Stonewall Jackson

Chancellorsville: A Question of Impatience

lincolnWhen the spring of 1863 came, President Abraham Lincoln was growing impatient with the progress of the war in the East. However, out West, Ulysses S. Grant was slowly working his way toward to Vicksburg and ultimately choking off the Mississippi River from the South. For Lincoln, the East was all that mattered come April of 1863. With Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy so close, Lincoln was flabbergasted that the Army of the Potomac could not take the city or even get close. General after general had tried and general after general had failed. Part of the reason was the brilliant tactics of Robert E. Lee. The other part was the incompetence of Union commanders. Lincoln knew if the Union could take Richmond, the symbolic nature of the task would be a death knell for the Confederacy.

After the December 1862 disaster that was Fredericksburg, Lincoln named Joseph Hooker commander of the Army of the Potomac on January 26, 1863. Lincoln explains to Hooker why he was selected to command:

Major-General HOOKER:

        GENERAL: I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The Government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticising their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.

Yours, very truly,


Joseph Hooker

General Joseph Hooker

Hooker had several battles under his battle and had been highly critical of the strategy of Burnside at Fredericksburg. Now armed with ca little over 130,000 men, Lincoln was assured that the Union could defeat Lee if Hooker could cross the Rappahannock and take Lee and his 60,000 man Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Then, there would be nothing to stop the Union from taking Richmond and bringing the Confederacy to its knees.

On April 20, 1863, Stonewall Jackson stepped off the train at a small Virginia train station to spend some much needed time with his wife and newborn daughter. A Few days later, the Battle of Chancellorsville would begin and Jackson’s place in Southern lore would be immortalized. On the 27th of April, Hooker began his move across the Rappahannock and began using his calvary to try to disrupt Lee’s supply lines. It was to no avail.

At the time, Lee had split his army into 2 parts. General James Longstreet had been sent to southern Virginia to gather supplies and food. Lee still had his right arm, Stonewall Jackson, and A.P. Hill’s corp. Lee began to grow impatient, too, as he was vastly undermanned with 60,000 men. Lee could have easily retreated and let Hooker take Fredericksburg and the surrounding area uncontested so that the Army of Northern Virginia could be at full strength. Lee, impatient, did not. He chose to fight Hooker then and there. Lee, however, did the unthinkable. In the face of a superior foe, he split his army again.

The night of April 30, Lee and Jackson bivouacked and planned the next day’s battle. With his army split, Lee was able to move faster and quicker to find weak points in the Union line. Stonewall Jackson would attacked Hooker’s right flank near Fredericksburg. Hooker, meanwhile, wanted to reconvene all his troops near Chancellorsville and attack en masse on Lee.

Lee and Jackson Bivouac

Lee and Jackson Bivouac


For Hooker, his plan to encircle Lee dissipated quickly. On May 1, Lee and Jackson smashed Hooker’s plans. Lee’s 14,000 man unit acted as a diversion as Stonewall Jackson moved into position to demolish the right flank of Hooker on May 2. With 21,000 men, Jackson and his men came out of the forest as if appearing out of nowhere. This action caught the Union flat-footed and lead to chaos in the Union lines.

An overwhelming sense of urgency permeated the actions of the generals on both sides. The war was dragging on. But here at Chancellorsville, the Confederacy was willing to take a gamble. However, in doing so, the tactics lead to impatience in the commander’s actions. On the night of May 2, after his brilliant action of the day, Jackson was checking his lines. Apparently, impatience had spread to his men. Several shots rang out in the darkness. Jackson wobbled on his horse. He had been shot 3 times by his own men. His left arm would have to be removed. The arm received its own tombstone sometime later.

The tombstone for Jackson's left arm.

The tombstone for Jackson’s left arm.

The loss of Jackson at a crucial point in the battle unnerved Lee. His famous saying of “Jackson has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.” summed up the impatience he felt. However, Lee still A.P. Hill to call upon. Hill was wounded the next day. Lee would then rely on J.E.B. Stuart.

