Chancellorsville

2 May 1863

 

Chancellorsville – for our ancestors it was probably a source of frustration in the historic accounts – in that it would be the 11th Corps and the German Regiments that New York newspapers would affix the blame for the problems that day.  Yet, the historic records associated with the regiment, written in German and thereby overlooked for many, many years, indicate that the 74th did its duty in efforts to hold back the overwhelming number of Confederates that hit the Union’s 11th Corps.

 

 

 

Our Ancestors had established a line along the Orange Turnpike facing south where it meets with the Orange Plank Road ( in the map on the left it is the junction that is right above the “ll” in Chancellor).  Bret, seen in the picture above and to the right, is pointing out where the 74th was at on the 2nd of May.

 

    

 

Bret showing the painting that visitors can see outside of the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor’s Center and Bookstore.  The picture on the right shows the location of Deven’s First Division of the 11th Corps, who just so happened to have with them a reporter for the New York Times – the reporter being the one to raise the issue of the “flying Dutchman.” 

 

 

 

Back in 1863, the Turnpike was much narrower – probably no more than 20-30 feet wide and in the area of the existing State highway see in these to pictures.  The picture on the right is the general location that the 74th was at on the 2nd.  Some sources have the regiment a bit further to the West (See O’Reilly Mapset and Report of General Schimmelfennig) south of Talley’s Farm and that would place the left of the regiment at where the club of shrubs are located in the median strip in the picture on the left below.

 

Throughout the day, Schimmelfennig and his regiments had skirmishers out in front of the Turnpike.  Those men saw a large body of Confederate soldiers moving to the West and in front of the turnpike.  This information was repeatedly relayed to General Howard, who dismissed it as being an overreaction by the soldiers.  Howard informed Schimmelfennig’s Adjutant, Major Schleiter, “to tell General Schimmelfennig to stop reconnoitering and remain in the position assigned to him.[1]  Further efforts to warn the aloof and arrogant Howard fell on deaf ears.  Yet, Schimmelfennig and Schurz made as many preparations as they could.  They spread the regiments out along the Turnpike; put out a skirmishing line; unlimbered artillery of the 13th NY Light Battery along the pike; and placed one of Dilger’s 1st Ohio on just north of the Turnpike at the Wilderness Church. 

 

In front of the men lay a thicket of woods, brush and brambles.  One of the officers of the 74th was sent down the Plank Road and encountered a large number of Confederate soldiers – he came racing back with bullets chasing him and his stead.  His men started to prepare for the evening, the knapsacks down off their shoulders and the campfires started for the evening meal.

 

   

 

At about 5 p.m., Con. General Jackson’s 25,000 men slammed into the right flank of the Union Army and into the out numbered 1st Division of the 11th Corps.  The 1st Division gave way quickly, out manned and outgunned, and the artillery raced down the Turnpike in an uncontrollable effort that sent confusion into the ranks of the 2nd and 3rd Divisions.  Efforts were made to reestablish a line that the 74th and the 61st Ohio could maintain, but the sudden swelling of the line with the 1st and 2nd Divisions made the task nearly impossible. 

 

 

Col. Von Hartung took the men that he could command and retreated a short distance to the east to the clearing adjacent to the Wilderness Church.  About fifty feet in front of the rifle pit – presumably at the very right of the picture above, a close up of the battlefield painting noted earlier, stood General Howard.  Von Hartung’s report notes that:  “I found Major General Howard, who was crying, “Stop; face about; do not retreat any further!” [2]

 

Howard shouted a lot that day, including the following observed by 1st Sgt James Peabody of Company B, 61st Ohio:  “As we emerged from the woods into an open field, I saw a sight I shall never forget as long as I live.  There were regiments, brigades and divisions completely disorganized and scattered; in the midst was General Howard and staff, or part of it; on the extreme right of that scattered line was a small body of men – which I afterward learned was McLean’s Brigade of the First Division – making a desperate attempt to check the advance of the enemy.  I saw General Howard swinging his revolver in his left hand – he had no right hand – and when I had gotten close to him, he was crying out, “Halt! Halt! I’m ruined, I’m ruined; I’ll shoot if you don’t stop.  I’m ruined, I’m ruined,” over and over again.”[3]

 

    

 

Von Hartung, noting that following the “advice” and direction of General Howard would result in ruin for the men who did so, rallied as many troops as he could at the rifle pits along the area noted here with the trees and stump.  Hartung comments in his official report that the 119th and the 68th New York were two regiments that rallied near this point.  Other men joined them, and apparently one of those was Private Ernest Bender of the 153rd PA Vol. Infantry – part of the 1st Division – memorialized wit this flag left by his 3rd Great Grandson and held aloft by Lexie – a 74th descendant. 

 

 

 

Von Hartung continues to point out in his report, that the group that rallied here managed to halt the Confederate advances for a brief period of time – this taking place at about 7 p.m.  What is interesting is that the O’Reilly map noted above, does not show the location of the 74th, but does denote the location of the two regiments Von Hartung references at a rally point further to the East.  The National Park painting places this holding action on the far edges of the field here adjacent to the rebuilt Wilderness Church.  We’ll wait till Bret’s much-needed book comes out to settle where this occurred.

 

The Confederates soon overwhelmed Von Hartung and his men.  Dilger’s Battery had assisted the small group of the 11th that had attempted to stem the Confederate’s advance, but soon it and the infantry retreated.  Eventually, the entire 11th Corps would rally near General Hooker’s headquarters.  Singled out by the regiment’s commander for their duty as color bearers were:

 

§       Sgt. George Ekert, color bearer

§       Sgt. Henry Bender, Company A

§       Sgt. George Nissel, Company D

§       Sgt. Joseph Frey, Company G

§       Sgt. W. Kruger, Company B

 

Sadly the commanders of the 11th Corps were not allowed to publish their reports in the press, nor were any efforts by General Howard made to correct the “flying Dutchman” story that began circulating in the New York newspapers and quickly repeated elsewhere.  This refusal to allow the officers to explain what occurred caused a significant rift within the Army of the Potomac and one that Howard was attempting to address early in the summer.  Our ancestors did their damnedest that day to warn the commanding general of the Confederate flanking maneuver, to prepare for it within what little latitude they were given, and then to deal with the ramifications of the poor generalling of Mr. Howard.  Unfortunately, they and the other members of the 11th Corps would become the scapegoats for the mistakes made by Howard on the field.



[1]               OR, Vol. 25, Part 1, pg. 650-52.

[2]               OR, Vol. 25, Part 1, pg. 664-668, Chancellorsville Campaign, Chapter 37.

 

[3]               Carroon, Robert, ed. From Freeman’s Ford to Bentonville:  The 61st Ohio Volunteer Infantry.