Jan. 1, 1864
|Gen. R.E. Lee|
I may be permitted, I trust, to speak a few words in reference to the doings of this army for the past twelve months. My connection with it began when Burnside's forces appeared in front of Fredericksburg on the Stafford heights. And well do I remember how Col. Ball, of the 15th cavalry, kept the whole of that immense army at bay with one regiment of cavalry, one battalion of infantry, and one battery of artillery. Then came the first battle of Fredericksburg, with the sad scenes attendant upon the evacuation of the town by our people in mid-winter, and its sacking by a brutal and infuriate soldiery, under the eye of that ingrate of a General, Burnside.
Of the battle of Fredericksburg I will speak briefly. The enemy felt fully assured in their vain glorious sufficiency of their ability to disperse Lee's army and march unopposed to Richmond. They crossed the Rappahannock — ah, fatal crossing to them — and essayed to carry the heights.--But Jackson was on the right, Longstreet protected the left, and Lee was in the centre. The result was as might have been readily foreseen by every man of common sense. The Federal army suffered a signal repulse. The corpses of their dead and the bodies of their mangled and groaning dying ones covered the area in front of our lines at the Stonewall and on the lower end of the battle-field near Hamilton's Crossing, whilst the good old town of Fredericksburg became for the nonce a dead hospital and a charnel house. The Federal cause, for the first time in the war, suffered a most humiliating defeat. Their hopes of conquest were crushed, and their vaunted boastings were turned into wittings over their great calamity. Many have criticised Gen. Lee very freely for not pushing the enemy on Saturday night. I was present at that battle, and I myself know full well that the engagement of Saturday was regarded on all hands as a mere prelude to the general engagement which was expected to occur on Sunday. No one in our lines had any conception of the immense injuries which the Federal cause had sustained. It has never, I think, been mentioned in print, but it is nevertheless a fact, that a council of war was held on Saturday night. Jackson urged a midnight attack, But was overruled in council by Longstreet and Gen. Lee, and I must say I think it well for our cause and for Jackson's fame that it was overruled; for unless we could have had some unerring badge or mark upon our men, all the horrors of a night attack might; and as for a day attack up in the enemy's lines, it were an impossibility, or rather it would have been certain destruction to our troops to have advanced over the plateau in front of the river, which was readily and thoroughly swept by the enemy's batteries on the Stafford heights. My conclusion is, that the best interests of the country were served by not pressing the enemy in the first Fredericksburg fight.
Passing over Burnside's sticking in the mud at Banks's ford, and the long, dreary winter when our men stood picket on the Rappahannock, we will take glance en passast at the battle of Chancellorsville. Hooker superceded Burnside on the 27th of January, and after three months of laborious diligence found himself ready to advance on Gen. Lee's lines about the last of April. A short reference to the series of battles which then occurred may not be out of place just here. On the 28th of April, Hooker threw one corps of his army across the Rappahannock, at Bernard's, just below Fredericksburg, whilst with the rest, having broken up camp, he marched rapidly to Kelly's Ford, a point twenty-two miles above Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock. At this point the crossed the Rappahannock, and thence marched his forces to Germanna and Elley's fords, on the Rapidan river, across which he succeeded in crossing almost unobstructed (for we had only cavalry videttes at these fords) by Thursday, the last day of April. Hooker then turned the head of his column down the river towards Fredericksburg. In front of the Chancellorsville, Anderson's division, then of Longstreet' corps, which had been guarding the United States Ford, first took up a line of battle on Thursday evening; but finding themselves confronting a very largely superior force, were compelled to fall back some four miles, to a point where the old Mine road intersects the turnpike, six miles above Fredericksburg. The character of Hooker's moves became fully unveiled to the commanding General during the day of Thursday. Accordingly, a force of observation, under command of General Early, was left guarding the line from Fredericksburg to Hamilton's Crossing, and confronting the corps which Hooker had thrown across below Fredericksburg on the preceding Tuesday. The rest of our army, with the commanding General, moved up to meet Hooker, at the head of the great bulk of the Yankee Army of the Potomac. Gen. Jackson reached Anderson's line of battle, at the intersection of the Mine and Pink made about daylight of Friday morning. He at once assumed command and ordered an advance, himself leading it and moving along. The enemy, who had come upon us during the night of Thursday, began to give back gradually during the day of Friday before the determined advance of our men. At night of Friday, May 1st, McLaws's and Auderson's divisions, of Longstreet's corps, were confronting the enemy in front of Chancellorsville, (Pickett's and Hood's divisions, of Longstreet's corps, had not then returned from Suffolk.) On Friday night, after a consultation, it was determined to attack the enemy on his right flank and endeavor to turn it. For this purpose Gen. Jackson took with him three divisions of his corps, consisting of A. P. Hill's right division, now embraced in Wilcox's division and a part of Heth's division; Trimbles' [Raleigh Colston], old division, now commanded by Gen. Edward Johnson and D. H. Hill's old division, now as then commanded by Rodes, having received his promotion from Jackson on the field for his gallant and skillful bearing on Saturday evening, May 2d. Just after day of Saturday morning Jackson started on his frank movement, having first secured a trusty guide. He moved all day long with as much rapidity as the nature of the country through which he was passing would allow. Anderson and McLaws in front meantime carrying on heavy skirmishing with the enemy, who were busily fortifying, expecting us to assault their men in front. About five o'clock in the evening the roar of Jackson's guns announced that the flank movement was accomplished, and that Stonewall was again thundering in the enemy's rear. Jackson fell upon the enemy a rear, going upon them with their backs turned to his flanking movement. The story of the "Flying Dutchman" and the defeat of Hooker is soon told. In an hour we had driven the enemy at all points and forced them back fully two and a half miles, carrying two of their earthworks of a most formidable character. Night closed with our men masters of the field, and prepared on the coming morning to turn the flight of the preceding evening into a rout. After night fall Jackson rode out in front of his (our) lines in order to make a reconnaissance, with the view of discovering, if possible, a road leading around to United StatesFord, to the end that he might cut the enemy off from retreat by the fords. The sad catastrophe that ensued is known to the country. Jackson fell whilst returning to our lines, the enemy having attempted, in their desperation, to surprise as with a midnight attack. The next morning General J E. B. Stuart assumed command of Jackson's corps, and fought the battle to a successful termination, driving the enemy back at all points, but falling to secure the fords, as Jackson had intended, for the reason that before he took command the enemy had a sufficiency of time to render a move of this sort impossible.
