of the 28th. This marked the farthest north that a Confederate army had ever gone (or would go) in the war. Lee issued orders for Ewell to attack Harrisburg, Longstreet to move north to support Ewell, and Hill to cross the Susquehanna and cut the railroad line linking Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

At 10 p.m., Major John W. Fairfax reported to Lee that a Richmond actor-turned-spy named Henry T. Harrison had told Longstreet that the entire Federal army was across the Potomac and moving north from Frederick, Maryland. This shocked Lee, who had expected his cavalry commander, Major General Jeb Stuart, to notify him when the Federals started moving. He had heard nothing from Stuart for four days.

Both Longstreet and Harrison later visited Lee, with Harrison telling him that the Federals had been across the Potomac for two days and were now approaching Chambersburg. Harrison also reported that Major General George G. Meade had replaced Major General Joseph Hooker as Federal commander. Longstreet vouched for Harrison’s reliability, and Lee quickly changed his plans based on the spy’s intelligence.

Lee canceled the drive on Harrisburg in favor of concentrating the army near either Cashtown or Gettysburg, eight miles east. Hill’s corps began heading to Cashtown on the 29th, with the lead division under Major General Henry Heth arriving that night. Longstreet’s corps followed the next day. Ewell’s corps was to move from Carlisle to Cashtown or Gettysburg, avoiding the busy Chambersburg road being used by Hill and Longstreet.

Ewell’s men were within striking distance of Harrisburg, and Ewell issued orders for Major General Robert Rodes’s division to capture the state capital the next day. But an hour later, Lee’s order to pull back arrived. So Ewell directed Rodes and Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division to start moving, along with Early at York.

Speaking to his staff, Lee said, “Tomorrow, gentlemen, we will not move to Harrisburg, as we expected, but will go over to Gettysburg and see what General Meade is after.” When someone asked him to assess Meade’s abilities, Lee said, “General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it.”

Meanwhile, the main part of the Federal Army of the Potomac began moving out of Frederick, 40 miles south of Chambersburg, on the 29th. The leading Federal elements–I, III, and XI corps–reached Emmitsburg and Taneytown by day’s end, while the corps behind them hurried to catch up. The Federals held a 20-mile line in Maryland, from Emmitsburg to Westminster. Meade wrote his wife, “I am going straight at them, and will settle this thing one way or the other.”

Brigadier General John Buford’s Federal cavalry division rode in advance of the army, screening its northward movement. Buford’s men entered Pennsylvania on the 29th and rode within 12 miles of Gettysburg. Buford told his troopers, “Within 48 hours, the concentration of both armies will take place upon some field within view, and a great battle will be fought.” That night, Buford’s pickets briefly traded shots with Heth’s.

The Confederates continued concentrating in the Gettysburg area on the 30th. Early had told Hill about a shoe factory in Gettysburg, and Hill directed Heth to lead his men into the town on July 1 and “get those shoes.” Buford arrived at Gettysburg around 11 a.m., just as Heth’s troops were leaving. The two forces skirmished until Buford’s Federals pulled back. Heth reported Buford’s presence to Hill, who did not believe the Federals were in Pennsylvania yet.

Gettysburg had 12 roads leading in and out, making this prosperous little town strategically important. Buford immediately recognized this and posted defenses north and west of town, based on intelligence that the Confederates would come from one of those directions.

Buford was certain the Confederates would attack in the morning. One of his brigade commanders, Colonel Thomas Devin, expressed confidence that he would defeat any concentration of enemy forces coming his way. Buford said, “No you won’t. They will attack you in the morning and they will come booming–skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own until support arrives.”

Meade ordered Major General John F. Reynolds, commanding operations for I, III, and XI corps, to seize the crossroads outside Gettysburg. Reynolds’s Federals camped within five miles of the town that night. Buford sent Reynolds a message stating that the Confederates were “massed just back of Cashtown.”

Meade sent orders for Reynolds to fall back to Emmitsburg if attacked, where strong defenses could be put up along Pipe Creek. Meade planned to let Lee do the attacking and hold him off. But by the time the orders reached Reynolds, the Battle of Gettysburg had already begun.

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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. 397-98; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 295; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 31-33, 35, 73; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19096; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 297; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 345; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 463-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 317-18; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5878-901; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 372-73; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 246-47; 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. 652-53; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08

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

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