Chancellorsville, Virginia, May 8, 1863, Nevill C. Blacklidge, Special Correspondent
We now bring you eyewitness accounts of the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, which has resulted in the retreat of the enemy forces under General Hooker. First, we will include a chronology of the week-long battles around Chancellorsville.
Apr. 28th. Gen. Hooker’s army began to cross the Rappahannock, upstream from Fredericksburg. There remained a large Federal force confronting the city. This movement across the river appeared to be a flanking attack on Gen. Lee’s army.
Apr. 29th. Gen. Hooker’s army moved large forces across to the east and west of Fredericksburg to encircle the Army of Northern Virginia.
Apr. 30th. The Army of the Potomac set up headquarters in the Chancellor home, hence Chancellorsville became a battlefield. Gen. Hooker said Gen. Lee must fly or come out from behind defenses and fight. This refers to the extensive defenses constructed since the first Battle of Fredericksburg some five months before.
May 1st. Gen. Lee moved his army out of Fredericksburg to block Hooker’s army from emerging from the Wilderness. After brief skirmishes, Hooker ordered his army to withdraw and concentrate in an area near Chancellorsville. In a midnight conference with Gen. Jackson, Gen. Lee decided to split his army again as Gen. Longstreet was away at Suffolk. Gen. Jackson was to attack Hooker’s flank while Gen. Lee made a demonstration in front of Hooker’s army.
May 2nd. Gen. Jackson’s movement into the Wilderness was mistaken by the Yankees as a withdrawal. By 6 P.M. Gen. Jackson was in place and his men launched a strong attack. The Federals were rolled back to Chancellorsville. Gens. Jackson and A. P. Hill were wounded by friendly fire about 9 P.M. while scouting the Yankee troop placements.
May 3rd. In the early morning Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s left arm was removed. At dawn, Gen. J. E. B. Stuart leading Gen. Jackson’s forces took a hill called Hazel’s Grove and our artillery fired on the Federals in Chancellorsville. A shell split a column on the Chancellor home and knocked down the tipsy man leaning on the column for support, Fighting Joe Hooker. He was unconscious and then unstable for the rest of the day. Lee took Chancellorsville about 10 A.M. but his planned assault never emerged. The second Battle of Fredericksburg had taken place, and Lee had to stop Early’s withdrawal due to being outnumbered four to one. The result was a sharp battle around the Salem Church from late afternoon to dark. Gen. Longstreet was called back from Suffolk.
May 4th. Federal forces were driven back, but escaped across the Rappahannock; the battle ended as Hooker decided to withdraw all his forces back across the river. The Federal Army was estimated at 133,000; double our forces. Estimated casualties, Federals 17,000; Confederate 12,500.
May 5th. Heavy rain blocked Gen. Lee’s efforts to prevent Hooker’s retreat.
May 6th. Gen. Lee’s army advanced into the Wilderness to find Hooker’s army had gone. Gen. Jackson was convalescing at a home in Guiney’s Station. Gen. A. P. Hill, who had been only slightly injured, was assigned to command the Second Corps.
Now to some eyewitness accounts that we gathered during the battle as well as the past rainy days beginning on May 5th.
General Jubal Early:
“The landing on April 29th of portions of the Federal army on our side of the Rappahannock was done so quietly in the early morning fog that the first indications we had were the reports of the pickets that the Yankees had already crossed in force. Additionally, they were digging trenches and securing their artillery batteries. I knew that could be a feint, but I could not wait for orders and moved up my men. In a short time the 13th Georgia and other units came under fire, but we delayed the enemy’s laying of bridges until about 10:00 A.M. Then I heard another crossing had been made at Deep Run where bridges had been laid and infantry and artillery were pouring across. Now breastworks and artillery emplacements were plainly visible in this area. There was no activity seen in front of Fredericksburg, where there were still heavy gun emplacements manned by the enemy on the heights overlooking the city. Gen. Lee during the winter had increased the trenches and general fortifications in Fredericksburg, so that they were much stronger than in the previous December. I shared his belief that the direct assault would come there with spring weather and dry roads. Now we faced flanking movements above and below our troop concentrations.
