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Sep 23, 2000
The Battle of Chancellorsville - The Discovery Channel

 

Four-day Discovery.com  webcast that ran concurrent with Discovery Channel show on the Civil War

DAY I:

 


On the bank of the Rappahannock


Crossing the Rappahannock Into General Lee's Territory
By Finn-Olaf Jones

Chancellorsville, Virginia--Early this morning, in the chilly moonlight, your correspondent walked across the Rappahannock River on a surprisingly stable pontoon bridge hastily constructed by Union troops. After a four-month staring contest with Gen. Robert E. Lee’s pickets across the river from its own winter quarters, the Federal Army is finally on the move!

Everyone has long been expecting, "Fighting Joe" Hooker, the new commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac, to do something bold. For the past two days, secluded by night and morning fog, he has marched most of his troops up the banks of the Rappahannock and forded the river behind Lees’ line. The open land north of the river has given way to dense forest and underbrush on the south side, as if the landscape itself were underscoring the uncertainty of the current situation. None of the men I’ve spoken to are sure what is happening other than that something truly grand is afoot. "At the pace we’re going, we’ll soon be rolling over the Reb’s left flank and heading to Richmond," a cavalryman from New York told me. Indeed, the Confederate capital is just a few days’ march away.

Hooker makes no secret that he wants Lee to stick around for a fight. In a spirited proclamation to the troops Hooker sounds confident: "Our enemy must either ingloriously fly or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him."

The current rush of activity has shaken Hooker’s men out of their winter stupor and they are now hungry for action, any action. "The Rebels have had too long a respite from the wrath of the offended Republic," Lt. Frank Haskell of the 2nd Corps told me. "Now fighting season is finally back, and we’re ready for it." Somewhere out there, in the brooding woodlands, Gen. Lee’s army is presumably preparing to test Hooker’s resolve.



Gen. Hooker, 49, a tall, impervious, cleanshaven gentleman, has been a somewhat controversial choice to replace Gen. Burnside, the Army of the Potomac’s previous commander. It is widely rumored that he actively petitioned for the position while he was still Burnside’s subordinate, criticizing his commander at every possible occasion. He seems to harbor even grander ambitions, his mess table being the setting for rumored ruminations about replacing the current government with a military dictatorship. Nevertheless, President Lincoln has been generous to this would-be Napoleon, elevating him to commander of the army after Burnside’s recent humiliating defeat at Fredricksburg.

Since Burnside’s departure, Hooker has been building up his popularity with his soldiers, improving their rations and constructing bakeries to replace the brick-like hardtack so despised by all (your correspondent has found this staple to be more useful for weighing down tent flaps). The general has even displayed a touching sympathy for the unofficial regiment of professional women who have been shadowing this army more closely than the rebels. The troops now jovially call these harlots "Hooker’s women."

Hooker also knows how to please his president. Three weeks ago, Mr. Lincoln sailed down the Potomac from Washington to confer with his new commanding general and was treated to the grandest military review ever seen on this continent, as 85,000 infantrymen marched past the president with their battle-torn flags whipping in the breeze. To this correspondent, the president appeared very pleased with the proceedings, smiling broadly at the massed troops as they marched by.

Now, this army is done with parading and is preparing to fight. As the last few regiments straggle across the Rappahannock, their comrades are erecting tents, setting up artillery emplacements and digging earthworks in the clearings between the trees. Soon, they intend to confront the only thing that separates them from Richmond, 50 miles south of here: Lee’s army.

 
 DAY 2:

The Illustrated London Times

 

Interview with Confederate artillery officer

 

Two Mysteries: A Federal Halt and the Confederate Plans
By Finn-Olaf Jones

Confederate Camp near Fredericksburg, Virginia--Like a galloping horse suddenly reined in by its master, the Union Army’s extraordinary momentum of the last few days has halted in the middle of the piney woods around Chancellorsville. Earlier this morning, the Federal advance seemed to be on track, with several columns probing ahead on the roads leading through the woods towards Fredericksburg and the Confederates.

 

Interview with General Jackson

 

"There were a few rebs who fired at us from the woods, but our boys gained the high ground and we were fixing to roll right over them when we got the order to retreat all the way back to the Chancellor Inn," one perplexed member of General Slocum’s 12th Corps told me. "Slocum was so furious he yelled, ‘Nobody but a crazy man would give such an order when we have victory in sight!’"

