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THE CAMPAIGN OF CHANCELLORSVILLE
by Theodore A. Dodge
To the members of The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, of whose researches into the history of our Civil War the following pages form but a modest part, this volume is, with Sincere Regard, Dedicated by the author.
I. INTRODUCTION II. CONDITION OF THE COMBATANTS III. HOOKER AND THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC IV. THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA V. DIFFICULTY OF AN ATTACK VI. THE PROPOSED CAVALRY RAID VII. THE FEINT BY THE LEFT WING VIII. THE REAL MOVE BY THE RIGHT WING IX. LEE'S INFORMATION AND MOVEMENTS X. HOOKER'S ADVANCE FRIDAY XI. POSITION AT CHANCELLORSVILLE XII. JACKSON'S MARCH AND SICKLES'S ADVANCE XIII. HOOKER'S THEORIES AND CHANCES XIV. POSITION OF THE ELEVENTH CORPS XV. SITUATION AT SIX O'CLOCK XVI. JACKSON'S ATTACK XVII. CONDUCT OF THE ELEVENTH CORPS XVIII. HOOKER'S PARRY XIX. THE MIDNIGHT ATTACK XX. STONEWALL JACKSON XXI. POSTION AT FAIRVIEW XXII. THE FIGHT AT FAIRVIEW XXIII. THE LEFT CENTRE XXIV. THE NEW LINES XXV. SUNDAY'S MISCARRIAGE XXVI. SEDGWICK'S CHANGE OF ORDERS XXVII. SEDGWICK'S ASSAULT XXVIII. SEDGWICK MARCHES TOWARD HOOKER XXIX. SALEM CHURCH XXX. SEDGWICK IN DIFFICULTY XXXI. SEDGWICK WITHDRAWS XXXII. HOOKER'S CRITICISMS XXXIII. HOOKER'S FURTHER PLANS XXXIV. THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC RE-CROSSES XXXV. OPERATIONS OF THE CAVALRY CORPS XXXVI. HOOKER'S RESUME XXXVII. SOME RESULTING CORRESPONDENCE APPENDIX.
THE CAMPAIGN OF CHANCELLORSVILLE.
It must seem to the casual reader of the history of the war of 1861-65, that enough has already been written upon the campaign of Chancellorsville. And there are numerous brilliant essays, in the histories now before the public, which give a coup-d'oeil more or less accurate of this ten-days' passage of arms. But none of these spread before the reader facts sufficiently detailed to illustrate the particular theory advanced by each to account for the defeat of the Army of the Potomac on this field.
The stigma besmirching the character of the Eleventh Corps, and of Howard, its then commanding general, for a panic and rout in but a small degree owing to them; the unjust strictures passed upon Sedgwick for his failure to execute a practically impossible order; the truly remarkable blunders into which Gen. Hooker allowed himself to lapse, in endeavoring to explain away his responsibility for the disaster; the bare fact, indeed, that the Army of the Potomac was here beaten by Lee, with one-half its force; and the very partial publication, thus far, of the details of the campaign, and the causes of our defeat,--may stand as excuse for one more attempt to make plain its operations to the survivors of the one hundred and eighty thousand men who there bore arms, and to the few who harbor some interest in the subject as mere history.
To say that Gen. Hooker lapsed into blunders in explaining his share in this defeat, is to use a form of words purposely tempered to the memory of a gallant soldier, who, whatever his shortcomings, has done his country signal service; and to avoid the imputation of baldly throwing down the gauntlet of ungracious criticism. All reference to Gen. Hooker's skill or conduct in this, one of the best conceived and most fatally mismanaged of the many unsuccessful advances of the Army of the Potomac, is made with sincere appreciation of his many admirable qualities, frankly, and untinged by bitterness. But it must be remembered, that Gen. Hooker has left himself on record as the author of many harsh reflections upon his subordinates; and that to mete out even justice to all requires unvarnished truth.
