Thursday, May 2, 2013

Battle of Chancellorsville – May 2, Jackson's March

See all posts on the Battle of Chancellorsville

Throughout the day on May 2, 150 years go today, Jackson's corps pressed along on their move around Hooker's right flank. Jackson's march had begun much later in the morning than had been intended. The roads were good and the march progressed quickly. Jackson rode along the column, urging his men to hurry saying "Press forward, press forward." They did not go entirely unnoticed. Most of the Union cavalry was far away on a raid, but the Confederate column was sighted by infantry pickets. Some reports made it all the way to Hooker's headquarters at the Chancellor House, but the army commander did not act on the information. He was convinced that Lee was moving across his front in a retreat. It didn't even occur to him that the Confederates could be so bold as to attack.

The force Jackson was positioning to strike was the XI Corps of Oliver O. Howard. Howard was from Maine and had attended West Point. While in the army he was converted, and considered resigning from the army to become a minster. However he remained and during the Civil War was known as the Christian General. The corps he commanded may have been the worst in the Union army. Most of them were German immigrants, many of them unable to speak English. They disliked Howard because he had replaced their hero, Franz Sigel. By placing these poor quality troops here with their flank in the air, Hooker had shown little concern for his right flank. Howard told Hooker he was prepared for an attack on his right. These preparations consisted of only two cannon and two regiments of infantry guarding the turnpike. He thought the woods were too thick to permit an attack. On his left there was a half mile gap in the Union line where a brigade had been pulled out and not replaced. Howard had been receiving messages of a large Confederate force in his front, but, like Hooker, he ignored them. The Union high command thought they knew the Confederate strategy, but it wouldn't be long before they found out how wrong they were.

Fitzhugh Lee
As Jackson's troops approached their destination, Fitzhugh Lee of the cavalry was out in front scouting. He later wrote,
Upon reaching the Plank road ... my command was halted and ... I made a personal reconnaissance to locate the Federal right for Jackson's attack. With one staff officer I rode across and beyond the plank road .... Seeing a wooded hill in the distance, UI determined, if possible, to get upon its top, as it promised a view of the adjacent country. Cautiously I ascended its side, reaching the open spot upon its summit without molestation. What a sight presented itself before me. Below me, and but a few hundred yards distant, ran the Federal line of battle. ... There were lines of defense, with abatis in front, and long lines of stacked armies in rear. Two cannon were visible in the part of the line seen. The soldiers were in groups in the rear, laughing, chatting, smoking and probably engaged here and there in games of cards and other amusements indulged in while feeling safe and comfortable.... So impressed was I with my discovery, that I rode rapidly back to the point of the Plank Road ... until I met Stonewall himself. 'General,' I said, 'if you will ride with me, halting your column here, out of sight, I will show you the enemy's right and you will perceive the great advantage of attacking down the Old Turnpike instead of by the plank road; the enemy's lines will be taken in reverse. ....' Jackson assented, and I rapidly conducted him to the point of observation. ... I watched him closely as he gazed upon Howard's troops. ... His eyes burned with a brilliant glow, lighting up a sad face. His expression was one of intense interest, his face was colored slightly with the paint of approaching battle, and radiant at the success of his flank movement.
Jackson had to adjust his movement based on this new information, which took more time. It takes a long time for the thousands of men to file in position.

O. O. Howard's Headquarters


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