Published in The Century Magazine. General Jackson had spent the night at Mr. Yerby's hospitable mansion near by, where Mrs. Jackson [his second wife] had brought her infant child for the father to see. He was at once informed, and promptly issued to his division commanders orders of preparation for action.
At his direction I rode a mile across the fields to army headquarters, and finding General Robert E. Lee still slumbering quietly, at the suggestion of Colonel Venable, whom I found stirring, I entered his tent and awoke the general.
Turning his feet out of his cot he sat upon its side as I gave him the tidings from the front. Expressing no surprise, he playfully said: Tell your good general that I am sure he knows what to do. I will meet him at the front very soon. All day long we lay in the old lines of the action of December preceding, watching the operation of the enemy.
Nor did we move through the next day, the 30th of April.
By the light of a brilliant moon, at midnight, that passed into an early dawn of dense mist, the troops were moved, by the Old Mine road, out of sight of the enemy, until, about eleven A. I would definitely stay there again.
General Lee had been informed promptly by General J. Stuart, of the Confederate cavalry, of the movement in force by General Hooker across the Rappahannock upon Chancellorsville; and during the night of Thursday, April 30th, General Jackson withdrew his corps, leaving Early and his division with Barksdale's brigade to hold the old lines from Hamilton's Crossing along the rear of Fredericksburg.
By the light of a brilliant moon, at midnight, that passed into an early dawn of dense mist, the troops were moved, by the Old Mine road, out of sight of the enemy, until, about eleven A.
To meet the whole Army of the Potomac, under Hooker, General Lee had of all arms about sixty thousand men. General Longstreet, with part of his corps, was absent below Petersburg. Hill's commanded by Rodes, Trimble's commanded by Colston, and Early's; and about a hundred and seventy pieces of field artillery.
At the Tabernacle Church, about four miles east of Chancellorsville, the opposing forces met and brisk skirmishing began. On Friday Jackson, reaching Anderson's position, took command of the Confederate advance, and urged on his skirmish line under Brigadier-General Ramseur with great vigor.
How the muskets rattled across a front of a mile or two, across the unfenced fields, and through the woodlands! What spirit was imparted to the line, and cheers rolled along its length, when Jackson, and then Lee himself, appeared riding abreast of the line along the plank road! Slowly but steadily the line advanced, until at nightfall all Federal pickets and skirmishes were driven back upon the body of Hooker's force at Chancellorsville.
Here we reached a point, a mile and a half from Hooker's lines, where a road turns down to the left toward the old Catherine Furnace; and here at the fork of the roads General Lee and General Jackson spent the night, resting on the pine straw, curtained only by the close shadow of the pine forest.
Hill, on the old stone turnpike a mile or two north; and returning some time later with information of matters on our right, I found General Jackson retired to rest, and General Lee sleeping at the foot of a tree, covered with his army cloak. As I aroused the sleeper, he slowly sat up on the ground and said, "Ah, Captain, you have returned, have you? Come here and tell me what you have learned on the right. When I had related such information as I had secured for him, he thanked me for accomplishing his commission, and then said that he regretted that the young men about General Jackson had not relieved him of annoyance, by finding a battery of the enemy which had harassed our advance, adding that the young men of that day were not equal to what they were when he was a young man.
Seeing immediately that he was jesting and disposed to rally me, as he often did younger officers, I broke away from the hold on me which he tried to retain, and, as he laughed heartily through the stillness of the night, I went off to make a bed of my saddle-blanket, and, with my head in my saddle, near my horse's feet, was soon wrapped in the heavy slumber of a wearied soldier.
Some time after midnight I was awakened by the chill of the early morning hours, and, turning over, caught a glimpse of a little flame on the slope above me, and looking up to see what it meant I saw, bending over a scant fire of twigs, two men seated on old cracker boxes and warming their hands over the little fire.
I had but to rub my eyes and collect my wits to recognize the figures of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Who can tell the story of that quiet council of war between two sleeping armies?
