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276 APRIL DAYS.
Splendid Condition of the Array.—Gen. Hooker's Programme.—A Forward Movement.—Battles of Chancellorsville and Vicinity. —Jackson turns Hooker's Right "Wing.—Operations below Fredericksburg.—Strategy.—Address from the Commanding General. —The Washington Estate.—Crossing the Rappahannock.
"winter had now passed, and the warm, genial days of April were fast drying up the roads, and rendering the resumption of operations practicable. Four months had rolled away since the bloody struggle under Burnside, during which the army had recuperated its energies, recovered its morale, and been reinforced by numerous accessions of troops. Believing, with Frederick the Great, that a soldier's pluck lies in his stomach, Gen. Hooker had added fresh bread, potatoes and other esculents to the already substantial bill of fare, thereby putting his men in the best of fighting trim; and they, in turn, had come to cherish a certain regard for and confidence in him, shouting like the Portuguese under Crawford, "Long live the General who takes care of our bellies."
The army was ripe for offensive movements. The long weeks of inactivity had afforded the General commanding ample time for reviewing the situation, deciding upon a plan of attack, and completing the necessary preparations.
OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS EENEWED. 277
About the middle of the month marching orders were issued to the troops, but were immediately rescinded, owing to a furious storm which arose and prevailed for two days. The elements again becoming propitious, on Monday and Tuesday, April 27th and 28th, the various Army Corps left their snug winter quarters and moved towards the Rappahannock. The programme decided upon was this: while a portion of the army crossed below Fredericksburg, and diverted the attention of the enemy, the remainder were to proceed up the river, and turning their left wing, occupy a position directly in the rear of the rebel works. At the same time Gen. Stoneman, taking nearly the entire body of our cavalry, was to make his way down through the State by the Culpepper route, and circling round to the railroad, destroy the bridges over the North and South Anna rivers, less than twenty miles from Richmond.
After the seventy-five thousand men thrown in the rear had attacked and defeated the enemy, the fifty thousand at Fredericksburg were to press forward likewise, engage them, and cut off the way of retreat towards Richmond. This comprehensive and masterly plan—substantially the same as Gen. Burnside'a last—must, if it had proven successful, have accomplished no less than its author intended, the total destruction of Gen. Lee's army; but, alas! Jackson had not then received his death wound.
The Second Corps, Couch's; Fifth, Meade's; Eleventh, Howard's; and Twelfth, Slocum'a; marched to the upper fords of the Rappahannock,
278 THE RIGHT WING AT CHANCELLORSVILLE.
and meeting with but little opposition, most of the force moved forward, and by Thursday night were massed in the vicinity of Chancellorsville, after having travelled a distance of thirty-six miles. On Friday, Gen. Hooker, who accompanied this wing of the army, formed the troops in a line of battle, of a triangular or Redan shape, resting with its wings respectively on the Rappahannock, between Banks' and United States Fords and Hunting Creek—an affluent of the Rappahannock—and having its apex at Chancellorsville, in the rear of Fredericksburg. The events which followed we shall allude to briefly, reserving our main description for those operations in which the Thirty-third were concerned.
During the day reconnoitring forces were sent on the roads leading to Fredericksburg, to " feel" the enemy, and likewise learn the topography of the region. All night Friday, parties were engaged in felling trees, clearing away the tangled thickets, and constructing abatis. Saturday, Howard's Corps was posted on the extreme right; then a Division of Sickles' Corps (3), which had come up; then Slocum; then Couch; then Meade on the left; Humphrey's Division of Meade's Corps holding the extreme left. Several unsuccessful attempts were made by the enemy during the day to pierce the lines, but about four o'clock in the afternoon, Jackson suddenly hurled forty thousand men upon Howard's Corps, which fell back in confusion. The Second Division of the Third Corps was immediately wheeled around to the rescue, and succeeded in recovering some of the lost ground, but the right of
THREE SANGUINARY ENGAGEMENTS. 279
the line was completely turned. This success of the enemy placed Gen. Sickles, who had pushed forward in front with the remaining two Divisions of the Third Corps, in a very precarious condition, nearly severing his connection with the remainder of the army. Gen. Hooker now decided upon a night attack, which, though terrible and bloody, as the engagement through the afternoon had been, resulted in victory. The enemy were driven full half a mile, and the lines re-formed on the left, much in the same manner as they had been before.
The First Army Corps, which had arrived from Falmouth, and the Fifth, were posted as a new line, while the disorganized Eleventh was transferred to the left. About 5£ o'clock Sunday morning, the enemy came down the plank road leading from Chancellorsville, and made a furious onslaught. The engagement soon became general, and for five hours the roar of artillery and sharp rattle of musketry resounded through the forest. Our batteries were posted on commanding positions, and made great havoc among the enemy as they advanced to the conflict.
About ten o'clock the lines were contracted and re-formed in the vicinity of the clearing, which, together with a single house, constituted all of Chancellorsville. During the remainder of the day the enemy made several attempts to break them, biit were each time repulsed. Here the army remained on the defensive, in a strongly entrenched position, until the following Tuesday evening, when it retreated, and safely re-crossed the Rappahannock.
280" THE LEFT WING ON THE MARCH.
Returning now to the other wing of the army, the First Corps, Gen. Reynolds, Third, Gen. Sickles, and Sixth, Gen. Sedgwick, proceeded, on the afternoon of the 28th, to the dense woods back of the point where Gen. Franklin crossed the river in December, and bivouacked for the night. The Thirtythird, which was on picket Tuesday, when the Sixth Corps broke camp, having gone out the day previous, was ordered in at two o'clock P. M., and in a half hour's time completed their preparations for departure. The sick had previously been sent to the Corps Hospital, which had been established at Potomac Creek Bridge, and placed in charge of Surgeon Dickinson. All clothing and camp equipage, not absolutely necessary, were sent to Belle Plain, in charge of Quartermaster Alexander, and the haversacks and knapsacks, loaded down with rations, of which the troops were ordered to have eight days' supply. The time for their departure northward was drawing rapidly near, and for days the men had been making themselves merry over the prospect of soon being with the loved ones at home, after two long years absence. Under such circumstances they could hardly have been expected to enter upon the new movement with much heart or spirit. Instead, however, of flinching from the fresh duties imposed upon them, they stepped with alacrity to their places when Col. Taylor, who had now resumed command of his Regiment, gave the order to "fall in," eager to strike one more blow for their country—add one more laurel to the wreath of honor which encircled the name of the gallant Thirty-third.