The Alabama in the Civil War Message Board

Re: Two captured gg grandfathers

I have attempted to send this information by e-mail, but perhaps the file is too big because it wouldn't go through. Anyway, I'll post it here for those that are interested. As a preface, I just wanted to point out that General Robert Rodes, who had started the war as a Captain of Company H of the 5th Alabama, was serving as a Division commander for the first time at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Colonel O'Neal of the 26th Alabama was commanding the Alabama Brigade (3rd, 5th , 6th, 12th, 26th Alabama Infantry Regiments) for the first time. After he was wounded, Colonel Hall of the 5th Alabama took over command of the brigade. Furthermore, over the winter of 1862-1863, the Alabama Brigade had been instructed by General Lee, to form a Sharpshooter Battalion made up of the best soldiers to be found in the Brigade. The details of this change can be found in the book "Shock Troops of the Confederacy" by Fred Ray. Major Eugene Blackford of the 5th Alabama Infantry had been selected to command and develop this Battalion. Many men of the 5th Alabama served with the Sharpshooters, but there is no known list of who these men were. It is possible that H. R. Gorom (Gorum) was a Sharpshooter, so I include a description of their part in any battle that I will subsequently send you. So having laid this groundwork, I offer the following account of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

The 5th Alabama had left their camp near Grace Church early on Wednesday, April 29, 1863, and marched to Hamilton’s Crossing. There they took up a position in the woods to the right side of the railroad. The Federal forces had been reported crossing in large numbers immediately in front of their position, but no contact was made with the enemy that day. With the return of Major Blackford who had been sick for some time, General Rodes sent the Sharpshooters out to cover Hamilton’s Crossing on the Rappahannock River, above which they could see several Federal balloons “looking like huge oranges.”[1] The rest of the regiment formed up behind the 26th Alabama and remained in the Pine woods where they had been during the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. They stayed there all day with the occasional Federal shell whizzing through the air and bursting.[2] At about sunset, it started to rain and continued during the night and all the following day. At about 3:00 A.M. on the 30th of April, the Regiment was ordered to move farther to the right where they occupied the Confederates front line entrenchments.[3] They occupied some rifle pits that were quite muddy with water in the bottom. Soon all the men were soaked to the skin and cold.[4] The Sharpshooters remained in their position along the embankment of the river. Blackford later wrote, “I then went out with my sharpshooters and deployed them by bugle within 400 yards of the enemy. Here I spent Wednesday night in a drenching rain, without fire or blankets....and the whole of Thursday until 2:00 A.M. of Friday (May 1, 1863) when I received an order to retire to the works, as the Brigade was about to march.”[5] A desultory firing was kept up during the day by the Federal batteries on the north bank of the Rappahannock River on April 30, 1863, and the Confederate guns occasionally replied, but it seemed the Union forces were not inclined to attack that day. General Rodes allowed the Brigade to move back to the Pine woods after a while and they were also allowed to build fires to warm themselves and dry their clothes. Colonel Hall was ordered to send a guard out and remain vigilant. Privates Robert B. Price, John Thomas Knowlen, and Samuel Pickens of Company D, were three of the men sent out on guard duty.[6]

At about 2:30 – 3:00 AM on Friday morning, the men of the Brigade were ordered to march to Kelly’s Ford. Information had been received that Hooker’s Army had crossed at that place and at United State Ford, and were now marching down river endeavouring to turn the Confederate left flank. The 5th Alabama hurried on in the dark, along the wet and muddy Mine Road to the Orange Plank Road. By dawn, there was a dense fog, and the men made slow progress due to the wagons ahead stopping frequently. They passed many deserted camps which had been occupied by parts of the army during the winter months. Between eleven and noon, the men rested and were able to have something to eat and fill their canteens. The sun had burned off the fog and it grew quite warm. After their break, the men were ordered to load their weapons and fall in and the march continued. They were soon on the Orange Plank Road and the slow roar of cannon could be heard in the distance. General Lee and his entourage passed the men, but everyone knew a battle was imminent and the General went by without the customary cheering.[7] After a very fatiguing march, the Brigade reached the field where Generals McLaws and A. P. Hill men were in position awaiting the Union advance. Knapsacks were piled and the Regiment continued to manoeuvre and at about 1:30 P.M., Rodes’ Division, at the head of Jackson’s column, swung off the Plank Road and faced north against Union General Sykes’ flank. Shortly after, these Federal troops withdrew and began digging in opposite the Confederates. That afternoon, the men of Rodes’ Division continued to move around passing several lines of battle lying in the woods. They stopped on a breastwork at the edge of some woods where they rested and lay down an hour or so.[8] At about dusk word was spread that General Stuart was in the rear of the Union position. The news elated the men to a high degree and they marched until 10:00 P.M. in the finest spirits. They were by then positioned on the southwest side of the Orange Plank Road, north of the Catharpin Road and made camp for the night.

