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Full text of "Afield with the Eleventh army corps at Chancellorsville"

/ / •' 




AFIELD 



WITH THI. 



Eleve-nth Army Corps 



CHANCELLORSVILLE. 



-^#A FIELD^<^ 



-WITH THE- 



Eleventh Army Corps 



AT CHANCELLORSVILLE. 



-A PAPER- 



READ BEFORE THE OHIO COMMANDERY 



JJoyal iJcerior) © ir)c dr)ife(a C>l0:les, 



□ CTDHER 7, lags, 



BY COMPANION 



\ 0W£I7 f^JG£, jf 



Late Captain Co. A , Acting Major 153^ Penn. Vol. Infantry. 



CINCINNATI 

H. C. SHERICK. &. CO. 

1 88S. 



W tXCHMME 






t^ 



The 11th Armi) Corps at Chancellorsville. 



There is an exalted sentiment, that " feels a stain like 
a wound." In flippant rebuke of this, the non-combative 
critics of two generations, " ever hissing dispraise," have 
formulated a Chronicle of our great War, replete with dis- 
tortions of pivotal events, to sustain the exigencies of ad- 
ventitious theories, and, withal, convenient!}^ forgetful, that 
to ever)' man, in however humble station, who wore the 
blue in support of the most gigantic war of all time, to 
every man who, when 

" God's arching Heavens were in eclipse," 

dared to die grandly, in order that he may have Hved 
grandly, in defense of Freedom, the discerning judgment 
and ultimate award of time will accord a meed of honor, 
to merit which the older histories present few opportuni- 
ties and few examples. 

"Time and I against any two," was a cardinal maxim 
of the most subtile of modern diplomatists ; and this phi- 
losophy finds generous vindication in a comparison of the 
judgments of the histories of yesterday and of to-day. 

Among the somewhat numerous controverted points 
in these recitals, worthy to be tried by the square of com- 
mon sense, and in the light of actual events, the conduct 
of the Eleventh Army Corps, in the battle of Chancellors- 
ville, may well claim the charity of a Legion paper. 

The popular belief in regard to this, based on extrinsic 
considerations, dissembling reports, and the unreasoning 
selfishness of cotemporary hyper-criticism is, that this or- 
ganization, almost wholly German in nationality, com- 
posed largely of " petits chevaliers," whose ardor fluctu- 
ated with the tickings of some foreign stock-exchange, 



had now become demoralized and contumacious, because 
of the removal of Sigel from command, with its covert in- 
dignities ; that it was posted as skillfully and advanta- 
geously as any other division of the Arm}', and yet, with 
arrant poltroonery, gave way en masse, and thus, without 
justifiable cause, imperiled the safety of the Arm}' and of 
the Nation's cause at a most critical juncture of the War. 

Never, perhaps, was more sensitive or impressible crisis 
in the affairs of any people. With the menace of foreign 
intervention only held at arm's length by portents of the 
wasting energies and resources of the Confederacy, now 
chiefly sustained by tyrranous conscription, and the cause of 
the Union harassed by disaffection and half-hearted weari- 
ness at home, and by intrigue and privateering neutrality 
abroad, the world sullenly awaited the issue of the pivotal 
campaign of the War. Such being the gravity of national 
affairs, when fierce defeat befell the nth Army Corps, to 
the examination of the justice of the charges against it, 
" nothing extenuate and naught set down in malice," and, 
by a chequered narrative of personal experiences and obser- 
vations, to endeavor to contribute something in aid of the 
true history of the opening events of the campaigns of 1863, 
I ask your indulgence to address this record. 

A candid examination into the nativity of the personnel 
of the corps, at this time, discloses, undeniably, that little 
more than one-third was German, or of foreign lineage in file 
and command, and of these a very large majority had be- 
come denationalized, and had accepted the plenary responsi- 
bilities of American citizenship. The ratio of nationality 
thus determined, as certainly shifts the burden of defense, 
against the opprobrious charge, upon the native majority, 
the unchallenged men of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, 
Connecticut, and Massachusetts who distinctively and em- 
ulously wore the Crescent badge. Before essaying the 
common vindication, however, and I shall rest the defense 
on a succinct narrative of material events, and their pri- 
mary corollaries, a hurried analysis of the constituent ele- 



— 5 — 

ments of the German contingent may not be inopportune, 
and primely because it has been invidiously assailed in re- 
spect to this disaster. 

That among the Germans was tbund a small minorit}-, 
tenacious, and that, with all the pertinacity of teutonic 
character, of the asserted superiority of the military sys- 
tems of the Fatherland, is undoubted. Nations who count 
their lives by centuries generally grow proportionately, and 
often very disproportionately dogmatic. An unrebuked 
idolatry of both their martinetism and their servility — 
" more honored in the breach than in the observance" — 
still venerated the traditions of Rossbach. One regiment 
onl}', and that of the ist Brigade, ist Division, to which I 
had the honor to belong, seemed disaffected. Such ex- 
pressions as " Soldi eine Kriegsfuehrung," " Du heilige 
Unschuld," often repeated in respect to the organization 
and regulations of the arm}', indicated laxity of discipline 
and flabbiness of purpose : but, when on two occasions 
this regiment incontinently broke, under sudden attack, it 
became a by-word and a reproach, unendurable to its own 
countrymen. Its later record redeemed the recreant past 
on a higher plane of patriotic duty. 

Another notable minority element comprised the Sol- 
diers of Fortune — those errant adventurers, recognized in 
every war, whose only recommendation is their devotion 
and prowess, and who, without elan and endurance, lose 
rank and service. Typical of this class was Salm-Salm, 
who, with his regiment, had been mustered out of the 
service shortly before the inception of this campaign, but 
who had left the imprint of his martial idiosyncrasy 'upon 
some of his remaining countrymen. 

With what solicitous avidit}' did not we who, in the lush 
comradeship of a winter camp, had shared his confidence, 
mark his brilliant career? 

Always conspicuous, always under self-command : 
now foremost and now unhorsed in the hurdle-races with 
which Sickles, Warren, Collis and all of the hot blood of 



— 6 — 

the Army of the Potomac had beguiled the galHng tedium 
of the previous Winter ; soon under reporting orders to 
Mitchell, fretful of the curbs and restraints of inaction ; 
again, at the Imperial Court of Mexico, the dashing chief 
of the undaunted Foreign Legion, that last allied the de- 
serted Austrian ; full soon the volunteer leader of every 
bloody midnight sortie, foremost to defy the beleaguered 
desperation and inevitable downfall of Empire at Quere- 
taro ; once more an American soldier, when, at the call of 
his superb American wife, Mr. Seward's little bell unbarred 
for him the vengeful prison doors, from which, on a glori- 
ous June morning, Maximilian, Meija, and 'Miramon had 
been led forth to expiate their treason to the Republic ; and 
now, at the Court of Austria, preferred by its Imperial 
Master for his martyrly devotion to the fallen Archduke, 
and the more than fallen, the living-dead Carlotta ; — until, 
at last, when at Gravelotte, the re-invested Prussian Hussar 
went down in splendid death before the French mitrailleurs, 
was he not, always, the very beau-ideal of a soldier — was 
he not true to the svmbols and inspirations of every cause 
that he espoused? 'Fore God, such men are not craven, 
and leave no imprint of cowardice behind them. 

But what of Schurz, Stein wehr, Hecker, Bushbeck, 
Von Gilsa — undoubted representatives these of the large 
majority of the German element of the Corps? 

Embittered by the gibes of malice, 

"They bore defeat like gods, — 
And such defeat ! Or wrong, or right, 
It takes as true a man to bear 
Defeat like that as win the fight!" 

On the bloody slopes of Gettysburg, with its three-fold 
baptism of fire, and on every field from Lookout Mountain 
to the sea, they wrote the courage of their convictions, in 
answer to the aspersions of vaporing zealots, and over- 
whelmed with unfaltering devotion those cavillers who de- 
manded of them the impossible at Chancellorsville. No, 
Sirs, it was not the stubborn hardihood of the German, ed- 
ucated and inured by the wars of centuries to desperate 



valor, turned craven here, by petulant and clannish selfish- 
ness ; it was not the thick blood, quick with sentient honor, 
from the times of the Electors to the days of Moltke, turned 
rheumy now b}' an accusing reminiscence of abjured na- 
tionalit}^ Had not the inquisitions and dungeons of the 
Fatherland estranged them from all but the God-given 
spirit of Liberty, which these had nurtured and endeared? 
Refined by fire, may not their devotions have been stronger 
and purer than the stale mannerisms which, stained b}^ the 
corrosions of soulless habit, many of us brought in daily 
orison to the shrine? 

From the day of Calvary to this the more blameless 
the victim, the more turbid and insensate the savagery of 
the mob. 

It was not. then, the defection of the Germans, nor 
yet was it the zeal and fealty of the native regiments, 
grown forgetful now of their common heritage and its im- 
periled destiny, that broke the lines in that first mad en- 
counter in the devious and savage wilderness. 

It was the persistent neglect of the plainest precepts of 
military foresight ; the utter disregard of even elementary 
principles of flank defense ; the deaf ear to the remon- 
strances and entreaties of Brigade and Division Chiefs ; the 
inexplicable contempt of reports, which, from an hour be- 
fore mid-forenoon, until past mid-afternoon, followed the 
Confederate turning column, along the entire front of the 
lines, and enforced upon both Army and Corps command- 
ers the sternest warnings of imminent assault. Ten hours of 
fatal incredulity and inaction ; the guard was open — the 

vitals were uncovered, and the thrust was almost mortal I 
******* 

Passing now to narrative, and yielding to professional 
hands extended review of the strategy of the campaign, it 
is pertinent here only to observe that, up to the time of the 
concentration of the converging columns, south of United 
States Ford, every requisite of the general movement had 
been fulfilled with consummate alacrity and precision, save 



— 8 — 

that the initiatory part, allotted to Stoneman's command, 

had been belated fully six days by impassable roads and 

water-courses, and now became of minor co-operative value. 
******* 

The early campaigning days of 1863 found the Con- 
federate Army of Northern Virginia still controlling the lines 
of the Rijppahannock, from Fredericksburg. To compass 
its capture, irreparable defeat, or summary retreat on Rich- 
mond, was the skillfully devised purpose of Gen. Hooker's 
campaign. In conformity with the general plan — while an 
equal force, under Sedgwick, feinted below the enemy's 
works towards Port Royal — on the morning of April 27th, 
the Fifth, Eleventh and Twelfth Army Corps, under the 
respective commands of Meade, Howard and Slocum, and 
now combined as the right wing of the Army of the Poto- 
mac, under the senior command of the last named general, 
abruptly broke camp, amidst the Stafford Hills, under 
orders for Kelly's Ford. Sixty rounds of ammunition, 
and eight days' rations in the haversacks, indicated the 
comprehensive character and lavish expectations formtd of 
the initial movements of the campaign. No holiday jaunt 
of boyhood or sobered 3'ears, with its luscious romance, 
opened more buoyantly than did this march, and, "Oh the 
humor of it!" the delicious comedy, albeit unspoken, which 
attends the "Route Step" of a column in campaign. Withal, 
the spirit of the army was superb ; its collective ph3'sique 
somewhat gross, overfed b}- an indulgent commissariat too 
near to the central stores, and the enervating luxuries, sup- 
plied by the contraband purveyors of the Potomac. Much 
impeded by roads, rendered heav}', almost to impassableness, 
by long-continued and copious rains, and the heavy march- 
ing order of the troops, the advance, the ist Brigade of 
the ist(Deven's) Division of the Eleventh Corps, had cov- 
ered the thirty miles to the Ford, on the upper Rappahan- 
nock, before early twilight on the 28th. All of the columns 
were well in hand, for while awaiting the arrival of the pon- 
toon train, which had lost the direct road, and while lying 



— 9 — 

within cover of tlie densely-wooded heights, under impera- 
tive command of silence, we were observing the movements 
of the unconscious picket guard of the enemy, patrolling 
the south bank with almost mechanical unconcern, we ex- 
changed greetings with officers of the Twelfth Corps, who 
had sought our bivouac. The river was, at this point, ad- 
mirabl}^ adapted for the crossing. An affluent creek con- 
tributed to form a narrow, densely-wooded tongue of high 
land, which not only masked all operations at the base, but 
also screened the steep road which obliquely scaled the 
bluff. Into the captive creek, auspiciously bank-full from 
recent rains, the belated pontoons were noiselessly launched, 
the balks and chesses deftly composed, and under guard of 
darkness, convoyed by an alert detachment in boats, before 
lo p. M. the bridge was floated across the broad river and 
anchored and moored in face of the alarmed pickets, who, 
with a single random volley, dispersed toward Gordorisville. 

A small Brigade of Cavalry, comprising three regi- 
ments, under Pleasanton, now covered the advance, and 
before mid-forenoon the three Army Corps had aligned 
from bivouac across the river, prepared for the dash to the 
Rapidan, the Fifth deflecting to the left, on Elley's Ford, 
and the Eleventh and Twelfth in direct march, on the wing 
tor Germania. The coincident crossing of Stoneman's force 
at the upper fords of the rivers had so foiled and so fully 
engaged the attention of the Cavalry of Stuart, the only 
Confederate force within striking reach of Germania, to 
dispute the passage, that the advance encountered no con- 
certed opposition, across the deserted champaign. 

Then, too, knapsacks had by this time been covertly 
relieved of redundant clothing and camp bric-a-brac ; the 
highway and hedge rows of Stafford and Culpepper had 
blossomed out with numberless overcoats, in lieu of sup- 
pressed verdure, to be gathered in by the hordes of land 
pirates who infested the rear, and after conversion into 
emulous shoddy, again to present themselves for regimental 
duty, at relatively enhanced value, during the follo\\ing 



lO — 

Winter. Haversacks, too, were being depleted, in inverse 
ratio to their expected endurance, no aside suggestions of 
relief from burden being needed by the spendthrift appetites. 
An uneventful march, with, therefore, very much lighter im- 
pedimenta, carried us, after nightfall, to the ford, where the 
Cavalry and Scouts had surprised a small detachment of 
the enemy's engineers, intent on beginning the renewal of 
the superstructure of the high bridge, which here had crossed 
the river, and whose first impulse of resistance had been 
overborne by the second thought, enforced b}'^ advancing 
numbers. 

Obviously, then,'the Confederate Commander had medi- 
tated an advance, via the buttressed valleys, only fore- 
stalled by Hooker's mudd}- initiative, and, as certainh', this 
movement was, as yet, effectually masked by the diversion 
towards Port Royal and Stoneman's hampered dash. 

The bonfires and torches, ablaze on the right bank 
of the river, now revealed a scene of weird and overpow- 
ering grandeur. The storm-riven mill, clinging to a rug- 
ged elevation to the west, and flanked by the black piers 
and charred ribs of the dismantled bridge, rising in col- 
umnar desolation — all the more desolate in the streak}^ 
glare — seemed in unequal conflict with the swollen, rock- 
tossed river in front, which, eddying and seething in whirl- 
pool currents, and multiplying the glare of the beacons 
into innumerable corruscations, on the crests of their roll- 
ing and wallowing rage, dashed into the roaring night be- 
low. Everything combined to harass the advance I To 
essay the now heaving and writhing ford were fated mad- 
ness ! The stoutest pontoons would sway and crunch like 
cockle-shells amidst the wrestling whirlpools I No infantr}^ 
would dare the frenzied stream ! The artillery must lead 
the van I But, before, under the sharp commands of the 
pilot scouts, on the farther shore, the tortuous thread of the 
buried ford had been tentatively assured, one caisson was 
swept into tiie black and horrible gulf bevond. 

The engineers quickly determined, that to truss the 



— II — 

broad central span of the bridge with material at com- 
mand were idle to attempt ; but the broad rip-raps at the 
base of the overhanging piers promised secure lodgement 
to improvised trestles, when guyed and lashed to their un- 
consenting embrace, and a sinuous bridge was betimes com- 
pleted, across which, at low twelve, the footmen poured, 
at quick, and the capture of the defiant river was assured. 
Nowhere, amidst the wildest fantasies of our Virginia 
Dreams, or the living pictures of war, in reckless abandon, 
had we pondered or witnessed aught like this ! Above, 
the lowering, inky night ; below, the black and raging stream 
and all of the wild and affrighting associations of embat- 
tled Nature ! Fitting prelude these to the last reverse, be- 
(oce the Glorious Army of the Potomac should advance on 
its God-allied career of resistless victory I 

Ah me! in sooth 'twas wondrous wild, 

That passage of the flood, 

And down the maze of Mem'ry flits 

Its ghostly hardihood; 

What time, at midnight's madden'd hour, 

Where ghoulish waters ran, 

We burst upon the crafty foe, 

And forced the Rapidan! 

Morning broke upon the moving columns, and at the 
first quarter the advance became more difiicult ; for Stuart, 
swayed by paltermg conjectures, had discerned a possible 
"or'' in the adventure, and was dividing attention between 
Stoneman's raiding force and our columns. Under constant 
surveillance of the ubiquitous native scouts, the afternoon 
was fitfully harassed by bushwhacking artillery and horse, 
keeping the flankers warmly under fire. The advance of 
the main column speedil}^ uncovered Elley's Ford to the 
Fifth Corps, and this, in turn. United States Ford to Couch's 
Second, and this unmasked, and Sickles' Third Corps, 
near Hartwood Church, brought within co-operative dis- 
tance, two hours after noon, three Corps, near Chancellors- 
ville, and two in available support were within striking dis- 
tance of the Confederate left. The opportunity for seizing 



12 



and securing the supreme compensation of the Campaign 
was there, the tactical advantages undeniable. For al- 
though, within covert and west of the Chancellor House, 
the prevailing undergrowth forbade reliable co-ordination 
and effective movement ; to the east, a more open country, 
traversed by three highways, converging towards Marye's 
Heights, the key to the Confederate position, offered ade- 
quate room for manoeuvre. 

