Robert E. Lee
Philip Alexander Bruce


AFTER crossing the Potomac, Lee drew back to the neighborhood of Winchester. McClellan, with characteristic prudence, did not attempt to follow at once, although urged to do so by Mr. Lincoln, now doubly anxious for the Federal army to win a victory, as it would silence those persons at the North who condemned the Emancipation Proclamation. Here, as after Gettysburg, the Federal President overlooked the fact that the commander on the ground, with practical experience of the Confederates’ power of resistance in the face of an almost overwhelming preponderance, was the best judge as to the wisest course to pursue. McClellan at once began to reorganize and strengthen his forces, and whilst thus busy, Stuart made a raid entirely around his encampments to find out whether he was taking steps to send a special detachment against Richmond. None such being reported, Lee decided to remain quiet until his antagonist’s plan was revealed; whether it should be to cross the Potomac west of the Blue Ridge, and move straight up the Shenandoah Valley in the Confederate army’s track, or to pass between that army and Richmond by marching east of the Ridge toward Culpeper and Gordonsville.

McClellan determined to follow the latter course, and by the end of October, his forces were concentrated near Warrenton. As soon as the Federal troops crossed the Potomac, Lee advanced Longstreet’s corps over the mountains to Culpeper, but retained Jackson’s in the Valley. The two were thus posted sixty miles apart. Once more, he had divided his forces practically in the presence of the enemy, now numbering 125,000 men, supported by 320 guns. Not less than 225,000 Federal soldiers were at this time stationed within two or three days’ journey of Washington, and if necessary, could be merged in one body at short notice. To prevent this great host from combining and beginning an aggressive campaign, with Richmond as its immediate goal, Lee kept Jackson in a position where he could at any moment rush down the Valley, pass the Blue Ridge, cut the Federal line of communication, and even attack Washington.

The mere possibility of such an invasion would make the Federal commander doubly slow and cautious in advancing southward. Lee was again seeking to neutralize in a measure his opponent’s numerical advantage by playing upon his fears and sense of prudence. Should McClellan after all decline to be stopped by Jackson’s threatened rupture of his line of communication, then Lee could easily draw Longstreet back to Gordonsville, where Jackson’s corps would, in a few days, be able to join him by a march across the mountains.

Before McClellan could advance from Warrenton, he was superseded by Burnside, one of his lieutenants, an act that was to cost the Federal cause dear. In spite of his excessive prudence and slowness, his inveterate disposition to exaggerate his opponent’s strength, and a certain boyish superciliousness and tactlessness in dealing with Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton, McClellan was at this time the ablest, most experienced, and most popular Federal officer in the East. He had taken command of the Federal army when the war was a novelty and the fighting power had to be organized and set in motion. His super-caution was excusable when it is recalled that Washington’s safety was absolutely dependent upon his army’s success in foiling all the efforts of the Confederacy’s two greatest soldiers, Lee and Jackson, to capture that city, which would have carried with it vast political consequences, such as the certain discouragement of the North, the probable intervention of foreign powers, and the possible early recognition of Southern independence, Sharpsburg was practically an important Federal victory, even if it did not save the Union, as McClellan asserted, and on that account, if on no other, he was entitled to less summary treatment.

If it was a mistake to remove so capable an officer at this critical moment, that mistake assumed a still more serious character when Burnside, a man of many winning personal qualities, but one who justly thought himself incompetent for so responsible a post, was appointed in his place. The new commander’s first act reflected a degree of prudence even greater than that his predecessor had shown:—he abandoned the plan of marching upon Richmond by way of Culpeper and Gordonsville for that of advancing by way of Fredericksburg; nor was this unwise, for by making Acquia Creek on the Potomac his base of supply, he removed at a stroke all danger of Jackson’s cutting his line of communication.

The question now arose, Should the Confederate army be concentrated on the southern heights overlooking Fredericksburg in order to oppose the Federal passage of the Rappahannock, or should it be posted in an entrenched position behind the North Anna River, there to await the enemy’s arrival? Every strategic consideration led Lee and Jackson to favor the latter course. At the North Anna, the Federal troops would be thirty-six miles farther away from their base. It is true that the chance of a counterstroke there would not have been much greater than at Fredericksburg, owing to the Federal superiority in number of men and guns; nor would repeated attacks upon the retreating rear-guard have caused serious losses. But the Federal army, if defeated at North Anna would, in falling back, have to traverse a more or less open country, and in doing so, would, in the confusion of their withdrawal, find it difficult to protect their line of communication from a flank march, or to beat off fierce assaults upon their wings. In such a retreat, Jackson and Stuart could have swept around to their front, striking hard at every step, while Lee and Longstreet pressed relentlessly upon the centre from behind. The worst depression which the North felt during the whole period of the war was caused by the defeat at Fredericksburg. How much greater that depression would have been, had the Army of the Potomac met with another Gaines’ Mill, followed, not by a Frazier’s Farm, but by an overwhelming Confederate victory.