The Brigade Sharpshooter Battalion led by Major Eugene Blackford of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment, were to get their first opportunity to demonstrate what they had learnt over the last few months. The first combat they were to see as a unit, would take place at the Battle of Chancellorsville. On May 2, 1863, General Lee, with a force numbering just under half the strength of his adversary, took a most unlikely course of action; he divided his army in two. Before dawn, he sent Jackson’s entire Corp, which was led by Rodes’ Division with the 5th Alabama Infantry as the lead regiment,[9] on a risky march through uncharted woods to gain the flank of the Union position. Blackford’s men tramped between Jackson Corp and the Federal forces to screen the march. At times they were as little as 400 yards from the Union line. Blackford used his buglers often to create the illusion that he led cavalry rather than infantry. He later wrote, “I frequently passed in sight of the enemy troops, but they took no notice of us....as we took good care to keep under cover of the undergrowth.”[10] It was a very toilsome and fatiguing march and the men had very little to eat as their supply trains had failed to arrive the previous evening. And yet, the men submitted to their ordeal with cheerfulness. When the 5th Alabama reached the Orange Turnpike at about 2:30 P.M., Captain Marcellus Moorman and his battery of Stuart’s horse artillery trotted past them and took the lead. At Jackson’s direction, the column turned east on the pike for less than a mile and stopped on a long, low north-south ridge near Luckett’s farmhouse.[11] After their march of over twelve miles, they arrived in their required location late in the afternoon and now rested between three and four o’clock, while the balance of the troops came up and formed two lines of battle to their rear.[12] Jackson’s entire Corps, which included the Divisions of Rodes, A.P. Hill, Early, Colston, as well as the cavalry of J.E.B. Stuart had moved around the Union right flank completely undetected! The Battle of Chancellorsville was about to begin in earnest.

Rodes had crossed the Orange Plank Road, moved on a few miles to the turnpike and began to deploy. The battle line was formed perpendicular to and astride the Orange Turnpike, east of the Wilderness Tavern and west of the Wilderness Church. Iverson’s Brigade was placed on the far left with O’Neal’s Alabama soldiers next, their right flank on the turnpike. The left flank of the Alabama Brigade was held by the 5th Alabama. Across the road, Doles’ Brigade was stationed, then Colquitt’s. Ramseur’s Brigade was aligned behind Colquitt and faced somewhat south to protect the flank. The other Divisions formed behind their line.[13] The soldiers ducked and slashed their way through the pine, scrub oak, and thorny vines. Once the attack began, close control would be impossible. General Jackson issued strict instructions: When the bugles sound, the entire line will sweep forward together. Under no circumstances will there be any pause in the advance.[14] After resting for about a half hour, the sharpshooters were moved forward, many of whom were from the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment, followed closely by the remaining troops in line of battle.[15] General Jackson ordered Major Blackford to scout in front while the rest of the Corps filed up and deployed. Blackford took a dozen men and advanced three hundred yards in front of the Confederate position, where they caught three Yankees out foraging. “They took us for their own men & walked up to us boldly – I never saw such amazement as when I told them they were prisoners” The three prisoners from the Union XI Corps confirmed that the Federals were cooking dinner and that “none of them had any idea that we were nearer than Fredericksburg.”[16]

Once the Sharpshooters were in position, about 300 yards in advance of main line, and finally satisfied with his strength and alignments, Stonewall Jackson asked his leading division's commander, "Are you ready, General Rodes?" Rodes replied in the affirmative. "You can go forward then." It was about 5:15 P.M. when the lines moved forward on the attack. Rodes waved to Major Blackford, who turned to his bugler, Raif Grayson, of Sumter County, Alabama. The brass instrument[17] sounded and the sharpshooters moved forward. Rodes’ line followed, but there was a slight delay when the troops under Colonel O’Neil overran some of the sharpshooters who had evidently not heard the bugle command to move. This may well have been the men of the 5th Alabama, as they were positioned on the left flank of O’Neil’s Brigade, farthest from the road. After a short delay, the advance began again. The Confederates moved silently forward about a quarter of a mile.