Dwell for a moment on the ground of vantage gained I 
Within four miles lay Banks' Ford, the now obvious objec- 
tive, to bring Sedgwick twelve miles nearer in support — 
held by two Brigades of the Confederate left. In front, 
two Divisions of Longstreet's Corps held the heights of 
Fredericksburg; the right, under Jackson, from fifteen to 
twenty miles away, toward Port Royal, and Lee, as captured 
despatches revealed, still in Fredericksburg, held in blindest 
suspense of our approach by the formidable diversion of 
the First and Sixth Corps, under Reynolds and Sedgwick. 

In one passing of the sun, all of the conditions of over- 
whelming success might be reversed. Stuart might, even 
now, be on a detour to apprise Lee of the menace in his 
rear. Jackson might, even then, have been recalled to 
equalize the gauge of battle. Should the vantage attained 
by the initiative be forfeited, and the hitherto best kept 
secret of the war be denied fruition, onl}^ a doubtful defen- 
sive position would remain to the Federal Commander. 
For once, and only this once, glorious "Old Fighting Joe" 
made war by proclamation, 

"Which paltered with us in a double sense, 
And kept the word of promise to the ear, 
But broke it to the hope." 

The ill-timed and boastful order, promulgated before 
nightfall, if it compassed any thing, elated many with the 
intoxication of a cozening security — that "strong, cham- 
pagny, brandy-punchy feeling" that disarms the muniments 
of manhood, and inflamed the passions of long-range patri- 
ots, at home, to visit with condign obloquy all who should 



— i3~ 

tail "to sustain the high and sounding phrase of the mani- 
festo." 

********** 

If, under this dulcet influence any one felt promoted to 
a Brigade command for the night, the morning call extin- 
guished the impertinent honors. The day was passing in 
routine idleness, as though no husbandry of Freedom took 
peril from delay. An hour before noon an impromptu and 
unexpected advance, videtted by Pleasanton's Cavalry, 
upon the enemy's line, now in unknown position, masked 
by the ragged environment of the thickets, was ordered, 
Meade's column taking the river road, two Divisions of 
Couch's Corps the center, and Slocum, supported by How- 
ard, the right hand road, while French's Division of the 
Second Corps deflected on Todd's Tavern, to the south- 
east. 

The fateful interval of congratulatory irresolution had 
however, enforced upon the Confederate Commander a 
trial balance of probabilities. Stuart, with Fitz Hugh 
Lee's Brigade of Cavalry, had reported, leaving one Bri- 
gade to harass Stoneman. Recalled from the lines above 
Port Royal, Jackson, at 8. a. m., had effected a junction, 
with Anderson and McLaws, now fronting our center and 
left. An advance of less than three miles east of Chan- 
cellorsville, therefore, found the enemy. But no sooner 
had the more open country solved the difticulties of deploy- 
ment, and rendered available all divisions in hand ; no 
sooner had the enemj^'s lines unmasked and a strong fight- 
ing position been attained, than as sudden a return to the 
wilderness was commanded, the brimming euthusiasm of 
the men cast down, every coigne of vantage resigned, the 
reserve artillery, at Banks' Ford, distanced by twelve miles 
of ditficult roads, Sedgwick as far removed from support 
or supporting relations, and, without serious loss or harass- 
ing resistance, the columns returned to the position last 
held, with the diverging roads and open space around the 
Chancellor House as the defensive center. 



— 14 — 

The position, as skillfully redeveloped by the engineers 
in the semi-confusion of the recall, lay within the Wilder- 
ness a vast forest tract, tirst despoiled for the reduction of 
iron, and now capable of reproduction only in wildest 
caricature.* With occasional and not far-reaching clear- 
ings adjoining the highways and habitations, withy thickets 
and tangled meshes of native schrubbery, fallen trees, inter- 
laced by creeping vines, whose rebel tenacity was sedu- 
lously asserted, thorny shrubs, briars, and festive Christ- 
mas Holly, blinding pines and lancinating scrub-oaks 
clustered around the standing timber, far along the Orange 
and Culpepper roads, to the west of Dowdall's, northward 
for miles to the Rappahannock, and southward for leagues 
to the skirts of Spottsylvania, with irregular undulating 
elevations along the streams. The left, securely resting 
on the Rappahannock, and facing eastward, was held by 
Meade, the Second Corps prolonging the line southward 
to the turnpike, with Hancock's Division well thrust for- 
ward on an eminence overlooking Mott Run ; and thence 
curving westward, the line, in front of Fairview, held by 
Slocum's Twelfth Corps, faced southward on a bold eleva- 
tion, flanked to the west by the less elevated but more com- 
manding Hazel Hill. To the west, with an interval of at 
least two Divisions fronts, in echelon to Slocum and in 
front of the Plank road, the Eleventh Corps prolonged the 
south front to the point at which the road forked into the 
Orange road to the south-west, and the Culpepper road 
to the northwest. Sickles Corps, last- arrived from United 
States Ford, was in reserve behind the Chancellor House. 

Lee's army, closely pressing our recall, took position, 
with McLaws' Division, opposite to our left center, Ander- 



*The proverbial repetitions of History are often only coincidences of phy- 
sical environment. It was, however, one of the most signal compensations of 
time, that, here, where swift disaster befell the halting counsels of the Union 
arms, after the full rounding of a year, should commence the long sap and 
mine to final victory. 



l; — 



son's Division extending westward, and Jackson's Corps 
continuing the envelopment of our lines to the Furnace, di- 
rectly south of Hazel Hill. 

From the river to the eastern slope of Hazel Grove 
axe, spade and bayonet speedily developed the intrench- 
ment of the lines, augmenting every natural obstacle, and 
to the west, only less formidable works were in progress. 
Against our left and center spirited demonstrations to ex- 
plore the position were maintained until nightfall, when 
deeming these too strong tor assult, the Confederate Com- 
mander sent Stuart to interrogate beyond, and feel the 
right. In this, before 9 p. m. a significant but all too par- 
tial movement had been made. Col. Von Gilsa's Brigade, 
of Deven's Division, changing front, in the darkness, to 
the west. 

While far to the east vigorous blows still multiplied the 
physical accidents and urged the defenses, within our im- 
mediate command, a vexing silence enclosed the recumbent 
ranks, save that ever and again a tremulous voice awakened 
echoes of home with the subdued refrain of a soldier's 
love-song. "Sour grapes," mildly suggested the artless 
Chaplin, perchance, in exclamatorv apology to accusing 
hunger, and not in wanton af^Vont to the momentary home- 
sickness of his fellows. "Why, bless your ecclesiastical 

old soul, Chaplain, that's making lees of a d d serious 

subject," interposed an irreverent sub-lieutenant, and with 
the lethean sentiment we yielded to fragmentary sleep. 
^ ***** * 

The morning of the calamitous 2d day of May dis- 
closed Von Gilsa's Brigade, of less than 2,000 men, the 153d 
Penna., on the extreme right, and the 45th, 54th and 41st 
N. Y., supplementing the front, within a stongly timbered 
woods north of the Plank road, facing west and in front of 
an abrupt wooded slope, which terraced an open field to the 
rear. Westward of our front, to the Rapidan, and north- 
ward of our flank to the Twin River, lay the vmdulating 
mazes and minatorv coverts of the wilderness. Nearly at 



— i6 — 

right angles lo the First, McLean's Brigade prolonged the 
line, with two guns in the salient angle on the road. Next, 
one Brigade of Schurz's Division extended east, his other 
Brigade, at the crisis of the day, manning low rifle-pits at 
right angles to the general alignment and full}- half a mile 
in rear of Von Gilsa, Beyond Schurz, along the Plank 
road, Bushbeck's Brigade of Steinwehr's Division com- 
pleted the position and morale of the Corps. From Stein- 
wehr's left to Slocum's right an interval of more than half 
a mile, and embracing the commanding position of Hazel 
Grove, menaced the integrity and broke the effective con- 
tinuit}' of the line. Had the enemy escaladed this, the 
Eleventh Corps position would have been enfiladed, and 
Slocum taken in reverse. Barlow's Brigade, the indis- 
pensable reserve to this attenuated formation, was detached 
from the command when the disaster fell. No natural ■ 
obstacle fortified or recommended the position ; of artificial 
defenses we had little more than a naked theory of the 
Corps Commanded. It was held to be absurdly axiomatic 
that the wilderness was impenetrable even by men, from boy- 
hood inured to the daring wilds and mountain fastnesses of 
Virginia, and who had been soldiered and inspirited by that 
most adventurous of leaders, the resurrected Covenanter of 
the Southern Cause. 