In concentrating at Fredericksburg, Lee could look forward to reaping few fruits of victory, should one be gained there. The line of hills situated on the Rappahannock’s north bank furnished, not only a position for the use of artillery in resisting a counterstroke, but also a refuge for defeated troops retreating from the plains below. Moreover, it would be impossible for a Confederate detachment to outflank the discomfited enemy, safe across the river once more, or to cut their line of communication with Acquia Creek. At Fredericksburg, the cavalry’s fierce energy would have to chafe in inaction, while even the infantry’s impetuosity must be put under partial restraint. There was but one reason to doubt the advisability of concentrating behind the North Anna: would Burnside so late in the season (for it was now December) advance as far toward Richmond as that stream? Lee argued that he would, because he had been appointed to press the Federal operations with extraordinary vigor in response to the North’s impatience.

Unfortunately for the Confederacy, Mr. Davis still clung to the idea that a purely defensive policy was the wisest one; that the soundest hope of Southern independence lay in the chance of foreign intervention; and that military should bend to political considerations. An additional reason which led him to disapprove of the concentration on the North Anna was that a wide area of country rich in supplies of food would be left open to Federal invasion. It was to be expected, however, that, should Burnside be driven back, his occupation of this region would be only temporary, and that he would also be too busy with his campaign to make sweeping incursions. Every interest of the Confederacy required that the judgment of Lee and his lieutenants should prevail in such a crisis, and that military should override political reasons. There was but one ground of hope for the Southern people in their struggle for independence, namely, the success of their armies. The anticipation of foreign aid was a mere hallucination. There is just reason to think that the Confederacy would have fared far better on several occasions, and this was one of them, had Lee shown more firmness in insisting that the strategical demands of the situation should be paramount. We have seen that he sometimes yielded to his corps commanders’ unseasonable opposition to his wishes, as, for instance, to Longstreet’s at Second Manassas. Apparently, his sense of subordination to Mr. Davis as the government’s military and civil head alike, was so strong that he never seriously antagonized, as Jackson would undoubtedly have done, the military measures of that too masterful and self-confident executive; and the consequence was that now, as after Cold Harbor later on, the Confederate cause suffered.

Before December had fairly set in, Burnside had concentrated his army at Falmouth opposite Fredericksburg. In a short time, Stafford Heights, which, from the north bank below the town, commanded the plain on the south bank, had been entrenched and armed with heavy artillery to assist the Federal forces when they should cross the river to attack the Confederate position on the southern line of hills. These hills, which possessed great natural strength, being broken by ravines and streams, extended about six miles, at a distance from the Rappahannock ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 yards. Longstreet’s corps occupied the ground nearest the town, with his centre resting on Marye’s Heights. Jackson, at first stationed near the river’s lower reaches, moved up before the battle began, and joined bands with Longstreet’s right wing. The latter was strongly fortified; rifle pits and shelter trenches had been dug along his front, which was also protected by abatis. Jackson, on the other hand, after changing his position, did not have time to throw up earthworks.

Lee would not have prevented the Federal army from crossing the river even if it had been in his power to do so. An assault on the Confederate position was almost certain to be repulsed, and should the Federal troops fall back in great confusion, there would be a chance of delivering a successful counterstroke in spite of the artillery fire from Stafford Heights. Burnside’s first intention was to pass the Rappahannock by the fords above the town, and attack the Confederate flank and rear; but concluding that his advance from that quarter might be stopped at the stream, he decided upon a frontal assault. On December 11th, a Federal detachment attempted to throw a pontoon bridge over the river opposite Fredericksburg, a purpose for a time frustrated by Barksdale’s brigade of Mississippians, which withdrew only after the town had been fiercely bombarded and four regiments had crossed. Three additional bridges having been laid down over the stream’s lower reaches, six corps were able to pass by the morning of the 13th and take position on the ground beyond, while a large body of troops under Hooker was held in reserve on the north side. Having seen from his signal stations that Jackson was separated from Longstreet by a wide gap (for at this time the two had not joined hands), Burnside planned to strike the former a blow before the latter could give aid, and then strike the latter in turn; but, as already stated, Jackson, before the first blow was delivered, had posted his corps close to Longstreet’s right wing.

When the Federals, in two great bodies, under Franklin and Sumner respectively, began their march across the plain, the whole landscape was veiled in a heavy fog. The Confederates from the southern heights could at first distinguish no objects below them, but they could hear the sound of the regular footfall of the approaching ranks, the dull roll of the artillery wheels, the quick and sharp words of command, and the soft swell of martial music. Soon the sun began to dispel the mist, and a, stirring panorama was revealed; across the plain, 85,000 troops were seen advancing, as if participating in some grand parade, with bayonets shining in the morning light, and regimental flags flaunting the breeze above a sea of dark blue uniforms. In the background, there rolled away to the horizon the sere or blackened landscapes of early winter, broken toward Stafford Heights by great wreaths of white smoke as the cannon there hurled projectiles over the heads of the Federal hosts against the Confederates’ elevated position.

Jackson had massed his 30,000 men in three lines, one behind another, with a front of twenty-six hundred yards, strengthened by a succession of batteries. There was but one weak point: near his right centre, a coppice projected from the wood where most of his troops were posted, and ran down the slope about a quarter of a mile. This coppice was undefended because supposed to be too much of a brake and a marsh to be penetrated by hostile troops.

To Franklin had been assigned the duty of attacking Jackson’s corps. Thinking that only a small part of that corps occupied the hills next to Longstreet’s position, he halted his division, 55,000 strong, in the plain, and sent Meade forward, with only 4,500 men, to drive a wedge between the two
Confederate wings. The progress of this detachment was stopped for some time by Captain Pelham, of Stuart’a horse artillery, who, turing two guns against their ranks, continued to shoot until his ammunition was exhausted, when he was forced to retire. Meade then advanced under the protection of a heavy artillery fire, but was soon driven back by the unexpected outburst of Jackson’s line of frontal batteries. Again Meade advanced, reinforced by Gibbon, and supported by the main body of the Federal artillery close up on his right and left. Entering the projecting and undefended coppice, he quickly pushed through and fell on the Confederate troops posted on one side of it, while Gibbon, following him, fell on those posted on the other side. The Confederate first line was thrown into confusion, and the second was about to share the same fate, when Jackson ordered his third to advance and clear the wood. Exhausted, unsupported, reduced in number, and disorganized by the pursuit and the intricacies of the ground, the Federals were forced back by this movement. Six Confederate brigades followed them down the slope with a rush, and were stopped only by the fire of the concentrated Federal artillery. Meade and Gibbon had lost 4,000 men in killed and wounded.

During the progress of these operations, Sumner, whose division numbered 35,000 men, had been assaulting Marye’s Heights, a position practically impregnable. Its foot was protected by a stone wall, and its slope by rifle pits and batteries, tier upon tier, while it could be approached only across open ground fully exposed to artillery and musketry fire. Against this petition, strengthened by all that art and nature could supply, two Federal corps, with a degree of courage never surpassed in the history of warfare, threw themselves, only to fall back after suffering an appalling loss; indeed, two of every fire men belonging to the attacking column had been killed or wounded. A second assault was also repulsed, but the Federal troops again fell back in good order. By three o’clock, Franklin’s and Sumner’s divisions, shattered and disheartened, had retired beyond the range of the Confederate artillery.

Why was no counterstroke delivered as at Second Manassas? If delivered at all, it must have been done before the Federals, having recovered from the confusion of their defeat, could strengthen their lines for resistance; and it must also have been done by the whole Confederate army acting in concert to the very minute. In the first place, no previous arrangement for a counterstroke had been made by holding back a body of fresh troops to head the movement; and, in the second, Jackson and Longstreet were so widely separated that neither could know at once what had occurred in either’s front; nor could Lee keep them informed, owing to the battle-field’s extensive area and the obstructions to the view. A simultaneous advance was impracticable and if disjointly made, the movement was certain to end in disaster. Moreover, Lee had to reckon with the batteries stationed on Stafford Heights, which, unless the pursuers could commingle with the pursued, would be able to fire upon them with deadly effect. Nor was the presence of the river in the Federal rear likely to be a Confederate advantage, since the stream, being crossed by four bridges, really afforded four different exits from the plain.

Lee, so far from thinking of a counterstroke the first day, prepared himself against a second assault; and this he again expected the next day when he found that the Federals had not retreated from the plain. Had this second assault been made and badly repulsed, he had planned to follow it up with a counterstroke, to be delivered so quickly as to disconcert the fire of the artillery across the river. It was not until the third night after the battle that the enemy withdrew to the north side of the Rappahannock.

Thus ended the battle of Fredericksburg, a victory which proved, as both Lee and Jackson had anticipated, to be barren of any real fruit, owing to the Federals’ ability to fall back without endangering their flanks or their line of communication. Had the Confederates been fighting for time, Fredericksburg would have been highly useful to their cause, but what they really sought was the destruction of the Army of the Potomac. So permanent advantage had resulted from the Peninsula Campaign, or from Second Manassas, and none would result from Fredericksburg, for the same reason; “namely, the Federal army would, in a few mouths, be able to resume the field, with every vacancy in its ranks filled up by a new recruit, and with every captured cannon replaced by a new piece of artillery. The knowledge of their continued numerical superiority alone would be sufficient to restore the courage of the defeated troops. Men who could charge right up to the muzzles of their enemy’s guns, as the Federals had done at Second Manassas and Marye’s Heights, were not less brave and steadfast than the Southerners who had resisted them. Give them equally skilful leaders, and their very numbers would probably overwhelm all opposition.

No one was more clearly aware than Lee himself that the Confederate reserves in men and supplies were steadily declining, and that barren victories would deplete the remaining resources almost as thoroughly as modified defeats. Purely defensive measures were no more in accord with his judgment than they were with Jackson’s, for both knew that such measures would never bring the North to terms, and that the only hope of doing so must lie either in the destruction of the Army of the Potomac on Southern, or in its decisive defeat on Northern, ground.

With these convictions, Lee, visiting Richmond, laid before Mr. Davis a plan for an aggressive campaign north of the Potomac as soon as the spring should open. Had this plan been carried out at that time, he would have had Jackson’s invaluable assistance, and both would have been able to profit by the mistakes made during the first invasion of Maryland. Lee found Mr. Davis under the impression that the Northern people were so discouraged by the repulse at Fredericksburg that they would soon abandon the contest; and that, before thirty days had passed, the Confederacy’s independence would be recognized by foreign powers. He did not share this delusion. It is quite possible that he would have moved northward in the spring without Mr. Davis’s entire approval had not Longstreet, with three divisions, been withdrawn from his army after the battle of Fredericksburg in order to protect Richmond, supposed to be threatened with invasion by way of Newberne, N.C, and Suffolk, Va. When the campaign of Chancellorsville opened, Longstreet was engaged in an injudicious expedition against the latter place, and by his absence prevented Lee, not only from marching toward the Potomac, but also from deriving any more advantage from the victory of Chancellorsville than from the one gained at Fredericksburg. The drawback which diminished the force of all his greatest successes, namely, the lack of a sufficient number of men to follow them up promptly and energetically, was here exaggerated to a degree never before or afterward equaled.

The winter of 1862–3 was passed in quiet by both armies: the one posted on the heights north of Fredericksburg; the other on the line of hills situated south of the town. Burnside was soon superseded by Hooker, an officer so pugnacious that he was known by the sobriquet of “Fighting Joe,” a reputation confirmed by his boldnees in the early half of the approaching campaign, but lessened by his over-caution in the latter part. He soon had under his command an army of 130,000 mem, which he esteemed so highly that he pronounced it “the finest on the planet.” His artillery service embraced 428 guns. To oppose this host so completely armed, Lee could marshal barely 57,000 men and 170 guns. The disparity was even greater than in the campaign of Sharpsburg.

As soon as spring opened, Hooker took the final steps to carry out the plan of operations which he had matured; and had it been executed with the ability and boldness with which it was conceived, it might have led to a great Federal triumph. Prudently rejecting the suggestion that he should throw his whole force across the river below Fredericksburg, and make a frontal assault on Lee’s entrenchments, he decided to divide his army into three parts for three separate attacks. The first, consisting of his cavalry under Stoneman, 10,000 strong, was ordered to advance to Gordonsville to cut the Confederate line of communication with the Valley over the Central Railway; and having accomplished this, to march to the rear of Lee’s centre, with a view to breaking connections with Richmond by way of the Fredericksburg Railway. The second part consisting of a large body of troops under Sedgwick, was ordered, after crossing the Rappahannock some distance down stream, to hold the Confederate right wing in its position until the third part, under the commander-in-chief himself, could pass over by the upper fords and strike Lee in the rear of his left. It was hoped that the Confederates would be crushed between the upper and nether millstones of Hooker and Sedgwick, while Stoneman would shut off the fugitives from their only road of retreat.

Hooker did not consider the division of his army injudicious, as one wing of it alone was stronger than all Lee’s forces combined, while the other was nearly as strong. Sedgwick led across the river at least 40,000 men and Hooker at least 70,000; in addition, 11,000 were stationed at Banks’ Ford on the north side in easy reach, while the Third Corps was so posted that it could come to the aid of either Hooker or Sedgwick according to the greater need.

By the night of April 30th, the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps had been concentrated at Chancellorsville, a spot about ten miles southwest from Fredericksburg. The surrounding country having once been a mining district, the original forest had been cut down to supply the furnaces, and its place had been taken by a dense growth of scrubby oaks, pines, and chinquapins. It was a wild and lonely brake spreading out twenty miles in one direction and fifteen in the other, and broken only here and there by a small narrow field under cultivation. A few roads, some running southwest toward Gordonsville, and others north toward the Rappahannock’s upper fords, intersected this gloomy region; but the principal passages were merely rude tracks made in hauling the wood used in smelting.

Chancellorsville, represented by a single farmhouse, possessed no strategic importance beyond the fact that several public roads converged at that point. Here, as elsewhere in this vast thicket, the environment was entirely unsuitable for military operations. In getting his army so far, Hooker had shown both skill and energy, although the movement did not quite deserve his public characterization as a “succession of splendid achievements.” “Our enemy,” he announced in a proclamation, “must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give as battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.” And in private conversation, be declared with confidence that “the Confederate army was the legitmate property of the Army of the Potomac.” To overcome the obstructions to reconnaissances, he had established signal stations on every high point, and had sent up three captive balloons; while, by means of a telegraph line to Falmouth, he promptly obtained full knowledge of every Confederate movement on the hills south of Fredericksburg.

Stuart, who had wisely refrained from following Stoneman, kept Lee thoroughly informed of the Federal right wing’s advance. What course should he pursue? If he remained quietly where he was, it was a matter of only a few hours before Hooker would fall in overwhelming force on his flank. The Confederate army could not strike the Federal line of communication with Acquia Creek because it would be practically impossible to cross the river below Fredericksburg in the teeth of Sedgwick and the strong fortifications on Stafford Heights, still occupied by the enemy. Hooker confidently anticipated that Lee would retreat to the North Anna; and perhaps it would have been wiser had he done so. But he never retreated before the battle was fought. The only question which now seriously distracted him was, Which should he strike first, Sedgwick or Hooker!

In the beginning Jackson was in favor of concentrating the whole Confederate army, and hurling it against Sedgwick’s column, which had now crossed the river. Although Lee preferred that Hooker should be attacked first, so great was his confidence in his lieutenantss judgment that be finally consented to a change of plan; but after a more careful inspection of the ground, Jackson acknowledged the correctness of his chief’s original view. No sooner was this conclusion reached than steps were taken by the two for the obstruction of Hooker’s further advance, if not for his overthrow. The first was to turn the faces of the bulk of the Confederate troops toward Chancellorsville; the second to station Early, with 10,000 men, on Marye’s Heights, with orders to block the way for Sedgwick, or at least to delay his progress until the main Federal army had been defeated. History furnishes few examples of a movement equal in audacity to this one:—the advance of an army of 45,000 men against one of 70,000, with another of 40,000 in the Confederate rear eager to pursue and attack.

On the morning of May 1st, the day following the concentration of Hooker’s army at Chancellorsville, a heavy mist, falling upon the face of the country, shut out the view from signal station and captive balloon; and under its cloak, Jackson, was able, without being observed, to join the force which Lee had thrown back from his left wing toward Chancellorsville to oppose Hooker’s expected approach from that point. This force had already erected a line of earthworks and logs along the crest of a wooded ridge looking out over a contracted area of open fields,—a position naturally strong and easily defended toward the west, as it allowed the Confederate artillery to sweep the ground in that quarter, and gave the Federals little room for deploying their guns. Should Sedgwick, however, beat down Early’s resistance, he would be able to attack in the rear simultaneously with Hooker’s assault in front. Jackson perceived this weakness as soon as he came up, and at once ordered the troops to abandon the works and advance toward Chancellorsville by the two roads running in that direction through the labyrinth of gloomy thickets.

Hooker had by this time decided to discontinue the offensive movement so successfully carried out as far as Chancellorsville. He was no longer marching toward Fredericksburg, but instead had taken a strong position in the midst of the vast undergrowth, to which he had retrograded as soon as informed of the check to his vanguard caused by Jackson’s approach in force. His left wing now rested on the Rappahannock; the Second Corps held the turnpike uniting Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg; the Twelfth, forming the centre, protected Chancellorsville itself; the Third occupied Hazel Grove, an open plateau situated west, southwest of that point; while on the extreme right of the right wing was stationed the Eleventh Corps. The line was shaped like an obtuse angle: one division of it fronted directly toward the east; the other toward the south. The breastworks consisted of logs piled together, with abatis blocking the approaches. The few roads running straight to the fortifications were commanded by the full sweep of the artillery fire.

Hooker, though assisted by his balloons and signal stations, was nevertheless greatly hampered by his cavalry’s absence, to which fact some of the timidity which he now exhibited after his first bold movement, was attributable. Lee, on the other hand, was admirably served at this critical juncture by Stuart, whose conduct throughout this campaign was marked by great prudence, sound judgment, and extraordinary energy.

Finding when he arrived before the enemy’s lines, that Hooker had assumed a purely defensive attitude, and had no intention of abandoning it, Lee quietly sought to discover a weak point in the Federal position. He resembled a hunter, who, having driven his prey to bay, leisurely turns from side to side to detect the spot in its body most vulnerable to the stroke of the knife. Such a spot was soon reported by his indefatigable horsemen. In skirting the extreme right, Fitzhugh Lee observed that that part of the Federal army was protected only from an attack in front. Struck on its exposed side, it might be driven back on the centre, to the certain confusion and possible rout of the entire army, and to the probable rupture of its line of retreat to the fords of the Rappahannock. To accomplish this, the Confederate forces would have to be divided on the field of battle, and under circumstances far more perilous than those attending the same manœuvre at Second Manassas; for here one-half of the Confederate army would have to sweep entirely across the Federal front to reach the point of attack on the extreme right. For the execution of so critical a movement, the country’s peculiar character was very well suited, but in spite of the screen of thickets, the Federal outposts’ suspicions might be aroused and the purpose of the march divined and thwarted. Lee, however, relied with confidence on the combined prudence and celerity with which Jackson would conduct it to ensure its success; and the result proved his anticipation to be correct. An interview between the two occurred on the night of May 1st in a grove of oak and pine, and here the general details of the proposed manœuvre were determined.

At four o’clock, the next morning, Jackson began the last and boldest of his flank marches. His force, consisting of 26,000 men, passed in review before Lee, who, with his staff, had halted at the roadside. Gravely saluting his commander, Jackson stopped for a moment to exchange a few words, and then moved rapidly forward; thus was withdrawn forever from Lee’s sight, one whom he had followed with so much chivalrous fidelity, that great lieutenant whose fame will always be interwoven with his own. The line of march first ran down a rude lumber road pointing southward toward the Catharine Furnace; thence west, southwest to the Brock Road pointing northward toward the Rappahannock; then up this highway to the turnpike making eastward toward Chancellorsville; and down this turnpike to the spot where the unsuspecting Eleventh Corps was stationed. The cavalry led the procession of infantry, which, in one great column ten miles long, was strung out across the Federal front.

It was with a sense of elation that the troops advanced. Although not yet aware of the goal their general had in view, they were nevertheless certain that some daring enterprise was on foot. As they marched on, they could hear behind them the roar of cannon as McLaws and Anderson, with 17,000 troops under Lee’s own eye, demonstrated against the Federal lines in order to divert suspicion from the flanking column. But as that column passed south of the Hazel Grove plateau, its presence was detected by the Federal troops entrenched on that height, and information of the fact was sent to Hooker, who, because it was reported that the retiring troops were followed by a long train of wagons, not unnaturally leaped to the conclusion that Lee had began to retreat toward Gordonsville. It was supposed that he was taking this route because his line of withdrawal toward Bowling Green had been blocked by Sedgwick, who was also thought to be thundering in his rear. Nevertheless, Hooker was prudent enough to warn Slocum and Howard on the extreme right to guard against a flank attack. Sickles left the Federal breastworks and attempted to drive a wedge through the advancing column. Jackson hardly stopped to repel the assault; indeed, he was pleased to have caused it, as such a movement was likely to weaken the Federal extreme right, which in fact it did, by tempting Howard, who commanded there, to take part in it.

Having struck the Brock Road pointing north, the column wheeled sharply to the right, and moved by that route until it arrived at what was known as the Plank Road, one of the two public highways,—the turnpike being the other,—which ran parallel toward Chancellorsville. It had been Jackson’s original intention to advance down this road until Howard’s position was reached, and attacking the Federal army in reverse, to roll its left wing on its centre. He halted the column at the crossing, and accompanying Fitzhugh Lee to a neighboring hill, from thence saw the whole of Howard’s corps reposing in the opening below, with no indication that the Confederates’ presence was as yet even suspected. The men were gathered in small groups in the rear of the breastworks: some engaged in conversation; others in smoking and playing cards; others in killing beeves, or preparing the evening meal.

Jackson, having decided to attack in the rear as well as on the flank, dispatched the largest section of his troops farther up the Brock Road to the point where it was crossed by the turnpike running toward Chancellorsville. The final movement then began;— while these troops advanced eastward along the turnpike, the cavalry and the “Stonewall Brigade,” serving as a screen, also marched eastward along the parallel Flank Road. At the end of a mile, line of battle was formed. At this hour, Hooker, Howard, and Sickles were firmly convinced that Jackson was in full retreat. Hooker had, indeed, so telegraphed one of his corps commanders; but he was soon rudely undeceived. A few minutes brought the Confederates sharply upon the sentries of the extreme right, and raising a yell, they rushed forward through the undergrowth, sending the hares, foxes, and deer scurrying before them. The first Federal brigade to feel the impact was overwhelmed; the second, which bravely sought to stay the rout, was dispersed. The first position was now captured, but the advance did not pause. By seven o’clock, the whole of the Eleventh Corps had been driven back in great confusion toward the centre.

