Friday, May 3, 2013

May 3, 1863

May 3, 1863

Battle of Chancellorsville
Federal troops forming to resist Jackson's Assault, May 2

Day 3: The day after Stonewall Jackson’s dramatic smashing of the Union right flank, Gen. Hooker has re-arranged his lines, putting Howard’s shattered corps out on the left, and putting Reynolds’ fresh I Corps and Meade’s V Corps to bolster the right flank. The Union position now looks a bit like a squashed letter "U", with the salient apex perilously and bulbously extended, and threatened with being pinched off from the rest of the army. This apex is defended by Sickles’ III Corps facing Jackson’s Corps to the west (now under Stuart’s command), Slocum’s XII Corps facing Anderson’s division south and southeast, and Couch’s II Corps facing McLaw’s division to the east. Hazel Grove, a large, flat bluff area clearer of trees than usual, and elevated, becomes the foundation for Hooker’s decision to place his lines there. But this is where the "pinch" is, and it seems to invite the Confederates to push at that very spot. So, this morning, against Sickles’ protests, he orders his troops off the bluff and shortens his lines even more.

As the Confederates roll up to Hazel Grove, they encounter a small rear guard. As Stuart (with Jackson’s corps) surges up onto this plateau, Stuart immediately calls for Col. E. Porter Alexander to bring up his artillery, and places 30 guns on the Hazel Grove plateau, with a fine field of fire along the Federal lines. Along with 20 more guns on the Plank Road, Alexander opens fire on the exposed Yankees.

Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart, CSA

Stuart launches his attack as the Southern guns open fire in perhaps the finest performance of Confederate artillery in the war. Meade and Reynolds both see that, as Stuart attacks,, he has exposed his left flank to a potential counterattack. A shot strikes the pillar of the house where Hooker is staying, splitting the post and knocking Hooker to the ground. He is afflicted with concussion, and cannot aptly command. He turns over command to Couch, but forbids Couch to launch a counterattack, or to allow Reynolds or Meade to launch any. The Confederate attack continues on and destroys the last of the Union salient, and the Union lines contract even more back toward protecting the United States Ford. Casualties are so high, this day ranks as the second bloodiest day in the Civil War.  Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville is complete. Confederate Victory.

Gen. Lee cheered spontaneously by his troops at Chancellorsville

Losses:             Killed        Wounded      Captured/Missing            Total

Union               1,606              9,672                5,919                               17,197

Confederate   1,665              9,081                2, 018                              13,303

Second Battle of Fredericksburg: Gen. John Sedgwick, in command of the huge VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, numbering nearly 27,000 men, finally (at Hooker’s orders) launches an assault up Marye’s Heights again, facing only one brigade of Mississippi riflemen, under Gen. William Barksdale. Even so, it takes several tries before the Federals smash through the tough defenses at the top of that bloody rise. To Barksdale’s right, Jubal Early’s division is broken up by the Federal attack, and begins to fall back. Sedgwick is striving to put in effect Hooker’s plan of punching through, marching west to Chancellorsville, and taking Lee’s army in the rear. As Sedgwick pushes west, McLaw’s division of Confederates comes marching eastward to intercept him. In addition, Wilcox’s brigade attacks his columns from the right. Early begins to rally his division, and follows. 

Wilcox gets in front of Sedgwick and defends a bit of high ground by Salem Church. Joined by McLaw’s three brigades, and another brigade from Anderson, they form a line of 10,000 infantry. At about 3:30 PM, Sedgwick launches an attack against this line, but with only Brooks’ division. After some success at bending back McLaws’ line, the Yankee troops pull back around dark.
Union artillery and cavalry in action in Virginia.  Artist: William Henry Shelton


Vicksburg Campaign: The Union engineers with Grant’s army build a bridge across Bayou Pierre in records time, and Gen. James McPherson, with his XVII Corps, crosses the bridges in pursuit of Gen. Bowen’s retreating Rebels. Bowen orders the evacuation of the entire fortress at Grand Gulf. Grant’s push for Vicksburg now takes to the road.

Grierson’s Raid – After fighting running battles with Southern cavalry over the last two days, Grierson’s troopers finally reach Sandy Creek, where they capture and destroy a Confederate camp, and move on. They pause and rest at Woodward’s plantation, where the troopers get the first sleep they have had in two days. Col. Grierson plays a piano concert for the Woodward family while his men rest. At 3:00 PM, Grierson’s men make contact with Union troops at Baton Rouge, who are shocked to find a column of blue cavalry arrive. They ride into the city, having traveled more than 600 miles in 16 days, captured more than 500 Confederates and killed (or wounded) another 100. They wrecked over 50 miles of railroad and telegraph line and confiscated or destroyed over 3,000 stands of arms and many thousands of dollars worth of military supplies. They have captured more than 1,000 mules and horses. They had all of Gen. Pemberton’s cavalry chasing them at a time when he needed them most, in addition to nearly a third of his infantry and much of his artillery, combing the countryside for the ellusinve Yankees. Grierson’s total casualties were merely 36. All of this in a 15-day ride through the length of Mississippi on very little rest or sleep.

—After two weeks of chasing, attacking, and harassing Col. Abel Streight’s mule-mounted cavalry raid into northern Alabama, Gen. Nathan B. Forrest brings the Yankee riders to bay near Black Creek, Alabama. Nearly 1,400 Union troopers surrender to Forrest, who actually has only 400 men with him.

—General Robet E. Lee sends a telegram to Richmond with news about fallen officers, including Brig. Gen. Elisha Franklin Paxton (See April 27, 1863 blog entry.):
May 3,1863.
The enemy was dislodged from all his positions around Chancellorsville and driven back towards the Rappahannock, over which he is now retreating. We have to thank Almighty God for a great victory. I regret to state that Gen’l Paxton was killed, Gen’l Jackson severely and Gen’l Heath and D. H. Hill slightly wounded.
(Signed) R. E. Lee,
Gen’l Commdg.

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