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Lane's Account Of Chancellorsville To Augustus C. Hamlin 1892

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Augustus C. Hamlin.  Bangor, Maine.

Dear Sir: Yours of the 28th ulto. has been received.

I am not surprised at gallant Federal officers not understanding the movements of my brigade the night of the 2nd of May 1863 at Chancellorsville & thereby, doing it injustice - it is hoped unintentionally - when Confederates who may have been near but did not participate in those ugly night movements & fighting profess to know all about it.  As illustrations: one individual claiming to be an ambulance driver publicly declared that he took Gent. Stonewall Jackson, wounded, to the rear, about three quarters of an hour before sunset; & a Virginia officer, in an article published in 1872, insists that no night attack was ordered on the 2nd May 1863, & that the immortal "Stonewall" was wounded while riding along the skirmish line looking after the comfort of his men.

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As you are seeking facts, before yourself publishing anything about this much discussed night attack & the wounding of my old professor & General, I will make the following statement in connection with my official report, a copy of which, I infer from your letter, you already have before you.

When Genl. Jackson moved so unexpectedly & so successfully upon the enemy's flank at Chancellorsville, his front line was composed of Rode's [Rhodes'] division, & his second of A. P. Hill's, with the exception of McGowan's (South Carolina) brigade & mine (which was composed wholly of North Carolinians).  Our two brigades moved by the flank along the plank-road immediately in rear of our artillery - mine being in front.  When about dark, we reached the breastworks from which the enemy had been driven, we were halted & remained standing in the road some time.  Genl. A. P. Hill then ordered me to

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form across the road - two regiments to the right, two to the left, & one thrown forward as a strong line of skirmishers for the purpose of making a night attack; but soon after the order was given, our artillery opened & the enemy replied.  Seeing the folly of attempting to manoeuvre my men under the circumstances & to save them from this murderous enfilade fire - I ordered them to lie down in the road, where they had been standing, & my Staff & I dismounted on the left of the road.  During this artillery duel Col. Wm. H. Palmer, Hill's Chief of Staff, & now a resident of Richmond, Va., gallantly crossed the road, & in the dark began enquiring for me.  I heard him & called him & had to speak to him several times to enable him to find his way to me, as we were in the edge of the scrubby oaks.  On coming up we remarked upon the severity of the fire, the low flight of the enemy's shells &c.  When he informed me that Gen. Hill
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wished to know why I did not form my line as I had been ordered, I requested him to tell Genl. Hill that I had not done so on account of the terrific & murderous artillery fire &that if he wished me to do so successfully, he would have to order his own artillery to cease firing, as I believed the enemy was only responding to it. All old soldiers know how difficult it is to manoeuvre the bravest troops in the dark, under a murderous fire, through scrubby oaks & pine thickets, & over the abattis of the enemy's abandoned works. Col. Palmer, who had a most varied & trying experience that night, has frequently told me that he delivered my message to Genl. Hill & that the General, through him, ordered Maj. Braxton of the artillery to cease firing.  Braxton's horse was very unruly & he asked Palmer if he would not deliver the order, to which the Col. laughingly replied, that Braxton would have to do it himself

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as he had already delivered orders enough under that fire & had crossed the road twice.  As soon as our artillery ceased firing, the enemy, as I had expected, also ceased & I at once began to form my line.  The 33rd regiment under Col. Avery was thrown forward as skirmishers, & the rest formed in its rear. The 7th & 37th regiments were on the right of the plank-road.  The left of the 37th resting on the road & the 18th & 28th were on the left of the same road, the right of the 18th resting on the road.  The woods in front of our right was of large oaks with but little undergrowth; in rear of our right there was a pine thicket; & to the left of the road there was a dense growth of "scrubby oaks" through which it was almost impossible for troops to move. Our skirmish line occupied the crest of the hill, separated, on the right of the road, from the Chancellorsville hill by a deep valley. When I gave my orders I cautioned all of my

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regimental commanders to keep a bright look out, as we were in front of everything &would soon be ordered forward to make a night attack. After I had formed my line from left to right, I rode back to the plank-road to report to Genl. Hill, & there in the dark, I met Genl. Jackson who recognized me first & spoke to me.  I at once told him that I was looking for Genl. Hill but could not find him & to save delay I asked him for orders.  In an earnest tone & with a pushing gesture with his right hand in the direction of the enemy, Genl Jackson said "Push right ahead Lane" & then rode forward.  That was the last time I ever saw him.  On going to the right of my line to put it in motion, I found that a Lieut. Col. Smith of the 128th Penn. Regt. had come up from our right between our line of battle & our skirmish line, with a white handkerchief tied to a stick, to learn, as he stated, whether we were friends or foes.

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This officer seemed very much surprised at my not allowing him to return after he had satisfied his curiosity.  About this time, as I afterwards learned from Col. Avery, his skirmishers on the right fired at a mounted person who rode up to his line & called for Gen. Williams, & that seemed to draw the enemy's artillery & infantry fire, & there was firing along our whole skirmish line.  As I was about to order the old 7th forward some of its officers, especially its gallant & noble Lt. Col Hill, begged me not to do so, as in my absence they had heard noises which satisfied them that troops of some kind were on our right, & they thought their men ought to know who they were before they were ordered to advance.  Under my orders, Lt. Col. Hill sent Lt. [Emack] & four of his men to the right to reconnoiter, & they soon returned with Lt. Col. Smith's Penn. Regt. which had thrown down their arms

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& surrendered on [representation] made to them by [Emack].  Lt. Col. Smith whom we had detained & who was still on my right, when his regiment was marched into my lines, claimed that we had no right to capture them under the circumstances, but the Federal artillery & infantry wouldn't let him "argufy" the question long, nor were we disposed to listen to him.  His men all sought shelter [by] tumbled over the abandoned works to the abattis side where my line was formed.  After this heavy firing I turned Lt. Col. Smith over to Capt. Adams, Signal officer, to be taken to Genl. Hill, & ordered his regiment to the rear under Capt. Young of the 7th (our boy Captain) & his Company. When brave little "Johnnie Young" returned, bright & laughing, he & his men were well supplied with [swords] which they distributed among their officer friends in the 7th.