With the retreat to the Chancellorsville crossroads, all eyes are fixed on Hooker’s encampment near the Inn where there appears to be little activity. I have collected the following speculation as to what Hooker is doing within: He is waiting for Lee to retreat; he is napping; he is devising a trap; he has lost his nerve; he is drunk.


Taking advantage of the sudden standstill this afternoon, your correspondent gingerly wandered the small distance up the Turnpike into the Confederate Army’s camp with little difficulty, thanks to a few contacts over there and the Confederate’s eagerness to make their case known to a sympathetic English readership. Unlike the Union side, where massive earthworks are being dug, a large portion of the Confederate camp is bustling to move. Indeed, a few Southern soldiers who started digging trenches around their position were ordered by General Jackson to pack their shovels. Your correspondent asked several officers and men whether they were intending to escape the Union’s intended onslaught, but very little is known as to General Lee’s and Jackson’s plans.


 
Interview with two Federal soldiers after Hooker's retreat

 

Given what they are facing, the Confederate’s resolve and fighting spirit are impressive. Earlier this afternoon your correspondent passed by a young artillery commander named Major Richard Price who was reclining behind a cannon with his leg up -- it seems he had been wounded behind the knee by the fragment of an exploding Federal artillery shell. Although his leg was bleeding profusely and he was obviously in pain, he was still calmly giving orders. One of his lieutenants confided that Major Price had refused his subordinates’ entreaties to leave his post as he wanted to be present should the Union forces return. Bumping into the lieutenant three hours later, I inquired as to Major Price’s health, and was told he had bled to death.

This is certainly looking less like a one-sided affair than it did this morning.

 

DAY 3:

The Illustrated London Times

Interview with Alabama soldier on Jackson's flank march


On the March with General Jackson
By Finn-Olaf Jones

Union Camp, Chancellorsville--Your correspondent awoke this morning in the Confederate camp to the sound of a great army in motion. At 7 am, the head of a seemingly endless column of rebel soldiers marched south on a narrow lane that stretched into the darkness of the woods. The procession was tediously slow, and after lunch, when your correspondent left the Confederate’s camp there was still no end in sight of the men marching past. The meals cooked around the campfires last night were very sparse and although these men are obviously hungry and tired they seem remarkably animated. "Tell ‘Old Jack’ we’re all a-comin,'" a scraggly fellow joked as he marched by in boots so tattered his toes were visible.


Interview with Miss Chancellor


"Old Jack" refers to General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, who, upon personal observation, does not appear to be quite as eccentric as he is often described. For instance, it has been reported that he constantly keeps his arms in the air in the belief that it benefits the circulation. During a brief meeting with your correspondent, the General kept his arms to his side at all times. The only odd thing about the General is that he invokes the Lord’s will more than a Scottish minister -- a disconcerting thing considering that this is a man who has become a conspicuous specialist in Yankee-killing.


Where General Jackson is marching this army is a bit of a mystery. "Don’t know an’ don’t care. I’m going where the General’s going," a hard-bitten Virginian told me. The General himself was directing traffic, mounted on his horse, Little Sorrel, with his cap pulled down almost over his eyes periodically calling to his men to "Press on, press on." Given that the troops are marching in a southwesterly direction, it appears they’re sneaking past the Union encirclement to fight another day.


Jackson's attack on the Federal flank


Your correspondent, on the other hand, marched boldly back to the Union Camp, halted briefly by alert sentries on the turnpike and quickly shunted "out of harm’s way" to practice German with the immigrant New Yorkers manning the Union’s far right flank, about as far away from the Confederate’s lines as one can get without disappearing into the woods altogether. Artillery fire and gunshot from a distance south of here indicate that Jackson’s retreating troops have been spotted, and General Sickles 3rd Corps has marched into hot pursuit of the rebels.

Meanwhile, your correspondent is grateful to once again be well fed after a day with the rebels’ meager provisions. The German-speaking troops under Leopold Von Gilsa’s command have been unfailingly gracious in sharing their tobacco, bacon, and card games. Our late afternoon leisure has only been broken by the startlingly sudden rustle of deer, foxes, rabbits and other wildlife springing out of the woods into our clearing, which only adds to the bucolic charm of our setting.

 

DAY 4:

The Illustrated London Times
 
     

   
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