Battles & Leaders of the Civil War
WHEN STONEWALL JACKSON TURNED OUR RIGHT.
On the afternoon of May 2d, 1863, the 8th Pennsylvania Calvary were ordered to dismount, slack saddle-girths, and rest in the vicinity of General Hooker's headquarters at Chancellorsville. Some of the men fell asleep holding their horses, some began talking of the battle, while a knot of officers, who always improved such occasions in this way, sat down to their favorite game of poker. Suddenly an order from headquarters made a complete change in the scene. At the word ''Mount!'' the sleepers as well as the talkers sprang to their saddles, the gamblers snatched up their stakes and their cards, and a regiment of cavalry took the place of a lounging crowd.
Passing to the left of the Chancellorsville House, we crossed our line of battle at the edge of a wood and came up with a reconnoitering party that had captured the 23d Georgia. We had heart that Lee was retreating, and supposed that this unfortunate regiment had been sacrificed to give the main body a chance to escape;but while we were commiserating the poor fellows, one of the defiantly said, ''You may wait till Jackson gets round on your right.''
We laughed at his harmless bravado, for we did not think he would betray Jackson's move had he known anything about it; but while we were yet trying to get through the thick wood the roar of musketry and artillery on our right confirmed his speech. We now came back at a gallop toward a point between the place where the battle was raging. As we rode into an elevated clearing, called Hazel Grove, the regiment (the 8th Pennsylvania) was brought into line. We surmised a disaster and nervously braced ourselves for the ordeal, not knowing whether we were to make an attack or wait there to receive one.
The roar musketry was now heavier and nearer; the vast woods between us and Dowdall's tavern seemed to shake with it. There was no time to ask or to wonder what had happened, for the regiment was ordered off at a gallop. After riding about three hundred yards we turned into a narrow road that promised to take us into the midst of the enemy. Half a dozen horsemen in cadet gray-most likely a general's staff reconnoitering, as they did not ride in ranks-were in the road ahead of us, and turned and fled back to their lines.
The word ''Charge!'' was now passed from the leading squadron, and sabers flew into the air along our line; but none too soon, for we were already in the midst of the foe, and they were ready for us. The unfortunate squadron that led caught all the fire as we dashed along the narrow lane, and we who rode next it got only the smoke from the enemy's guns. We could reach nothing as yet, and could see nothing but fire and smoke, for their line of battle was safely posted behind a thicket that lined the left of the road, while their rifles were aimed through it.
It was a long lane and a hot lane to go through; but the lane had a turn, and we got to it at last when we reached the Plank road and struck Rode's division right in the front. We struck it as a wave strikes a stately ship: the ship is staggered, maybe thrown on her beam ends, but the wave is dashed into spray, and the ship sails on as before.
Major Keenan, who led his battalion in the charge, the captain in command of the leading squadron, the adjutant, and a few score of their followers went down at this shock together. The detail sent over to recover their bodies after the battle said that the major had thirteen bullets in his body, the adjutant nine, and others fewer. It was reported by some who rode close upon the major that in falling he shouted, ''To the right!'' seeing that the impenetrable masses on his left could not be forced, and that there was no way out but over the thinner lines on the right. When turning at full speed, my horse was killed and I was pitched over his neck on the roadside. Here I parted company with the regiment. When I jumped to my feet I had time to take only one glance at my surroundings. My sole thought was to escape capture or death. On one side were the heavy lines of Confederate infantry doubled and bent by the charge, their officers trying to recover their leading squadrons were galloping in the Plank road, the others breaking over the Confederate skirmish lines as far back as I could see into the woods.
By instinct I turned toward the woods on the right of the Plank road as the best way out, and made a dash at the lines, which had just recovered from their surprise that a cavalry regiment should have ridden over them, and were firing after it. They were loading when I ran out between them, and when they began to fire I dropped down behind some trees that had been cut the cannon; when the volley was over I jumped up and ran as fast as before.
The Plank road, and the woods that bordered it, presented a scene of terror and confusion such as I had never seen before. Men and animals were dashing against one another in wild dismay before the line of fire that came crackling and crashing after them. The constantly approaching rattle of musketry, the crash of the shells through the trees, seemed to come from three sides upon the broken fragments of the road. The horses of the men of my regiment who had been shot, mingled with the pack-mules that carried the ammunition of the Eleventh Corps, tore like wild beasts through the woods. I tried in vain to catch one.
This employment or the mules for ammunition