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May 2, 1863: Jackson Flanks Hooker

  When the blue-coated
Unprepared ranks of Howard saw that storm,
Heralded by wild rabbits and frightened deer,
Burst on them yelling, out of the whispering woods,
They could not face it.  Some men died where they stood,
The storm passed over the rest.  It was Jackson’s storm,
It was his old trick of war, for the last time played.
He must have known it.  He loosed it and drove it on,
Hearing the long yell shake like an Indian cry
Through the dense black oaks, the clumps of second-growth pine,
And the red flags reel ahead through the underbrush.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

The plan having been made for the flank attack against Hooker, it remained for Jackson to execute it.  For a very long day he and his corps marched along the front of Hooker’s massive army’s front and into the rear of the right of his army.  Numerous reports came to Hooker from Union units reporting movement by a large number of Confederates to their front.  Hooker, now firmly ensconced in the pleasant land of wishful thinking, chose to interpret these reports as evidence that Lee was retreating.  Hooker had his army sit idle that day, the day when he could have crushed Lee with overwhelming numbers.

Chancellorsville_May2

Lee described Jackson’s march in his official report of the battle on September 21, 1863:

It was evident that a direct attack upon the enemy would be attended with great difficulty and loss, in view of the strength of his position and his superiority of numbers. It was, therefore, resolved to endeavor to turn his right flank and gain his rear, leaving a force in front to hold him in check and conceal the movement. The execution of this plan was intrusted to Lieutenant-General Jackson with his three divisions. The commands of Generals McLaws and Anderson, with the exception of Wilcox’s brigade, which during the night had been ordered beck to Banks’ Ford, remained in front of the enemy.        Early on the morning of the 2d, General Jackson marched by the Furnace and Brock roads, his movement being effectually covered by Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, under General Stuart in person. As the rear of the train was passing the furnace, a large force of the enemy advanced from Chancellorsville and attempted its capture. General Jackson had left the Twenty-third Georgia Regiment, under Colonel [E. F.] Best, at this point to guard his flank, and upon the approach of the enemy Lieu-tenant-Colonel [J. T.] Brown, whose artillery was passing at the time, placed a battery in position to aid in checking his advance. A small number of men who were marching to join their commands, including Captain [W. S.] Moore, with two companies of the Fourteenth Tennessee Regiment, of Archer’s brigade, reported to Colonel Brown, and supported his guns. The enemy was kept back by this small force until the train had passed, but his superior numbers enabled him subsequently to surround and capture the greater part of the Twenty-third Georgia Regiment. General Anderson was directed to send a brigade to resist the further progress of this column, and detached General Posey for that purpose. General Posey became warmly engaged with a superior force, but being re-enforced by General [A. R.] Wright, the enemy’s advance was arrested.        After a long and fatiguing march, General Jackson’s leading division, under General Rodes, reached the old turnpike, about 3 miles in rear of Chancellorsville, at 4 p.m. As the different divisions arrived, they were formed at right angles to the road–Rodes in front, Trimble’s division, under Brigadier-General [R. E.] Colston, in the second, and A. P. Hill’s in the third, line.

The attack commenced at 6:00 PM on May 2 against the rear of the Eleventh Corps.  The Corps virtually disintegrated under the attack of Jackson.  After the battle O.O. Howard, the Union general in command of the Eleventh Corps, wrote a report in which he attempted to apply some lipstick to this pig of a military debacle:

At about 6 p.m. I was at my headquarters, at Dowdall’s Tavern, when the attack commenced. I sent my chief of staff to the front when firing was heard. General Schurz, who was with me, left at once to take command of his line. It was not three minutes before I followed. When I reached General Schurz’s command, I saw that the enemy had enveloped my right, and that the First Division was giving way. I first tried to change the front of the deployed regiments. I next directed the artillery where to go; then formed a line by deploying some of the reserve regiments near the church. By this time the whole front on the north of the Plank road had given way. Colonel Buschbeck’s brigade was faced about, and, lying on the other side of the rifle-pit embankment, held on with praiseworthy firmness. A part of General Schimmelfennig’s and a part of General Krzyzanowski’s brigades moved gradually back to the north of the Plank road and kept up their fire. At the center and near the Plank road there was a blind panic and great confusion. By the assistance of my staff and some other officers, one of whom was Colonel Dickinson, of General Hooker’s staff, the rout was considerably checked, and all the artillery, except eight pieces, withdrawn. Some of the artillery was well served, and told effectively on the advancing enemy. Captain Dilger kept up a continuous fire until we reached General Betty’s position.         Now as to the causes of this disaster to my corps:         1. Though constantly threatened and apprised of the moving of the enemy, yet the woods was so dense that he was able to mass a large force, whose exact whereabouts neither patrols, reconnaissances, nor scouts ascertained. He succeeded in forming a column opposite to and outflanking my right.         2. By the panic produced by the enemy’s reverse fire, regiments and artillery were thrown suddenly upon those in position.         3. The absence of General Barlow’s brigade, which I had previously located in reserve and en echelon with Colonel von Gilsa’s, so as to cover his right flank. This was the only general reserve I had. My corps was very soon reorganized near Chancellorsville, and relieved General Meade’s corps, on the left of the general line. Here it remained until Wednesday morning, when it resumed its position, as ordered, at the old camp.

