Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Grand Design

It was a strategic plan that every Civil War general dreamed of. Steal a march on your enemy. Turn his flank. Force him to attack you at a place of your choosing, rather than assault him in his prepared defenses. The plan was complex; the opportunities for things to go wrong were many, but such was Maj. Gen. Thomas Hooker’s plan for the Chancellorsville campaign, and for the most part, the plan worked very well.

The Army of the Potomac finally began to move on Monday, April 27, 1862. Howard’s XI Corps, followed by Slocum’s XII Corps, and then Meade’s V Corps, left their camps near Stafford and marched about fifteen miles west, where they crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford. The long column then turned southeast toward the Rapidan River. The three corps then marched through most of the Wilderness, arriving at their assigned positions in the vicinity of Chancellorsville on Thursday, April 30.

On April 28 Reynolds’ I Corps and Sedgwick’s III Corps moved up from their camps in preparation for crossing the Rappahannock to seize the city of Fredericksburg for the second time. Hooker intended these two corps, along with Gibbon”s division of the II Corps, to keep Lee’s attention focused on a threatened frontal assault, while the bulk of the Army of the Potomac established a new position on Lee’s western flank.

By late afternoon of Thursday, April 30, Hooker’s grand design had been carried out most successfully. All of the troops assigned to deploy around Chancellorsville were in place, except two divisions of Couch’s II Corps. French’s third division and Hancock’s first division had set out along the road closest to the river on the 29th. Progress was slow and back-breaking, because the men of these two divisions, among whom were our friends in the Fourteenth Connecticut, had to repair the deeply rutted and, in places, impassable roads so the artillery could be brought up. The roads were in very poor condition because of Burnside’s “Mud March” in January.

After two days, the men of the Fourteenth finally arrived at the bridge across the Rappahannock at U.S. Ford about 5:00 p.m. Before they were allowed to cross, the following statement from Maj. Gen. Hooker was read to the men:

“The operations of the last three days have determined that the enemy must either ingloriously fly or come out from behind his entrenchments and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.”

That evening he was also heard to boast that even God Almighty could prevent him from achieving victory.

Let’s Get Moving Already

150 YEARS AGO TODAY the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry had been under orders to be ready to march at a moment’s notice for six days. On April 13th, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker issued orders for nearly the entire army to quietly pack away their gear, fill their ammunition pouches, and draw eight days rations of coffee, hardtack and salt pork. Since rations were normally issued for three days, the men grumbled about the extra weight they would be forced to carry, and they also knew something unusual was up. But no one, except Hooker’s inner circle of officers knew what he had planned for the Army of the Potomac.

However, no sooner was the order given than it began to rain—and the army waited, and waited, and waited some more, all the while ready to move out at any time, although everyone knew they weren’t going anywhere until the roads dried and became passable. There would not be another Mud March. Capt. Samuel Fiske lamented to his faithful readers back home that the winter and early spring at Falmouth must have been the wettest ever in history. “I suppose Noah may have experienced harder rain,” Fiske wrote to the Springfield Republican newspaper on April 25th, “after he drew in the gang-plank of his Great Eastern, and with his menagerie all aboard quietly awaiting the commencement of his voyage to the new world, but I don’t believe he heard it patter so many nights over his head in the old ark-attic as I have now heard it pattering on the canvas roof of my log shanty this spring.”

Sgt. Benjamin Hirst, in his typically sardonic fashion, blamed the delay on the high command. “We have not moved yet and I can”t see that we are any near moving than we were a week ago. There is a deadlock somewhere, but where we can’t tell. I only hope they know in Washington.”

By the end of April the weather improved. On the 28th the Army of the Potomac finally began to move according to the plan of Maj. Gen. Hooker. The infantry corps would march by various, round-about routes and concentrate west of Fredericksburg at a small hamlet on the edge of the Wilderness called Chancellorsville.

Pulling Up Stakes

Point of Personal Privilege #1: This week (April 12-19, 2013) I am interviewed about the writing of my novel An Eye for Glory on Elaine Stock’s blog Everyone’s Story. Click on the link in the right sidebar.

Point of Personal Privilege #2: Congratulations to the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team on winning their eighth national championship since 1995.

The winter encampment at Falmouth and Stafford was coming to an end. The occupation of seven Union corps of infantry, along with men, animals and equipment of artillery, cavalry and supply units of the army placed a tremendous burden upon the land. As has already been noted in a previous post (“Mule Resurrected”), the distance one had to go outside of camp to find firewood increased as the edge of the forest was cut back day by day. It can easily be imagined how bleak and dreary the entire area must have become under the constant trampling of man and beast.\r\n\r\nEvery man on both sides of the Rappahannock knew the armies could not remain idle much longer. Spring would bring battle and battle would bring death, but these men were soldiers, and they knew a soldier”s lot was to march and fight. Capt. Samuel Fiske, war correspondent to the Springfield, MA Republican newspaper wrote in the April 15th issue about his mixed emotions at the prospect of leaving Falmouth:

“There is nothing very attractive about this locality. It is bare, bleak and desolate, muddy, dusty and in ruins, all the beauty trampled out long ago under the ruthless tread of a great army. And there are no visions of glory to endear it to our memory, no successes gained, no wreaths and laurels to crown it in our recollections; and yet it is somehow a little hard to pull up our stakes and tear down our walls for departure after all. It is with a sort of shrinking and momentary reluctance that we push out from the little eddy where we have lain so snugly for a time, and commit ourselves again to the raging current of war.”



Dissing the Prez?

During early April 1863, President Lincoln traveled to Falmouth to meet with General Hooker and review the troops. The afternoon of April 8 the president sat astride his horse, surrounded by hundreds of officers and other dignitaries, as regiment after regiment marched by in fine order. The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut were to join in this grand parade, but many of them were miles away on picket duty.

The detachment had left camp the previous day at 7 a.m., relieved the retiring picket at 10 a.m., and remained awake at their posts for the next twenty-four hours. When they were in turn relieved, there was but one thought for each man – return to camp and get some sleep. Here is Sgt. Benjamin Hirst’s commentary on the event:

“Instead of going back to camp we were marched four miles out of our way to join our regiment at a Grand Review at which Lincoln was present. I reckon there was some swearing while we were going, and coming back. Just imagine us; all our regiment that could be got together were there, with their best bib and tucker on, showing off to kill, and us poor devils, after being on duty a day and a half, were formed in a division by ourselves. We had our overcoats on, and our blankets in a coil around our shoulders, besides our haversacks and dirty cups hitched to them and we were all dirty and sleepy, and some of us had axes to carry. I had one, a five-pounder, on one shoulder and my gun on the other. But so it was, and it was nothing of a surprise to me, to see that the President should come a little more to the front as we approached him, to see what kind of men should come along next. However, I think they were somewhat surprised to hear that we were in the Approved Light Marching Order of the Army of the Potomac.

“However, it was a big thing, and I saw the Rail Splitter, and he did or might have seen me, so we are square on that point. I hope next time he comes he will send his paymaster, who would be a first-rate substitute.”