Before 9 a. m., with three companies of the 153d 
Penna., I was ordered to re-enforce a picket of observa- 
tion, established by the 45th N. Y. down the Orange C. 
H. road to the south-west. On reporting to Col. Von 
Arnsberg, in command, about a mile to the left front, we 
extended his lines to the east and for several hours held 
the road, within the woods, in view of a broad open, proba- 
bly an exhausted tobacco field, to the south, which, gently 
rolling, was bounded at an elevation by a densely wooded 
thicket. It is material, here, to note that as early as 10 a. 
M. we were under observation of, and exchanged shots 
with the enemy's videttes, at times in aggressive force, be- 
yond the clearing. 



— 17 — 

Recalled to the Brigade at noon, we left the picket of 
the 45th N. Y. on the Orange Road. Our return to the lines 
disclosed no material change at the front, except that a few 
trees, felled forward, had commenced a not very formidable 
nor systematic abatis, but nothing in the manner of breast- 
works or redoubts, on the riglit and at the angle, and only 
two of. the eighteen guns, with which we had turned the 
fords, in battery on the flank, to exalt the position or de- 
velop the defensive resources at command. 

In the meanwhile, events, big with the fate of armies, 
had reclaimed to History the wasting hours within the 
opposing lines. Betore daybreak Stuart had determined the 
impoverished entourage of the right,* and, dashing along 
the lower Furnace Road, at dawn found Lee and Jackson 
by the wayside in perplexed, almost dismayed consulta- 
tion. The supreme crisis in the career of the Army of Vir- 
ginia seemed imminent. 'To the two master-spirits the 
situation appeared in desperate extremity. Our left, on the 
river, and the center, at Fairview, vigorously entrenched, 
enfilading every line of approach, and enveloped by the 
galling thickets, commanded, it is true, by an aggressive 
elevation to the east, were impregnable ; the force below 
Fredericksburg, with indeterminable numbers — the mysteri- 
ous unknown factor in the illusive problem — menaced their 
rear; Stoneman, with ten thousand sabers, was by this 
time probably far advanced to their line of, at best, preca- 
rious subsistence ; nothing but a wasting and doubtful ag- 
gressive, or instant retreat on the line of the Richmond R. 
R. seemed in reserve. Stuart now reported our right an 
easv pi'ey, the flank in the air, and the rear, to the river, 
uncovered, and Jackson, quick to appreciate the pro- 
nounced error in position, and the opportunity, so congenial 
to his favorite methods, at once proposed with his 26.000 
veterans, under curtain of the helpful woods, to skirt our 
lines and crush the dismembered right. All of the canons 



'Had any pickets covered our position during the night ? 



of militai'}^ sanity condemned, — only its matchfess audacity 
recommended the movement ! It was the desperate ad- 
venture of a tottering cause, now "staked on the hazard of 
a die," with only the one chance of palpable and mortal 
blundering on the part of the Union Commanders to postu- 
late success. It was the supreme effort of Jackson's uniquely 
presumptuous soldiership, — his enraptured march to death ! 

Quite earlj^ in the day, Gen. Hooker had inspected his 
lines. The open formation of the right center, quickly 
detected, two Brigades of Birney's Division of the Third 
Corps were at once ordered to reduce the perilous interval 
between the positions of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps. 
Graham's Brigade was, at the same time, sent to reinforce 
Howard, but its services curtly declined, it was returned to 
its former position. 

Jackson, with characteristic vehemence, promptly un- 
leashed his inspired movement, advancing b}' the left from 
the Furnace, flanked b}^ Fitz Hugh Lee's Brigade of 
horse, and the Confederate Commander-in-Chief, in order 
to divert possible discovery, opened and maintained a vig- 
orous fire against our left and center. From the advanced 
and far-reaching position of Birney, in front of Hazel 
Grove, the movement of Jackson's column was observed 
quite early in its progress, and reported to head-quarters. 
In consequence. Gen. Hooker issued his well-known order, 
from which I extract : 

"Head-quarters Army of the Potomac. ) 
Chancellors viLLE, Va., May 2, 1863, 9:30 a. m. \ 

' ' Major-Gen . H o ward : 

I am directed by the Major-Gen. commanding to say 
that ****** 

The right of your line does not appear to be strong enough. 
No artificial defenses worth naming have been thrown up, 
and there appears to be a scarcity of troops at that point, 
and not, in the General's opinion, as favorably posted as 
might be. We have good reason to suppose that the enemy 
is moving to our right. * * * * 

(Signed). James H. Van Allen, 

Brig. -Gen. and A. D. C" 



— 19 — 

It is the fatalit}^ of colossal blunders that they inex- 
tricabl}^ involve their victims in mortal delusions, and hence 
this order became virtually a dead letter, supplanted by 
obstructive incredulity. Although, too, Birne}', from his 
advanced lookout, had very accurately detailed the move- 
ment and determined its numbers, i,t does not appear that 
any adequate concerted movement, to fully develop its 
character and thwart its sinister purposes, was permitted 
until wathin the hour before noon. Until then, the critical 
menace was permitted to develop, evade its initial perils, 
and attain a position of absolute security to its plans, with- 
out a semblance of resistance. 

True, the ever-restless Sickles, intuitively foreboding 
danger, and self-reproved under the restraints of a position, 
in reserve, twice during the morning went forward wuth a 
small force, with artillery, and shelled the column from the 
main road, to one in rear and under cover. But not until 
nearl}' mid-day, when Jackson's entire command had prob- 
ably uncovered the whole of Birne3''s front, was Sickles per- 
mitted to attempt a reconnoisance in force. With Birnej^'s 
and Whipple's Divisions of his own Corps, supported on 
the right by Barlow's Brigade, the only reserve of the now 
again isolated Eleventh Corps, and later reinforced by 
Pleasanton, he moved forw^ard to the Furnace Road. 
Much impeded by the tangled coppice, and broken, ob- 
structive ravines, by a well-ordered and impulsive advance 
he gained the line of Jackson's march, and pierced the 
enemy's center, in time to capture the 28th Georgia, the 
rear-guard of the movement. If an}^ doubt as to the 
objective of Jackson's desperate exploit had been permissi- 
ble before, the testimony of the prisoners now unerringly 
affirmed, that the movement was aggressive and not in re- 
treat, that it carried only a lighting train, and that the re- 
newed warnings borne to the rear, must redouble prepara- 
tion for resistance, or court a disastrous defeat^ It either 
meant this, or it meant a wanton division of forces, which 
no hypothesis of sanity and sincerity on the part of the Arch- 



20 



confederates could justify. And, moreover, such is the 
rank foreordination of signal disasters, as if utterly to dis- 
sever the Corps, and dismantle Hazel Hill, the defensive 
western bulwark of the general position, about the time that 
Jackson had come within saber-stroke of the flank, Wil- 
liams' Division of the Twelfth Corps, next in position, ad- 
vanced to the front to engage Anderson. * 

Sickles' whole operations, besides, soon became more 
than useless, because, exasperatingly denied permission to 
attack either Jackson or Anderson, although strenuously 
urging the expediency of either or both, and because re- 
moved by the impracticable forests from instant support of 
the now minimized flank. * * * 

About I p. M., after return from the Orange Road, 
we were post-prandially balancing accounts with our now 
utterly improvident haversacks. Had Knowles most re- 
doubtable of Qtiartermasters and renconteurs ** travestied 
the proportions of a fighting ration? Not even a crumb of 
comfort survived to testify. While thus taking thought of 
the morrow, two shells, in quick succession, from the front, 
whizzing through the tree-tops, ' brought the Brigade to 
arms. Called to the command of a quick detail of two 
companies of the 153d Pa., with one of the 45th N. Y., 



*Was ever so motley an array of prickly questions as troop across this 
field? Were not the exploits of Jackson upon our lines on the Pamunkey and 
the upper Rappahannock so recent as to emphasize the certainty of repetition? 
Did not these enjoin the necessity of an instant change of front, and either 
the recall of Sickles and Barlow to augment the defensive, or the combined 
movement of Sickles, Howard and Pleasanton against the flanking force? 

■*"*Aversions are ignes fatui. A revered professor of mine, guileless as 
Uncle Toby, hated only two things-"Austria and the figure 8." Knowles 
pet antipathy was the negro as a controversial factor. One mellow evening, 
just returned from a "symposium" with Parke Porter at Acquia Landing, in 
condition to verify the adage ,"in vino Veritas," he was presented to Capt. 
Stowe of Gen. Steinwehr's staff. "Ah, yes, young man ; heard of your re- 
spected mother, — used to be in the millinery business, — made flowers out of 
negro's wool." Personal affront was promptly disclaimed, but not the critique 
on "Uncle Tom's Cabin." 



