A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 87." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 87
LINCOLN–CHANCELLORSVILLE–THE DEATH OF STONEWALL JACKSON

STILL the war went on, and still the North suffered many losses. Soon after the battle of Fredericksburg General Burnside resigned the command of the army of the Potomac. His place was taken by General Joseph Hooker, known to his men as "Fighting Joe." He was a tall and handsome man, brave, and dashing almost to rashness. "Beware of rashness, beware of rashness," said Lincoln, when he appointed him. "But with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward, and give us victories."

Joseph Hooker, 1814-79

But not even "Fighting Joe" could bring victory to the North at once. He found the army disheartened, dwindling daily by desertion, and altogether in something like confusion. He was, however, a splendid organiser, and in less than two months he had pulled the army together and once more made it a terrible fighting machine. He declared it to be the finest army in the world, and full of pride in his men, and pride in himself, he set out to crush Lee.

 

Near the tiny hamlet of Chancellorsville the two armies met, and the four days' fighting which followed is known as the battle of Chancellorsville.

Battle of Chancellorsville, 1st to 5th May, 1863

Everything seemed to favour the Federals. They had the larger army, they were encamped in a good position, and above all the men were full of admiration for, and trust in, 'Fighting Joe."

 

General Hooker's movements had been quick and sure, his plans well laid. But he had expected the enemy to "flee ingloriously" before him.

 

The enemy, however, did not flee, but showed a stubborn intention of fighting. Then Hooker's courage failed him. He seemed to lose his grip on things, and much to the surprise of his officers he left his high position and took a lower one.

 

"Great heavens," said General Meade, when he heard the order, "if we cannot hold the top of a hill we certainly cannot hold the bottom of it."

 

The first day of the battle passed without any great loss on either side. Night came, the fighting ceased, and the weary men lay down to rest. But for Lee and Jackson there was little sleep. Beneath a small clump of pine trees they sat on packing cases, with maps spread out before them. For Jackson was planning one of his quick and stealthy marches, intent on catching the Federals unawares where they least expected it. And Lee, seeing the indecision of the Federal leader, was nothing loath. He had grown bold even to rashness in proportion as Hooker had grown cautious.

Jackson plans his last great march

"What exactly do you propose to do?" asked Lee, as he studied the map.

 

"Go around here," replied Jackson, as with his finger he traced a line on the map which encircled the whole right wing of the Federal army.

 

"With what force do you propose to make this movement?" asked Lee.

 

"With my whole corps," answered Jackson.

 

General Lee thought for a few minutes in silence. Then he spoke.

 

"Well, go on," he said.

 

He knew that it was a great gamble. The Federal army was twice as large as his own and yet Jackson proposed to cut it in two, and place the whole Federal army between the two halves. If the movement failed it would be a terrible failure. If it succeeded it would be a great success. It was worth the risk. So he said, "Go on."

 

As for Jackson he had no doubts. At Lee's words he rose, smiling, and eager.

 

"My troops will move at once, sir," he said, and with a salute he was gone.

 

Soon in the cool and lovely May morning Jackson's men were marching through what was known as the Wilderness. It was a forest of smallish trees, so thickly set that a man could hardly march through it gun on shoulder. The Federals saw the great column of men move off without misgivings, imagining them to be retreating. Soon they were lost to sight, swallowed up by the Wilderness.

The Wilderness

Here and there through the wood narrow, unmade roads were cut, and along these hour after hour twenty-five thousand men moved ceaselessly and silently. Through the thick foliage there came to them faint echoes of the thundering guns, while close about them the cries of startled birds broke the stillness, and the timid, wild things of the woods scurried in terror before them. As the day went on the heat became stifling, and dust rose in clouds beneath the tramping feet. Still, choking, hot and dusty the men pressed on.

 

The soldiers of the right wing of the Federal army were resting about six o'clock that evening. Their arms were stacked, some were cooking supper, others were smoking or playing cards, when suddenly from the woods there came the whirr of wings, and a rush of frightened squirrels and rabbits, and other woodland creatures.

 

It was the first warning the Federals had of the approach of the enemy. They flew to arms, but it was already too late. With their wild yell the Confederates dashed into the camp. The Federals fought bravely, but they were taken both in front and rear, and were utterly overwhelmed.

 

Now and again a regiment tried to make a stand, only to be swept away by the terrific onslaught of the Confederates, and leaving half their number dead on the field they fled in panic. Still with desperate courage the Federal leaders sought to stem the onrush of the enemy and stay the rout.

 

"You must charge into those woods, and hold the foe until I get some guns into position," said General Pleasonton, turning to Major Peter Keenan.

Peter Keenan, 1834-63

"I will, sir," replied Keenan. Then calmly smiling, at the head of his handful of men he rode to certain death.

 

Ten minutes later he lay dead with more than half his gallant followers beside him. But his sacrifice was not in vain. For his desperate thrust had held the Confederates until the guns were placed, and the army saved from utter rout.

 

The sun went down on a brilliant victory for the Confederates. Yet the night brought disaster for them.

 

Eager to find out what the Federals were doing General Jackson rode out towards their lines in the gathering darkness. It was a dangerous thing to do, for he ran the risk of being picked off by their sharp-shooters. The danger indeed was so great that an officer of his staff tried to make him turn back. "General," he said, "don't you think that this is the wrong place for you?"

 

But Jackson would not listen. "The danger is all over," he said carelessly. "The enemy is routed. Go back and tell Hill to press right on."

 

Soon after giving this order Jackson himself turned, and rode back with his staff at a quick trot. But in the dim light his men mistook the little party for a company of Federals charging, and they fired. Many of his officers were killed, Jackson himself was sorely wounded and fell from his horse into the arms of one of his officers.

Stonewall Jackson is wounded

"General," asked some one, anxiously, "are you much hurt?"

 

"I think I am," replied Jackson. "And all my wounds are from my own men," he added sadly.

 

As tenderly as might be he was carried to the rear, and all that could be done was done. But Stonewall Jackson had fought his last victorious fight. Eight days later the Conqueror of all men laid his hand upon him, and he passed to the land of perfect Peace.

 

During these days he seemed to forget the Great War. His wife and children were with him, and thoughts of them filled his heart. But at the end he was once more in imagination with his men on the field of battle.

 

"Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action," he cried. "Pass the infantry to the front. Tell Major Hawks–"

 

Then he stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. A puzzled, troubled look overspread his handsome, worn face. But in a few minutes it passed away, and calm peace took its place.

 

"Let us cross over the river," he said, softly and clearly, "and rest under the shade of the trees."

 

Then with a contented sight he entered into his rest.

he dies

Stonewall Jackson was a true Christian and a great soldier, and his loss to the Confederate cause was one which could not be replaced. He believed to the end that he was fighting for the right, and, mistaken although he might be, his honour and valour were alike perfect. Both North and South may unite in admiration for him as a soldier, and in love for him as a Christian gentleman.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom