Report of Brig. Gen. John W. Geary, U. S. Army,
commanding Second Division.
APRIL 27-MAY 6, 1863.--The Chancellorsville Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXV/1 [S# 39]
CAMP NEAR AQUIA CREEK, VA., May 10, 1863.
Lieut. Col. H. C. RODGERS,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Twelfth Army Corps.
COLONEL: I have the honor herewith to transmit a report of the operations in which the division under my command has been engaged since the morning of the 27th ultimo.
In obedience to orders (previously received from your headquarters), I broke up the several camps of the brigades of the Second Division at an early hour on the morning of the 27th, and took up the line of march in the direction of Stafford Court-House, at which point I was joined by the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania, of the First Brigade, from Dumfries, thus making my command complete, and consisting of the following regiments: The Twenty-eighth, Twenty-ninth, One hundred and ninth, One hundred and eleventh, One hundred and twenty-fourth, One hundred and twenty-fifth, and One hundred and forty-seventh Pennsylvania; the Sixtieth, Seventy-eighth, One hundred and second, One hundred and thirty-seventh, and One hundred and forty-ninth New York, and the Fifth, Seventh, Twenty-ninth, and Sixty-sixth Ohio, in three brigades, commanded, respectively, by Colonel Candy and Generals Kane and Greene. To these are to be added an artillery brigade, under command of Captain Knap, chief of artillery, consisting of Knap's (Pennsylvania) battery, Lieutenant Atwell commanding, and Hampton's (Pittsburgh) battery, Capt. R. B. Hampton commanding.
The division halted for the night at a farm some 3 miles east of Hartwood Church, and in the morning advanced toward Kelly's Ford, on the Rappahannock River; encamped on the night of the 28th some 2 miles north of the river, and early on the morning of the 29th crossed on a pontoon bridge thrown over the Rappahannock a short distance below the ford. The column was then put in motion in the direction of the bridge over the Rapidan at Germanna Mills, which point was reached about 4 p.m., where I found the bridge destroyed, and the First Division in the act of fording the river some 100 yards below. Perceiving, from the rapidity of the current and the depth of the water, that the passage of so large a body of men would be attended with great risk, and probably a loss of life, I at once halted my command, and commenced the erection, under my own personal superintendence, of a foot-bridge, using in its construction material which had been collected by the enemy to construct a bridge at that place. This was completed in a few hours, and was of sufficient strength to admit the passage of our mule trains of ammunition and forage. Upon it the division crossed in good order, and was upon the heights on the south side of the Rapidan at 9 o'clock that evening, where it bivouacked during that night.
Early on the morning of the 30th, I advanced, in accordance with your orders, in the direction of Chancellorsville. Upon leaving our bivouac, I was informed by Lieutenant-Colonel McVicar, Sixth New York Cavalry, who had commanded the outlying pickets during the night, that numbers of rebel cavalry had been seen by his patrols, and that an attempt might possibly be made to impede my march. As I occupied the advance of the line, to guard against this, skirmishers were thrown out in force on either side the road, and strong patrols of cavalry scoured the country in front.
About 10 o'clock the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania, which had been detached from our right flank, fell in with a body of rebel cavalry, accompanied with two pieces of artillery, and a brisk skirmish ensued, in which the loss on our part was 1 man killed and 1 wounded.
The regiment nobly avenged the loss of their comrade by the death of his murderer, who proved to be a Captain Irwin [?], of the Confederate cavalry, whose horse and equipments fell into our hands.
For a detailed account of this transaction, I beg leave to refer you to the report of Major Chapman, of the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, whose courage and coolness on the occasion were of great service to us.
About this time, learning that it was the intention of the enemy to destroy a small bridge over a creek which our artillery would have to pass, by a rapid dash in advance I succeeded in frustrating their design, and found it, upon examination, to be safe for the passage of our batteries.
Without further molestation we advanced and entered Chancellorsville about 2 p.m., where my command was immediately disposed in line of battle in the following order: Knap's and Hampton's batteries were posted on a rising ground commanding the approach by the Plank and Wilderness roads leading to Fredericksburg, at a point about 250 yards in front and slightly to the left of the large Chancellor house. They were supported by the Seventh Ohio and Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania, who thus composed the extreme left of the line, the remainder of the First Brigade forming on the right of the Plank road; the Second Brigade joined the First on the right, and the Third occupied the right of my line, connecting with General Williams' command, extending still farther to the right. This disposition having been made with much care. I ordered abatis to be constructed by cutting down the small brushwood and trees in our front, and barricaded the Plank road by placing large timbers across it. The command rested behind their abatis during the night, with strong pickets in our front and on the flanks.
