"The trouble with Jeff is that he lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech."

Goodrich’s War: Chancellorsville

This is Part 8 of an ongoing series built around the letters home of Loren Goodrich, Co. F 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. See also…

Part One (with letter of Sept 5 1862)
Part Two (with letter of Oct 2 1862)
Part Three (with letter of Dec 9 1862)
Part Four (with undated, post-Fredericksburg letter)
Part Five (with letter of Jan 5 1863)
Part Six (with letter of Feb 11 1863)
Part Seven (with letter of Apr 23 1863)

Hooker's plan of battle for the Chancellorsville campaign.

Hooker’s plan of battle for the Chancellorsville campaign.

The Union Army of the Potomac’s battle at Chancellorsville was a messy affair– and a brief one. Union General Joseph Hooker (born rather near me in Hadley, Massachusetts) sought to reverse the continual ill fortunes of his command following two years of loss after loss, retreat after retreat, with yet another advance across the Rappahannock in the late spring of 1863. Bold in conception, Hooker’s plan called for a masking force to remain before Fredericksburg on the rebel front, while the bulk of the army moved to the west, crossing the river at United States Ford, then pressing east, striking at Lee’s rear. This plan avoided the foible of the frontal assault that doomed the campaign at Fredericksburg the year before, and perhaps might have succeeded, had it not been for the combination of an audacious move by Lee to split his forces before a superior foe, and blazing incompetence on the part of the corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac.

Lee’s response to Hooker’s move was to send Stonewall Jackson’s corps off to strike the elements of the Army of the Potomac crossing to the west before they made it out of the thicket of woods in the area referred to as the Wilderness. Jackson’s counteroffensive caught the lead elements of the Federals off-guard and off-line. With local numerical superiority, Jackson drove those lead elements back towards Chancellorsville, stymieing the offensive on May 1.

Panorama of the first day's fight.

Panorama of the first day’s fight.

The 14th Connecticut was attached to the Second Corps, Third Division, under General French– and the entirety of Second Corps was in reserve behind the Eleventh Corps on the grand flanking assault. On May 2, the 14th saw significant action due to a critical oversight on the part of the Eleventh Corps commander, O. O. Howard. Howard’s corps was on the Union right flank, and not anchored on any obstacle in any direction. Howard, in a fit of monumental and costly foolishness did not seek to protect his flank, nor send out skirmishers in order to warn of the approach of the enemy. So it was when Jackson’s men, having completed a long flanking march, slammed into Howard’s camps, the men were undefended, cooking supper, with stacked arms, and otherwise utterly unprepared for battle. Eleventh Corps collapsed, and fell back in a complete rout– leaving the Second Corps to defend the new front. Regimental historian Charles Parker quotes Benjamin Morgan when he describes the scene:

“The stampede of the Eleventh Corps was something curious and wonderful to behold… Never before or since , saw I thousands of men actuated seemingly by the same unreasoning fear that takes possession of a herd of animals. As the crowd of fugitives swept by the Chancellor House, the greatest efforts were made to check them; but those only stopped who were knocked done by the swords of staff officers or the sponge staffs of Kirby’s battery, which was drawn up across the road leading to the ford” (Page 119-120).

Chancellorsville, Day 3. The 14th CV were with French in the salient.

Chancellorsville, Day 3. The 14th CV were with French in the salient.

The Second Corps was rushed to the front, leaving their knapsacks behind, but by the time the 14th CV and their pards reached the battle line, Jackson’s assault was nearly spent for the day. Fighting continued sporadically through the night of the 2nd into the 3rd, with the battlefront changing hands a few times. The morning of May 3rd opened with renewed fighting, and the Army of Northern Virginia striking on three sides of a salient in which the 14th CV was caught. By Wednesday May 6th, the Army of the Potomac slipped out of the vice and back across the ford to the comparative safety of the far side, having been whipped like a rented mule by a force much smaller. The 14th Connecticut, though only lightly engaged in comparison to other units, did take losses, including three more officers they could ill afford to lose. The lads of the 14th Connecticut returned to their old Falmouth campground yet again, and settled in for two more weeks of dejected waiting. It was during that time that Loren Goodrich penned his next letter home– though he did not know it, three days later, he would embark on the campaign that would serve as the high watermark for the Southern Confederacy, and the last campaign for Goodrich.

Camp Near Falmouth
Virginia May 25th 1863

Dear Friends

It is with pleasure that I now occupy a few leisure moments in writing to you. I have delayed in writing before waiting for an answer from the last letter that I wrote to you. I received your letter yesterday. I am well and glad to hear that you are enjoying good health.

You wished to have me write the particulars of the last battle. I will endeavor to give you as good a description of it as I can hoping that if I fail in making it interesting to you that you will take into consideration that I am but a poor composer and poor writer at the best. You may [be] imagining yourself a soldier and lying still in camp having done no marching for 4 months to have orders to strike tends pack knapsacks with 5 days rations in your knapsack and 3 days in your haversack making in all 8 days rations that you had got to carry, beside your blankets, overcoat, and 60 rounds of cartridges. You can then [be] imagining what the army of the Potomac had to carry on that last march across the river that move of General Hooker’s was a mystery to us all.

The morning before we marched there was 75 men detailed out of the regiment to go on picket. I one of the numbers. The paymaster was there ready to pay us 2 months pay but on account of so many going on picket, they concluded to postpone until the next day. About 10 o’clock that night we had orders to fall in and go back to camp for we had got to march early next morning. When we reached camp we found the paymaster paying of[f] the regiment.

Next morning at 7 o’clock we bid adieu to our old camp. We marched 5 miles, then halted for the night. After resting 2 hours we was ordered to fall in and march down to a place called Banks Ford, there to build a road for the pontoon bridges to move down on. After working all night we marched back again and rested for 6 hours when we fell in and marched to within 2 miles of United States ford where we halted for the night. At 3 o’clock the next day which was Thursday we crossed the river. We marched 5 miles to Chancellorsville to within 1 mile of the Chancelor [sic] house where General Hooker made it his headquarters. That night and the next day passed of very quietly with the exception of a little skirmishing until 6 o’clock in the evening, when the enemy made a charge on us but were repulsed. The shades of evening began to close in the scene and the firing ceased. Everything was quiet again and we lay down to get a little sleep expecting that the next day would be a hot one but morning dawned bright and beautiful and everything passed along very quietly until 5 o’clock in the afternoon when the enemy opened up on us. The firing was terrific for 2 hours.

We was ordered to fall in and double quicked for 2 miles through the mud knee deep, up to the front. After halting by the batteries for a few moments to get into position the General commanding the artillery rode up. Boys keep our good courage for General Hooker is here amongst us looking around. I saw him up to the very front looking on the scene before him as calm as you would look at your garden. His headquarters was only 1 mile from the very front lines. We then marched into a piece of woods where we drawed up in a line of battle. By this time it had got to be nearly dark and the firing ceased for a while. It was Saturday night and a beautiful night to me lay down to get a little rest expecting that the next day would decide the fate of some of us.

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful at half past 5 o’clock the enemy opened up on us. It was continual roar of muskets for 2 hours. They came down in a solid body on us. The 3rd Army Corps was ahead of us. They broke and ran through our lines yelling as if the devil and all his imps were after them. I will not say but what they were. The enemy came down on us in half a circle so as to flank us. The regiment stood fire first rate. After firing 6 shots apiece the officers saw that they were outflanking us and that we were likely to be taken prisoners, gave the orders to retreat which we did some going one way and some another way. All of the regiment did not get together until the next day.

Our forces fell back to a better position where we built strong breast works. I do not think that the enemy could have drove us out of those entrenchments but there was some danger of they cutting of our communication with the pontoon bridge. We lay under fire of their guns till Tuesday night at half past 2 oclock when we had orders to fall in and not to make any more noise than was possible for we were agoing to retreat back across the river to our old camp. But what made it worse for the boys was that they had lost their knapsacks with all of their clothing and blankets. We had orders before going to the front to pack stack our knapsacks in a pile which we did and put a guard over them when we fell back we had to leave them on the field and were unable to get them on account of the rebel sharp shooters. There was thousands lost in the same way.

About 5 oclock Tuesday afternoon a thunder storm came up. The rain came down in a rotten and the boys having nothing to cover themselves with got wet through. It began to grow chilly and the boys were glad when the time came for them to march for then they could keep warm. The thunder storm turned into a cold settled storm and lasted for 3 days. There was a good deal of cussing and swearing amongst the men to think that they had got to recross the river after gaining as good a position as we had to after 7 days fighting. I never saw it so muddy as it was on that day and it was nearly knee deep at every step we took. I reached camp about noon on Wednesday the 6th day of May. The boys came in one by one wet through and tired out and discouraged.

Having stayed in the old camp for a few days we have now moved to a better place where we can a little shade on these hot days. The boys feel pretty well now. We have a good deal of picket duty to do now on account of so many troops going home. He have to go on picket every other day. You wished to know how I felt when going into a battle. There is a certain dread to ever one but after all I had rather be up in front firing at the enemy than to be back in the read. There is excitement for us after the first volley had been fired and you see blood and hear the groans of the wounded and dying you get excited and reckless. Your own life not thinking that the next moment might be your last. You would be surprised to see the soldiers after a battle to see how little they think of it but that last march will be the death of many a good, poor, soldiers.

There was a sergeant in our regiment who crossed the river with us and faced the cannon mouth and who came out of the battle unhurt, but came back to camp to lie down and die in a few short days . He was taken sick the third day after our arrival back to camp. He lived about 2 weeks.

I was surprised when I read your letter saying that Martin Wells was married and had bought that place across the way from your house and living there . I think that he will make as good neighbors as you could wish for but strange things happen sometimes as it did with Stonewall Jackson. That is a heavy blow to the South. They have lost one of their bravest and best generals but such is the fate of many brave men in war.

Having no more news that will be of any interest to you with my best respects to you all I will bring my letter to a close. Tell the neighbors that I send them my best respects. Please write soon. Direct your letter the same as usual.

I remain yours,
Loren H Goodrich

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Sources:

Goodrich, Loren H. “Letters.” Letter to Joseph Wells. 25 May 1863. MS. Connecticut Historical Archives, Hartford, CT.

Page, Charles D. History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry. Meriden, CT: Horton Printing, 1906. Print.

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