Jackson had now pressed his column forward in the rear of the Federal army to a point only a mile and a half distant from Chancellorsville, and barely half a mile from a road debouching into the only highway by which the Federal troops could draw back to the fords of the Rappahannock. If the latter road could be seized, as seemed practicable, owing to the fact that Sickles in the centre had that morning marched so far southward in order to interrupt the Confederate movement, then Jackson could plant himself firmly behind the enemy, while Lee occupied a like position in front. Nor would the Federal predicament be greatly modified by the presence of the reserves at the fords in Jackson’s rear. The situation would then have been highly dramatic: first, Jackson standing between the Federal reserves and Hooker; next, Hooker, between Jackson and Lee, and last, Lee, between Hooker and Sedgwick. But the flanking column in advancing through the dense undergrowth became so disorganized by the rapid pursuit in the now fast-falling darkness that it was found necessary to reform the line before the march upon the road leading to the fords could be resumed. While this was going on, Jackson, accompanied by members of his staff, rode forward to reconnoitre. It was now eight o’clock, and the rising moon dimly lighted up the intricacies of the wood, but not sufficiently to allow objects to be distinguished clearly even at a short distance. Returning, the small body of horsemen received full in the face a volley of musketry from a company which had mistaken them for Federal skirmishers.

So seriously was Jackson wounded that on being brought within his own lines, he was unable to give any further orders. His chief lieutenant, A. P. Hill, also had been disabled; and his guide, Boswell, killed. No one was aware of the commander’s plans, and the whole corps had to be halted until Stuart, many miles away, had been summoned to assume direction. It was then too late to press forward to the road running to the fords. Howard took advantage of the long delay to recall Sickles, and the two, reforming and strengthening their lines, were able to bar the further advance that night of the fatigued Confederate column.

By dawn next morning (May 3d), new Federal breastworks had been thrown up, while the road to the fords was firmly held by a fresh corps which had been hurried across the river. It was the Confederate army, not the Federal, which was now in a dangerous position, for a gap of two miles intervened between its left wing and its right; and within this gap the enemy, far outnumbering their foe, were firmly entrenched. Moreover, Sedgwick had received peremptory orders to break down all barriers, and move up to Hooker’s support. There was, therefore, an imminent prospect that Lee, as Hooker had originally planned, would be caught between the upper and nether millstones. But the Federal commander was not thinking of the offensive,—all his energies seemed to be bent only upon securing a road for retreat. Instead of fiercely assaulting Lee, he ordered the erection of a second line of breastworks in his own rear, and as soon as it was finished, he began to retire from the Hazel Grove plateau, the key to his position,—a movement which not only left the field open to Stuart to join hands with Lee, but also abandoned to him an elevation from which the Confederate artillery could fire down on the Federal entrenchments toward the east. In a short time, Hooker had concentrated 37,000 men behind the breastworks in the rear of Chancellorsville, and during the rest at the battle, these troops did not fire a musket, although their comrades in the front line were for hours exposed to the fierce attack of the now combined Confederate army, and were finally compelled, after a prolonged resistance, themselves to fall back behind these fortifications.

Lee was about to assault this new position, which lay nearly a mile back of the old, when he was informed that Sedgwick had stormed Marye’s Heights, and was rapidly advancing to join Hooker. The order for a forward movement was at once recalled, and a strong detachment under McLaws sent to bar the further progress of this foe. The two met in the vicinity of Salem Church, and so vigorously were the Federals pressed, that they were thrown upon the defensive as their only means of securing the line of retreat to Banks’s Ford. Next day, Lee having arrived in person on the ground, Sedgwick found himself in a position of great peril, with Early attacking his rear, and Lee and McLaws his front and flank. Forced to draw back, he took advantage of nightfall, all the darker for a heavy fog, to retreat to the north side of the Rappahannock.

During the two days’ fighting, Hooker had not ventured to leave his entrenchments either to assault Lee or to reinforce Sedgwick. His army of 60,000 men had been held in check by 20,000, while the remainder of the Confederate forces were engaged in the battle with his lieutenant, which was to decide the final issue of the campaign. Having driven Sedgwick across the river, Lee returned to Chancellorsville, but a heavy rain made it impossible for him to advance upon the Federal position that day, and Hooker, as soon as night fell, prudently withdrew beyond the Rappahannock.