21 — 

added at m3M-equest, and the promise of a fourth to follow,* 
as a reserve, there was only time to call the attention of 
the staff officers to a person in Federal uniform and without 
side-arms, most probably a sp}', leisurely sauntering within 
the lines, and, as the questioning shells were repeated, in 
obedience to Von Gilsa's : '"Major, I vant you to schtop 
dat," the command was deployed at half distance into the 
thicket, 

Thro' listsome woods of singing pines, and shrubs of low degree. 

The advance, at once, became embarassed, as stung 
by the brambles and roweled by the thorns, and with diffi- 
culty restraining the profanity of the punctures, the line 
broke through the belts ol interlaced shrubber}- and vines, 
under and over the promiscuous obstacles, promptly en- 
deavoring to correct, and succeeding, perhaps, only in still 
further confusing alignment in the more open reaches that 
intervened. The philosophy of the fly in the spider's web, 



*No support reached me, and my force proved barely adequate to cover 
the front in that brush-fog. It does not appear that any other force pros- 
pected in this direction, although Gen. Hooker's 9:30 A. M. order enjoined it: 

"The disposition you have made of your Corps has been with a view to a 
front attack by the enemy. If he should throw himself upon your flank he 
(the Maj.-Gen. commanding), wishes you to examine the ground and deter- 
mine upon the positions you will take in that event. * •'■ * He 
suggests that you have heavy reserves in hand to meet this emergency. * 

'■■• * Please advance your pickets for purposes of observation, as far 
as may be safe, in order to obtain timely information of their approval." (See 
order in full). 

Commenting on this phase of the inquiry, Gen. Doubleday writes: 

"Gen. Howard speaks in the National Tribune of the picket she threw out, 
but in every case they seem to have been sent out by his subordinates without 
his knowledge; in other words all knowledge of Jackson's movements was 
obtained by independent scouts. When they reported to Howard, it would 
seem from regimental histories that he wholly disapproved of these expedi- 
tions. He said that he commanded the Corps, and his subordinates were 
usurping his functions. 

I do not deny that he picketed his front, but not against the attack com- 
ing upon his flank and rear. He did not believe that the tremors in his line 
were caused by Jackson's approach. He must have attributed them to Fitz 
Lee's Brigade of Cavalry, which was on the Orange Plank Road." 



— 22 — 

that buzzing is only an abbreviated expression for flying, 
was illustrated to the full. Under such conditions, onward 
we pressed, the occasional shells from the front flying far 
over us, and eliciting no response from our dumb batteries 
in the rear. 

A mile, in front, and in the midst of a very hades of 
thickets, a long, rugged descent disclosed a shallow ravine, 
like a huge ditch, with an ample berme on either side, at 
the foot of a steep ridge ahead, overrun with stalwart trees 
and bushes impenetrable to sight. For nearly half an hour 
the guns had been silent ; they had been heard in retreat 
from a more advanced position, and were expected here, 
when, suddenly, as the line was floundering across the 
farther berme, immense spheres of fire rolled from the 
crest, to left, the thud of the canisters against the tree 
trunks, above us, and the sharp, sneezing report called an 
abrupt halt, and from the debris of a dead tree, with a 
very pronounced and characteristic : "Das ist was ver-r-r- 
damm-tes," Capt. Biske, of the Brigade Staff', emerged 
upon the scene. Voss' magnificent rendering of the Ho- 
meric line, — 

"Dumpf hin krachten im Fall und es klirreten auf ihm die Waffen," 

was instantly suggested. 

The guns were too high in position to be effectively 
depressed, and as the right was quickly advanced, a sharp 
voile}', to left oblique, emphasized the mad gallop of the 
field pieces down the long slope to the west. 

Capt. Biske now communicated Von Gilsa's order to 
hold the ridge and prevent the re-establishment of the bat- 
tery, and galloped down the now convenient road to re- 
port. With jack-knives, and the whetstone of vigorous in- 
terjections, a swath, to develop the line, and bring it into 
view and under command, was attempted, but, almost at 
once, the sharp report of the rifles in front rendered an 
advance necessary, to attain a more open and defensible 
position ahead. The Culpepper road, here, divided the left, 
and an open wood-road, to the north-west, the right center 



— 23 — 

of the line. Every attempt to reconnoiter, either from base 
or tree-top, ended in a new evohilion of thickets ; not the 
ascending grades of the recent Darwinian exploits, but the 
descending series of confusion worse confounded, — a "dam- 
nable iteration" of vegetable impertinences. Point of obser- 
vation there was none, from which to invade the intriguing 
privacy of the matted wilds. The superior woodcraft of 
the enemy, too, at first disconcerted our "tenderfoot" in- 
terpretations. Every artifice of the wildwood was resorted 
to, by the bushwhacking foe in front, to control the most 
advanced line of fallen trees, even the stealthy movement 
of dw^arf pines, which here abounded, when fired into, 
generally bringing down the enterprising Confederates to 
whom they were lashed. 

Like the Papal Legate before the Gtand Seigneur, at 
Versilles, "we were prot"oundly surprised at all w^e saw 
there, and more than all surprised to see ourselves there." 
Certainly our experience justified the perplexity of a patri- 
archal negro — a very philosopher in brown — leader of a 
party of Gen. Ashby's slaves, who while seeking the 
promised land, earl}^ in ^6;^ and reminded that they were 
tard}^ in responding to the Proclamation of Emancipation 
then nearly two months old, naively replied : "Taint startin' 
to be nothin' like dat, Sah ! Befo' dis, yo' see. Mass' Lee 
had mo' to say to dat dan Massa Linkum, Sah !" 

Before 3 p. m. the confronting picket line became more 
compact, and the fire more aggressive, w^hen, like the crash 
of thunder from a cloudless sky, the command to mass 
columns, by battalion, was clearly heard directly in front, 
and repeated in detail. Substantially this despatch was 
immediately sent by a veteran sergeant of the 45th N. Y., 
with an injunction of haste : 
"On Skirmish Line, On Culpepper Road, 2:45 p. m. 

"Col. L. Von Gils a, 

"Comd'g ist Brig., ist Div., nth Army Corps. 
"A large body of the enemy is massing in my front. 
For God's sake make dispositions to receive him ! 

(Signed), Owen Rice, AcL Maj. 153d P. K' , 



-24 — 

This despatch was promptly acknowledged by Capt. 
Biske, in person, who stated, that on receipt, Von Gilsa 
had, at once, galloped to Brigade head-quarters and sent 
him with instructions to me to maintain the position to ex- 
tremity, but not sacrifice the men, and engage the advance, 
vigorously, in retreat, and with a cheery, "Glueck zu," the 
old campaigner again retired.* 

Another listening interval of routine skirmish work 
and effective exchanges, and a partial movement, by left 
flank, in front, elicited another report to the Chief of Bri- 
gade. Of a sudden, from the direction of the wood road, 
one bolt descended killing a man to the* right, another fell 
and private Rupley's arm was in shreds at the elbow, and 
a third exploded killing two men of the 45th N. Y., and 
momentarily disabling the commanding officer. With the 
range of the position perfectly assured, and the woods to 
left, front and right, rustling and crackling with the im- 
petuous advance, the line was retired, and, reformed on 
the ridge in rear of the ravine, awaited the attack, the shells 
falling farther and farther to rear, to hasten the supposed 
retreat. 

The enemy reached the crest of the ridge across the hol- 
low with an alacrity only explained by the wild enthusiasm 
that nerved them and fused their manhood. The close 
array, broken to shreds of alignment by the now bleeding 
thickets, compacted again and again, at opportunity, by 
the ceaseless "Close up" of the officers, swept forward like 
a cyclone, reeling amidst a forest of titans. Obstacles that 
had harassed our advance, and hampered our retreat, 
yielded to the fierce momentum of an army, in three-fold 



*Col. Von Gilsa informed me next morning that he had personally presented 
this despatch, as also Capt. Biske's confirmatory reports, to Gen. Howard and 
had been repulsed with taunts and the dictum that no force could penetrate the 
outlying thickets. A request addressed by him in 1864, to "the Committee on 
the Conduct of the War," that he and I be permitted to testify, touching these 
events, was negatived. An exemplar of sterling intrepidity, every after allusion 
to this disaster stirred his spirit to stormy emotion. 



— 25 — 

volume of masses, all saturated with the spirit of their al- 
most superhuman leader. They seemed equal to any ad- 
venture, above ever}^ daunting contingency of failure, as, 
spurred by the reckless hazard of their isolation and the 
possibility of augmenting resistance in front, to overwhelm- 
ing haste, they did not even reply to the resolute skirmish 
fire which was vigorously maintained, at stand after stand, 
from tree to tree, down the vexing and difficult retreat. 
Men moulded to the contour of fervid principles, deprecate 
the "pomp and circumstance" which deform the symmetry 
of the moulding. Looking back a score of years into that 
dense and deadly thicket, with all of its stern realities 
dwarfed b}' distance, and sombered by the splendid pageant- 
ries of interlying deeds, the confident enthusiasm and reso- 
lute ardor of that massive attack, clad in ashen grey and 
simple trappings, have never been surpassed. The wrath 
of God pervaded it, that our defeat might exalt to reverence 
and confirm the irresolute freedom of the slave !* 

We could almost feel the hot breath of the panting foe, 
when Von Gilsa's : "Brig-a-de r-r-ready !" admonished that 
we were upon our alert, but still invisible lines. "Down, 
Men!" brought every man to earth, and a hurtling volley 
swept over us. The fire of the Brigade was premature, 
for, at the word of command, the enemy had halted, within 
the blind, most probably to ffi:ect a hurried closure of the 
ranks. 

An opportune interval this for the rally of the skir- 
mishers I Slow to heed the word of command, an eager 
group, clustering around Corp. Ackerman, stood apart, 
peering into a broadened opening, witliin a bridle path to the 
right, and with llie vicious ring of their Belgian Rifles, the 
riderless horse of a General Oflicer, who was seen to fall, and 
receive the assiduous and alarmed attentions of stafl and 



*A spirited battery on the Orange Road, had commenced shelling our 
south front. 



26 — 



escort, plunged wildly between the lines. That officer, 
there can be little doubt, was Stonewall Jackson.* 

Returned to the Battalion, a passing dismay took note 
that no intrenched lines, no new disposition of the field, no 
artillery or infantry supports had been added to the defenses. 
But, time to prepare a bill of exceptions there was none, 
with the first mad rush of the howling torrent upon us. 
To the left of the Brigade, and down the open road, the 
compact masses poured, striking McLean's Brigade in flank, 
overlapping all efforts at deployment, and doubling its 
battalions back, in helpless confusion, and, with it, the left 
of our Brigade was borne resistlessly along.** In unresis- 
tent formation. Col. Noble's 17th Connecticut rolled up 
upon the 75th and 25th Ohio, and these combined on the 
55th and 107th, through Barlow's interval, upon and over 
Schurz's lines, carrying all in helpless rout upon Steinwehr's 
position. 

As well might they have hoped to reverse the immuta- 
ble mechanics of resistance as, under self-consuming con- 

N 



















^ 


P3 












I 
I 

; I Dovens 

I mil mil 



s , 



Schurz 



Hazel ': 5 

■ "ill /|; '"'"-■^iiiv:'. 



Fairview 
■ 12"Corps 



m 



Jackson's Attack and. '"'■''''.|'5^-' 
Position of 11th. Corps May 2d. 186? "" 



•■'Many circumstances and the testimony of prisoners combine to locate a 
wounding of Jackson here. Additional evidence bearing on this point, is 
invited. 

■**Unless protected by exemplary fieldworks, it is doubtful whether, even 
if all of the Corps present had fronted Jackson's attack, we could have re- 
sisted long enough to have enabled Sickles to strike his right flank. Would 
not our effective force, of less than ii,ooo men have been taken in reverse by 
the Confederate 26,000? 



— 27 — 

ditions, to stay that tidal wave of battle, with neither head- 
room nor interval of time to change front forward and 
deplo}-. 

What more or better could the}' do? The quotable 
horse-power of mere bravado is, after all, a minus quantity, 
and experimental folly, defying the inevitable, should carry 
its valor in its heels. Even the Tro}- pound of rash resist- 
ance, when disabled by position, is outweighed by the 
pennyweight of bayonet or saber thrust. And here, out- 
positioned, out-generaled, overmatched, overpowered,, over- 
whelmed — there was nothing rational left but retreat as 
precipitate as the attack. 

Before our front, the storm halted, hesitated, rallied, 
broke with shattering fury. Foiled by the piercing abatis, 
the enemy poured a maddened storm of lead over the now 
crouching ranks, and retired, with baffled rage, anew and 
anew to repeat the onset.* 

Severely wounded, our Lieut. -Colonel retired, and 
with the parting command: "Major, fight that battalion, 
and I'll take care of this !" Col. Glanz hastened to extri- 
cate the enveloped right, and was borne down, again re- 
covered, and disappeared, a prisoner, in the hand-to-hand 
affray. 

Assuming command, the two right companies were no 
sooner refused by me than the remnant of the 45th New 
York, on our left, gave wa}- in precipitate retreat, leaving 
only the unmanned abatis to protect that flank. And now, 
with both flanks retired, in oblique echelons, the 153rd 
Pennsylvania stood alone to face an infuriated army and 



*The extremes of the ludicrous and the horrible often take the touch of 
elbows on the field of battle. During the heaviest musketry fire, two small 
drummer boys were observed, who had sidled up- to the front, with every 
feature agape with curiosity. No sooner commanded to the shelter of the 
trees, than a succession of unearthly shrieks pointed to the more remote of 
the two, writhing with a frightful wound in the groin. The other, — with 
shell on shoulder, — turned, when his drum head, struck by a bullet, exploded 
with a resounding report. That boy stood not on the order of his going, but 
with curiosity routed by an explosive drum, executed a "triple quick'' in retreat. 



— 28 — 

maintain the dubious fight, reckless of its perilous isolation, 
until a ringing voice, "Where shall I take post, Major?" 
"On the right, Colonel !" gave assurance that Lieut. - 
Colonel Ashby had brought the remnant — a bare two hun- 
dred — of the 54th New York, to reinforce the uncovered 
right. The tide of battle swelled to the full, the fierce 
storm of lead became a hurricane, exhausting itself in mid- 
air, so wild had become the riotous discharges.* Less than 
one thousand now held the Union front, daring to hope 
wdth calmest fortitude for re-inforcement, and little know- 
ing that all of the expected supports had been detached or 
swept aside, and that only the superb Bushbeck, nearly a 
mile to the left rear, was struggling with matchless energy 
to change front and disarm disaster in th& very face of the 
already victorious torrent. When on the open plain or 
amidst pastoral surroundings, a combat against approx- 
imately known or determinable forces, may, in the fierce 
development of battle, muster all the horrors of the bot- 
tomless abyss, but amidst the entanglements of nature's 
wildest recesses, add to these all of the carking suspense, 
inspired by unseen and unknown perils, all of the terrible 
portents of the fire-bell at dead of night, all of the name- 
less dread with which the mariner treads the ocean amidst 
fog or storm, when all support has crumbled and the strong 
heart knows that the last drop of embattled blood cannot 
avert disaster, and only the promise of death without 



*At such times, the man who is a very "bundle of habits," finds his quiver 
full of resources, while the poor sloven or simpleton of a single reserve force 
fails. A front rank man of Co. E, appealed to me that his rear rank was 
"shooting promiscuous like." This one "wanted one stave of being round," 
and, after exchange, at once resumed his duel with a singled Confederate in 
the thicket. Under shelter of a tree, with stagey gesture and a mumbled "ye 
ca-ant fool me, — ye ca-ant fool me," he repeatedly loaded, feinted and drew 
back, — advanced and retired, and with a wild "wh-o-o-o!" fired. His vis-a-vis 
at length, called up a comrade to draw the Yank's fire, and planted a ball in 
his exposed knee. Limping to the rear, Co. E, fairly bellowed : "d — n ye, ye 
fo-oled me that time, — ye fo-oled me that time," his mortification at being 
fooled overcoming all other suggestions. 



— 29 — 

victory remains — not Dante's pen, not Dore's pencil were 

tinct with agony like this.* 

******* 

Profanity, by a majority of the German officers, was 
esteemed a sort of explosive exponent of the word of com- 
mand — a dash of Worcestershire to appetize the every-day 
flavor of Casey. 

Von Gilsa, too, severely tenacious of the Articles of 
War, found the profanity clause the one convenient article 
of the orthodox Militar}^ Faith which he could not keep, to 
emphasize his appreciation of the code. Certain it is, that 
under strong excitement, and when in difficult straits he 
was wont to be overcome by a lingual diarrhoea of sonorous 
expletives in the Bismarckian vernacular. 

Just returned to the open plateau, in our rear, from an 
unsuccessful demand for reinforcements at head-quarters, 
and stung to the quick by the haughty rebuff' of the Corps 
Commander, he found the remnant of his brigade still 
maintaining the unequal conflict and in imminent danger 
of being surrounded. 

