Jackson mulled over the plan. Although a risk-taker, he did not needlessly expose his command to danger. The original route of march he proposed passed very close to Union lines. Was there a better way? His chaplain, B.T. Lacy, was from this area and Jackson called on him for advice: Did Lacy know a better way? Lacy did not, but he knew someone who would know if a better way existed - Charles C. Welford, manager of the Catharine Furnace. Jackson sent Lacy, accompanied by his chief engineer, Jed Hotchkiss, to find Welford.
Welford was glad to oblige. Not only did he know a shorter route than via Todd's Tavern, but it was a new wood cutter's road. Furthermore, he knew of another side road that was little used and should avoid enemy pickets. Now Jackson had a more concealed and faster route than originally planned. His eyes glinted bright blue in the early morning firelight.
Jackson took the revisions to Lee. Hotchkiss relates that Lee asked Jackson what he intended to do. Jackson's finger traced Welford's route on the map - "I propose to go right around there." Lee studied the route - "Go ahead."
At 0400 hours Jackson's bold trek began. Rodes led the column, followed by Colston, A.P. Hill, Archer, Thomas, and finally the artillery with the 23rd Georgia infantry acting as rear guard. It was warm, and the woods were filled with fog, which slowly burned off as the sun rose. Jackson's 28,000 troops marched slightly south, then west, and finally north to bring them behind the Union's right flank. Despite the early hour, they had a great distance to go, and to fully exploit the advantage they expected to gain, they should have started shortly after midnight. They were running late.
Lee's 15,000 men waited to Hooker's front. They could not be passive, for this would encourage a Union probe and could reveal their lack of strength. They could not conduct a real attack in strength either, for that, too, would reveal their weakness. All they could do was probe and feint attacks to keep Hooker guessing. The longer they could do this, the more time they would buy for Jackson.
Lee knew that reinforcements had strengthened the Union's left flank. Good: so far they had not guessed his plan. He told McLaws and Anderson what their role was, and that they should press the Federal left forcefully, but he reminded them that they were not to attack as more than a forceful probe "unless a favorable opportunity should present itself."
At 0730 hours Jackson's lead elements on the Orange Plank Road executed a left face and moved down a side road by Decker's Farm and the Catharine Furnace. Their route of march was a mile south of the Army of the Potomac, and moving west. Despite the earlier rain and morning fog, the day threatened to be sweltering, drying trees and deadfalls and making the dust rise where Southern feet tramped along the dirt roads.
Averell led a successful raid against Stuart after Fitzhugh Lee left him a taunting message. His action led to further Confederate raids, and Hooker vented his ire at Stoneman on the unfortunate Averell, who remained with Hooker's force.
Hooker takes stock
Hooker felt secure because his army was consolidated, his artillery was formed, and although Lee was not yet acting predictably, he was facing threats on two fronts. Hooker's cavalry was not present, but otherwise his plan was unfolding as foreseen. No doubt when Lee realized the situation, he would retreat. At the Bullock Farm, a large flat area just south of Mineral Springs Road and Ely's Ford Road, Hooker formed a reserve artillery park. He ordered Averell's cavalry forward to reconnoitre, and his weakest corps, Howard's XI Corps, was far west on the Union right, well away from any projected conflict.
The smallest corps, XI had possessed questionable morale since Sigel, a German, had left and Howard had assumed command. The motto of its mostly German troops was, "I fights mit Sigel." Hooker knew Howard had performed well at Manassas, but he knew his men were unhappy. To secure his right flank, Hooker ordered Reynolds to bolster Howard, but Reynolds probably could not be in position before dinner mess call.
First thing that morning Hooker inspected V and XII Corps' positions. These veterans of the peninsula and Antietam knew Southern capabilities and had prepared rifle pits, abatis, and breastworks. Meade, Hancock, and Couch knew it was better to be safe than sorry.
At 0800 hours Hooker inspected Howard's position; both Sickles of III Corps and Capt. Cyrus Comstock (chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac) accompanied him. Howard joined them upon their arrival. He indicated his troop deployment, and noted that his greatly extended line had gaps between Devens and Schurz's divisions. Hooker was not unduly concerned, because according to his plan, XI Corps would be as far away from the potential action as any Union infantry on this side of the Rappahannock. Not only was XI Corps extended, but it was obvious to Comstock that Howard had not insisted on breastworks or defensive fortifications.
When Comstock studied XI Corps' disposition, he pulled Howard aside and suggested that he "close those spaces." The woods were thick, preventing freedom of any enemy movement, Howard felt. However, it also prevented accurate observation by his men - as any astute observer might have noted.