On the morning of May 1, in obedience to orders, I marched my command from their lines, and, advancing eastward along the Plank road about 1¼ miles, formed in line of battle by placing the Third Brigade, under General Greene, with his left resting on the road; the Second, under General Kane, on his right, and the First, under Colonel Candy, in rear of the Second, as a reserve. The Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania, supporting Knap's battery, was ordered to take a position on the left of the road, and to advance simultaneously with the main body.
About 1 p.m. the division advanced in this order through a dense thicket and undergrowth for about a mile without opposition, when, having passed into an open plain beyond the timber, a brisk fire from a battery of the enemy posted in a wood opened upon our column, without, however, doing any damage. The attack was replied to with spirit by Knap, and during the fire his horse was killed under him by a solid shot from the enemy.
The conduct of Greene's brigade was admirable at this juncture. Although exposed for quite a length of time to the fire of the enemy in a position where they could neither shelter nor defend themselves, nor return the assault, they bore themselves with the calmness and discipline of veterans, emulating the example so ably given them by their brigade commander. The fire of the enemy slackened after some half an hour's play upon our line, and I then received orders to fall back to my original position near Chancellorsville. This was accomplished in good order by the whole command, notwithstanding that a harassing attack was continued by the enemy upon our left flank almost up to the line of our defenses.
In this movement great praise is due Brigadier-General Kane, of the Second Brigade, for his coolness and courage in covering with a portion of his command the withdrawal of the troops. By his energy, determination, and force of will, he maintained the most perfect discipline in the entire command, and prevented the least confusion in the ranks in a movement always requiring great tact and delicacy united with firmness of will and purpose. Our line having been gained, sharpshooters were sent out in our front to ascertain the exact whereabouts of the enemy and to check his advance.
Just before dusk, at about 7.30 p.m., these men were driven in on a run by a sudden and fierce charge of the enemy, who dashed up in the dim light almost to our very lines before being discovered, their purpose evidently being to capture Knap's battery, stationed at that point. Rallying around them, the Seventh Ohio and Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania poured a terrible fire into them, causing them, after a fierce conflict with small-arms and artillery, to fall back in confusion and with great loss.
I should here mention that Lieutenant Muhlenberg, Fourth U.S. Artillery, had been posted by me at this point with two sections of Bruen's (New York) battery and one section of Best's artillery, and in this emergency rendered very efficient service.
During the night earthworks were thrown up by the division along the whole line, but owing to the scarcity of intrenching tools many of the men were obliged to use their saber-bayonets, tin-plates, pieces of boards, and, in some cases, merely their hands to scrape up the dirt for the breastworks. I deemed this a precaution of the utmost importance, and I am happy to say that my views were seconded and carried out by both officers and men with an alacrity and will rarely equaled under such adverse circumstances.
Picket firing continued along the whole line during the night, and the axes and spades of the enemy gave notice to our pickets that he, too, was employed in the same service as ourselves.
On the morning of the 2d instant, indications of a movement of the enemy was visible on our front and along a road leading in a westerly direction, apparently from the vicinity of Fredericksburg. Columns of their infantry and artillery could be observed, about 1¾ miles distant, moving along a ridge in a southwesterly direction.
Upon one of these columns, about noon, Captain Knap was directed to open fire. He was replied to with much spirit at first, but by a well-directed fire soon silenced their battery, blowing up two caissons of the enemy and dismounting one of his gulls, and the road after this was kept clear of the enemy's columns.
Shortly after this the head of an apparently heavy column of infantry was observed slowly and cautiously defiling round a point of the Plank road about half a mile from our works, and approaching them. Our pickets, flanking the road, immediately opened upon them and threw them into confusion, and at the same time Lieutenant Muhlenberg delivered 2 or 3 rounds of canister into them, causing them considerable loss as they retired, leaving many of their dead and wounded in the road and woods adjoining.
About 5 p.m. I was ordered by the general commanding to move out on the Plank road with a portion of the command, for the purpose of cutting off the train of the enemy, who was supposed to be retreating toward Gordonsville. The movement I considered of sufficient importance to be conducted by myself in person, and, accordingly, I advanced with the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania and the Seventh Ohio on the left of the road, with orders for the Second Brigade to proceed upon the right. At the same time one section of Knap's battery was ordered to advance up the center of the road, and, by occasional discharges of canister, clear the woods for the approach of the infantry. After advancing about 200 yards on the road, the fire of the enemy was drawn, and his infantry caused considerable distress to our artillery. I accordingly ordered it to retire, and advanced with the infantry through the woods under a severe and galling fire.
At a distance of perhaps 500 yards from our own intrenchments, I discovered the enemy drawn up in line of battle in heavy force, with a number of cannon, and strongly posted behind breastworks near the turn of the Plank road.
At this time I was continuing the contest, but received orders to fall back within my lines, and did so in good order, though two of the regiments which were engaged with me did not abandon the contest until their ammunition had been exhausted. They then retired from their position, having suffered severely during their engagement.
Our loss upon this occasion was comparatively heavy, owing to the insufficient force which could be brought into action against the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, strongly intrenched as he was behind his earthworks.
It is with much satisfaction that I am able to report that, during a panic which ensued shortly after this occurrence among some troops of another corps upon our right, our men nobly stood their ground, notwithstanding the fact that numbers of the panic-stricken men alluded to came directly into our lines, almost bearing down all opposition in their flight.
During the night heavy and continuous picket firing was kept up along the front, and numbers of prisoners and deserters were brought in by our skirmishers, by whom the character of the coming contest was disclosed. These were forwarded to headquarters for examination by the commanding general.
Shortly after daylight on the morning of the 3d instant, the action commenced at a distance from our line on the right and rear of the army, and within half an hour it had reached my division and become general along the whole front.
About 8 o'clock the division was in the trenches, exposed to a terribly raking and enfilading fire from the enemy, who had succeeded in turning the right flank of the army, leaving us exposed to the full fury of his artillery. At the same time attacks were made upon us in front and flank by his infantry. Thus hemmed in, and apparently in danger of being cut off, I obeyed an order to retire and form my command at right angles with the former line of battle, the right resting at or near the brick house, the headquarters of General Hooker.
While in the execution of this order, and having withdrawn the command and in the act of forming my new front, General Hooker came up, and in person directed me to resume my original position and hold it at all hazards. I accordingly advanced again into the trenches with the First Brigade, Greene's and Kane's having, in the confusion of the moment and the conflict of orders, become separated from the command and retired to a line of defense in a woods to the north of the Chancellor house. Upon regaining the breastworks, I found that the Sixtieth and One hundred and second New York Volunteers, of Greene's brigade, had been left behind when the command had retired, and were now hotly engaged with the enemy, who were attempting breaches throughout the whole length of my line, and in many places actually occupied it. These two regiments had captured some 30 prisoners and a battle-flag of the enemy, the One hundred and second having captured that of the Twelfth Georgia. Our men here, after a fierce struggle, took a number of prisoners, who had advanced into our works under the impression that we had abandoned them. The fire upon our lines was now of the most terrific character I ever remember to have witnessed. Knap's and Hampton's batteries had been ordered to take part in the engagement in another part of the field. Two brigades of my command were separated from me, and, had I even known their locality, could not hope to have them reach my position. I was thus left with but Candy's brigade and two regiments of Greene's, and Lieutenant Muhlenberg with two sections of Bruen's battery and one of Best's. Against this comparatively small body the whole fury and force of the enemy's fire seemed to be concentrated. Three of his batteries engaged Lieutenant Muhlenberg in direct fire at about I mile range. A heavy battery completely enfiladed our works from the right; that constructed by them in the woods directly in our front, which had been discovered by me in the engagement of the previous day, played upon us at short range with destructive effect, while under cover of their guns the infantry, becoming emboldened by the near approach of what seemed to them our utter and total annihilation, charged upon us repeatedly and were as often repulsed.
At this stage of the action the enemy suffered severely at our hands. Candy's brigade seemed animated by a desire to contest single-handed the possession of the field, and before the deadly aim of our rifles rank after rank of the rebel infantry went down, never to rise again.
This brigade had been in many well-fought actions, and their coolness and courage were conspicuous on this occasion, and told with fearful effect on the rebel lines. When the order was given by me to retire by the left flank, the movement was executed in excellent order, and even at that time the parting volleys of this brigade were given with an earnestness of will and purpose that showed their determination to avenge the death of their comrades if they could not avert the issue of the day; but the odds against us were too fearful to render the contest one of long duration, and, finally, after suffering very severe loss, and finding the enemy almost entirely enveloping my front, right, and rear, the order of General Slocum to retire was obeyed in a soldierly and masterly manner. We took position in the woods in the rear of Chancellorsville, and during the evening were assigned a place to the left of the Eleventh Corps, on the main line of defense, covering the road to the United States Ford.
During the afternoon of Monday my division received orders to change its position to the vicinity of the headquarters of the general commanding the corps, near which the command was busily engaged during the entire night and the following day in erecting breastworks and strengthening those previously constructed. The men here displayed great endurance and alacrity in their work, each man seeming to be animated by a most earnest desire to contribute to the utmost his own individual effort in the prosecution of the work. On Wednesday morning, at daybreak, in obedience to orders, the division crossed the Rappahannock at the United States Ford, and, marching by way of Hartwood Church and Stafford Court-House, reached the former encampment of the division at about 2 p.m. on the 7th instant.
