Chancellorsville – May 2, 1863

SPECIAL EDITION: 150 Years Ago Today

Saturday, May 2 was a critical day in the course of the war and a memorable one for the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. The fighting started afresh that morning. A relatively small force of Confederates commanded by Gen. Lee himself continued to drive the Union infantry slowly backward toward Chancellorsville.

Occupied with the construction of his own defensive perimeter, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker failed to realize that a large force of some 28,000 Confederate infantrymen under the command of Stonewall Jackson was marching from the east side of Chancellorsville all the way around to the Wilderness west of the village. Hooker, it seems, never paid any heed to a possible threat from that quarter. The troops of Maj. Gen. Howard’s XI Corps had not dug in. They were strung out along two miles of the Orange Turnpike. They had loafed about all day and as evening set in, campfires were stoked and dinner was cooked. At about 6:30 p.m. Jackson’s men exploded out of the Wilderness and the rout of the XI Corps was on. (For a battlefield map click here.)

Soon after Gen. Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac, with a depth of wisdom mere mortals may never understand, he abolished regimental bands as a waste of men and resources. All band members joined the ranks and took up instruments of death rather than music. Shortly before the spring campaign began, Hooker suddenly reversed himself and, effective May 1, the band of the Fourteenth Connecticut was back in business.

Why this digression? All day long the men of II Corps stayed in their works, waiting to be sent forward at any time. When the din of battle erupted to the west, it’s easy to imagine how quickly every man would have turned to face the threat from behind. The men of the XI Corps came rushing toward them out of the woods at the western edge of Bullock’s Farm, overrunning the line of the II Corps. Shot and shell from Rebel guns filled the air. And then a curious thing happened. In an attempt to stem the tide of the fleeing XI Corps, Charlie Merrill, the new band leader since only the previous day, led the band out in front of the dug in men of the Fourteenth. The band marched back and forth playing “The Star Spangled Banner” for about twenty minutes while shells burst overhead. Several of the musicians were struck by shell fragments, but the injuries were not serious.

Berry”s Division of the III Corps was sent into the woods just north of the turnpike where they established a new defensive line. Brig. Gen. William Hays’ Brigade (French’s Div., II Corps), including the 200 or so men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, was sent westward along the turnpike to form a second defensive line in the woods behind Berry’s men.

It was about this time, as the last of the day’s light faded and the fighting tapered off, that arguably the most critical casuality of the war occurred. Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson was shot and seriously wounded by some of his own troops as he was returning from a reconnaissance along the Orange Turnpike. A monument next to the Chancellorsville Visitor Center marks the spot.

One last incident closed the day for the Fourteenth. When night fell, Maj. Ellis sent scouts into the woods to the right to see if they could establish contact with any other Union troops. There were no troops there to protect the flank of the brigade. Ellis sent Lt. Lucas racing back to report to Maj. Gen. French that the brigade was exposed to a flank attack. French kicked Lucas out of headquarters saying, “Tell Maj. Ellis that’s my business and I will attend to it.”

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