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It was also after this heavy artillery & infantry fire, which seemed particularly heavy in the direction of the plank-road, that Genl. Pender, rode into the woods, calling for me.  When we met he advised me not to advance, as Genl. Jackson had been wounded, & he thought by my command.  On riding to the plank-road, I learned that Genl. A. P. Hill had also been wounded.  There Col. Jno. D. Barry, then Maj. of the 18th N.C. told me that he knew nothing of Genls Jackson & Hill having gone to the front: that he could not tell friend from foe in the dark & in such a woods, that when the skirmish line fired there was heard the clattering of approaching horsemen & the cry of cavalry: & that he not only ordered his men to fire, but that he pronounced the cry of friends to be a lie, & made them keep it up,

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not only wounding Genls Jackson & Hill, as it was thought that night, but killing some of the couriers & perhaps some of the Staff officers, as some of them were missing.  Col. Palmer, to save himself from the fire of this regiment threw himself from his horse & seriously injured his shoulder.  In all my intercourse with Genl. A. P. Hill I never heard him, nor have I ever heard any one else censure the 18th regiment for firing under the circumstances; & those who knew the talented young Barry will always remember him as one of those fearless, dashing officers who was especially cool under fire.  I do not recollect looking at my watch - I could not have told the time had I done so, as it was too dark for me to recognize Genl. Jackson in the road when I met him, & he evidently recognized me by my voice as I was inquiring for Genl Hill - but you

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will readily see that it was some time after eight before my line was formed.  I am also borne out in this by some of my officers who were present.

After the wounding of these two Generals, Genl. Heath took command of Hill's Div, countermanded the order for an advance & ordered me to form the whole of my brigade on the right of the plank-road.  We were the only troops in line of battle on the right of the road until after we had repulsed the night attacks, in which we captured a number of prisoners including Staff, field & company officers & the flag of the 3rd Maine regiment.  McGowan's brigade then prolonged our right & we rested on our an-ns until next morning.        [See 11']

The blue silk flag of the 3rd Maine regt. was sent to the rear that night & was badly mutilated by unknown soldiers cutting pieces

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from its edges.  I subsequently presented it to a young lady in Richd. Va. who was afterwards my wife.  The night that Richd. was evacuated & the business part of that City was in flames, & the explosion of the Conf. magazine, not far distant, was shattering the windows in her brother's house where she was living rather than let it be recaptured, she cut it up & burnt it piece by piece in her chamber grate

[Following crossed out by Lane:  On the morning of the 3rd we were ordered to make a direct attack upon the enemy's works, which were composed of logs, hastily]

On the morning of the 3rd, about sunrise, under the orders of Genl. Heth, my brigade made a direct front attack on the Federal line immediately on the right of the plank-road & carried it but could not hold it long on account of the concentrated murderous artillery

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from the Chancellorsville hill, under which the enemy threw forward fresh infantry. The brigade which was to have supported mine did not come to our assistance, & before Ramseur, then a Brigadier, could get up with his North Carolinians we were driven back with a loss of one third of our command.  Of the 13 field officers of my brigade that took part in that charge only one was left for duty.  [Following crossed out by Lane: I not only advised, but begged Ramseur not to advance, telling him] Ramseur would go forward, saying he had been ordered to do so, though I advised against it, & told him that the position would have to be carried from the right, where I had just been - from that open knoll from which the works looking toward Fredericksburg could be enfiladed & the artillery

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that had done us so much damage, could be fired into obliquely.  It was from that very point that Stuart subsequently made his charge & carried the position. Ramseur's brave men were repulsed & also suffered terribly.  I rode over the field after the battle, & the works looking towards Fredericksburg presented a ghastly & sickening sight, the result of Stuart's enfilade artillery fire.  Brave men were laying every where in that double sap, some with the backs of their heads blown off, others with their faces gone & still others with no heads at all.  After our repulse, & we were replenished with ammunition, I was ordered to the left to the support of Colquitt & such a sight!  The woods were on fire, shells, dropped loaded muskets & cartridges were exploding in every direction.

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The dead, Confederates as well as Federals were on fire, & helpless wounded Federals-officers & men-begged to be removed from the approaching devouring flames but we could render no assistance.  On reaching Colquitt, we had to wait until the woods on his left was burnt over, before we could prolong his line. There we remained until the next day in the ashes & the charred scrubby oaks, & it was hard to tell whether we white or black, Federal or Confederate so far as the color of our clothes were concerned.  When we were ordered back, the troops in rear received us with boisterous laughter & cheer.  My brigade was in nearly every great battle fought by the Army of Northern Virginia, but in none did I ever witness so many harrowing scenes as I did at Chancellorsville.

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I hope we may have no more fratricidal wars, & that should we be called to arms again, it will be to meet a common foe.

--Transcribed by Terri Stout-Stevens, Pfafftown, NC.  December 16, 1998.  Edited and digitized by Marty Olliff, Assistant Archivist, Auburn University, who takes responsibility for any errors.