In his official report General Lee accurately described the success of the attack and the sudden loss suffered by the Confederacy that even a victory as great as Chancellorsville could not compensate for:

At 6 p.m. the advance was ordered. The enemy were taken by surprise, and fled after a brief resistance. General Rodes’ men pushed forward with great vigor and enthusiasm, followed closely by the second and third lines. Position after position was carried, the guns captured, and every effort of the enemy to rally defeated by the impetuous rush of our troops. In the ardor of pursuit through the thick and tangled woods, the first and second lines at last became mingled, and moved on together as one. The enemy made a stand at a line of breastworks across the road, at the house of Melzie Chancellor, but the troops of Rodes and Colston dashed over the intrenchments together, and the flight and pursuit were resumed, and continued until our advance was arrested by the abatis in front of the line of works near the central position at Chancellorsville. It was now dark, and General Jackson ordered the third line, under General [A. P.] Hill, to advance to the front, and relieve the troops of Rodes and Colston, who were completely blended and in such disorder, from their rapid advance through intricate woods and over broken ground, that it was necessary to reform them. As Hill’s men moved forward, General Jackson, with his staff and escort, returning from the extreme front, met his skirmishers advancing, and in the obscurity of the night were mistaken for the enemy and fired upon. Captain [J. K.] Boswell, chief engineer of the corps, and several others were killed and a number wounded. General Jackson himself received a severe injury, and was borne from the field. The command devolved upon Major-General Hill, whose division, under General Heth, was advanced to the line of intrenchments which had been reached by Rodes and Colston. A furious fire of artillery was opened upon them by the enemy, under cover of which his infantry advanced to the attack. They were handsomely repulsed by the Fifty-fifth Virginia Regiment, under Colonel [Francis] Mallory, who was killed while bravely leading his men. General Hill was soon afterward disabled, and Major. General Stuart, who had been directed by General Jackson to seize the road to Ely’s Ford, in rear of the enemy, was sent for to take command. At this time the right of Hill’s division was attacked by the column of the enemy already mentioned as having penetrated to the furnace, which had been recalled to Chancellorsville to avoid being cut off by the advance of Jackson. This at .tack was gallantly met and repulsed by the Eighteenth and Twenty-eighth and a portion of the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiments, Lane’s brigade.        Upon General Stuart’s arrival, soon afterward, the command was turned over to him by General Hill. He immediately proceeded to reconnoiter the ground and make himself acquainted with the disposition of the troops. The darkness of the night and the difficulty of moving through the woods and undergrowth rendered it advisable to defer further operations until morning, and the troops rested on their arms in line of battle. Colonel [S.] Crutchfield, chief of artillery of the corps, was severely wounded, and Colonel [E. P.] Alexander, senior artillery officer present, was engaged during the entire night in selecting positions for our batteries.        As soon as the sound of cannon gave notice of Jackson’s attack on the enemy’s right, our troops in front of Chancellorsville were ordered to press him strongly on the left, to prevent re-enforcements being sent to the point assailed. They were directed not to attack in force unless a favorable opportunity should present itself, and, while continuing to cover the roads leading from their respective positions toward Chancellorsville, to incline to the left so as to connect with Jackson’s right as he closed in upon the center. These orders were well executed, our troops advancing up to the enemy’s intrenchments, while several batteries played with good effect upon his lines until prevented by the increasing darkness.

Lee and Jackson had gained a great victory on May 2, 1863, but now Jackson was wounded and out of the fight and Lee’s army was intermingled with a stronger army.  If Hooker could regain the initiative, he could still win the battle.  We will see tomorrow what transpired on May 3.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

5 Comments

  1. You seem very interested in the Civil War. Perhaps you could give me a few tutorials? Hahaha! I have an exam on it on the 14th – my final exam at University which is pivotal if I am to graduate with a good mark. Please pray for me! God bless.

  2. J: “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of Thy faithful. Enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created. And, renew the face of the Earth. Amen.”

    Just saying: Where were the Union cavalry? J.E.B. Stuart’s cav had brilliantly screened Jackson’s flank march. Union infantry taunt to cav: “I never saw a dead cavalryman.” That changed at Gettysburg, where Stuart was missing until too late and the Union cav beat his on the third day.

    Jackson’s troops were such hard marchers they were called “foot cavalry.” They habitually covered many miles and went into action.

    And, were there no pickets out from XI Corps?

    “In the Chancellorsville Campaign, the Irish Brigade helped round up the XI Corps fugitives after Stonewall Jackson’s famous flank attack. On May 3, it marched from Scott’s Mills to near the Chancellor House to support the 5th Maine Battery, dragging off its guns when the gunners were rendered ‘hors de combat.’”

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