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1863 May 9: First News of the Battle of Chancellorsville

May 9, 2013

Here are the first news reports on the Battle of Chancellorsville—before it was known that the Union had lost the battle—as they appeared in the May 9, 1863, issue of The Prescott Journal.  What became known as the Chancellorsville Campaign began with the crossing of the Rappahannock River by Joseph Hooker’s Union army on the morning of April 27, 1863, and concentrated near Chancellorsville on April 30.  On Saturday May 2, Confederate General Robert E. Lee divided his army, sending Stonewall Jackson’s entire corps on a flanking march that routed the Union’s XI Corps, and led to Jackson’s death by “friendly fire” (although he won’t die until May 10).  The fiercest fighting of the battle—and the second bloodiest day of the Civil War—occurred on Sunday May 3.  That same day, Union General John Sedgwick advanced across the Rappahannock River and defeated a small Confederate force at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.  The Confederates fought a successful delaying action at the Battle of Salem Church and by Monday May 4 had driven back and nearly surrounded Sedgwick’s men at Banks’s Ford. Sedgwick withdrew across the ford early on Tuesday May 5, and Hooker withdrew the remainder of his army the night of May 5–6.  Although some of these reports are dated May 5, it was still too soon to have known what the final outcome would be.

W A R   N E W S !

Glorious News from the Rappahannock !

Victories more Complete than at First Supposed !

Reported Capture of 5,000 Prisoners.

Gen’l Evans and Fitz Hugh Lee Captured.

From Hooker’s Army.

NEW YORK, May 5.

The Post prints the following :  The latest from Gen. Hooker’s army is just received from Washington.  The battle of Sunday [May 3] was renewed on Monday morning.  The enemy appeared to have forces equal in number to our own, and his successive attacks were made with desperate spirit.

The destruction of the railroad bridges over the Massaponax and Mattapony [sic: Mattaponi] creeks South of Fredericsburg [sic] has certainly been accomplished, and the road to Richmond is thus cut off from the enemy.


Robert Knox Sneden’s Map Showing the Battle of Chancellorsville May 2-3 (see footnote 1)

Eight hundred prisoners, including an entire Regiment, the 23d Georgia, were brought to Washington this morning and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the old Capitol prison.

Their appearance was the subject of universal comment and remark.  They were well and comfortably clad, and not one looked as though he had not had enough to eat.

Two officers, Major General Evans, of South Carolina, and a Brigadler whose name was not learned, were prominent among the number.  Evans was in command at Leesburg during Ball’s Bluff battle.  Rumor is current that General Stoneman [George Stoneman] has captured Gordonsville.

NEW YORK, May 4.

The Washington Republican in postscript yesterday says :  Our advices up to noon to day are that the victory of Gen. Hooker’s army is more complete than was at first supposed.

All the most sanguine could hope for has been realized.  We congratulate the army and country upon this most important success.

There are facts connected with this movement, which cannot at present be stated, but when it is completed they will develop themselves, and be appreciated.

The Bulletin has issued an extra containing news from to-days Washington papers.

Gen. Fitz Hugh Lee [Fitzhugh Lee] is a prisoner in Washington.  There is reported captured over 5,000 prisoners.


The Washington Chronicle of today has the following :

A gentleman who left Falmouth early yesterday morning, reports that early Sunday morning simultaneously with the commencement of the battle on our right, our batteries on the left opened on the rebel defenses of Fredericksburg, which were replied to smartly by the rebels, but their fire was gradually silenced.

Our infantry immediately moved forward under the direction of Gen. Sedgwick.  The men had bayonets fixed, and presented a firm front, moved on steadily until they reached within a few hundred yards of the famous stone wall.—Here they met with a most murderous fire of infantry, while grape and canister plowed through their ranks.

Still they pressed onward and the wall was cleared and the ridge gained.

The brave boys with a cheer pushed onward toward the second line of intrenchments [sic], but no order reached them to retire, which was complied with, but not without a great deal of reluctance.

The opinion gained ground that it was inexpedient to drive them much further, as this would prevent our forces on the right from reaching their rear.  So great was the panic of the rebels, that they abandoned cannon, arms, knapsacks and everything else that would in the least impede their flight.

The works were held all day without any desperate efforts on the part of the enemy to drive our forces from them.—They kept up pretty sharp skirmishing, and occasionally made sallies out of their second and third lines of entrenchments,  but were invincibly driven back.

Upwards of 1,300 prisoners were taken in the this engagement, mostly belonging to Mississippi, Georgia, and Virgina regiments.

A large number of officers, from Colonels down, also were taken.  It is rumored that the rebels yesterday made or were preparing to make an attack on our forces within the works, but it is quite clear to every one, independent of the high authority we have for the opinion, that if they had been successful it would amount to nothing.  The main fighting has been transferred to some other point and in the operations which are now progressing as we hope to a successful completion.

The occupation of Fredericksburg is not of the slightest consequence.

If the rebels have attacked us there, it is probably a mere feint, and it will only amount to a useless expenditure of life and ammunition.

1.  A digital image of this map, drawn by Robert Knox Sneden, is on the Library of Congress website (Military Battles and Campaigns Cartographic Items).  The original drawing is in the Robert Knox Sneden Scrapbook (Mss 5:7, page 248) in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society. A Virginia Historical Society exhibit featuring the Sneden Civil War Collection, which contains Sneden’s diaries and over 400 detailed watercolor sketches and hand-drawn maps, was at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison in 2003.
2.  Clement Anselm Evans (1833-1911) was a Georgia politician, preacher, historian and a prolific author. When Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Evans organized a company of militia and he was commissioned as major of the 31st Georgia Infantry in November 1861. He was promoted to colonel in May 1862 and fought in the Seven Days Battles, the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), Antietam, and the first Battle of Fredericksburg. In 1864 he will be promoted to brigadier general. Evans survived five wounds during the War and became an influential Methodist minister after the War. The University of Wisconsin-River Falls library has Evans’ Confederate Military History: A Library of Confederate States History, in Twelve Volumes, written by “distinguished men of the South,” and edited by “Gen. Clement A. Evans of Georgia” (E 484 .E9 1962).

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 9, 2013 5:08 pm

    Thanks for all the great information.
    I live inside the Chancellor battlefield, near Plank Road. When we first moved here 10 years ago, I thought our house was completely surrounded by battlefield (but not in it).
    The main Chancellor Battlefield Visitor center is 2 miles from here, so I went there one day. When I told the tour guide where I lived, he stopped and said, “Lady…you are one of ‘those people’ who live ON the battlefield. Didn’t you know that?”
    Well. No. I didn’t. Apparently, some houses were built before the rest of the land was purchased and set aside by the National Park. I wrote about it briefly in my post ‘Civil War Graveyard Meditation.’

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