At once Capt. Blau, of the staff", was sent through the 
leaden hail to recall it, but he was shot down, intercepted 
in the desperate endeavor. Next Capt. Biske was des- 
patched to essay the recall, but he, too, short of the per- 
formance, was unhorsed, cruelly wounded. And then, 
with pistols drawn, the intrepid German, at full gallop, 
broke in upon us, with thundering tones: "Gott v-d-m 
mich ! W^oll't ihr denn all in die Hoelle nein? Zurueck !" 
and then, with rebuked tactical propriety, "Herr Major, 
commandiren sie, — In re-treet, Marsch !" The almost 



'The routine of War would be cloying, unless "peppered well with fun," 
and the disposition to starch the shroud of events was quite generally mani- 
fested. Another duellist of Co. G, had engaged his antagonist so closely, that 
the latter failed to "return ramrod." "Ki-yi — look here boys!" and Co. G, 
half squatted, with legs, arms and face akimbo, the ramrod planted erect be- 
tween his shoulders, with a goodly portion of his scalp waving, as a guidon, 
from its middle. "Men are only boys grown tall," even, under the stars. 



— so- 
ludicrous vehemence of the outre word of command, the 
gesticuhiting persuasiveness of the revolvers, and the re- 
doubled efforts of Rhodes and Coltson to untangle their 
men, on our side of the abatis, enforced obedience. And 
none too soon, for now the splendid energ}^ of the enemy's 
guns, last planted in battery, on a commanding eminence 
to the right rear, opened a raking fire of canister. All had 
been lost but honor, and, with an angry volley, the undis- 
mayed remnant faced in retreat ! 

Back through the shattered woods, up along the torn 
hill slope, and out into the smitten fields swept by the belch- 
ing guns. Great Heavens ! — this the looked-for support, 
this the culmination of our prayers and vigils for the Cause 
of Acres? Back to the fountains of life flew the hot blood, 
chilled and curdled by anguish ! Not a corporal's guard in 
sight to tell the manner of the flight ; only a lone, heavily- 
flying bird to reveal that God's heavens were still above us ! 
Bare as if swept by a cyclone, only the line of deserted 
rifle-pits suspended below the horizon, — upon it a few mad 
caissons tumbling into the clamorous beyond, and all 
again was torturing desolation ! On the right, the fierce, 
shrieking yells of the confused attack — in the long wooded 
hollows below the deserted road, awa}^ to its front, the 
wild tumult of Bushbeck's splendid battle, along the 
slopes of Hazel Hill, crackling and crashing like a forest 
fire in the storm-swept Alleghenies, and reverberating 
"the awful agonies that track the trade of war." How 
the crash of the snarling guns, to the left, seemed to fret at 
the pitiful handful, to be gathered to their insatiable har- 
vest ! How the mad yells that burst from the fringes of 
the woods behind us re-echoed the mockery of our stricken 
legions ! Not the day of days can summon sterner judg- 
ments or array more terrible realities ! 

You who have dared the hazard of "the imminently 
deadly breach," know that all of the amenities of man- 
hood — never so touchingly or heroically displayed as on 
the field of war — here atoned the fellest inhumanity of man 



_3T — 

to man. All of the anguish centered, all of the fervor of 
a life-time concentrated in the effort to carr}' our colors to 
the beckoning shelter of the rifle-pits. All of the hopes of 
years revived and burst to fragrance, wlien, h\ a supreme 
effort, Brigade Commander, officers and men unfurled the 
Flag of the 153rd Penns3'lvania over Schurz's deserted 
embankments. Vain the etTort to stay the expanding onset ! 
Maddened and unotRcered, Coltson's and Rhodes' men, in 
wildest confusion of commands, soon thronged the front 
and, with enveloped ffanks, the sheer weight of numbers 
forced back our exhausted fellows upon the outer slopes of 
Fairview. 

With the gathering gloom of nightfall and the shroud- 
ings of the smoke of battle, the whole line became con- 
vulsed with the throes of the conflict, spreading far to 
the east, where to prevent reintbrcement of the over- 
whelmed flank, McLaws and Anderson carried the bolts 
of iron death to the very teeth of Couch's and Slocum's 
men — a very Hell of War ! Desperately, Steinwehr, with 
Bushbeck's enveloped heroes, sullenly retired, nearly a 
third of the command laid low, and, with artillery on the 
flanks, still prolonged the rabid contest across the ravine 
and upon the reinforcing slopes of Hazel Hill. Cantador, 
with Bushbeck's own 27th Pennsylvania, Moore's 73rd and 
Coster's and Jones' New Yorkers, with Hecker, De Iver- 
nois and Hartung of Schurz's command, steadily and 
desperately contested the ever broadening conquest. 

But soon, with delirium akin to madness, the frenzy of 
triumph o\'erleaped itself. It was the bitterest sarcasm of 
destin}', that the well-springs of success could not assuage 
the consuming thirst of the over-wrought passion of pursuit. 
Enough had been .lost to avenge the still cowering slave, 
and the unconscious agency of his triumph must be 
scourged back, lest he undo the deliverance. 

For a rescuing moment the onset stood dismaNed 
before the fierce recoil of our overpowering defeat. The 
resilient energies of a smitten army stood at bay against a 



— 32 — 

victorious host, entoiled within the folds of the avalanche 
which its froward temerity had let loose from its moorings 
upon the broken legions. 

All illusions at headquarters, all doubt, all trifling 
vanished with the declining day. The mortal peril begat 
fortitude to disarm it, if, indeed, the demoniac tumult was 
not only the delirious frenzy of exhaustion. Irresolution 
forsook the wassail of its debauchery. Dismay pleadingly 
touched the buckler of Faith, and drew back transformed 
by the daring contact. 

The unfaltering Berr}- — the only reserve — detached 
from Couch's sore-pressed breastworks, where Hancock's 
outposts, desperately engaged, must now redouble the 
energies of defense — faced about with intrepid resolution, 
and forming his battalions across the plank road, in a low 
depression along the outer slopes of Fairview, and sup- 
ported by gathering bodies of the broken corps, at once 
commenced to intrench the position. Williams was re- 
called, and Sickles summoned to the rescue. 

Warren, of the General Staff, was now, as ever, the 
most dauntless personification of high, reflective courage. 
Assembling all available batteries of the nth Corps, lashed 
to madness, the frantic horses plowed through every wind- 
row of obstruction, until massed on a far-searching em- 
inence north of the road, and in rear of Berry, Wiedrich 
and Dilger and Heckman, aligned a long, impatient en- 
ginery of retribution. Of a sudden a very cloud-burst of 
flame momentarily arrested the darkling day. The Con- 
federate advance reeled as if tottering to its death, and the 
confused victims of mob victory below, broke into a long, 
piercing wail of baffled desperation or tortured agony. 
Sered to blindness by the focal ray of resplendent success, 
over and again they attempted to seize and hold the road, 
but were hurled back, sickening masses of dismembered 
humanity, so changed as to excite neither reverence or 
pity, nor challenge the unbidden alms of burial. 

Pleasanton, too, leisurely returning from the wing- 



— 33 — 

bound foray to the Furnace, caught the discordant echoes 
of the conflict, and, urged to a rescuing gallop, reached the 
level of Hazel Grove, thronged by mingled guns, am- 
bulances, limbers, caissons and terror-mad fugitives now, 
and the tide of victory already on the slopes, borne upward 
by the impetuous propulsion of the charge. The crest 
was within grasp, and only a bare four hundred of the 
8th Pennsylvania at command to arrest its capture. 
"Forward — trot — charge!" and, with shimmering sabers, 
Keenan's troopers were hurled into the maddened vortex 
of horrors. 

Amazing sacrifice ! If the mad charge but stay the 
frenzied onset a pitying moment for deployment of the 
guns ; if the gaunt wolves but stay pursuit to devour the 
singled victims ; if the baffled and reeling host but tany, to 
wreak a slow and hesitating vengeance on the heroic hand- 
full engulfed to save a nation ! 

Winged by the speed of furies, twenty guns plunged 
into battery along the menaced crest — not in vain had the 
squadrons charged and died — and dashed into endless night 
the returning wave of battle, as it broke over the bloody 
parapets. Again and again it rebounded to the charge, 
until blown from the very muzzles of the guns, it was flung 
back, quivering, a reeking mass of groans and impreca- 
tions, commingled human offal now, appaling even to 
men, whom familiar contact with death had blunted to 
charnel horrors. Forty Napoleons and Parrotts more, 
gathered and planted by Capt. Best, between and in rear 
of the magnificently vengeful Eleventh Corps Batteries on 
the right, and Pleasanton's incessant service of double 
canisters from Hazel Hill, swelled the chorus of defiance, 
and hurled the manacles of death farther and yet farther 
into the thronged and shrieking thickets. So fierce the 
scorching vengeance, so terrible the storm of retribution, 
that when Col. Crutchfield massed the Southron guns, to 
recoup the field, they were swept into silence, almost an- 
nihilated by the withering blast. 



— 34 — 

And soon the woods, afire, added an appaling horror, 
and overcast with pallid terror the ghastly arra}^ of perils 
of this most hideous night in the annals of war. Deep in 
the woods the fiery trails of shells left flickering mementos. 
Fanned to a glow, and now aflame, the terrorized wounded 
writhed in tortured agonies of despair, and both friend and 
foe paused aghast at the maddening spectacle. 