Nothing remains on record to tell of plans discussed, and dangers weighed, and a great purpose formed, but the story of the great day so soon to follow.
It was broad daylight, and the thick beams of yellow sunlight came through the pine branches, when some one touched me rudely with his foot, saying, "Get up, Smith, the general wants you! What could it mean? In a moment I was mounted and at the side of the general, who sat on his horse by the roadside, as the long line of our troops cheerily, but in silence as directed, poured down the Furnace road.
His cap was pulled low over his eyes, and, looking up from under the visor, with lips compressed, indicating the firm purpose within, he nodded to me, and in brief and rapid utterance, without a superfluous word, as though all were distinctly formed in his mind and beyond question, he gave me orders for our wagon and ambulance trains. From the open fields in our rear, at the head of the Carthapin road, all trains were to be moved upon that road to Todd's tavern, and thence west by interior roads, so that our troops would be between them and the enemy at Chancellorsville.
My orders delivered and the trains set in motion, I returned to the site of our night's bivouac, to find that General Jackson and staff had followed the marching column. Who was the young ordnance officer who so kindly fed my horse at the tail of his wagon and then added the few camp biscuits, which were breakfast, dinner, and supper to me that day? Many thanks to my unknown friend.
Slow and tedious is the advance of a mounted officer who has to pass in narrow wood roads through dense thickets, the packed column of marching infantry, to be recognized all along the line and good-naturedly chaffed by many a gay-spirited fellow: The enemy has made a stand at Chancellor's, which is about two miles from Chancellorsville. I hope as soon as practicable to attack.
I trust that an ever kind Providence will bless us with success. The leading division is up, and the next two appear to be well closed. The place here mentioned as Chancellor's was also known as Dowdall's Tavern. It was the farm of the Rev. Melzi Chancellor, two miles west of Chancellorsville, and the Federal forces found here and at Talley's, a mile farther to the west, was the Eleventh Corps, under General Howard.
General Fitz Lee, with cavalry scouts, had advanced until he had view of the position of Howard's corps, and found them unprotected by pickets, and unsuspicious of a possible attack. Reaching the Orange plank road, General Jackson himself rode with Fitz Lee to reconnoiter the position of Howard, and then sent the Stonewall brigade of Virginia troops, under Brigadier-General Paxton, to hold the point where the Germanna plank road obliquely enters the Orange road. Leading the main column of his force farther on the Brock road to the old turnpike, the head of the column turned sharply eastward, toward Chancellorsville.
About a mile had been passed, when he halted and began the disposition of his forces to attack Howard. Rodes's division, at the head of the column, was thrown into line of battle, with Colston forming the second line and A. Hill's the third, while the artillery under Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield moved in column on the road, or was parked in a field on the right. The well-trained skirmishers of Rodes's division, under Major Eugene Blackford, were thrown to the front.
It must have been between five and six o'clock in the evening, Saturday, May 2nd, when these dispositions were completed. Upon his stout-built, long-paced little sorrel, General Jackson sat, with visor low over his eyes, and lips compressed, and with his watch in his hand. Upon his right sat General Robert E. Rodes, the very picture of a soldier, and every inch all that he appeared.
Upon his right sat Major Blackford. A nod from Rodes was order enough for Blackford, and then suddenly the woods rang with the bugle call, and back came the responses from bugles on the right and left, and the long line of skirmishers, through the wild thicket of undergrowth, sprang eagerly to their work, followed promptly by the quick steps of the line of battle. For a moment all the troops seemed buried in the depths of the gloomy forest, and then suddenly the echoes wakes and swept the country, for miles, never failing, until heard at the headquarters of Hooker at Chancellorsville—the wild "rebel yell" of the long Confederate lines.
Never was assault delivered with grander enthusiasm. Fresh from the long winter's waiting, and confident from the preparation of the spring, the troops were in fine condition and in high spirits. The boys were all back from home or sick leave. And there were Rodes and A.
