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Battle of Chancellorsville
Eleventh Corps

The following graphic account of the affair is from the Herald letter:

          The Eleventh corps had been ordered to advance on the right of Birney, and moved forward to take the position assigned to them on Birney's flank. One brigade succeeded in getting up the hill, and reported, by its commander (whose name I have unfortunately lost), to Generals Sickeles and Birney. The rest of the corps met the enemy in force when about two-thirds of the distance up. Here they had a short engagement, in which it does not appear that they had even so large a force to contend against as that which Williams, with his single division, had fought so bravely. Headed by heir commander, the gallant Howard, the German corps charged boldly up to the rebel lines. Here they were met, as the rebels always meet their foe, with shouts of defiance and derision, a determined front, and a heavy fire for a short time with spirit, manifesting a disposition to fight valiantly. But at the time when all encouragement to the men was needed that could be given, then some officer of the division (one, at least, as I am informed)  fell back to the rear, leaving his men to fight alone. At the same time General Devens, commanding the First Division, was unhorsed and badly wounded in his foot by a musket-ball. Thus losing at a critical moment the inspiriting influence of the immediate presence of their commanders, the men began to falter, then to fall back, and finally broke in a complete route. General Howard boldly threw himself into the breach and attempted to rally the shattered columns; but his efforts were perfectly futile. The men were panic-stricken, and no power on earth could rally them in the face of the enemy. Information of the catastrophe was promptly communicated to General Sickles, who thus had a moment given him to prepare for the shock he instantly apprehended his column would suffer. The high land of the little farm that formed the base of his operations was parked full of artillery and cavalry, nearly all the artillery of the Third corps, together with Pleasanton's cavalry, being crowded into that little fifty-acre inclosure. But Sickles was not to be thrown off his guard by a trifle, and anything short of a complete defeat seemed to be considered by him in the light of a trifle. With the coolness and skillfulness of a veteran of a hundred campaigns he set to work making his dispositions. He had not a single regiment within his reach to support his artillery; Whipple was falling back, and must meet the approaching stampede with his own force in retreat; Birney was far out in the advance, in imminent danger of being completely surrounded and annihilated; the rebel forces were pressing hard upon the flying Germans, who could only escape by rushing across his lines, with every prospect of communicating the panic to them. It was a critical moment indeed, and one that might well stagger even the bravest-hearted. But it did not stagger the citizen soldier. Calling to one after another of his staff, he sent them all off, one after the other, lest any should fail of getting through, to warn Birney of his danger, and order him to fall back. Then, turning to General Pleasanton, he directed him to take charge of the artillery, and train it all upon the wood encircling the field, and support it with his cavalry, to hold the rebels in check should they come on him, and himself dashed off to meet Whipple, then just emerging from the woods in the bottom land. He had scarcely turned his horse about when the flying Germans came dashing over the field in crowds, meeting the head of Whipple's column and stampeding through his lines, running as only men do run when convinced that sure destruction is awaiting them. At the same moment large masses of rebel infantry came dashing  through the woods on the north and west close up to the field, and opened a tremendous fire of musketry into the confused mass of men and animals. To add to the confusion and terror of the occasion night was rapidly approaching, and darkness was already beginning to obscure all things.

          I must frankly confess that I have no ability to do justice to the scene that followed. It was my lot to be in the centre of the field when the panic burst upon us. May I never be a witness to another such scene! On one hand was a solid column of infantry retreating at double-quick from the face of the enemy, who were already crowding their rear; on the other was a dense mass of beings who had lost their reasoning faculties, and were flying from a thousand fancies dangers as well as from the real danger that crowded so close upon them, aggravating the fearfulness of their situation by the very precipitancy with which they were seeking to escape from it. On the hill were ten thousand of the enemy, pouring their murderous volleys in upon us, yelling and hooting, to increase the alarm and confusion; hundreds of cavalry horses, left riderless at the first discharge from the rebels, were dashing frantically about in all directions; a score of batteries of artillery were thrown into disorder, some properly manned, seeking to gain position for effective duty, and others flying from the field; battery wagons, ambulances, horses, men cannon, caissons, all jumbles and tumbled together in an apparently inextricable mass, and that murderous fire still pouting in upon them. To add to the terror of the occasion there was but one means of escape from the field, and that through a little narrow neck or ravine washed out by Scott's Creek. Toward this the confused mass plunged headlong. For the moment it seemed as if no power could avert the frightful calamity that threatened the entire army. The neck passed and this panic-stricken, disordered body of men and animals permitted to pass down through the other corps of the army, our destruction was sure. But in the midst of the wildest alarm there was a cool head. That calamity was averted by the determined self-possession of Major General Daniel E. Sickles.

          Let me here finish with the Eleventh corps. They did not all fly across Sickles's line. They dispersed and ran in all directions, regardless of the order of their going. They all seemed possessed with an instinctive idea of the shortest and most direct line from the point whence they started to the United States ford, and the majority of them did not stop until they had reached the ford.


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