Chancellorsville, from “The Butcher’s Cleaver”

Stonewall_Jackson_by_Routzahn _1862

"- 3:10 A.M., 2 May –

(The Crossroads)

The two generals sat by the coffee pot waiting for it to boil.  Upended cracker boxes made seats.  Both men were known for their patience, but it had been a long night.

A negro cook waited with them, enameled tin mugs in hand.

The regiments of Richard Anderson's division stirred to wakefulness around them in the impenetrable blackness of the forest.  Out of the shadows floated the voices of the army.

"So Bones, he chased this old she coon up one side and down the other of the run," a voice announced from nearby.  "You could hear him snufflin’ and moanin’ to hisself, smellin’ first one tree'an thann another."

"But, I heerd you say you wanted him to tree the little'uns," responded a second disembodied voice.

"That's right.  I surely did, but old Bones he never accepted that anythin’ but a giant boar coon or such like that was good enough for a fine Red Bone like him.  So he kept on searchin', and searchin'."

"What happened?" asked the second soldier.

"Well, we had this nigger huntin' with us that evenin'.  His name was Jackson, like the gen'ral, you know.  I don't believe they are any kin."

Hooting, howling raillery shook the underbrush.

"I don't know what you fellahs are laughin' at, they could be,"  the first man said.  "He hunted with us some.  He had this black Plott hound, big dog, good for rabbits, coons, squirrel, good nose.  Jackson bought him from old man McClung in New Baltimore.  It was right dark, so I stood still for a while, afeerd of fallin’. I jus’ stood there and listened to Bones attackin' evur tree he could find."

"And?" prodded the other.

"Well, Jim Jackson he spoke my name from about ten feet away.  'Mister Walker,' he said.  'Come over here.'  So, I had him keep talkin' until I could find him.  It was so dark it was hard as hell to find him and that black dog.

"Come to the point, will you Walker," asked a third person  "I have to go find the colonel, but I want to hear the rest."

"You should tell him this story, Cap'n!" said Walker  "He knows this Jackson, and both these dogs.  Anyway, when I got to Jackson he was standin' by a big water poplar, pointin' up with his shotgun.  The Plott hound had one foot on the trunk and was lookin' straight up, straight as a tent pole.  Up in the tree was this she coon we'd been after.  She was splayed out on a branch lookin’ at us as calm as she could be."

"So, what did you do?" asked the second man.

"We stood there, the three of us, enjoyin' the noise that Bones was makin’ on the other side of the run.  He was near in a frenzy by then.  Then I called him.  He didn't want to come at fust.  When he did, I held him up so he would see the coon.  The poor thang!  He was so embarrass’t he jest walked away with his head down, wouldn't look at the other dog, didn't come back for three days."

"Where was this?" asked the captain.

"Over to the west, in Rappahannock," replied Walker, "near to  Sperryville, behind these Yanks here. God damn them!”

By the fire, the cook poured a mug for Lee, then another for Jackson, who looked up at him.  Jim Lewis was Jackson's personal cook.  He had come from home with him. Lewis could not help grinning in delight at Walker's story.  Jackson just shook his head.  "As you can see," he said to Lee, "they are in fine spirits after yesterday.

The army commander smiled.  "We should all be happy for what was done.  What more have you learned since last night?"

Jackson rubbed his chin before answering.  "The cavalry is correct," he said.  "Hooker's right flank is open to the west of us, and we have learned that there is a route which would take us there."  He picked up a stick and began to draw in the damp earth.  He first drew double lines to show the imagined position of the enemy.  It was a half circle with a road running through it from east to west.  The western end of the enemy half circles barely reached the road.  He then drew a larger, meandering circle having its starting point at their present location.  He accompanied the drawing with a description of the various forest tracks which made up the route.  It became clear from his explanation that the larger circle would reach the east-west road just outside the place where Hooker's line of battle ended.

Lee pondered the drawing.  "What do you propose to do?" he finally asked.

"Go around there," Jackson said, waving his stick at the outer circle, pointing ultimately at the western end of the Union army line.

"With what force?" Lee asked.

"With my whole corps," Jackson said.

Lee sat back slightly and considered the other man.

Jim Lewis stood with the coffee pot in his hand, staring at the drawing.  He had done a fair amount of soldiering and could see several worrisome things about this crude map.  The route was ten or twelve miles long.  Jackson's corps had more than 25,000 men to Jim's certain knowledge.  It would fill the whole route when marching.  The route passed fearfully close to the Union lines throughout.  Jim began to wonder where he, personally, would be during this march.

