Civil War Daily Gazette

A Day-By-Day Accounting of the Conflict, 150 Years Later

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A Retreat, a Revolt, a Reply, and Rain – Chancellorsville, Day Five

John Sedgwick was already gone.

May 5, 1863 (Tuesday) General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, under General Joe Hooker, stared at each other through the thickly grown wilderness near Chancellorsville. Unknown to Lee, Hooker had decided that he would withdraw his troops across the Rappahannock River and return to his old camps near Falmouth. By 4am, this had begun. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps, which had been soundly trapped near Salem Church, separated from Hooker’s main body, began to slip across Bank’s Ford before dawn. The dark and the fog kept the Rebels from knowing exactly what was happening. Fredericksburg, just a few miles east, had been occupied by the Federal troops in John Gibbon’s Brigade. They too were ordered back to Falmouth. As they pulled back and began to cross, Confederates from Mississippi, under William Barksdale, reoccupied the town. It had been Barksdale’s men who hotly contested the first Union troops that marched across the pontoon bridges to begin the Battle of Fredericksburg. It had been Barksdale’s men who had been left behind… Read More

Or I May Feel Obliged to Withdraw – Chancellorsville, Day Four

Salem Church area

May 4, 1863 (Monday) Union General John Sedgwick was a fighting man. His VI Corps had been left behind at Falmouth, while the rest of the Army of the Potomac, under Joe Hooker, attempted to outflank General Lee. Over the past three days, of course, things didn’t go as planned and the bulk of the Union Army was in a defensive position, its back against the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers. Sedgwick’s Corps had crossed over into Fredericksburg, making demonstrations hoping to keep Lee’s entire Army in their trenches above and south of the town. Lee left only a division behind and went a few miles west to deal with Joe Hooker’s machinations. After several attempts, Sedgwick was able to break the thin Rebel line at Fredericksburg, capturing Marye’s Heights, the scene of the bloodiest fighting at the December battle. Following this success, he slowly made his way towards Hooker’s Army, attempting to come in behind Lee at Chancellorsville. But it was not to be. Lee detached troops to stop him and, by nightfall, Sedgwick’s VI… Read More

Old Joe Hooker, Won’t You Come on Out the Wilderness? – Chancellorsville, Day Three

Fending off the Rebel attack.

May 3, 1863 (Sunday) All through the long night into the dawn, General Joe Hooker completely reorganized his defenses at Chancellorsville. Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack had smashed his right flank and compressed his lines to a piece of high ground called Hazel Grove. John Reynold’s newly-arrived I Corps now held his fully refused right, while O.O. Howard’s routed XI Corps held the left. In the center was a hodge podge of four different corps, with General Dan Sickle’s III Corps holding Hazel Grove. The Rebel Army was fully divided with two divisions personally commanded by Robert E. Lee on the right and Stonewall Jackson’s entire corps, now under Jeb Stuart on the left. Stuart had been selected to take over by Jackson at the field hospital where his arm had been amputated. Jackson would soon be taken to his old headquarters at Guinea Station, south of Fredericksburg. General Lee, knowing that his divided army was extremely vulnerable, wanted more than anything to combine the two wings. In the early morning, he called upon Jackson’s topographer,… Read More

We Have Good Reason to Suppose that the Enemy is Moving to Our Right – Chancellorsville, Day Two

General O.O. Howard's Headquarters

May 2, 1863 (Saturday) For General Joe Hooker, commanding the Union Army of the Potomac, the night had been one of preparation. His army had entrenched around the crossroads of Chancellorsville in hopes that General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would attack, and expected one on his front, where Lee’s Army had spent the night. The five corps of Hooker’s command were stretched out across a three mile line. George Meade’s V Corps held the left, while O.O. Howard’s XI Corps held the right. The II (Couch), III (Sickles), and XII (Slocum) Corps made up the center, where the main attack would most assuredly come. At sunrise, General Hooker and Daniel Sickles road the length of the lines, inspecting and accepting the cheers of his men. As they rode, the Confederate artillery to their front opened and Rebel skirmishers probed the Union defenses. Both sides now knew they other was there, but nothing had developed aside from the rumblings of cannons. After Hooker was finished inspecting the III Corps’ lines, several reports came in to… Read More

In No Event Should We Give Up Our Ground – Chancellorsville, Day One

Hooker: I'm excusable!

May 1, 1863 (Friday) Union General Joseph Hooker could be excused for calling off an attack the previous day. His plan all along was to coax General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from their entrenchments at Fredericksburg, get them in the open and defeat them. Lee’s Army still manned the defenses and not all of Hooker’s men were up and ready. On this date, however, no such excuses could be made. At the small crossroads of Chancellorsville, several miles behind the main Confederate lines, four Union Corps overseen by General Henry Slocum, were waiting orders to pounce upon the enemy’s left flank. Hooker had Lee where he wanted him. With the two corps left at Falmouth, Lee’s Army was sandwiched with seemingly no escape. That night, Hooker himself arrived and claimed that the Rebel army was “now the property of the Army of the Potomac.” But that wasn’t quite true. Hooker’s plan had finally been discovered by Lee, who scheduled most of his army to move out at dawn of this date. Stonewall Jackson, however,… Read More

Where Certain Destruction Awaits

Sherman is WHERE?!

