Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Stonewall Jackson & the Battle of Chancellorsville

Stonewall Jackson pointing at the Plank Road,
leading his Corps on the flanking march at Chancellorsville .

Long have I wanted to play a classic battle from the Eastern theatre of the American Civil War, but replaying these massed infantry battles at the significantly reduced ratio offered by the 28mm scale, takes both time and space. So, with Christmas around the corner, and a few days of holiday coming up, I decided the time was perfect to arrange a large all-day-game of 28mm ACW at our local gaming club here in Stockholm.

Stonewall on the Plank Road.

I quickly settled on the Battle of Chancellorsville, mainly because it’s considered Lee’s finest victory, but also as it is a showcase for unconventional tactics and more importantly markes the end of the career and the life of one of the Civil War’s, if not all time’s finest generals, Stonewall Jackson.

Stonewall have always fascinated me, with his enigmatic mix of military pragmatism and fanatic religious zeal, making him one of the big characters of the Civil War. At the Battle of Chancellorsville all these characteristics would concert in him, to form one of the most daring moves ever made on a battlefield.

Color adaption of B&W photo.
Actual photo of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

Chancellorsville was one of the key battles of the Civil War fought by 85.000 Union troops under Hooker vs. 40.000 Confederate under Lee. The battle was fought over a series of days in the beginning of May 1863, just next to the Rapidan River in Virginia, only a few miles away from Fredericksburg, where Lee scored a mayor victory over Burnside only five months earlier. 

Stonewall Jackson with the Virginia flag waving behind him.

Taking up the reins after Burnside, Hooker and the Army of the Potomac had taken up a defensive position, carefully gaining the advantage of the high ground while deploying his massive army in a strong centralized fashion. On the other side, Lee was sitting down with Stonewall to have a council on the best way to attack the Yankee position.

Stonewall informing Lee about the possible flanking route.

The Army of Northern Virginia under Lee was outnumbered about 2,5 to 1. Still Stonewall suggested to Lee, that the Army be divided, and he’d be allowed to take his Corps of 27.000 men on a 12 mile march around Hooker’s flank, using a local unmapped plank road through some deep part of the forest. Lee looked at Stonewalls suggestion, and understood the potential. While 13.000 Confederates would stay visibly to Hooker’s front, fixing his attention, Stonewall would march around the flank, in broad daylight but covered by terrain, to hit the Yankee flank, and roll up their line. It was a risky but clean shot at victory, and Lee approved the plan.

The Battle of Chancellorsville.
To the left the 12 miles flanking move of Stonewall Jackson is traced in red.
Source: Wiki.

On the 2nd May the Union far flank was made up by Howard’s 11th Corps, resting behind the lines, at a position they thought safe and secure. Though scouting parties had noticed the commotion made by Stonewall’s move, and reports even reach Hooker who consequently told Howard to “Be prepared, enemy might try to go around your flank”, Howard made no efforts to raise the alarm, but simply moved two guns up the flank, just in case. Then Howard went south to inspect some skirmishing going on with what was actually Stonewall’s rear-guard, leaving his 11th Corps without its commander. It was a huge blunder.

20.000 Confederates storming at the unsuspecting Union soldiers in camp.

Advancing in complete silence, the 27.000 Confederates swung around the flank, and quietly reformed into battle line reading to storm the 11th Corps camp site. With him Stonewall had Rodes, Colston and A. P. Hill. Strict orders were given to officers that neither the feared Rebel Yell nor drums or bugles were to be used during the advance. Surprise was key. When all was ready Stonewall quietly told his generals: “You may proceed”.

The massive 2 miles wide battle line of Confederate infantry started to move forward through the wood. Slowly they picked up speed, still silent. Ahead through the trees they could see the clearing and the camp of the Union 11th Corps.

Another view at the command stand.
All minis are Perry, flag is GMB.

Enjoying a relaxed time behind the lines, the soldiers of the 11th Corps were quietly going about their business in camp, some preparing coffee others meals. Suddenly the woods around them came alive. Out from among the tress at the wood's edge came foxes, deer, birds and even squirrels, all storming through the camp scared wild. This mystic phenomenon of nature was soon explained to the Union troops, as behind the animals followed some 20.000 Confederates acting as a massive wall of “clappers” on the hunt. 

The deeply religious Stonewall Jackson is being watched by his men,
as he quietly takes council with God.

As Howard’s men threw away their coffee cups scrambling for their muskets, the 20.000 Confederates let the Rebel Yell ring out. The few Union units, which actually formed and made a stand were quickly overlapped, and had to fall back. It was a rout, and Howard’s Corps disintegrated loosing about 25% of its men in the process, despite the return of its commander, who now was desperately trying to rally his troops. 

While inspecting the forward lines, Stonewall is shot by Confederate pickets,
mistaking his scouting party for Union cavalry.

Stonewall’s push went on for nearly two hrs from 5.30 pm to about 7.15 pm, and only stopped when the now likewise disorganized Confederate attackers were reaching the heavy defensive Union earthworks around Chancellorsville. 

It was later that evening, while on a full moon ride, inspecting the enemy lines and the potential of a night attack, that Stonewall Jackson was hit three times by friendly fire. One of the bullets tore through and broke his left arm. In Civil War medical terms that meant amputation. 

Stonewall Jackson died from post-surgery pneumonia, 
at this plantation office in Guinea Station, just south of Fredericksburg.

Lee went on to fight out Chancellorsville, taking full advantage of the push created by Stonewall. Later during the battle, when news of Stonewall’s amputation reached Lee, he was deeply touched, and is suppose to have said: “Jackson lost his left arm, I’ve lost my right”. It would be a right arm sorely missed by Lee at Gettysburg, just some months later.

Stonewall never recovered from surgery. Instead pneumonia set in, and eventually he died on May 10th, 1863. When he understood that death was the inevitable prospect, he commented that: “The Lord have granted my wish, I always wanted to die on a Sunday”.

The funeral cortege of Stonewall Jackson.

Stonewall Jackson's last words:
A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, "Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks"—then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees." (Source: Wiki)

Thank you very much for reading!

30 comments:

  1. Great little vignette Soren, love your rendition of the plank road . As always an informative historical read too!

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    1. Thanks Chris! Glad you liked the basing, seemed the appropriate way to connect the stand to our coming game of Chancellorsville, and also to pay homage to Stonewall's tactical genius.

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  2. Fine looking command stand, Soren! Your recap of Jackson at Chancellorsville is well done. Really looking forward to seeing your treatment of Chancellorsville on the gaming table. My thoughts have been that Jackson's flank attack against Howard would be very difficult to recreate in a full battle unless the game began at that point in time.

    Will be watching the results with interest...

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    1. Thank you Jonathan! Yeah, you're right, there is really no other way to do this, except starting it at a certain point (After Stonewall's march I'd argue). Perhaps with a certain degree of spoiler alert, I'll be starting my scenario by the point in time of Stonewall's charge. We're connecting three big tables, two players a side, so it will be one of the biggest 28mm games I've done so far. Should be very interesting, as the Union will start at a disadvantage, but like the actual battle, Stonewall's charges is not enough. Lee will also have to come through on his side of Chancellorsville. The Union player will have defensive works and high ground to lean on. Should be hard fought even with Stonewall's initial push...

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  3. An excellent post and very nice work on the vignette.

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    1. Thanks Gary, appreciate the kind comment!

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  4. Absolutely amazing painting and great composition of the vignette. You've really done this figure of a fine general justice. I always enjoy reading the little historical backdrops you provide.

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    1. Thanks M! I'm very glad you liked my attempt at this great historical character - and thanks for sticking by my babbling in the post. I'm glad you liked the read, as I really enjoy writing it, getting more familiar with the figure I'm painting in the process.

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  5. That is a sensational command stand - bravo Sir.

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    1. Thank you Michael - it's not without a certain respect that one takes on painting these kind of big characters of history, so I'm happy you liked the result!

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  6. Lovely work indeed on both an exciting period and battle! Great background write up as well. Really look forward to more posts on this subject.

    Christopher

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    1. Thank you very much Christopher, I can assure you that there will be more ACW on the blog in 2015! I've got the Perry ACW ambulance on the painting table right now!

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  7. Awesome brush work, great looking figures!
    lovely article read as well...... cheers!

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    1. Cheers Phil, glad you like my version of Stonewall and the accompanying read! It seemed right to finally get to add him to my ACW collection. Lee and Longstreet couldn't run the show alone any longer:0)

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  8. Love the command stand, and backstory too! The XI Corps was quite poorly lead here and at Gettysburg. Wrong place, wrong time x 2.

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    1. Thanks Monty, yeah the "Dutch" got it bad then - and reading up on Chancellorsville was a real eye-opener. The implications of Stonewall's death, not only on the tactics used at Gettysburg, but also on Lee's mindset leading to his decision to do the all out attack on the Angle, are more evident to me now.

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  9. Exxelent paintwork and history lesson Matey ! Realy looking forward to participate in you clubgame and at last get my Philadelphia Brigade on the gaming table.

    Best regards Michael

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    1. Thakns Micke - looking for to the game too matey. You're sharp looking units will be pitched in a strong defensive position, but facing them is Lee with McLaws division - so you're brave boys from Phili will have to stay alert! Will be a great game!

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  10. Wow! Another excellent post Sören, well illustrated, and the backstory is really great...great looking vignette as well, a splendid result!

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    1. Thanks Phil - really appreciate your kind comment on both the minis and the write up!
      As the our big game of Chancellorsville is approaching, I can only hope to do an AAR half as cool and visual as the ones you're posting.

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  11. No matter how much I flitter between project, I always know that someone else is as bad - if not worse ;-)

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    1. Hehe, guilty as charged :0) But there is purposed to the madness (he says with his most assuring tone of voice) - as will be revealed in the coming 2015 project plan!

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  12. Excellent work, Soren. We will have to let you do the episode on Chancellorsville when we get to the battle on the podcast! Tracy & I can take that week off and let you handle it :-)

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    1. Thanks a lot Rich, but that would be a shame as Tracy and you do such wonderful shows of it, and this particular one(or the few) on Chancellorsville I wouldn't miss for the World. I enjoyed the recent show on ACW music - had no idea that "Dixieland" started as a walkaround in New York. Hope you guys have enjoyed some snow in Colorado by now, here in Sweden we're still waiting. Wish you guys a Merry Christmas, and thanks for the many good hrs of listening to your pod cast in 2014!

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  14. You can't have collection with American Civil war minitures without a miniature representing Stonewall Jackson. I do like this miniature. The paint job is good as always, but one should always try to enhance base as well. The planks on grounds are quite brilliant considering the context. It enhances the impression of it all.

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    1. Thanks Jesper - I quite agree, no ACW collection without Old Blue Light! Happy you liked the basing, I was going for this look to pay homage to Stonewall's, in my opinion, greatest tactical feat of the war, the flanking of the 11th Union Corps at Chancellorsville. Looking forward to our game on the 28th, and you can start loading up on lemons to get in character, cause you'll be playing Stonewall :0)

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  15. Beautiful vignette, Soren. You certainly captured the look of the "planked road." I'm very impressed by the varied interests in periods you have.

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  16. Thanks Dean, glad you liked that Planked Road idea! It's easy to get out side ones core interest when you're in a good club like the one here in Stockholm. Some projects you start up and drive forward yourself with others joining, while other gets "served" to you so to speak. But... the ACW is the ACW, right :0) Every time I need some inspiration for this period, I only need to Youtube "Shelby Foote" - my all time favorite historical author. The online interviews with him on the civil war are just amazing.

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  17. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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