Howard's right flank had three units at a right angle to the Orange Turnpike: Dieckmann's 13th NY battery was supported by the 54th NY and 153rd PA infantry facing west, barely 700 men in all. The other units faced south. Howard showed Comstock how thick and impenetrable the Wilderness was, and implied that he felt safe from attack, asking, "Will anybody come through there?" Captain 49
While Jackson was marching in front of the Union Army to surprise Hooker, Sickles set up a review of his troops for Hooker. After the review, Hooker visited Howard's XI Corps and asked Howard to strengthen his defenses.
JACKSON'S FLANKING MARCH, 2 MAY 1863
When Lee realized that Hooker had stolen a march on him and that he was hemmed in by Hooker to the north, Sedgwick to the east-southeast, and (potentially) Stoneman to the west, he decided that only Hooker was a real threat. Together he and Jackson planned an aggressive surprise for Hooker. Leaving Early to hold Sedgwick at Fredericksburg, Lee retained a few units to hold flimsy positions against the Union thrust on the Orange Turnpike while Jackson found a way to strike at Hooker's flanks and rear.
Comstock studied the woods and replied, "They may." But this observation appeared lost on Howard.
At 0900 hours Hooker returned to his command post at Chancellorsville and was greeted by Meade's message that his corps was under attack from the southeast. At the same time, Union observers reported seeing a sizable Confederate force to Sickles' front near Catharine Furnace, moving west. Hooker felt the Confederates were now withdrawing toward Gordonsville. That they were instead attempting a flanking movement did not seem likely to him, but he notified Howard so he would be aware of the enemy movements all the same and to make the necessary precautions
Hooker's message to Howard asked him to consider what he could do in case of a flank attack, and to "determine... the positions you will take... in whatever direction he advances." He told Howard to "have heavy reserves... to meet this contingency. The right of your line does not appear strong enough." The message concluded, "Advance your pickets for... observation... to obtain timely information of their approach."
Howard did not feel endangered. This was not an order, but a suggestion or conditional question. He felt the woods were defense enough, and that any attack would come from the south. Still, he replied to Hooker, writing, "I am taking measures to resist any attack from the west." With that, he ordered a rifle pit dug across the Chancellorsville Road at the rear of Schurz's division, near Dowdall's Tavern.
Stonewall Jackson's corps was now in position west of the Army of the Potomac. Unknown to Howard, a Southern guide had located a logging road that took Jackson to XI Corps' flank. The Confederate charge overran many of XI Corps' campsites, routing Union troops. The speed of the Confederate advance, while it folded many Union defenses, also worked with nightfall against the Southerners, whose units became entangled -and they lost their cohesiveness.
At 1100 hours Devens reported heavy enemy presence passing by his front. Hooker weighed the alternatives: a Confederate attack, or a Confederate withdrawal? No reports of serious attacks arrived, and Hooker evidently decided that no real attack was forthcoming, and that the Confederates were withdrawing as he had planned. At 1300 Hooker ordered Sickles to "harass the movement" of the Confederates. Not attack, but harass.
At 1400 hours Hooker told Couch, "Lee is in full retreat, and I have sent Sickles out to capture his artillery." Later Hooker ordered Slocum to swing his men south in support of Sickles' move toward Catharine Furnace road. Slocum obeyed. This put Hazel Grove at Sickles and Slocum's rears.
Sickles' response to Hooker's order was to send Birney forward. At 1430 Birney's men hit the 23rd Georgia at Catharine Furnace. His attack killed or captured most of the Confederates. The 8th PA cavalry took part in the attack
Dowdall's Tavern was located south of Wilderness Church. Jackson's corps chased XI Corps past the tavern when Jackson flanked Hooker on 2 May. The wounded Jackson was first brought to a house near here that evening.
Colquitt moved timorously at Chancellorsville, and his indecisiveness held up the Confederate advance. A year later he commanded Confederate forces at the battle of Olustee, Florida.
and in rounding up prisoners. One old horse-soldier commiserated with a Confederate veteran on how sorry it was to have been sacrificed so the main body could get away. The Rebel studied him and then answered defiantly, "You have done a big thing just now, but wait till Jackson gets round on your right." The cavalryman felt this statement of fact was bravado and ignored the comment.
Meanwhile, Jackson had been observing the unready appearance of XI Corps' troop dispositions. He ordered Rodes to advance and halt the head of the column at Dowdall's Tavern (Wilderness Tavern) on the south side of the Old Orange Turnpike, a mile west of the Union lines. At 1430 hours Rodes began forming his men north of the Orange Turnpike. The 5th Alabama was west of XI Corps. Union pickets alerted commanders of Confederate activity, and they in turn reported to their commanders or Howard, but Howard did not act. He felt the Confederates were retreating as Hooker had said they would, and that the reports were "the offspring of... fears."