“During the day, Gen. Jackson came up with his forces, and Gen. A. P. Hill’s forces were drawn up in a line behind Gen. Jackson’s as well as Gens. McLaws’ and Barkdale’s. There were also Gen. Rodes’ skirmishers. There was no attack made during the day, but many more Yankee infantry could be seen under cover of trees along the river as if waiting to cross. We had our men behind the railroad line, which provided good cover, but we were becoming more thinly stretched. I came to realize that our lines were now six miles long. We fired some artillery at the enemy who were crouched in bottom fields along the river. This had a good effect in terms of keeping them in place. I spent the night along the front lines.
“During the next day, the 30th, the enemy were digging trenches to connect their two river crossing points. There were fewer infantry visible on the heights overlooking Fredericksburg, but the artillery batteries were still strongly manned. Gen. Lee realized the threat was not from our front, but from a flanking movement on his left. Gen. Jackson ordered me to hold my position and some other troops were made available to me. Gen. Pendleton’s artillery remained on Marye’s and Lee’s Hills, the sites of so many casualties a few months ago. A number of gun batteries containing some seventeen pieces of artillery were also left with me. Gen. Lee directed me to hold the line as he moved that day and on May 1st to block Gen. Hooker at Chancellorsville. This stretching of my line left the interval between Deep Run and Lee’s Hill manned only by skirmishers with the only major defense being artillery cross-fire.
“On May 1st the enemy continued entrenching between the two crossing points. Gen. Pendleton sent forward an artillery battery of four guns placed near the pine trees at the right of the enemy’s crossing. On the 2nd, there were more Federal infantry on the other bank, and to test their strength artillery fire was opened on them at Deep Run and near the Pratt house. There were responses from two sets of batteries, but not the third. I rode to the top of Lee’s Hill to observe the enemy, and saw there were many more infantry moving on the opposite bank. I was then approached by Col. Chilton of Gen. Lee’s staff with a verbal order to move my troops to Chancellorsville. A large group of Yankee forces had been seen moving near Falmouth. I told the Col. that I was holding back a large force that would imperil Gen. Lee’s army, but Col. Chilton countered that Fredericksburg was not as important as blocking Hooker at Chancellorsville to guard the major routes to Richmond. He said that once Hooker was defeated, Fredericksburg could easily be retaken. There was no discretion left to me in Gen. Lee’s orders, and I began to move my troops leaving only a small number behind.
“I later found that Col. Chilton had misunderstood the orders from Gen. Lee and that Gen. Lee had said I was to move part of my forces only if the forces opposing me were not sufficient to detain all of my forces. They obviously were sufficient to detain all of my forces and then some. We had to exercise caution given the enemy batteries across the river and the large number of enemy infantry near us. This cautious withdrawal took several hours. My division was in full view of the enemy lines on the hills across the river which is to say in full view of their heavy artillery batteries. I determined to leave a brigade and regiment in defense of the area as well as some artillery. At this point an enemy balloon went up, and I was sure our movement had been discovered, but it was not, due to the incompetence of Yankee observers. We were dark getting into line along the Plank Road. Then I received a note from Gen. Lee saying that I should withdrew my troops only if it could be done safely, but if I thought I could neutralize or hold in check a large force of the enemy, I should remain where I was, which in this case was in Fredericksburg. At this point I determined to move forward to aid Gen. Lee who might sorely need my troops.
“At this point I received a message from Gen. Barksdale that the enemy had advanced with a large force at Fredericksburg, and if we did not return, all the artillery would be captured. Gen. Barksdale concluded his message by saying he was already heading back. I determined at once to return to my former position. It turned out that most of the enemy forces were not advancing, and those that were had been stopped at the railroad line. We returned safely to our positions near Fredericksburg between 10:00 and 11:00 P.M,. and I threw out my skirmishers along the River Road.
“By early light I could see that none of the enemy were present on the opposite shore which meant that they were on our side of the river, but the point of attack was unknown. There was a large force with artillery at Deep Run, and there was a force threatening Marye’s Hill with infantry and artillery. The mass of the Yankee infantry was concealed in the wooded areas. We soon found there were three divisions, one between Deep Run and Hazel’s Run, one covering the bridge, and one facing Fredericksburg. Our artillery dislodged the enemy behind the railroad embankment, then we began to pour artillery fire on large bodies of infantry headed toward Fredericksburg. I stayed with my division on the weakest point on the right; I feared the enemy could come up Deep Run and divide my forces.
“The enemy batteries across the river were firing on Barksdale’s artillery, and there were simultaneous assaults by the enemy on Lee’s and Marye’s Hills with demonstrations against the heights above. The enemy took Marye’s Hill, but at a terrible cost; our little band of men held out through two massive assaults before their lines were broken. There were thousands of enemy casualties. Then an enemy column came up from the rear and captured another artillery unit. Those on Lee’s Hill had held out as long as possible, but as our forces withdrew from Marye’s Hill to avoid capture, so did those on Lee’s Hill. I did not realize this until a short time later. I then called up Gen. Gordon whose was on my right with three regiments to follow me on the Telegraph Road. I soon found Gen. Pendleton and blocked his retreat, then I found Gen. Barksdale rallying his forces. Had I known that Gen. Sedgwick’s plan was to attack only Lee’s and Marye’s Hills, I would have concentrated all my forces there. As it was we were scattered and lost these hills on that day. I knew they had to be retaken as enemy artillery placed there could enfillade our troops. I received two messages from Gen. Lee as to the necessity of retaking the fort on Marye’s Hill. That night on May 3rd I concentrated my forces for an early morning attack. ”
General John B. Gordon:
“I had my forces on Gen. Early’s right and the next morning May 4th it was determined by the General to retake the fort on Marye’s Hill. I had never been in battle with this new brigade, and I had also misunderstood the order; my brigade was to be part of the group retaking the fort. I believed my brigade alone was to retake the fort. I said to them, ’We will know each other better when the battle of the day is over, I trust that we shall go together into that fort, and if there is a man in the brigade who does not wish to go with us, I will excuse him if he will step to the front and make himself known.’ Of course, no man stepped to the front, and I announced, ‘There is no man found who desires to be excused, and every man in this splendid brigade has thus declared his purpose to go into the fortress.’ There was prolonged and loud cheering after this, and we moved briskly to the attack. We were under full headway when I received an order to halt, but the order had come too late. My men were under heavy fire and almost into the fort, and a few more minutes would decide the result of the charge.
“When we reached Lee’s Hill, we found it empty, but a body of infantry was moving along the Plank Road toward Marye’s Hill and the ridge above, There was a considerable body of infantry coming between two houses and some artillery. I sent out skirmishers and made preparation to descend the hill and cross over Hazel Run above Marye’s Hill. There were two large groups of enemy infantry, possibly brigades moving very near, threatening my left. Graham’s artillery battery fired on them and drove them from the ridge. I then led my men in dash across the run and after a sharp engagement drove off the infantry behind the road embankment. We captured some prisoners and several baggage and assistance wagons, including a battery wagon and a forge, and their teams. In this way we gained possession of Marye’s and Cemetery Hills, again.
“I told Gen. Gordon afterward in a playful manner that had his charge failed, I would have had him court-martialed for disobedience of orders.”
“I also remember that day that I came into possession of a fine horse; it belonged to a Union officer who had been killed and the horse was running toward our lines. She is a superb battle horse; she is absolutely transformed in combat, much like a horse in riding to the hounds in a fox hunt. She thrills to the delight of battle. The bones of her legs are converted into steel-springs and her sinews into india-rubber. With head up and nostrils distended, her whole frame seems to thrill with a delight akin to that of foxhounds when the hunter’s horn summons them to the chase. With the ease of an antelope, she will bound across ditches and over fences which no amount of coaxing can induce her to undertake when not in the excitement of battle. Her courage is equal to her other high qualities. She is afraid of nothing. Neither the shouting of troops, nor the rattle of rifles, nor the roar of artillery, nor their bursting shells, intimidates her in the slightest.”
“After our success in retaking the Hills, we had cut the enemy’s connections to Fredericksburg. I ordered Gen. Barksdale’s brigade to take cover behind the stone wall and move as rapidly as possible to take possession of Fredericksburg. I then learned that the enemy’s wagon trains had escaped, and that the town was heavily fortified. I then sent orders to Barksdale to desist from attacking the the town. We waited and late on the night of May 4th, Barksdale asked for reinforcements as the enemy were moving through the town with troops and artillery; I told him to wait, they might be retreating, and we soon found that they were. On the 5th the enemy had crossed the river and by the 6th the rain came, and the campaign was over. We are rejoicing still over this brilliant and important victory.”