Only one paltering moment, rashly consecrate to feel- 
ing and sentiment ! A mockery these, to enslave their 
half-hearted votaries to passionless apathy ! 

Accidental masses of the enemy, welded by as for- 
tuitous impulses and swayed by wavering purposes, with 
maddest yells, defying word of command and co-ordination 
of energies, now vaulting the parapets below the grove, 
and now leaping Berry's lines, had, ever and again, been 
blown to atoms, or shivered into inert fragments of panting 
soldiery. The musketry fire the while, with arch and sus- 
tained vigor, in the intervals of the charge, swept the cres- 
cent of resistance with scourging hail. By a more con- 
centrated impulse, all at last obeyed the cumulative, 
decisive effort to break our lines, now compact and co- 
operative, an impregnable defense to the wildest assault. 

Reinforced by French on the right, Berry had strength- 
ened his position in double lines, with log breastworks, 
which no assault could overleap. Williams had closed the 
stubborn front of Fairview to possible capture. Pleasan- 
ton's sorely-tried Batteries, thus long supported only by the 
6th New York and the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, had 
been reinforced by the iioth Pennsylvania, the advance of 
Whipple's division, and remnants of Bushbeck's heroes, 
and Birne}^ Whipple and Barlow were at call to form 
column of brigades in rear of the guns, to repel the 
crucial charge. The First Corps, too, which at sunset had 
gone into bivouac on the south side of U. S. Ford, was 
hurriedly summoned to advance, and before 10 p. m. had 
arrived on the Elley's Ford Road, in support of the right 
flank of the army. 



— 35 — 

When the final charge came, all of the batteries and 
their supports had been attuned to conscious and heroic 
unison. The full moon cast a ghastly pallor or denser 
shadow on all afield. The outer ordeal of shell, shrapnel 
and case had been ventured and endured, and the huge 
mass, more dense in the glamour of the half-light, had 
come within touch of the canister — the dreadful Simoon of 
Battle. 

On the crest, to rear of our crouching lines, in shad- 
owy silhouette, as the smoke wreaths parted from the flash 
of the guns and the fierce rush of the missiles, the battery- 
men broke to left and right, and rallied and dispersed at 
shortening intervals in silent, ardored, desperate manipu- 
lation of the champing guns, until the white heat of com- 
bat glowed with "the rapture of the fight." The collec- 
tive energy of the defense became invincible — the machin- 
ery of wrath adjusted to the indomitable will. And, from 
the blazing arc of shattering bolts, the pendulum of death 
released a concerted battery stroke with every heart throb ; 
the simoon of destruction struck havoc with every respon- 
sive pulse-beat, and the flame-specked night, within the 
thickets, spread new confusion into the pitiless, remorseless 
carnage. Even the splendid heroism — the vaunted invin- 
cibility of the Stonewall Corps, summoned by dying lips 
to superhuman effort, lashed to the verge of despair, broke 
before that wild tornado of fury. We could almost feel 
the throbbing anguish of their souls, that, with this de- 
throned victory, foreign recognition was lost forever. 
Broken by the wilderness into infuriated confusion of com- 
mands, carried by the most riotous carnival of victory to 
the very teeth of the mouthing batteries — as often stranded 
on the rocks of a scourging failure ; anew, goaded by the 
fall of their marvelous leader to maddened vengeance, as 
often crushed by the plunging iron hail, driven back to 
bewail the blight of his death-laurels ; all discipline dis- 
traught by the siren of success ; entangled in the pitfalls ot 
the night, entoiled in the terrible cross-fire of the batteries, 



-36- 

unmanned by the horrible carnage, all hope dispelled, 
madness gave way to collapse, and shuddering, bleeding, 
heart-broken they resought the thickets. The Tigress of 
Victory had devoured her whelps, and gorged by the un- 
natural and abhorrent prey, rebounded to cover in sensu- 
ous exhaustion ! 

Every energy, within our lines was now bent to complete 
the intrenchments and make impregnable the cordon of de- 
fense ; and only the wails of the dying across the ensan- 
guined field, arched by the sparkling trail of shells, pro- 
longed this most haunting episode of war. 

******* 

The defense of the Eleventh Corps, provoked by the 
malignant charges * that have aspersed it, may be briefly 
reviewed, as follows : 

In position, faulty below the thinnest veneering of 
military sanction, condemned in advance by Kooker, 
Sickles, and every chief of Division and Brigade present, 
and by every military critic who has traversed it since, the 
Corps was exposed to inevitable disaster. 

Not only were the eight hours of repeated and consistent 
warnings not employed in the construction of breastworks, 
redoubts or epaulments, in change of front, eflfective dis- 
position of the artillery and other prerequisites of flank 
defense ; not only was the Commanding General's order of 
9 .-30 A. M. virtually ignored ; not only was Graham's prof- 
fered reinforcement spurned ; not onl}^ was Barlow's with- 
drawal in support of Sickles' emasculated counter-move- 
ment acquiesced in, and accompanied, at a critical time, by 
the Corps Commander in person ; not only was Sickles' 
movement, which eliminated all but one division of the 
reserve of the entire army, needlessly and idly detained at 



■■•'Commencing with a Council of War, convened before the retreat at 
which Gen. Howard voted to remain and fight, "because," he alleged, "his 
Corps had behaved badly, and he wished to give it an opportunity to redeem 
its reputation," 



— 37 — 

the Furnace ; not only was the Eleventh Corps thus fatally 
isolated, at a wide interval, with its forces impoverished, 
under flank exposure to impending attack, and without 
natural or adequate artificial impediments to assault ; not 
only were independent efforts to reconnoiter rebuked as 
usurpations of authority, but ever^'ofiicer — Devens, Schurz, 
Schimmelpfennig, Von Gilsa, Col. Noble, Capt. Farmer 
and others — who bore to the Corps Commander despatches 
or personal reports, detailing the progress of the turning 
column, locating the massing attack and defining batteries 
in position on the Orange Road — has testified that they 
were met by a cavalierly contempt and denial. 

Gen. Doubleday, the distinguished historian of the 
campaign, after exhaustive trial, sums up as follows : 

"It is always convenient to have a scape-goat in case 
of disaster, and the German element in the Eleventh Corps 
has been fiercely censured, and their name become a 
by-word for giving way on that occasion. It is lull time 
justice should be done, by calling attention to the position 
of that Corps. I assert that when a force is not deployed, 
but is struck suddenly and violently on its flank, resistance 
is impracticable. Not Napoleon's old Guard, not the best 
and bravest troops that ever existed, can hold together in 
such a case, for the first men assailed are * * * driven 
into a huddle, and a huddle cannot fight, for it has no 
front and no organization. ****** Couch 
remarks that no troops could have stood under such cir- 
cumstances, and I fully agree with him.'' 

So strong had, at one time become the popular conviction 
of deserved dishonor to the Eleventh Army Corps, so con- 
venient, on the hypothesis of its recreancy, the escape for 
those responsible for the miscarriage of the campaign, that 
all of the specific causes of iailure, all other consider- 
ations, the previous halt and surrender of the initiative, the 
subsequent recall of the aggressive, the large preponder- 
ance of the combined Union strength, of which, following 
these events, enough was kept out of action, to have rendered 
overwhelming victory assured, and the fact that, but for the 



-38- 

inexplicable abandonment of Hazel Hill, the general posi- 
tion would have been stronger after than before the disas- 
ter, have been lost sight of in order to confirm the rank- 
est injustice. And, therefore, while, with extenuating 
charity. Patriotism may condone the faults of the Com- 
manders, though our eagles went down on that irresolute 
and bloody field. Heaven and Earth attest that the Eleventh 

Army Corps is guiltless of dishonor. 

******* 

At break of day, on the next, a lowering Sunday 
morning, the Corps was in column along the plank road, 
to change position to the extreme left, and occupy the 
works abutting on the river, last held by Meade. 

The silent but searching scrutiny of the reserve bat- 
talions by the wayside seemed, as we marcl ed by, poig- 
nant daggers of pitying reproach, until the cheery voice 
of the Commandant of a New York regiment hailed and 
asked: "What regiment is that, sir?" "The 153rd Pennsyl- 
vania, sir," was the prompt reply, and "Battalion — Present 
arms !" the quick response, — the grateful honors and sold- 
ierly reward of our comrades. Once more the manhood re- 
turned to the wan faces of my sorrowing men, and, while 
deploring that the shadows had again broadened and 
darkened on the fields of the Nation's peace, for us the 
storm-lit yesterday had only this abiding sadness, that 
there, amidst the fierce, scorching glare of the still smok- 
ing woods behind us, our fallen comrades had met a mad- 
dening sepulture by fire. 

Morituri te salutabant, Patria cara! 



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