Despite Hooker’s losses on May 2, come May 3, the opportunities to win were still there. Unfortunately, like many times during the war, the Union attacked in piecemeal. By doing so, Lee united his forces quickly with Stuart’s to repel every attack on May 3. The Union artillery soon ran out of supplies allowing for a Confederate triumph of the day.

For Lee, this was his greatest victory but it came at a huge cost. Jackson never recovered from his wounds. Stonewall Jackson would die shortly after the battle’s completion. Lee was devastated. The victory did lift Confederate spirits but it also showed the growing impatience with the war in the East. Lee knew the Confederates were close to a victory in the East. Lee would gamble again to try and win the war in one battle and get recognition for the Confederacy with a victory on Union soil. He thought that the Union generals were no match for his generals and soldiers. That summer of 1863 Lee would take the fight north into Pennsylvania.

For Lincoln, his impatience was almost at an end.

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The Second Battle of Bull Run: A Missed Opportunity

Sun Tzu said that all warfare is deception. Confederate General James Longstreet never met Sun Tzu. In late August of 1862, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were awaiting another Union attack aimed at eventually taking out the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Lee knew that McClelland was on the march and would soon be nearing the Confederate positions in defense of Richmond. Major General John Pope was set to join with McClelland and strike down the Confederacy. It had not been a good summer for the Union Army in Virginia and on the Peninsula. Things would not get any better for the Union when the 2nd Battle of Bull Run/Manassas took place in late August. But for the Confederacy, it was a missed opportunity which could have devastated the Union.

The summer of 1862 had seen the Confederacy lose battle after in the battle west (Mississippi and Tennessee) while winning battle after battle in the east (Virginia). For Robert E. Lee, his Army of Northern Virginia was gaining confidence. After holding off McClelland’s invasion on the peninsula that summer, Lee knew very well the next attack was going to come from the north. Rather than wait and fight a defensive campaign while the Union combined two armies, Lee had Stonewall Jackson attack Major General John Pope’s supply depot near Manassas in hopes of picking off the Union one general at a time.

Pope, upon hearing of the capture of the depot, marched towards Manassas to engage Jackson. There was no deception. The attack resulted in what Lee wanted, for Pope to engage the Confederates without hooking up with McClelland. Over the next three days, the Army of Northern Virginia gave out one of the biggest one-sided attacks of the war. While Jackson did attack first, it was Pope who was on the offensive the first two days of the battle. Jackson, using nearby trees, was able to repel the initial attack. Lee, hoping to crush Pope and create a hole in the Union lines all way to Washington, was very close to realizing his plan when General James Longstreet slammed in Pope’s left flank on August 30.

General James Longstreet

For Longstreet and Lee, the attack on Pope’s flank should have occurred the day before. Pope, having attacked Jackson near an unfinished railroad, did not have any luck against Jackson. His left flank was exposed. An attack by Longstreet on the 29th could have destroyed Pope. But Longstreet, whose men had been marching since 6 a.m., did not feel his men were in any condition, or strong enough, to attack. It was a missed opportunity. Longstreet wanted to wait until the time was just right for him. Lee, despite having ordered Longstreet to attack, acquiesced to Longstreet. It would not be the last time Longstreet disagreed with Lee and get his way (Gettysburg).

Unbeknownst to Pope, Longstreet and his men were in position. The seeds of destruction for the Union Army were in place. A little after noon on August 30 Longstreet’s men slammed in to the left flank of Pope. It was a crushing blow. Pope’s army staggered under the onslaught of trying to attack Jackson on the front (west) and defend against Longstreet on the flank (south).

Longstreet’s attack looked like it was destined to finish off the Union.Nearing 6 p.m., it looked like only a matter of time before the flank would crumble. But somehow, Pope’s men held off Longstreet. By 7 p.m., the defense was strong. Attacks at Chinn Ridge and the Henry House (the same Henry House in the first battle) failed. In fact, the attacks only strengthened Pope’s defenses.

When the attack was called off, Lee was sure he could finish off Pope the next day. However, there would be no next day. Unlike the First Battle at Manassas a year earlier, Pope was able to retreat orderly, this time under the cover of darkness. While his army may have been able to leave the battlefield, his job as commander of the Union Army of the Potomac was over, a short-lived summer.

One division, the 5th New York Zouaves, was wiped out in the battle. Author Brian Pohanka writes on the aftermath of the battle as attempts were made to clear the field of the wounded and dead:

A correspondent from the New York Tribune reported: ‘Attracted by the red bags of Duryée’s Zouaves, we proceeded to the field where they lay-nearly a hundred of them-shattered, torn and bloody, in every conceivable stage of misery. Exhaustion had been the cause of death with some whose wounds were not otherwise mortal. One man still clutched the earth, as in the last struggle for breath. Another, a tall, square-browed, Roman-faced hero, prone on his back-had his face turned to the sky in marble repose. By his side a mere boy laid, as if in death he had sought the protection of the stalwart arm which had befriended his weaker nature in life.’

A detailed examination of morning reports, muster rolls and military service and pension records indicates that in their 10 minutes at the vortex of hell, the 5th New York lost 332 men of the approximately 525 engaged. At least 119 of the casualties were killed outright or died of their wounds. The addition of two missing who were never accounted for would bring the death total to 121. It was the greatest battle fatality sustained by any Federal infantry unit in the war.

The survivors would never recover the esprit de corps that had died with their comrades at Second Bull Run. New recruits would arrive to fill the vacant ranks, but, as Sergeant Mitchell put it, ‘The regiment will never again be the regiment it has been.’

For Lee, his ability to take on larger forces and win was gaining attention. While the Second Battle of Bull Run was clearly a victory for Lee, Jackson, and the Confederacy, it was also a missed opportunity. The delay of a day by Longstreet was crucial. Lee, while deceptive in his use of Longstreet, Lee did not seize the moment on the 29th and stand up to Longstreet. An attack on the 29th would have taken full use of the deception Lee had devised. Pope was susceptible while attacking Jackson along an unfinished gauge of rail that day. Had Longstreet followed orders, Pope could have been wiped out, an entire army captured, and the door to the north would have flung wide open. Ultimately, while Longstreet did delay the order one day, Lee let him and deserves just as much of the blame. Lee would wait three weeks and try to draw McClelland away from Washington by invading Maryland. That battle would be a missed opportunity, too, but for the Union.

The 1st Battle of Bull Run: A Turning Point in Attitudes

Stone House circa 1861

The prelude to the first battle of the American Civil War was one filled with romantic notions of what war was supposed to be. Both men and women were swept up in the cause. Towns sent off their best to live an adventure. Many young men thought they had better hurry up and get to the war before it was over. However, after the first major battle at Manassas Junction, attitudes changed in both the North and the South. This war was not be a summer’s war and home by harvest. It was to be a costly war fought over years.

From 1820 to 1860, the United States had tried to deal with the issue of slavery of in a variety of ways. However in the 1850s, new territory in the western US caused a debate over the spread of slavery and of slavery itself. Despite compromises in 1820, and then again in 1850, the road to war was coming to a head. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the first shots were fired in angst between Americans. Over the next six years, the war drew ever closer. In 1859, John Brown’s raid on the arsenal Harper’s Ferry saw southern states react by creating state militias to prevent a slave uprising. In 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln saw seven southern states secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America. When Lincoln called for 75,000 soldiers to put down the rebellion, other southern border states joined in. What was once a Union of 34 states was no more. On April 12, 1861, the Confederacy took the federal fort at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The Civil War had begun.