April 30, 1863 (Thursday) Confederate General Richard Anderson held the left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia. Due to his own pickets and the messages from General Lee in Fredericksburg, he understood that Federal cavalry and infantry had crossed Ely and Germanna Fords on the Rapidan River and seemed to be headed towards the small crossroads of Chancellorsville. Anderson, on Lee’s orders, was ready to defend the intersection and do everything in his power to keep the Yankees from gaining the rear of Lee’s Army. Though he could do this well enough from Chancellorsville itself, he decided that fighting in the thick wilderness that surrounded the roads was a bad idea. At dawn, he moved his men east by three and a half miles. There, in the open, he could hold the left. At Lee’s headquarters, the commanding General was just now learning how truly bad the situation was. The previous day, he received a message from Cavalry commander Jeb Stuart that the Federals had put one corps of infantry across the Rappahannock River… Read More

Our Scattered Condition Favors Their Operations

april29meade

April 29, 1863 (Wednesday) The morning, though cloudy, was full of spring along the Rappahannock River. The peach and cherry trees had just started to bloom, their pink and white pedals speckling the hills south of Fredericksburg. The grass shown bright green, as the small stalks of wheat poked through the earth stained with blood four months past. In the air, birds sang, bees buzzed and small smatterings of muskets could be heard, carried upon warm morning breezes. “Well, I thought I heard firing,” said General Lee to one of Stonewall Jackson’s messengers, “and was beginning to think that it was time some of you young fellows were coming to tell me what it was all about.” What it was all about was that the Yankees had crossed the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg. Over two pontoon bridges they marched and fanned out in a long array before Stonewall Jackson’s lines. They crossed, but did not give battle. Jackson, believing this to be a curious thing and quite possibly a feint, rode quickly to General Lee’s headquarters.… Read More

Hooker’s Perfectly Executed Flank March Fools Even Lee

Hooker: What have I sequestered abaft my person? Oh wouldn't you like to know!

April 28, 1863 (Tuesday) General Joe Hooker’s flanking march to get behind Robert E. Lee’s Confederates at Fredericksburg had one major problem: Robert E. Lee. Keeping something this big a secret from Lee was nearly impossible. Hooker knew this and hoped that the cat would not be let out of the bag until the evening of the 28th – when he planned to cross the Rappahannock at Kelley’s Ford, thirty miles upstream of Fredericksburg. Once across, Lee would undoubtedly be alerted and it would be a race to the Rapidan River, just below the Rappahannock. Hooker, understandably, had no desire at all to fight his way across the river. To make sure that Lee stayed in his place, he ordered a diversion to kick up a demonstration by crossing the Rappahannock just below Fredericksburg. The first day of the march, the 27th, was a beautiful day for marching. General Otis Howard’s XI Corps led the silent parade. All music, even drums, were forbidden. Henry Slocum’s XII Corps would follow on a parallel road, while George… Read More

The Silver Lining of Insubordination – Grant vs. McClernand

So far this campaign, to Grant, McClernand has been nothing but one long sigh of exasperation.

April 27, 1863 (Monday) When General Grant arrived in John McClernand’s camp the previous day, he was met by a disorganized mess. He had called for order and readiness, yet he found few things to be orderly and nothing to be ready. The plan was to cross the Mississippi River and attack Grand Gulf, south of Vicksburg. To do this, McClernand had steamers and transports on hand, but they were scattered freely along the river and up bayous as if he cared not at all for Grant’s plans. This was because McClernand cared not at all for Grant’s plans. And so in person Grant ordered him to place his two divisions encamped at the Perkins Plantation, south of New Carthage, to board the steamers, which he ordered to be made ready. This was so that McClernand’s other two divisions, still around New Carthage, could encamp at Perkins. He also reminded him that gunpowder was in short supply and artillery should be reserved only for firing at the enemy. Naturally, McClernand ignored the orders for the… Read More

Orders are Issued – Army of the Potomac to Move at Dawn!

John Sedgewick, "and the rest."

April 26, 1863 (Sunday) The weather in Virginia had been terrible. Ceaseless rains had swollen rivers and turned packed dirt roads to swamps. For General Joe Hooker, commanding the Union Army of the Potomac, it was as frustrating as it was infuriating. The rains had postponed and then changed his plans to get at General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, tucked in behind its trenches around Fredericksburg. To do this, he needed to span the unspanable Rappahannock River. But over the past several days, the rains had let up. The sun had shown, and Hooker became hopeful, scheduling the 27th as the date when his great army would leave their camps. Secrecy and speed were essential to its success, and so he told nobody of its intent or intricacies; until today. His reasoning for this secrecy was explained to General John Peck, commanding Union troops at Suffolk, in southeastern Virginia. Federal presence in that part of the state had forced General Lee to detach three divisions under James Longstreet. It was essential that these three… Read More

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