The most uncalled-for slur upon the conduct of his lieutenants probably occurs in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Before withdrawing from the south side of the Rappahannock, after the decisive events of the battle-field had cooped up the army between the river and its intrenchments, Hooker called together all his corps commanders, and requested their several opinions as to the advisability of attack or retreat. Whatever discussion may have then been had, it was generally understood, in after-days, that all but one of these generals had expressed himself freely for an immediate advance. In referring to this understanding, while denying its correctness, Hooker used the following language:--
"So far as my experience extends, there are in all armies officers more valiant after the fight than while it is pending; and, when a truthful history of the Rebellion shall be written, it will be found that the Army of the Potomac is not an exception."
Merely to characterize as ungenerous this aspersion upon the courage of such men as then served under Hooker, savors of error on the side of leniency. And, inasmuch as these words strike, as it were, the keynote of all the statements which Hooker has vouchsafed with reference to these events, they might be assumed fairly to open the door to unsparing criticism. But it is hoped that this course has been avoided; and that what censure is dealt out to Gen. Hooker in the succeeding pages will be accepted, even by his advocates, in the kindly spirit in which it is meant, and in which every soldier of the beloved old Army of the Potomac must uniformly refer to every other.
There is, moreover, no work on Chancellorsville which results from research into all records now accessible.
The work of Allan and Hotchkiss, of 1867, than which nothing can be more even-handed, or more admirable as far as it goes, adopts generally the statements made in the reports of the Confederate generals: and these are necessarily one-sided; reports of general officers concerning their own operations invariably are. Allan and Hotchkiss wrote with only the Richmond records before them, in addition to such information from the Federal standpoint as may be found in general orders, the evidence given before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and newspaper correspondence. At that time many of the Federal reports were not to be had: such as were at the War Department were hardly accessible. Reports had been duly made by all superior officers engaged in and surviving this campaign, excepting only the general in command; but, strange to say, not only did Gen. Hooker refrain from making a report, but he retained in his personal possession many of the records of the Army of the Potomac covering the period of his command, and it is only since his death that these records have been in part recovered by the Secretary of War. Some are still missing, but they probably contain no important matter not fully given elsewhere.
Although Hooker testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: "Without an exception I forwarded to that office"--the War Department--"all the reports and returns and information concerning the army, and furnished them promptly, and, as I think, as no other army commander has done," his memory had at the moment played him traitor, for a considerable part of these records were not disposed of as stated. It should be remarked, however, that Hooker is not singular in this leaning towards the meum in the matter of records.
The sources relied on for the facts herein given are the reports of the officers engaged, both Federal and Confederate, added to many private notes, memoranda, and maps, made by them; the testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, which included Hooker's examination; and the maps made by the Engineer Department of the United-States Army, and those of Capt. Hotchkiss.
This latter officer was the topographical engineer of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, and made his surveys by order of Gen. Lee immediately after the campaign. They are of the greatest assistance and value.
Eighteen years have elapsed since North and South crossed swords upon this memorable field; and it would seem that all Americans can now contemplate with unruffled heart the errors under which "the Army of the Potomac was here beaten without ever being fought," as well as boast with equal pride, not only of the abundant courage displayed by either side, but of the calm skill with which Gen. Lee wrested victory from a situation desperately compromised, and of the genius of that greatest of his lieutenants, Thomas J. Jackson, who here sealed with his blood his fidelity to the cause he loved so well.
It has been said that this campaign furnishes as much material for the psychological as for the military student. And certainly nothing less than a careful analysis of Hooker's character can explain the abnormal condition into which his mental and physical energy sank during the second act of this drama. He began with really masterly moves, speedily placing his wary adversary at the saddest disadvantage. But, having attained this height, his power seemed to pass away as from an over-tasked mind. With twice the weight of arm, and as keen a blade, he appeared quite unable to parry a single lunge of Lee's, quite unable to thrust himself. He allowed his corps commanders to be beaten in detail, with no apparent effort to aid them from his abundant resources, the while his opponent was demanding from every man in his command the last ounce of his strength. And he finally retired, dazed and weary, across the river he had so ably and boastingly placed behind him ten days before, against the opinion of nearly all his subordinates; for in this case the conditions were so plain that even an informal council of war advised a fight.
With character-study, however, this sketch has nothing to do. It is
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