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lines under a telling fire, and, passing the undergrowth, penetrated the edge of the woods where lay Wilcox and Semmes and Mahone. Wilcox's skirmishers and part of his line gave way before Brooks's sturdy onset, which created no little confusion; but Wilcox and Semmes in person headed some reserve regiments, and led them to the charge. An obstinate combat ensues. Bartlett has captured the schoolhouse east of the church, advances, and again breaks for a moment the Confederate line. Wilcox throws in an Alabama regiment, which delivers a fire at close quarters, and makes a counter-charge, while the rest of his brigade rallies on its colors, and again presses forward.
The church and the schoolhouse are fought for with desperation, but only after a heroic defence can the Confederates recapture them. Bartlett withdraws with a loss of two-fifths of his brigade, after the most stubborn contest. The line on the north of the road is likewise forced back. A series of wavering combats, over this entire ground, continues for the better part of an hour; but the enemy has the upper hand, and forces our line back towards the toll-house.
Though obstinately fighting for a foothold near the church, Brooks had thus been unable to maintain it, and he has fallen back with a loss of nearly fifteen hundred men. Reaching his guns, where Newton has meanwhile formed in support of his right, and where part of Howe's division later falls in upon his left, the enemy, which has vigorously followed up his retreat, is met with a storm of grape and canister at short range, the distance of our batteries from the woods being not much over five hundred yards. So admirably served are the guns, as McLaws states, that it is impossible to make head against this new line; and the Confederates sullenly retire to their position near the church, which they had so successfully held against our gallant assaults, followed, but not seriously engaged, by a new line of Brooks's and Newton's regiments.
Wheaton's brigade manages to hold on in a somewhat advanced position on the right, where Mahone had been re-enforced from Wofford's line; but our left, after the second unsuccessful attempt to wrest more advanced ground from the enemy, definitely retires to a line a short mile from Salem Church.
The Confederate artillery had been out of ammunition, and unable to engage seriously in this conflict. Their fighting had been confined to the infantry regiments. But our own guns had borne a considerable share in the day's work, and had earned their laurels well.
It was now dark, and both lines bivouacked in line of battle.
Gen. Russell was placed in command of our front line. The Union wounded were sent to Fredericksburg.
Gen. Warren, before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, passes the following comment upon this action:
“Gen. Sedgwick carried the heights at Fredericksburg, and then moved on about three miles farther, and had a fight at Salem heights, but could not carry them. I think that by fighting the battle at Salem heights differently, we might have won that place also.”
“Gen. Brooks carried Salem heights, but not being closely enough supported by other troops, he could not hold the heights. It was just one of those wavering things that a moment settles. If we had been stronger at that moment, we would have won; not being so, they won."
It is probable, that, had Brooks's attack been delayed until Newton and Howe could reach the scene, their support might have enabled him to keep possession of the ground he came so near to holding single-handed. But it was a dashing fight, deserving only praise; and it is doubtful whether the capture of Salem heights would have materially altered the event. It was the eccentric handling of the Chancellorsville wing which determined the result of this campaign. Sedgwick's corps could effect nothing by its own unaided efforts.
SEDGWICK IN DIFFICULTY.
O soon as Wilcox had retired from Banks's Ford to
oppose Sedgwick's advance towards Chancellorsville, Gen. Benham threw a pontoon bridge, and established communications with the Sixth Corps. Warren, who up to this time had remained with Sedgwick, now returned to headquarters, reaching Hooker at eleven P.M., and, as a result of conference with him, telegraphed Sedgwick as follows:
“I find every thing snug here. We contracted the line a little, and repulsed the last assault with ease. Gen. Hooker wishes them to attack him to-morrow, if they will. He does not desire you to attack again in force unless he attacks him at the same time. He says you are too far away for him to direct. Look well to the safety of your corps, and keep up communication with Gen. Benham at Banks's Ford and Fredericksburg. You can go to either place if you think best. To cross at Banks's Ford would bring you in supporting distance of the main body, and would be better than falling back to Fredericksburg."
And later :
“I have reported your situation to Gen. Hooker.
that we contracted our lines here somewhat during the morning, and repulsed the enemy's last assault with ease. The troops are in good position. Gen. Hooker says you are separated from him so far that he cannot advise you how to act. You need not try to force the position you attacked at five P.M. Look to the safety of your corps. You can retire, if necessary, by way of Fredericksburg or Banks's Ford : the latter would enable you to join us more readily.”
· The former communication reached Sedgwick about four P.M. next day, and was the only one which up till then he had received. Warren, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, rather apologizes for the want of clear directions in this despatch, on the score of being greatly exhausted; but its tenor doubtless reflects the ideas of Gen. Hooker at the time, and is, indeed, in his evidence, fathered by Hooker as his own creation. It shows conclusively that there was then no idea of retiring across the river.
And it is peculiarly noteworthy, that, at this time, Hooker does not, in tone or by implication, reflect in the remotest degree upon Sedgwick, either for tardiness or anything else. Hooker was wont to speak his mind plainly. Indeed, his bluntness in criticism was one of his pet failings. And had he then felt that Sedgwick had been lacking in good-will, ability, or conduct, it is strange that there should not be some apparent expression of it. It was only when he was driven to extremity in explaining the causes of his defeat, that his after-wit suggested Sedgwick as an available scapegoat.
During the night, Lee came to the conclusion that he