Where Certain Destruction Awaits

April 30, 1863 (Thursday)

The II Corps crossing the Rappahannock at US Ford
The II Corps crossing the Rappahannock at US Ford

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 at Kelly’s Ford. Last the previous night, Stuart learned that it wasn’t one, but three corps. Privy to this information only now, Lee was stunned. Immediately, he sent officers of the Engineer Corps, along with an artillery reserve, to bolster Anderson’s lines.

Heres's the approximate map for the day...
Heres’s the approximate map for the day…

Lee’s attention was divided. While three Federal corps were behind him, at least two were making demonstrations before him. Quite a large force had already crossed the Rappahannock just south of Fredericksburg. They had been sparring with Stonewall Jackson’s men, but no battle actually developed.

As Lee pondered this through a tough bought of chest pains, Jackson himself entered army headquarters. Able to mount a horse, Lee and Jackson rode the lines, examining the Federals before them. Jackson, as usual, wanted to attack. His argument was that if the enemy to their front was cleared away, the enemy to their rear could be faced. They would defeat the divided Army of the Potomac in detail.

Crossing at US Ford
Crossing at US Ford

At first, Lee was not so sure, but soon acquiesced. Jackson, delighted, first wanted to have a longer look before deciding to commit troops to battle. He had clearly learned something since his days in the Shenandoah Valley. Throughout much of the day, he and his topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, studied maps and dispositions until Jackson was certain that attacking would be folly.

When Jackson finally reported back to Lee, he discovered that the commanding General had been doing some thinking of his own. Lee had concluded that whatever was going on to their front was a ruse. The real action was in the rear, near Chancellorsville. At dawn the next day, they would march, leaving only the partial division of Lafayette McLaws’ to man the Fredericksburg trenches. While Jackson was delighted with the prospect of attacking at Fredericksburg, he was absolutely ecstatic about meeting the enemy at Chancellorsville the following day.

General Lee had finally figured out Joe Hooker’s plan for his Army of the Potomac. But was it too late? While three of his corps (George Meade’s V Corps, O.O. Howard’s XI Corps, and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps) had established themselves at Chancellorsville, Hooker quickly rushed more to their side. The II Corps, under Darius Couch, crossed US Ford on the Rappahannock, and Dan Sickle’s III Corps was close behind with orders to cross no later than 7:30 the next morning.

On the march, April 30
On the march, April 30

Everything seemed to be ready for Meade and Couch (the two corps in the lead) to storm the Rebel lines under Richard Anderson, three and a half miles east. In fact, General Meade had already pushed forward a brigade to feel out Anderson’s lines. When General Slocum’s XII Corps came up, the normally dower Meade was fantastically elated. “This is splendid, Slocum,” said Meade, “hurrah for old Joe! We are on Lee’s flank and he does not know it!”

But Slocum’s continence turned sour. He had some rather bad news for George Meade. En route to Chancellorsville, General Hooker had ordered Slocum to take charge of the wing – all three corps. Hooker directed “that no advance be made from Chancellorsville until the columns are concentrated.” Instead, he wanted Slocum to prepare a defensive position. Hooker wanted Slocum to wait until all five corps had been assembled.

Union artillery at Fredericksburg, probably on this date.
Union artillery at Fredericksburg, probably on this date.

Dumbfounded at the opportunity lost, Meade recalled the brigade he sent forward and began to fashion a line of defense against a foe that could easily have been whipped on the spot.

But that had never been part of Hooker’s plan, which he had kept tight to his chest since its inception. The plan was to draw Lee out from his rifle pits at Fredericksburg – the exact same thing Lee intended on doing the following day. And so, though Hooker’s order to halt at Chancellorsville seemed ludicrous to Meade, all of the pieces were neatly falling into place for Fighting Joe Hooker.

Before the day was through, Hooker would address his soldiers in a general order:

“It is with heartfelt satisfaction the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.”

Whether this oath would ring true, was cloaked in the haziness of things to come.1


Grant Arrives on the Mississippi Shore!

It had been a ferocious attack the previous day, hotter than anything before seen on the Mississippi River. Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet had attacked the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, hoping to silence them. Once so reduced, General Grant was to land troops on the Mississippi shore, take the Rebel works and begin an overland campaign ultimately against Vicksburg.

And another approximate map just for you!
And another approximate map just for you!

But it was not to be. Though Porter’s Federal flotilla had silenced one battery and dismounted four guns, he could not win the day. The ships had all sustained heavy damage and casualties. “Transports cannot pass” came the signal from the flagship.

And so Grant decided to run the Grand Gulf batteries and land his men on this date. From the word of an escaped slave, Grant learned of a good road leading from Bruinsburg to Port Gibson, a village directly behind Grand Gulf. By the end of the day, Grant held that the battle was already half won.

By the morning of this date, John McClernand, commanding one of Grant’s three corps, was ferrying his men to Mississippi, landing them in Bruinsburg. By early afternoon, they would all be across. Eerily, there was no resistance. It seemed as if the Rebels hadn’t a clue at all that they were there.

That was not quite true. General John Bowen, commanding the Confederates at Grand Gulf knew that Grant’s men had landed somewhere south of his batteries. He sent a small force under General Martin Green towards Port Gibson to guard the roads. He knew that there was no way that he could stop the Federals, but slowing them might help matters a bit. With at least a brigade of reinforcements from Vicksburg,

Sherman is WHERE?!
Sherman is WHERE?!

Unsure of which road the Federals would be taking from the river, Green had to establish his lines on the road from Bruinsburg, as well as the one from Rodney. Though the roads were close, a deep ravine and thick forest separated them. The force defending one road would have a nearly impossible time supporting the force defending the other.

General John Pemberton, commanding all of the Southern troops in Mississippi, was still at his headquarters in Jackson, forty-five miles east of Vicksburg. From there, he shuffled troops and was in a near panic over the columns of Federal cavalry streaming down from the north.

Also occupying the minds of the Confederates was a large Federal demonstration north of Vicksburg, up the Yazoo at Hayne’s Bluff. This was but a feint undertaken by William Tecumseh Sherman on Grant’s suggestion. Having no real idea where the main Federal attack would originate, Pemberton was hesitant to shift too many troops from Vicksburg lest Sherman’s feint was the true attack.

Sherman landed some troops, but made no assault. Still, Pemberton was unsure and hesitated. By the end of the day, Grant reveled his success to Sherman and wanted him to hurry troops to join in the overland campaign. The next morning, Grant would begin.2

  1. Sources: Chancellorsville 1863 by Ernest B. Furguston; Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson; Chancellorsville by Stephen Sears; Fighting Joe Hooker by Walter H. Hebert. []
  2. Sources: Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth. []
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Where Certain Destruction Awaits by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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