Let us return for a moment to the vicinity of Fredericksburg, and not the operations there transpiring. On Saturday evening the force of the enemy which crossed to the south bank of the river, recrossed to the north bank and took up the line of march, apparently to reinforce Hooker at Chancellorsville. At the same time a balloon ascended near the Lacey house, on the Stafford side, to observe our movements. Gen. Early seeing the Yankees abandon their lines on his front, and supposing they meet to reach Chancellorsville to aid Hooker, at once ordered his men to move, and started to join Gen. Lee. The Yankees were then enabled, by means of their balling, to discover the force with which we were defending the line at Fredericksburg. As soon as they observed our move from the heights of Stafford, with their balloon, they began to counter march, again threw down their pontoons, and reoccupied their old position about dark of Saturday evening, at the Bernard house, just below Fredericksburg. During Saturday night they also crossed opposite to the town, and, for the first time during this move, occupied it.
The "dawn's early light" of Sunday, May 3d, found Hooker half whipped and his army considerably demoralized at Chancellorsville. Whilst at Fredericksburg, Early was lying int he trenches confronting Sedgwick's corps, and awaiting his onward move. Soon after day the enemy opened with their artillery from their positions both at Fredericksburg and at the Bernard House. This they kept up until about nine o'clock, when, having massed their troops in front of Marye's Heights, they buried their columns against the stone-wall — the first time unsuccessfully; for Barksdale, the gallant Mississippian, with his band of heroes, met the shock of battle and nobly buried it back. The enemy pause and resort to artifice. A flag of truce is exhibited, and in an evil moment the gallant Colonel (Griffin, of the 18th Miss,) received it. The enemy thus discover that instead of holding the Stonewall with a line of battle, Barksdale's men are so stretched out that they are barely guarding it with a line of skirmishers. A few moments more and another desperate onset of the enemy's forces is made. The stone wall is carried, and the "star spangled banner" waves in triumph over the enemy's much coveted achievement, and our forces retire. Meantime a bloody dream has been enacted at Chancellorsville. The result of which is that Hooker has "forced the rebels" to faith, and "he has retired. " Just as Gen, Lee was about to follow up his victory, and to press the enemy at Chancellorsville, he is informed that the enemy have carried the heights. Sending his courier to Gen. Early, he tells him to do the best he can until three o'clock, and then " I will be with you." The enemy meantime begin to press forward on the plank road, expecting to form a junction with Hooker.Delusive hope! At three o'clock Wilcox's division, having fallen back from Banks's Ford, and being sustained by the rest of Anderson's and McLaws's divisions, engage the enemy at Salem Church and drive them back fully a mile.
Sunday night closes upon the fields of carnage, with Sedgwick confronting Anderson, McLaws, and Early, at Fredericksburg, whilst Hooker stood opposed by the three divisions of Jackson's corps at Chancellorsville. Early on Monday morning Gordon's brigade, of Early's corps, by a bold charge repossessed themselves of the heights at Fredericksburg. On Monday evening at two o'clock Gen. Lee had intended to have attacked Sedgwick; but by some fatality the attack was not made until five o'clock, and, by the failure of Gen. McLaws (it is said to swing his column around in time and seize Banks's Ford, the enemy, though most gallantly charged and well whipped, succeeded in escaping under cover of night by way of Banks's Ford back to the Stafford heights. On Tuesday General Lee returned with the three division which had been engaged at Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville. A rain storm, however , set in on Tuesday evening, and on Tuesday night Hooker succeeded in recrossing to Stafford by way of U. S.Ford. Thus ended the Chancellorsville fights, in which the "finest army on the planet" was driven back with a loss of nearly ten thousand prisoners and fifteen thousand more in killed and wounded to the enemy. The great faux pas. of these battle was the failure to capture Sedgwick's corps, resulting from our not seizing Banks's Ford. The capture of his whole corps would then have been inevitable, for we held the access to Fredericksburg guarded — Our greatest loss was Stonewall Jackson, of whole death I shall have something to say in my next, as well s a few criticisms on that battle.