1863: Battle of Chancellorsville

Stonewall Jackson’s Flanking Movement Observed?

This interesting but unsigned note was written on the back of a tobacco wrapper during the Battle of Chancellorsville. The date appears to read, “Friday, 2 May” but in 1863, Friday fell on May 1 so either the day or the date is recorded erroneously. From the content of the letter, the author appears to have been in Slocum’s 12th Army Corps. And since Col. Samuel Ross is mentioned, the author was mostly likely a member of the Second Brigade which was led by Ross, the Colonel of the 20th Connecticut. Only one other soldier—“Ed Smith”— is mentioned in the brief note and he is believed to have been Sergeant Edwin T. Smith of Co. K, 20th Connecticut, one of four regiments in the Second Division.

The Twelfth Corps arrived and encamped in Chancellorsville around 3 pm. on Thursday, April 30th. They were vigorously attacked on the morning of Friday the 1st when they advanced but fell back to their former camp on the evening of the 1st. It is my supposition that this note either records the observation of Jackson’s flank movement or it records the movement of Archer’s & Thomas’ Brigades into position near Hazel Grove the following day.

Ross.jpg
Col. Samuel Ross, 20th Connecticut

An argument for the former appears on page 266 of the book, “Twentieth Connecticut: A Regimental History,” in which William W. Storrs includes a statement by Lt. Col. William B. Wooster, commanding the 20th Connecticut Volunteers in the place of Col. Ross who had been elevated to Brigade commander. Wooster wrote, “At Chancellorsville, when suspicions became painfully strong that the enemy were passing around our right, I was ordered to send out a trusty scout, who would accurately observe and faithfully report the movement. I designated Lieutenant [George W.] Sherman, who at once assumed the dress and arms of a private and performed a most hazardous and difficult task, reporting on his return the movements of the enemy.”

The circumstances of this statement seem to be consistent with the observations of the scout recorded on this scrap of paper. Sherman (b. 1838) was a native of Massachusetts but was residing in Derby, Connecticut when the war began. He first served three months in Co. D of the 2nd Connecticut Infantry and then enlisted as a private in Co. C in August 1862 but was promoted promptly to orderly sergeant and then commissioned a 2d Lieutenant in February 1863. In the fighting the following day, 2d Lt. Sherman had one of his fingers shot off. Col. Samuel Ross was wounded by the bursting of a shell about 6:30 Sunday morning the 3rd.

In January 1864, Col. Ross pressed charges against Lt. Sherman for “incompetency” and had him cashiered from the service though I have not learned the particulars. After he was discharged from the service Sherman returned to Derby, New Haven county, Connecticut, where he worked as a machinist.

[Note: This item is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]

tobacco
1863 note written on the back of a Gen. Franz Sigel Smoking Tobacco wrapper, manufactured by George W. Gail and Christian Ax of Baltimore, Maryland

TRANSCRIPTION

Friday, 2 May [1863]

Heavy firing all around. It was not as I supposed as regard to our regiment being in the fight directly yesterday but they were between the 2 fires of artillery. Soon about 3 o’clock, the Regt came into their former camp with the 12 A.C. in force. They lay thus. [sketch]

chancellorsville2_20181112_0001 - Version 2

As soon as the regiment came in I thought I would scout out as far as the old picket line where we were the night before thinking perhaps I might see something of Rebs or chickens. Ed Smith was with me. All we had was revolvers. We had got just on to the old reserve which is on the edge of the woods and below is a flat. As we got to the edge of the woods we looked down at the flat and there we saw 2 Brigades of Rebs marching along to the left having crossed the plank road at “A” and we stood at “B”—thus cut us off from our camp entirely. Here we were, thousands of Rebs between us and camp. I took my observations pretty lively and started not for camp—as we knew we would run in to them—but directly to the left so as to pass around the head of their column which we did and gave the information to Col. Ross.

 

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