Hooker sent Sedgwick a telegram confirming his earlier supposition that Lee must either fight or flee, saying, "The enemy is fleeing, trying to save his trains." As far as Hooker knew, everything was going as planned.
Birney's attack on Jackson's rear guard, he sent Posey to reinforce Wright on his left flank. The appearance of Posey's men halted Birney and made Sickles consolidate his forces because of Hooker's earlier directive to "harass." Unless strongly reinforced, Sickles would not advance against an undetermined enemy force. Hooker ordered Barlow of XI Corps (Howard's reserves) to move east and support Sickles. Instead of alerting Howard to a potentially dangerous situation, this movement seemed to convince him that XI Corps was in no danger.
By 1700 that evening Jackson's men were in position far to the Union right of where Howard's XI Corps had lit their supper campfires. The evening sun was behind Jackson and would be in his enemy's eves when he attacked. He deployed his divisions carefully along the turnpike: Rodes, followed by Colston, with A.P. Hill in the rear. Stuart's cavalry and the Stonewall brigade were to stick to the road and hold the Southern right flank. Colquitt, adjacent to Stuart, was told his flank was secure, and to ignore anything happening there, and not let it interfere with his advance, as his flank was protected.
Jackson rode to the head of the column, aware of the eager eyes of the soldiers he passed. He moved alongside Rodes, saying, "You can go forward, sir." Rodes' division started east at a fast walk, rifles at low port, ready.
It was suppertime in the Union camp. Some troops were relaxing on their bedrolls, their muskets stacked, chatting with their messmates. These German-speaking troops had an imperfect command of English; they were comfortably seated around fires when the low howl of the rebel yell came from out of the sunset behind them.
From the trees to their west in the gathering gloom came an unearthly moan as ghostly gray shapes flitted toward them from the treeline. Musketry ripped into them. The Confederates changed from a fast walk to a charge, their weapons held higher, eyes hard, screaming a rebel yell. The Union soldiers were stunned. Before they could form a defensive position, indeed before many could grab weapons, Jackson's foot cavalry was among them.
Von Gilsa's 54th NY and 153rd PA faced the Confederate charge, firing into the oncoming Southerners. The 41st and 45th NY were totally surprised by the flanking movement. They broke and ran without fighting as the Confederates rolled up their flank. Dieckmann's two guns fired, but before they could reload, musketry downed their horses and they had to abandon the guns. The 54th NY broke before the charging Confederates, and the fledgling 153rd PA faced the Georgians alone. Then they broke. The charge washed over Von Gilsa's positions, hitting Devens' flank. In minutes Von Gilsa lost 264 men, including half his regimental commanders.
Confusion in the woods was complete. The Confederates were supposed to be to their front, and here they were being hit from the right flank in thick woods at twilight when friend and foe were both gray shapes against the dark woods.
Colonel Lee of the 55th Ohio went to headquarters at the Talley Farm and requested permission to change facing and meet the advance. General Devens, later said to be drunk, refused to give the order. Colonel Lee returned to his command, saw the situation was worse, and returned again to ask Devens if he could redeploy. Again Devens refused.
Colonel Reily of the 75th Ohio was Devens' reserve. When he saw the situation, he charged without orders. His decisive action made some of Gilsa's men rally and charge with him, but his unit was too small. O'Neal's Alabamians overlapped his right and Doles overlapped his left. Stuart's horse artillery joined the fray, blasting canister into the 75th Ohio, killing Reily. The 75th's resistance collapsed. In the next few minutes, Devens' line folded.
Iverson's North Carolinians on the left flank advanced, turning the surprised Union troops they encountered. The 20th North Carolina broke into camp, charged through campfires and over stacked weapons, and pursuing the fleeing Yankees with singular purpose. Heth commented that at Wilderness Church, "I passed... a line of muskets stacked... 200 yards in length." The 38th North Carolina surged ahead.
Confederates paused briefly to grab cooking food or snatch booty abandoned by the routing Union soldiers before continuing their pursuit. The advance moved almost as fast as men could run. In the heat of battle, success flushed the Southerners, and gradually the Confederate left flank was starting to outdistance the Confederate right flank commanded by Colquitt, who was cautiously advancing to protect his right flank.
Meanwhile Devens' men routed into Schurz's division. Schurz's men stalled the Confederate advance a few minutes. Schurz had placed three of his
Henry Heth was a friend of Lee's and is said to be the only general in the Army of Northern Virginia that Lee addressed by his first name. He commanded the Light Division when Hill was wounded.
With Rodes leading the assault, E.A. O'Neal took over command of Rodes' unit and was in the first wave of Jackson's men to fall on the unsuspecting XI Corps.
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