Fleeing wildlife puzzled and amused many of the relaxing Federal soldiers of the XI Corps positioned near or along the pike. However, General Carl Schurz of the Union 3rd Division of XI Corps knew there was trouble brewing and of his own volition, had ordered the 26th Wisconsin, 58th New York, and 82nd Ohio, to reform facing west and take up arms. By 5:00 P.M., soldiers in these regiments were already prepared to fight, rifle in hand, or close by, eyes facing west. Those who belonged to regiments not repositioned had still been uneasy as the afternoon wore on. Rumours from various scouting parties filtered about and the men knew that something was afoot. Rifles were stacked, but soldiers sat near them. Campfires still cooked some of the freshly slaughtered beef, but the men ate quickly. When the rabbits, deer, and birds, frightened off by Jackson’s advancing columns ran through their camp at about 5:45 P.M. they were not greeted by whoops of joy and hilarity. Schurz’s men knew what was coming behind the animals and could already hear the approaching battle.[18] Bugle calls from the thickets had soon clarified the deadly nature of the event as the sound of Blackford’s bugles resounded through the forest.

The Sharpshooters approached with such speed that they were within 50 yards of the Federal troops, before the first shot was fired. Major Blackford wrote the following to his family: “Presently one of the men near me put up his gun and taking aim, fired, and instantly reloaded. I told him I would break his head if he fired again without seeing the enemy, he called me to him and pointed out the Yankee line of battle not 50 yds off lying down in a well worn road. I had not sounded more than a note or two of the “Commence Fire” when the whole line opened up with a terrible yell, which was too much for the Dutchmen of Sigel’s Corps, and they ran off in confusion taken utterly by surprise.”[19]

This was closely followed by a few scattered shots, then from the opening in the road the whiz of a shell. Within a few minutes they came upon the enemy hitting like a thunderclap. The men of the Union Eleventh Corps ran for their stacked rifles knocking aside simmering pots of beef, but they were shot down by Rodes’ front rank, or simply run over.[20] The grey line moved forward with whoop and yell and the rattle of musketry. There was, there could be, no effective attempt at resistance.[21]

The men of the 5th Alabama had moved forward, but were having a difficult time getting through the thick woods. Soon they heard the Sharpshooters firing and they moved to the “double-quick”. A terrific volley of musketry opened on their right and the excitement grew. The men opened fire but were quickly admonished by their officers as the Yankees were not yet in view. The men reloaded and moved forward at a run. Suddenly, a line of blue could be seen retreating at a run. The men fired once again, cheered and continued their pursuit.[22]

The first Union Brigade encountered, attempted to form a thin battle line and opened fire. To the left of the 5th Alabama, the 26th Wisconsin stood until it was flanked on both sides. Alongside the 26th Wisconsin, Captain Frederick Braun was shot off his horse, mortally wounded, as he deployed his 58th New York against the 5th Alabama. Colonel Frederick Hecker of the 82nd Illinois held his regimental colors high and ordered his men to charge with bayonets. At that instant he was shot, and within minutes Major Ferdinand Rolshausen, who relieved him, was struck down by the Alabamians.[23] After one or two more volleys, their flanks were turned and the stampede to the rear began in earnest.

The Confederate lines were soon in tatters, with swifter men well ahead of others. The 5th Alabama suffered the same problem and several times the men in the lead had to stop and wait for fear of being shot by the men that followed, some of whom were firing wildly over their heads in the excitement. There were a number of men wounded by “friendly fire” during this pursuit.[24]

Union General Shurz of the XI Corps attempted to rally his men at Wilderness Church. There he formed a battle line of about five thousand men. At about 6:15 P.M. this line too was broken by the surging Rebels.[25] The Confederates brought a few artillery pieces up the Orange Turnpike and fired shot and canister into the fleeing Federals. About three hundred yards further down the road, in front of the Talley farm, the Yankees formed another line. The 25th Ohio Infantry fired three volleys and momentarily stopped the advance of Rodes’ men, but this regiment too was enveloped and broke for the rear.[26] O’Neal’s and Doles’ Brigades thundered along the roadway like two runaway trains. Within minutes they surged over the Union breastworks at the Talley farm.[27] A Sergeant of the 25th Ohio later recorded, “In 10 minutes the ground was literally covered with the dead and dying, our colonel wounded and we were forced to give way for we had about two thousand against 20 thousand. Old Stonewall Jackson had flanked us with his whole corps and now rained grape and canister and minnie balls in our ranks like hail. In 15 minutes we were all cut to pieces. There was no place left us but to flee for our lives which we did with a right good grace. We soon became scattered to the four winds everyone for themselves.”[28]

Whenever the Federal troops would get behind a hill or breastwork, they would stop and shoot for a minute or two, but as the Confederates came charging upon them, they would be off at a run again. One Union soldier was standing by a tree with the butt of his gun in the air signifying that he wanted to surrender. Lieutenant Colonel Hobson called to him telling him to drop his gun and lie down or he would be killed. He did as instructed and Lieutenant Colonel Hobson told him to go to the rear.[29]

