After the crushing defeat at Chancellorsville by a greatly outnumbered enemy, the Army of the Potomac was once again in a state of confusion. Upon return to their winter camps at Falmouth and Stafford, and with no plans for another campaign, furloughs were again granted to some of the men, but all furloughs were suddenly cancelled the first week of June, when it became clear that Bobby Lee was up to something.
Maj. Gen. Darius Couch (pronounced Coach), commanded the II Corps at Chancellorsville. He thought the initial strategy brilliant and well-executed, but on the first day of the battle, May 1, things started to unravel. The XII Corps was dug in on high open ground a mile and a half east of Chancellorsville. It was good ground for artillery and Couch and the other generals in that area believed any advance of Lee’s forces from Fredericksburg could be dealt with. However, Hooker soon ordered the position abandoned and all troops withdrawn to Chancellorsville. It wasn’t long before Confederate artillery was placed atop that ridge and the entire constricted Union line around Chancellorsville was within range.
In a report filed after the battle, Couch wrote that as early as 9:30 a.m. the morning of May 2, the western movement of Confederate troops had been reported to Hooker, and the weakness of the western flank position of the XI Corps was discussed. But nothing was done about it. Instead, Hooker boasted to Couch that “Lee is in full retreat toward Gordonsville.” The ensuing rout of the XI Corps has been well documented.
At about 10:00 a.m. the morning of Sunday, May 3, Couch found Hooker lying on a cot in a tent, recovering from his close encounter with an enemy shell. “Couch,” Hooker said, “I turn the command of the army over to you. You will withdraw it and place it in the position designated on this map.”
Couch’s evaluation of Hooker’s handling of the army at Chancellorsville was blunt: “As to the charge that the battle was lost because the general was intoxicated, I have always stated that he probably abstained from the use of ardent spirits when it would have been far better for him to have continued in his usual habit in that respect.”
Maj. Gen. Darius Couch suffered two minor wounds at Chancellorsville and went to Washington to recover. On May 22, Couch met with President Lincoln. Couch told Lincoln that he would never serve under Thomas Hooker again. Lincoln offered command of the army to Couch, but Couch declined, citing his own poor health. Couch recommended Maj. Gen. George Meade for the position, and Couch accepted command of the Pennsylvania militia in the southern part of that state near Gettysburg.
With the departure of Gen. Couch, the valiant II Corps, of which the Fourteenth Connecticut was a part, was given a new commander: Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock.