The First Day at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership

By Gary W. Gallagher | Go to book overview

From Chancellorsville
to Cemetery Hill

O. O. Howard and Eleventh
Corps Leadership

A. WILSON GREENE

Captain Frederick Otto von Fritsch spoke for many of his comrades in characterizing the Battle of Chancellorsville. "On the sixth day of May orders came for the Eleventh Corps to march to United States Ford to recross the Rappahannock River on pontoon bridges ... and to march back to the old camps," wrote von Fritsch. "I recrossed with a heavy heart, and ... I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I was ashamed of this battle, and deplored the sad experience of the Eleventh Corps." "The army, at least our corps, is demoralized," concurred Frederick C. Winkler of the 26th Wisconsin. "Officers talk of resigning and a spirit of depression and lack of confidence manifests itself everywhere." Major General Oliver Otis Howard, the Eleventh Corps commander, agreed that "there was no gloomier period during our great war than the month which followed the disasters at Chancellorsville." 1

A combination of factors made that month grim for the unlucky Eleventh, the most prominent of which was a negative perception of the outfit's performance on May 2, 1863. A portion of "Stonewall" Jackson's command had driven the Eleventh from its vulnerable position on the right flank of the Army of the Potomac in an action more tactically and logistically impressive than strategically decisive. The corps had generally acquitted itself well in a nearly hopeless situation and delayed Confederate progress until dark. Four days later, the Union forces retreated to Stafford County in ignominious defeat, and the army and the press began to search for culpable parties. 2

-57-

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