Chancellorsville – May 3, 1863

SPECIAL EDITION: 150 Years Ago Today:

It was a Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, the sort of day on which Stonewall Jackson would have seen it a deed of utmost necessity to drive the Yankee invaders from southern soil. But his left arm had been shattered by friendly fire. A surgeon amputated the arm, and Jackson would die the following Sunday. “Jackson has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right,” Gen. Lee lamented. Lee placed Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart in temporary command of Jackson”s Corps, and this day Stuart would not disappoint his commander. Stuart sent his men forward as soon as there was light enough to discern friend from foe.

Of course Maj. Gen. French did not attend to the right flank west of the Chancellor House (see previous post, last paragraph). Confederates charged out of the woods and Berry’s Division of the III Corps was driven back to the second line occupied by Hay’s Brigade (French”s Division, II Corps), the right flank of which was anchored by the Fourteenth Connecticut. The line held for a short while, but the Rebels soon discovered the exposed right flank of the Fourteenth. There was no option for the Federals other than retreat in order to avoid being cut off from the rest of the army. Hay”s Brigade was scattered and ceased to be an organized combat unit for the remainder of that day.

Maj. Gen. Hooker hurried to find Maj. Gen. French and ordered him to send in his entire division. Some of the men from Hay’s Brigade about-faced and joined the rest of their division. The Confederate assault was stopped and pushed back. French”s men continued to drive the Rebels back, recovering all the lost ground until they reached the line Hay”s men had occupied at dawn.

It seems that Capt. Samuel Fiske (a.k.a. Dunn Browne) was one of many men from the Fourteenth that continued the fight. He captured several Confederates and proceeded, with revolver drawn, to march his prisoners to the rear. Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by Rebels. “Doubtless,” Fiske quipped as he gave up his weapon, “it would be more disagreeable for a whole regiment to surrender to one man, than for one man to surrender to a whole regiment.”

But Federal success was fleeting. At about 9:15 a.m. Maj. Gen. Hooker was knocked senseless when a cannonball struck a column on the front porch of the Chancellor House upon which he was leaning. When Hooker regained consciousness, it seems his senses remained absent without leave. Only the III and XII Corps, and part of the II Corps had seen heavy fighting. Two corps, the I and V, had not seen any fighting, and the men of the XI Corps had recovered their wits and were itching to redeem themselves.

But Hooker had lost his nerve. Casualties had been extremely heavy. He ordered a quick, but systematic withdrawal to a new defensive perimeter about half a mile north and anchored at the Bullock farm. The fighting was mostly done by 11:00 a.m., but May 3 would go down in history as the second bloodiest day of the war, after Antietam.  (For a battle map click here.)

Fiction Connection: In An Eye for Glory, Michael Palmer is dissatisfied with how quickly the retreat was ordered. He falls in line with men from Carroll”s Brigade to renew the fight, and in so doing, Michael kills his first enemy soldier.

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