On Hallowed Ground

On May 3rd, 1864, as darkness fell over the picket line of the Fourteenth Connecticut along the Rapidan River, orders came that they were to silently leave their posts and return to their camp on Stony Mountain. The regiment drew rations and ammunition from the quartermaster. Campfires were allowed to die out, and orders to maintain complete silence were strictly enforced.

The Third Brigade, to which the Fourteenth was attached, marched through the darkness to Stevensburg, where it was reunited with the Second Division and the rest of the Second Corps, all under the command of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock. From Stevensburg, the corps marched east and then southeast along narrow country roads toward Ely’s Ford on the Rapidan. The other two army corps, the Fifth (Warren) and the Sixth (Sedgwick), marched southeast toward Germanna Ford, along what is now Route 3. (Click here to open a Wikipedia map in a new window.)

At dawn on the 4th, the Second Corps began to cross the Rapidan at Ely’s Ford on a pontoon bridge, but the men of the Fourteenth had to wait to cross until after nine o’clock, without campfires and thus without coffee. On the south side of the river stout breastworks had been constructed by th Rebels, but they were empty of defenders.

The men marched on as the sun beat down on them. Greatcoats and blankets were thrown by the wayside. The forest closed in on them, and they couldn’t see more than a few yards to right or left. The veterans in the ranks must have realized that they were headed for familiar, dreadful ground. Late in the day, their fears were realized when they came upon the battlefield at Chancellorsville. How eerily quiet it must have seemed, the only sounds those of their tramping feet and clanking equipment. Imagine the somber hush that fell over them as everywhere they looked they saw the unburied skeletal remains of men still clad in Union blue, men they had fought beside just the year before.

They had marched about twenty-five miles from Stony Mountain. That night, they camped south of the ruins of the Chancellor House. I have not been able to pinpoint the location, but referring to the map linked above, the spot between the Alrich place and Piney Branch Church, where the road crosses the Ni River, would be a likely location, because of the availability of fresh water.

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