The Confederate lines had lost their formation and men were getting scattered and mixed up with other regiments. All the while, Lieutenant Colonel Hobson continued forward, waving his sword as he gallantly led his men on. It was a running fight and the Rebels were finding it difficult to keep near enough to the Yankees to shoot them.[30] Fifteen minutes later, the Confederates had pressed forward to Dowdall’s Tavern where the last line of defence was made by the Union XI Corps. The well-constructed line complete with rifle pits, slowed the Confederate advance. Three guns supported the Federal infantry and punished Rodes’ men with canister.[31] Many of the lead men of the regiment lay down for a minute or two at the edge of a pine thicket, but on rushed the men following and engaged the Union batteries. Parts of the three Federal Batteries were captured. Within the Union lines, there was a large Newfoundland dog in the agonies of death with a ball through him.[32] The Rebel front line formed a semicircle with both ends past the Federal flanks. By 7:15 P.M., both flanks were crushed and the Federal front completely collapsed.[33] Some Federal officer on horseback rode along the line trying to rally his troops, but to no avail and the Confederates would drive the Federals back another mile and a half or two, before darkness would bring a close to the fighting.[34] During the pursuit, Lieutenant Colonel Hobson continued to lead his men. They passed on down a slope and up the other side when a horse was spotted standing at the edge of some woods. Hobson started towards it calling to some of the men to grab it for him, when he was suddenly struck down by a ball which hit his leg above the knee. The men continued on led by Regimental Color Sergeant Archibald L. R. Thompson who had been with Lieutenant Colonel Hobson, but with the loss of formation, the men continued their advance in smaller groups.[35]

Captain Renfro of the 5th Alabama kept far in advance of his men during the whole of the long charge of May 2nd, and with less than one hundred men captured a Yankee Colonel and almost his whole regiment.[36] They would take 225 Federal prisoners to the rear.[37] Shelby Chadwick of Company D would later report, “We drove them before us in the greatest confusion, and our boys rushed on in pursuit with deafening cheers of exultation. Scarcely any resistance was offered, and prisoners that we captured say we broke four successive lines of battle. Our Brigade captured portions of three batteries, an immense number of prisoners, and drove the enemy before us two miles or more with great slaughter. Night compelled us to desist from the exciting chase, and we threw ourselves down upon the red field we had won, in the midst of the dead and dying, to seek the repose we so much needed.”[38] Major Eugene Blackford wrote, “We pursued until it was too dark to see how to shoot and then rested for the night. Our loss was perfectly trifling; hardly a man killed and booty in abundance. As we had had nothing to eat for two days (not a mouthful for me) you can imagine how I enjoyed the fine 8 days rations with which the Yankees were supplied.”[39]

The regiment was greatly dispersed and intermingled with other troops. Small groups of three or four men that had rushed forward during the charge, now called out in the growing darkness as they tried to reconnect with their comrades. Private Samuel Pickens had tried to stay near Color Sergeant Archibald Thompson and fell in with Ed Hutchison, Charlie Haftner, John Cowin and Jim Arrington. Exhausted from their run of almost two miles, these men sat down in some pines to rest. Suddenly, the Federal batteries stated shelling the woods with grape shell. With shells bursting and grape cutting trees all around and above them, all they could do was lay close to the ground. After the terrifying cannonade ceased, a squad of men came by with some Yankee prisoners, so the men started back over the field to try and find something to eat. There was little left to find as the troops that had come up behind them had plundered all that was available. Finally, they found out where Colonel O’Neil was collecting the Brigade, on the Orange Turnpike just east of Wilderness Church, and they managed to join them. Everyone felt so grateful at coming out safely that he would shake each acquaintance warmly by hand and express delight at seeing him come out safely.[40]

Of course many of the regiment had not come out safely. Amongst the wounded was Lieutenant Colonel Hobson who had received a flesh wound in the left leg, while gallantly leading the charge of his men. General Jackson had high praise for General Rodes and his men when he complimented them by saying, “The world could not beat the Alabamians!”[41]

The men stacked arms and feasted on the captured Federal rations. Everyone was now well supplied with oil cloths, blankets, canteens and haversacks. After supper, the men were moved off the road and to the line of breastworks perpendicular to their rallying point. This was what the Federals had called the “Buschbeck line”, a shallow, thousand yard north-south trench just east of Dowdall’s Tavern. The 5th Alabama was again positioned on the extreme left of the Brigade, farthest from the road. The brigade alignment from the Orange Turnpike northward was: 3rd Alabama, 6th Alabama, 12th Alabama, 26th Alabama, and 5th Alabama. There was a great deal of artillery and heavy volleys of musketry ahead of them that continued until after midnight.[42]

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