Irvin McDowell

In the watch fires of a hundred circling camps, the Union forces began to amass in and around Washington, D.C. The Confederacy positioned itself to the south in defense in both the Shenandoah Valley and the the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The Confederate troops had been well trained and disciplined. The Confederate forces had begun training in response to John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. The Union, they were a mess carousing in the capital. After Ft. Sumter, the call came for the Union to counter and attack the South. However, General Irvin McDowell did not. Mainly a desk soldier, McDowell had come to be in charge after never having seen a field command. He may not have known how to command such a large army as this, but McDowell knew his men were not trained enough to invade the South. It did not matter. The pressure to attack in the summer of 1861 won out. President Lincoln ordered McDowell to invade. And so McDowell did on July 16, 1861. He would be back in Washington a week later.

McDowell entered Virginia with 35,000 men, enough to crush the 18-20,000 forces stationed at Manassas Junction under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard. However, the Civil War was not fought on paper. It was fought mainly in the south. Manassas Junction was only important for one reason, it had a railroad junction, and it was on the way to the Confederate capital of Richmond. There were not many such junctions in the South in 1861. The North, meanwhile, had hundreds. Irony would play the wild card quite often in this battle. The railroad connected the Shenandoah Valley and General Johnston’s troops to Beauregard’s. Combined, the two Confederate armies would equal the numbers of the Union army.

After a long march through Virginia in the summer (high heat and humidity) McDowell and the Army of the Potomac set up camp near Centreville. Strangely, McDowell ordered his men to complete the final march toward the battle field at 2:30 in the morning on July 21. By the time his men reached the battlefield, they were exhausted. At 10 a.m., the first battle of Manassas took place near Bull Run Creek on Matthews Hill. A small Confederate force of 1000 held off 10,000 Union troops for 90 minutes. When William Tecumseh Sherman’s attack on the Confederate flank collapsed the Confederate defense, the rebels retreated to Henry House Hill. But rather than attack and finish off the Confederates, McDowell, waited, and waited, and waited…until 2 p.m. The resulting delay allowed for reinforcements to arrive via railroad.

At 2 p.m., the Union attack resumed. Over the next two hours, several factors swung Beauregard’s way. First, the high ground allowed for better defensive measures. Second, J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry forces were put in to play. Third, the Union was not sure who was who. Later, the Union would wear Blue and the Confederacy, Grey. But at 1st Manassas, there was a melange of blues, greys, and reds on both sides. Finally, Thomas Stonewall Jackson’s defense of the Hill became a rallying point for the Confederacy. McDowell, intriguingly, attacked piecemeal. Rather than throw his entire army at the Hill, the Union attacked a regiment at a time. After a regiment failed, McDowell ordered another regiment in.

Johnston’s troops became the support that allowed the Confederacy and the Army of Northern Virginia to hold off the invasion. By 4 p.m., McDowell ordered a retreat to Washington. It became a catastrophe after that. With the Confederates in charge of the battlefield, every Union soldier hightailed it back to the capital, many left their guns behind. It became a disaster as the soldiers returned in disarray. The Confederates did not pursue. In addition, many spectators had come out to watch the battle including Congressmen. After the battle was over, the spectators clogged the roads back to DC and one Congressman was taken captive and held prisoner for six months by the Confederacy before he was released.

As a result of the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas Junction, this was a war that was not going to be over in a summer. Over 5000 casualties on both sides told of the cost of just one battle. Not only was this going to be a long war for the Union, it was going to be a bloody one. Napoleonic tactics had not kept up with the technology. It is hard to think of the Civil War as having a lot of technology, but the firepower contained in the .58 caliber mini-ball would require amputation in battle if used today. In addition, bored rifles created more accurate weapons along with greater use of artillery.

Shortly after the debacle, Lincoln called for 500,000 more soldiers twice. A million man army was initially going to be needed to put down the insurrection. Lincoln was also wrong. It would take much more.

Henry House – 2007

All color photographs by Anne Petty Johnson (my wife)

All other photos from the Library of Congress.

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