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"A large body of the enemy is massing in my front."



At dusk on the first day, Lee and Jackson met for the last time on the Orange Plank Road just over a mile southeast of Chancellorsville. Lee had been reconnoitering that afternoon on the right and found the terrain unfavorable for an attack. This meant either the center or left were the only options open. Stonewall investigated the center of the Union line earlier and reported the entrenchments there to be strong. The ease at which he had repulsed the attack led him to believe Hooker was about to make a withdrawl. On the other hand, Lee was convinced that the bluecoat's main effort was to be here.

Then J.E.B. Stuart rode up bringing news that Fitzhugh Lee had been scouting out to the west and found Hooker's right flank "in the air." Lee asked whether there were roads to cover an approach in that direction. Stuart didn't know, but said he would find out. Jackson now had his mind concentrated on the right flank of the Union Army. Lee stated his plan for Stonewall to move and attack with Stuart protecting the march. Jackson said he would be ready to march at 4 a.m. on May 2.

At that early hour the next day, he was waiting for his chaplin, who was familiar with the area and a cartographer to return from mapping the roads west of Cathrine Furnace. In the meantime, he met up with Lee to discuss the plan of attack. Marse Robert asked him what forces he intended to assault with. "My whole corps," Old Blue Light replied. He would lead them due west to the furnace, then due south away from the enemy, and turn onto the Brock Road which connected into the Orange Plank Road and Turnpike. Only McLaw's and Anderson's divisions of 15,000 men total would remain with Lee, while Jackson would march with over 30,000 around the Union right flank.

They set out four hours late at 8 a.m. Brigadier General Rodes led the march with his division, followed by Colston's, then A.P. Hill's bringing up the rear.

At 2 a.m. on the 2nd, Hooker detached Reynold's Corps from Fredericksburg to support the rear envelopment. His addition would bring the Federal forces around Chancellorsville to a grand total of 90,000 men to repulse the anticipated Confederate attack. "Fighing" Joe was in excellent spirits when he arrived at his headquarters at 9 a.m. to find a courier from Brig. Gen. David Birney, commander of a division in Sickles' Corps, saying that he had spotted a Confederate column moving south from Cathrine's Furnace. It included infantry, artillery, wagons, and ambulances. Hooker took this as a sign that Lee was retreating, most likely to Gordonsville, where Stoneman was to strike and sever the rebel's supply line. To be cautious, Hooker warned Howard to protect his western flank. He then sent orders to Sedgwick telling him to attack the Confederates outside Fredericksburg if he thought success was possible.

By this time, Sickles had been given permission to advance with two divisions to investigate the suspected movements near Hazel Grove. He sent word back that he had disrupted the column, capturing men and wagons, but practically all of the Confederate column was passed that area by then. At 4:30 p.m., Hooker ordered Sedgwick to throw his entire force at the Fredericksburg entrenchments. Couriers and commanders alike began showing up at the Chancellor House with warnings of an impending flank attack.

Extending for more than a mile along the turnpike, Howard's men rested west of Dowdall's Tavern. He also had received reports of an imminent attack. "A large body of the enemy is massing in my front. For God's sake make some disposition to receive them!" He ordered 2 regiments and two guns to be placed at right angles to the road. Howard believed the thick forest provided enough cover for those 900 men. Then suddendly, shortly after 5 p.m., rabbits came bounding from the woods.

Stonewall's march had been delayed by the fact is started 4 hours later than expected, but the men made good time along the solid roads. After learning of an encounter witht the Federals near Cathrine's Furnace, he detached two brigades from A.P. Hill's division to assist a regiment of Georgians who were hard-pressed. His other 4 brigades went ahead with the march. "Press forward. Press forward." Jackson was demanding.

At about 2 p.m. as Stonewall approached the Orange Plank Road, the intended objective upon which he expected to turn the column northeast for the attack that would strike the Orange Turnpike just west of Dowdall's Tavern, he was met by Fitzhugh Lee. He asked Jackson to ride with him to reconoiter the enemy's right flank. They rode past the plank road intersection, then turned eastward through the trees and up to a little hill. When he reached the summit, Jackson became excited. Two cannon were visible with long lines of stacked arms in their rear. The soldiers below were enjoying their break by laughing and playing games.

Jackson's blue eyes began to twinkle at the thought of battle. But the attack up the plank road would strike at an angle, rather than end-on; which would not suffice. Correction of this called for a two-mile extension of the march in order to get beyond the farthest western reach of Union entrenchments. This meant another delay of atleast another hour. By now it was 2:30 in the afternoon. "Tell General Rodes to move across the plank road, halt when he gets to the old turnpike, and I will join him there," Stonewall told a courier.

When he came back down the hill, he ran into Colston's lead brigade and ordered them to advance a short way up the plank road and take position at a junction where the road from Germana Ford came in from the northwest. With the rear and right flank protected, he moved onto other business at hand.

He rode northward and soon ran into Rodes. He told the divisional commander to move east on the turnpike for a mile, then form his division along a low, north-south ridge. Four brigades were in line, two on the left and two on the right extending about a mile in each direction from the turnpike, less than 1,000 yards from Howard's Corps. The fifth brigade took position behind the extreme right, Colston's 3 remaining brigades prolonged the 2nd line northward, 200 yards in the rear of the 1st line. Jackson wanted a headlong assault and no pause for anything.

If a first-line brigade ran into trouble, it was to call for help from the brigade in it's immediate rear. It was 4:30 p.m. by the time Colston had formed his division in line-of-battle behind Rodes, while Hill was still marching along the road. Another 1/2 hour went by to get his 2 leading brigades in the rear of Colston's left, while the center two were miles down the road after being stalled by Sickles near Cathrine's Furnace. At 5:15 p.m., Jackson looked up from his watch and asked Rodes if he was ready. "Yes sir," came the reply.

Crashing through the half-mile of brush, the long line of Confederates broke suddenly into the clear and let out a rebel yell before they aimed their rifles directly at the suprised Yankees. All along the 2-mile front the attackers bore down on the startled Federals. The Union regiments fled leaving behind their two guns, which were quickly turned against them. The whole line began to crumble under the weight of the Confederate onslaught. Within 20 minutes Howard's flank division went out of existence and degenerated into a mob. The adjacent division soon followed suit. Not even the sight of their corps commander could rally the fleeing men. By now it was 6:30 p.m. and they were near Dowdall's Tavern. Cannon sounds from the right led Stonewall to believe Lee was applying pressure to assist the confusion among the Federals.

At 7 p.m., enemy guns began firing from Fariview Heights, but the salvos flew wildly into the air just to discourage pusuit. Chancellorsville was just a mile ahead and the attack was hatled due to sundown.


Go Back!

Battle of Chancellorsville: Return to the homepage
Prelude to Battle: April 1863: Return to it
May 1, 1863: Return to it

Read On!

May 2, 1863: Continued: A Star has fallen
May 3-5, 1863: Lee cleans house
Death of a Titan : Lee loses his right arm

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