In recapitulation of the movements of the division, it is but justice to a few of the officers of my command that mention should be made of their services. To the prompt and hearty cooperation of Generals Greene and Kane and Colonel Candy, commanding brigades, much of the success attending the operations of the division is justly attributable. To Lieutenant Muhlenberg, commanding the artillery in the actions of the 1st, 2d, and 3d instant, very great praise is due for the courage, coolness, and indomitable bravery with which he contended against the fearful odds before him, until every gunner was killed or wounded at his post, 7 horses were killed, and his ammunition exhausted.
Lieutenant-Colonel Powell, of the Sixty-sixth Ohio, was placed in charge of the pickets upon our arrival at Chancellorsville, and continued in that position during the entire stay of the command at that place. To his untiring vigilance and activity I am under obligations of the highest character.
Capt. J. M. Knap, chief of artillery, rendered most efficient service in his part of the action. In his well-directed fire and accuracy in serving his guns he maintained the high reputation he had already won as an artillery officer, while his coolness under fire rendered him the object of admiration and approval of the entire command.
The conduct of Capt. G. M. Elliott, the ordnance officer of the division, is worthy of all praise. By dint of great exertion he had succeeded in bringing forward a large supply train of ammunition, the arrival of which was most opportune. Many divisions other than our own had expended their entire stock, and could not have continued the action had it not been for the timely supply afforded by the foresight and energy of Captain Elliott, who prosecuted his duties under the hottest fire.
I have to notice also the death of Colonel Stainrook, of the One hundred and ninth Pennsylvania, who fell while gallantly encouraging his men to their duty. A brave and accomplished officer, his loss is one over which I cannot but express the conviction of my most heartfelt regret.
Of Major Chapman, commanding the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania, I cannot but speak in the highest terms of commendation. Whether leading his regiment as Skirmishers or flankers, forwarding them to the charge upon the intrenchments of the enemy on the afternoon of the 2d instant, or during the hottest of the action in our own earthworks on the 3d, exposed to the concentrated fire of the whole force of the enemy, his prominent traits were coolness and courage. The highest characteristics of the commanding officer were shown in all his movements, and his loss is one which cannot well be replaced. He fell, bravely battling the enemy, among, and as one of, his own men.
My warm acknowledgments are also due to each and every member of my staff, viz: Capt. Thomas H. Elliott, assistant adjutant-general; First Lieut. Llewellyn R. Davis, aide-de-camp; Capt. Reuben H. Wilbur and Henry H. Wilson, aides-de-camp, and Capt. William T. Forbes, acting assistant inspector-general; and they eminently deserve this official recognition of their gallantry and efficiency during the whole of the operations.
Captain Wilbur is missing since the action of the 3d instant, in which he was doubtless severely wounded or made prisoner by the enemy.
The service has lost a brave and gallant soldier in the death of Capt. Robert B. Hampton, of Hampton's battery. At the commencement of our operations he was attached to my command, but was temporarily detached on the evening of the 2d instant, and ordered to the right of the First Division. While there, in the execution of his duty, he fell, mortally wounded, on the morning of the 3d, and died within half an hour. When I mention him as one of the bravest and most gallant officers of the service, I feel that I am scarcely doing justice to his worth as a soldier and a gentleman.
I refrain, however, from mentioning the conduct of others upon an occasion when each one seemed to wish to excel his fellow in prompt obedience and soldierly bearing. The conduct of the entire command, with but very rare individual exceptions, was all I could wish. By many of them large numbers of prisoners were taken, and by two--the One hundredth and eleventh Pennsylvania and the One hundred and second New York--battle-flags were captured from the traitor hands that bore them.
For fuller details I beg leave respectfully to refer to the accompanying reports of brigade and regimental commanders, and especially to that of the gallant Major Chapman, commanding Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania, whose death occurred in my own immediate presence near the close of the action.
The losses and casualties in the division are not so numerous nor so serious as might be supposed, when account is taken of the murderous nature of the fire to which a great portion of the command was so long exposed. This is to be attributed in some measure to the admirable self-control and discipline shown by the men under such trying circumstances, and the prudence of the officers in keeping them well covered.
The following is a summary of the entire loss in killed, wounded, and missing:
Officers and men Killed Severely wounded Slightly wounded Missing Total Officers 14 24 20 12 70 Enlisted men 110 305 288 436 1,139 Total 124 329 308 448 1,209
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JNO. W. GEARY,
Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, Commanding.
RETURN TO CHANCELLORSVILLE ORDER OF BATTLE (AOP) PAGE