Thus ended the battle of Chancellorsville, the greatest of Lee’s victories from a purely tactical point of view. As with all his other triumphs, however, the numerical disparity prevented him from converting the Federal retreat into a rout, or striking in the confusion at the enemy’s line of communication. From the beginning, Hooker seems to have been dispirited by his opponent’s offensive attitude. After his bold and rapid concentration at Chancellorsville, instead of pushing eastward with energy to strike the Confederate rear while Sedgwick assaulted the front, be allowed himself to be checked without difficulty by Jackson’s advance. Even at that early stage of the campaign, his first thought appeared to be to keep open his line of retreat, and, therefore, his tactics were directed, not toward conquest, but self-defense. When he saw Jackson’s column marching across his front, he exultantly concluded that the enemy were withdrawing; but not even this stimulating delusion caused him to strike the retiring foe a blow in the rear, delivered not by one corps, as he tried to do, but by the larger part of his army. Lee, who still remained behind, and was in a weakened condition, might at least have been attacked in force. But Hooker’s mind was now entirely occupied with the supposed necessity of maintaining his fortified position in order to avoid defeat.

When his right wing had been thrown into confusion by Jackson’s sudden onset, and the Federal centre was also in imminent danger of being rolled up, and the road to the fords blocked, Hooker, under cover of darkness, acted with much promptness and energy in restoring the situation; but next morning, instead of assaulting one or the other of the now separated wings of the Confederate army, he undertook to draw back the greater section of his own forces to a new line of entrenchments in his rear, as if his one object was merely to preserve an open passage. And, afterward, when his entire army was concentrated behind this new line, instead of attacking Stuart, in Lee’s absence, at Salem Church, he made not the slightest movement until the latter’s return, and then one of retrogression at night across the river simply to avoid his antagonist’s last spring. Having a commander who was so easily dispirited to overcome, it seems quite probable that, had Jackson, before being disabled, succeeded in seizing the road to the fords and thus cutting off, or at least impeding the enemy’s line of retreat, the Confederate army would have inflicted an appalling reverse on the Federals, in spite of the fact that the latter were still nearly twice as numerous.

The Confederacy reached the highest point of its fortunes the night when Hooker retreated to the north bank of the Rappahannock; from that hour, these fortunes were really to decline, although heroic valor and constancy long deferred the end. The only hope of succees lay in the employment of the tactics used so conspicuously at Chancellorsville; but when Jackson fell, Lee was left without a single officer possessing the extraordinary qualifications necessary for carrying out the bold and hazardous manœuvres required to overcome the enemy’s enormous superiority in number of men and in material resources. Those great turning movements, whether suggested by Jackson or not, were as consonant with Lee’s military genius as with “Stonewall’s.” There is in the whole history of modern warfare hardly a more melancholy contrast from the Southern point of view than that presented in the comparison of Chancellorsville with Gettysburg, the next great battle: the one, the consummation of genius in conception, and of energy in execution; the other, even finer and more daring in conception, and yet in execution a failure simply because the celerity, vigor, boldness, and perfect sympathy of Jackson had been replaced by the opinionativeness, obstinacy, procrastination, and practical insubordination of Longstreet.

Lee’s moral greatness was never more strikingly displayed than during and after the battle of Chancellorsville. At the moment when the Confederate troops were slowly driving their opponents from in front of the farmhouse at that point, and, in moving by their commander, were saluting him with triumphant hurrahs, a note was handed Lee from Jackson, in which the wounded general congratulated him on the victory. “I shall never forget,” says Colonel Marshall, of his staff, “the look of pain and anguish that passed over his face as he listened. With a voice broken with emotion, he bade me say to General Jackson the victory was his, and that the congratulations were due to him.” “Had I had my choice,” Lee himself wrote, somewhat later, “I would for the good of the country have fallen in your place.”

At first, there was ground for hoping that Jackson’s wound would not prove fatal; his left arm was amputated and his condition for a time promised a quick recovery. Lee allowed no day to go by without sending his famous lieutenant an affectionate message. “Tell him,” he said, “to make haste and get well, and come back to me as soon as he can. He has lost his left arm, and I have lost my right.” And when Jackson died, no one mourned his loss more keenly than Lee, the man who was most capable of understanding his genius for war, and who trusted most to that genius for the success of the cause so dear to the hearts of both. Throughout their association, only the most perfect mutual confidence had been displayed; not a cloud arose to obscure their admiration and respect for each other. “Lee,” remarked Jackson on one occasion, “is a phenomenon. He is the only man I could follow blindfold.” Never but once did a word approaching criticism of his generous and high-minded commander cross his lips; when Lee’s letter attributing to him the brilliant victory at Chancellorsville was read to the wounded soldier, as he lay on his sick bed, he replied gently, “General Lee is very kind, but he should give the glory to God.” After the war, Lee repeatedly expressed his conviction that, had he had Jackson with him at Gettysburg, he would have won a decisive victory, and such a victory there, he thought, would have resulted in Southern independence.

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