On this day 150 years ago, the Union and Confederate armies continued their fight at Chancellorsville. Last we saw Lee and Jackson, they were sitting on tree stumps hatching a plan: on the morning of May 2, Jackson would march his entire corps twelve miles under the cover of the Wilderness, past an old iron furnace, and around Union general Joseph Hooker‘s vulnerable right flank. There sat Union troops under the command of Union general Oliver Otis Howard.*
Here’s how the historian Stephen W. Sears describes Howard: “Unimaginative, unenterprising, uninspiring, a stifling Christian soldier. Otis Howard was the wrong general in the wrong place with the wrong troops that day. In the face of uncertainty—and May 2 was a day of many uncertainties—his was to close his mind to everything but judgments and orders from his superior.”
So you can pretty much guess what happens. Despite the fact that Jackson’s troops had been spotted by a Union reconnaissance balloon, they managed to make their attack as planned. At about five thirty in the afternoon, they rushed screaming out of the forest and set Howard’s Eleventh Corps—many of them German-speakers—to flight, leaving them forever to be disparaged as the “Flying Dutchmen.”
Jackson, meanwhile, pressed forward. He “embodies relentlessness,” as our entry puts it, “and with his subordinate A. P Hill grumbling behind him, he scouted the front for a possible night attack. That is when friendly fire struck him down, also wounding Hill.”
A first-hand accounting of this famous moment can be read here. Jackson would die eight days later, thus unleashing a torrent of counterfactuals that clogs up the brain of historians even today.
Oh, and if you want to find the spot on the Chancellorsville battlefield where Jackson was wounded, just look for the big rock (seen in the image above). It was placed there on September 22, 1879, by Jackson’s chaplain, the Reverend B. F. Lacy, of Missouri. That spurred work on a larger memorial that was dedicated in June 1888.
* This, by the way, is the same Howard who founded Howard University in Washington, D.C.
PS: Today is also the anniversary of the Rye Cove Cyclone of 1929.
IMAGE: A rock marking the spot where Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville is dedicated on September 22, 1879