Category Archives: Chancellorsville Campaigh

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.