"And what will this leave me?" Lee demanded.

Jackson had anticipated the question.  "With the Divisions of Anderson and Mclaws," he replied.  No trace of humor or irony marked the Second Corps commander's face.

Lee contemplated the man for a moment.  "Well, go on then," he said.

Jim poured General Lee a second cup of coffee.

"I'll have my men on the road by four," Stonewall pledged, climbing stiffly to his feet.

All that day the serpentine column of men struggled to make its way past the face of its enemy.  The Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia tramped doggedly through the eerie forest with its dank hollows and boggy little streams.  To the right of the marching men and rumbling wheels, the Army of the Potomac lay paralyzed by the spell that Rebel daring and desperation had laid upon its commander.  The massed blue strength just a few hundred yards away could easily have swept away Jackson’s Corps which was spread before them like a banquet by this roll of the iron dice of war.  With the death of the Second Corps would inevitably have come the end of Lee’s proud army of farmers, planters and working men.  They were the best the South had to offer, the finest of their people.  If they were destroyed, then the Confederate States would soon be gone as well.  In a special sense, they were their country, for there were not enough men in their country to replace them if they were lost.

Several of Hooker’s generals discovered what was underway and tried to warn him.  He could not hear them.  All he could see  was the image of danger and strength that Lee and Jackson and their tattered ragamuffins had fixed on him.  This was a curious thing.  Joe Hooker was a fine general and deserved his nickname, “Fighting Joe.”  At Sharpsburg his attack on the left had nearly destroyed the same army that now held him in a spell woven of so many threads.  In spite of him, Hooker’s army surged against the limits he had placed on it. Federal probes into the right flank of Jackson’s Corps cost him regiments he could not spare.  These had to be left behind to block the Yankees from certain knowledge of the enormity of the folly into which Jackson had launched the Corps.  All day, the ugly little horse carried his master up and down the long column, while he encouraged, pleaded, and urged them forward.  Men would remember to their deaths his pale eyes and the words, “Press on!”  The infantry, forbidden to cheer because the enemy would hear, waved their hats and patted “Little Sorrel” as he passed.

At last the vanguard of the infantry reached the turnpike west of Hooker’s position.  Stuart’s horsemen waited there, and commanding them Jackson found black bearded Fitzhugh Lee holding the all important road junction through which his twenty-five thousand rifles would pass, deploying to face the enemy’s exposed flank.  Stonewall waited with Fitz while the infantry divisions filed into position north and south of the turnpike.  In these positions their many long lines would be perpendicular to the end of Hooker’s line of battle, somewhere to the front down the road.  An hour and a half passed.  Jackson said nothing.  He waited patiently, sometimes looking at his pocket watch, occasionally peering at the sun setting in the west behind him.  As he waited, he sucked on half a lemon from a bag hung behind the saddle.  To the south and east rumbling cannon showed that the men he had left behind along the route of march were still fighting.  Finally, it was done.  The staff reported that all were ready.  Young Major General Robert Rodes waited beside him.  Rodes’ division was first in the massed column of attack.  Behind him were stacked up the old “Stonewall Division” under Raleigh Colston and A.P. Hill’s “Light Division.”  Rodes and Colston were colleagues from the faculty at the V.M.I.  He believed deeply in them as friends and hard fighters.  Hill’s record spoke for itself.  Jackson looked at Rodes.  He was still holding the lemon.  “Well, General Rodes,” he said.  “You may go forward..”

Robert Rodes stood in his stirrups and pointed with one hand at the wood line to the front.  As far as you could see into the woods to either side of the turnpike, the solid lines of riflemen started forward behind their red flags. Rodes touched his horse with his heels.  He and his division staff went forward at a walk with the infantry, leaving “Old Jack” sitting there.

The regiments now saw him as they passed and, uncaring of what the enemy knew or thought, they began to cheer him as they passed in the golden light of dusk.  It commenced as ordinary “huzzahing,” but soon it changed to the wild, shrill call with which their hungry, savage hearts spoke at times like this.  Jackson took the battered old cadet cap from his head and held it before him on the little horse’s neck.

Three quarters of a mile east on the pike, troops of Major General Oliver Otis Howard’s Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac were lounging comfortably around their campfires.  They had just eaten their evening meal and most were looking forward to a nice nap.  Some faced west in their camps, but most were there to block against whatever it was that made so much noise in the dense woods to the south.  Since the river crossing several days before they had seen no Rebels except for a few cavalry to the west.  Most of these “Yankees” were German immigrants and the talk around their fires was as much of Bavaria and the Rhineland as it was of Cleveland or Chicago.

Unexpectedly, deer began to run out of the forest to the west.  At first it was only a few.  Men ran for rifles, hoping to bag venison for their messes.  Ten deer broke from the trees together, followed by a black bear.  Then they heard it.  It was the sound that had frozen their blood on a dozen battlefields.  Faint at first, but rapidly growing in volume, they heard the insane, high pitched, cackling sound that they called the “Rebel Yell.”  Soldiers ran in all directions to find their units and equipment.  Ranks formed facing west as the sound grew and grew.  A battery of Napoleons waited for the demons behind that sound to emerge from the woods.

The forest moved, seemed to come alive and the first brown ranks swept upon them still driving the game before them.  The Union artillery battery fired one volley and then was silent, carried away and destroyed by the avalanche of screaming warriors coming out of the trees.  Howard’s men ran.  Those who did not, died or were captured if they were lucky.  Those who ran, ran fast and hard.  Some of them ran all the way through the army’s position and out the other side.  Indeed, they ran right through Hooker’s headquarters astride the pike at the Chancellor House and ended four miles from their starting point in Richard Anderson’s Confederate lines where they were taken prisoner.

The Second Corps assault poured through the hole where Howard’s people had been.  The right flank of the Army of the Potomac folded up like an accordion.  The massive phalanx of Rebel infantry drove straight forward aimed at the enemy’s most vulnerable points.  These were the fords and pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River behind the fighting troops.

As night fell, forward motion slowed as regimental officers straightened out formations scrambled by the rapidity of advance and the dense undergrowth.  They aligned the brigades in the dark to continue the attack until the river was reached.  Everyone knew that the Yankees were badly off balance and that this might finally be what they had wanted so much and fought so hard for, the destruction of the main Union army and the end of the war..

Afraid that they might lose the way to the river in the darkness, Jackson rode forward of his lines into “no man’s land” to personally reconnoiter.  He had done this many times before.  His faith in divine providence and Christian resignation had often led him to disobey Lee’s order that he might not so expose himself.   Now, God turned his face from the cause of Southern independence.

North Carolina soldiers mistook Stonewall’s staff for enemy cavalry in the dark wood and fired a volley into them.  Jackson was struck in the arm.  Enemy artillery opened fire, raking the groud onto which the wounded general had fallen.

The same soldiers who had fired the volley then spent half the night trying to get him off the field under fire, but the damage was done.  Jackson’s arm was amputated by his staff surgeon later that night.

The Second Corps assault was over.

When Robert Lee was told the next day, he said, ”General Jackson has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.”"




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13 Responses to Chancellorsville, from “The Butcher’s Cleaver”

  1. Fred says:

    “He was so embarrass’t he jest walked away with his head down, wouldn’t look at the other dog, didn’t come back for three days.””
    I always like that tale. The 11th Corps (Union) got flanked at Gettysburg too? If memory serves wasn’t Shurz the one who ordered digging in on Culps HIll on the Union right as night was falling on the first day?

  2. Stephanie says:

    Many thanks for this excerpt. Minor typo: it’s McLaws, not McClaws.
    I am reminded of sitting through the movie “Gods and Generals.” You wouldn’t think anyone could make Chancellorsville boring, but somehow they managed.
    Lee-Jackson Day is no more, I understand.

  3. turcopolier says:

    I was invited to the premier of the film. It was held in Jackson Memorial Hall at VMI. I agree that it was pretty bad.

  4. turcopolier says:

    When I lived weekends in the Shenandoah Valley I listened carefully to the speech of the country people in the belief that the WBS ancestors spoke much like them. The story about Bones is a hunter’s story told to me by “Walker.” There are several such stories embedded in the STT trilogy. One I liked particularly was a man who explained to me why he had stopped shooting whistle pigs (woodchucks). He said “First you hate the whistle pigs, then you hate the gun, then you hate yourself.”