Had they not seen and cheered as long and loud as they were permitted the gay-hearted Stuart and the splendid Fitz Lee, with long beard and fiery charger? Was not Crutchfield's array of brass and iron "dogs of war" at hand, with Poague and Palmer, and all the rest, ready to bark loud and deep with half a chance? Scattered through field and forest, his men were preparing their evening meal. A little show of earthwork facing the south was quickly taken by us in reverse from the west.
Flying battalions are not flying buttresses for an army's stability.
Across Talley's field the rout begins. Over at Hawkins's hill, on the north of the road, Carl Schurz makes a stand, soon to be driven into the same hopeless panic. By the quiet Wilderness Church in the vale, leaving wounded and dead everywhere, by Melzi Chancellor's, on into the deep thicket, again the Confederate lines press forward,—now broken and all disaligned by the density of bush that tears the clothes away; now halting to deliver a volley upon some regiment or fragment of the enemy that will not move as fast as others.
Lacy's—near his last battlefield. Here we reached a point, a mile and a half from Hooker's lines, where a road turns down to the left toward the old Catherine Furnace; and here at the fork of the roads General Lee and General Jackson spent the night, resting on the pine straw, curtained only by the close shadow of the pine forest.
Thus the attack upon Hooker's flank was a grand success, beyond the most sanguine expectation. The writer of this narrative, an aide-de-camp of Jackson's, was ordered to remain at the point where the advance began, to be a center of communication between the general and the cavalry on the flanks, and to deliver orders to detachments of artillery still moving up from the rear.
Whose fine black charger, with such elegant trappings, was that, deserted by his owner and found tied to a tree, which became mine only for that short and eventful nightfall? It was about eight P. The storm of battle had swept far on to the east, and become more and more faint to the ear, until silence came with night over the fields and woods. As I rode along that old turnpike, passing scattered fragments of Confederates looking for their regiments, parties of prisoners concentrating under guards, wounded men by the roadside and under the trees at Talley's and Chancellor's, I had reached an open field on the right, a mile west of Chancellorsville, when, in the dusky twilight, I saw horsemen near an old cabin in the field.
Turning toward them, I found Rodes and his staff engaged in gathering the broken and scattered troops that had swept the two miles of battle-field. Hill's, with tidings that Jackson and Hill were wounded, and some around them killed, by the fire of their own men.
Spurring my horse into a sweeping gallop, I soon passed the Confederate line of battle, and, some three or four rods on its front, found the general's horse beside a pine sapling on the left, and a rod beyond a little party of men caring for a wounded officer. The story of the sad event is briefly told, and very much in essentials as it came to me from the lips of the wounded general himself, and in everything confirmed and completed by those who were eye-witnesses and near companions.
When Jackson had reached the point where his line now crossed the turnpike, scarcely a mile west of Chancellorsville, and not half a mile from a line of Federal troops, he had found his front line unfit for the farther and vigorous advance he desired, by reason of the irregular character of the fighting, now right, now left, and because of the dense thickets, through which it was impossible to preserve alignment.
Division commanders found it more and more difficult as the twilight deepened to hold their broken brigades in hand. Regretting the necessity of relieving the troops in front, General Jackson had ordered A. Hill's division, his third and reserve line, to be placed in front. While this change was being effected, impatient and anxious, the general rode toward us on the turnpike, followed by two or three of his staff and a number of couriers and signal-sergeants.
He passed the swampy depression and began the ascent of the hill toward Chancellorsville, when he came upon a line of the Federal infantry lying on their arms. Fired at by one or two muskets two musket balls from the enemy whistled over my head as I came to the front , he turned and came back toward his line, upon the side of the road to his left.
As he rode near to the Confederate troops just placed in position, and ignorant that that he was in the front, the left company began firing to the front, and two of his party fell from their saddles—Capt. Spurring his horse across the road to his right, he was met by a second volley from the right company of Pender's North Carolina Brigade.
Under this volley, when not two rods from the troops, the general received three balls at the same instant. One penetrated the palm of his right hand and was cut out that night from the back of his hand.
A second passed around the wrist of the left arm and out through the left hand.
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