  5. I started reading The Butcher’s Cleaver. I bought it a year ago on PDF file. I started it and then I thought I noticed a typo of dates.
    How did Claude go to France for 6 months when the original meeting was January 21st, 1863 to enlist his services by getting General Lee to approve.
    The next date is March 4, 1863 and he is returning via sea running the blockade near Wilmington, NC.
    So I put the book away. I took last week off for vacation. First one in a while. Started the book back up.
    Remembered the dates. Went to your blog.
    “Science currently holds that time travel is an impossibility”
    So I asked myself does this book contain two of my favorite subjects. Civil War and Time Travel.
    Don’t answer. Especially if I’m the fool.
    I am absolutely loving the book. Half-way through. The chapter on the scouting mission across the Blackwater was fascinating. Most Civil War books I have read deal with the bigger issues. This book is just different.
    Totally engrossing. The description of a scouting mission which was so perilous as one example.
    I plan to continue reading until I finish all 3 in quick order. Another thing that I enjoy is the internet makes any military book more interesting. I always had a dislike for military hardback books with poor maps in them. With the internet I keep Google Maps and open to view location and terrain.
    I’ll share more later.

  6. turcopolier says:

    Harlan Easley
    Claude was in France working at the Paris Branch of Devereux and Wheatley when the war began. He was there because of his estrangement from his Northern wife. He returned through the blockade and enlisted as a private in the 17th Virginia. By the time of Sharpsburg he was a captain. He was badly wounded there and was sent to France to convalesce while working for the CS procurement and propaganda operations. He returns through the blockade in 1863 on the blockade runner “Let ‘er rip.” Confederate intelligence has called him back to undertake his mission in Washington. He is a useful man, fluent in French and a dual national because of his mother.

  7. Phodges says:

    Beautifuly written. I have entered these into the collection in our public library.

  8. turcopolier says:

    Harlan Easley
    There is a prequel to TBC written post publication. It is concerned with Claude’s year+ service in the 17th Virginia along with some of the other characters. It is titled simply “Sharpsburg.” Would you like me to put it up on SST? Most authors who write fiction set in the WBS have little knowledge of war, intelligence work and national level politics.

  9. Colonel Lang,
    Thank you for the clarification on the timeline. Yes, if it would not be too much trouble I would greatly appreciate the prequel to TBC.
    “Most authors who write fiction set in the WBS have little knowledge of war, intelligence work and national level politics.”
    100% this statement. Plus your ability to address the cultural differences. I laughed out loud yesterday when Hope described her in-laws and family as Genteel Lunatics.

  10. rkka says:

    At every phase of the battle, Lee’s losses, as a percentage of his force, exceeded Hooker’s. The remorseless mathematics by which Grant destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia were already working for Joe Hooker. Hooker just didn’t see it.
    Just keep the Army of the Potomac next to the Army of Northern Virginia, and the Army of Northern Virginia will break first.

  11. turcopolier says:

    Yes, after long contemplation about materiel availability, etc. I came to understand that the CS just did not have enough men of military age.

  12. English Outsider says:

    ” – the CS just did not have enough men of military age.”
    Colonel – The many European observers of the conflict took home with them lessons about logistics and in particular the use of railways, and no doubt some useful lessons about defensive arrangements against the modern weaponry of the time; but presumable that was their ultimate conclusion too – “…the CS just did not have enough men of military age.” A conclusion leading to the meat grinder tactics of WWI until the final war of movement when, the grinding sufficiently accomplished, Haig could switch to the final campaign that broke through.
    In which case it really is the case that “God is on the side of the big battalions”; and with the irruption of the American Forces onto the scene it must have been quite clear which side was favoured in that later conflict.
    But at what cost – “We are not going to lose this war, but its prolongation will spell ruin for the civilised world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it.” was what Lansdowne wrote in his famous letter of 1917, and looking at the sequel his prophecy was right.
    The Landsdowne peace proposals of ’16/’17 were perhaps the last opportunity to avoid that circular firing squad of the West that set the scene for the remainder of the 20th Century. It is still astonishing to me that those European observers of that man-consuming WBS didn’t take away from it the lesson that victory at such a price could well be indistinguishable from defeat.
    Posted by: English Outsider |

  13. turcopolier says:

    Not quite right. My point was that in spite of a predominance of good military leadership on the side of the South and outstanding maneuver warfare, the South could still be beaten by attrition attrition that was achieved by recruiting 200,00 soldiers in Europe and 200,00 Blacks in the US. IMO you give Haig far too much credit. The allies broke through on the western front because of the arrival of tanks in large numbers. So, if anyone was responsible for the defeat of Germany, it was probably Churchill.

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