Steve Bartman and the Battle of Chancellorsville

In the past few weeks ESPN has been re-running the Alex Gibney film Catching Hell. The film focuses on Chicago and it’s reaction to Steve Bartman in 2003 after the Cubs lost that year’s National League Championship Series (NLCS). There is also a discussion of Boston and Bill Buckner after his error in the 1986 World Series.

Watching the film, I was struck by the group reaction to the Bartman play among the Cub fans and certain players, which led directly to the team’s collapse in Game 6. As I thought about it, I realized the Bartman story can help people understand the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville in 1863. 

For those who may not be familiar with the story: In 2003 the Cubs had enjoyed a magical regular season that raised hopes in Chicago. They entered the playoffs looking for the first World Series appearance since 1945 and their first title since 1908 (95 years at the time), and led the NLCS 3 games to 2 over the Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins), having lost Game 5 in Miami. Game 6 occurred in Chicago on October 14, and the Cubs led 3-0 going into the top of the 8th inning. A foul ball along the third base line was deflected by a fan (later identified as Steve Bartman), and the Cub outfielder, Moises Alou, reacted in frustration. The Marlins started a flurry of hits, helped by a flubbed shortstop play by Alex Gonzalez that would have ended the inning with the Cubs up 3-1 or 3-2; instead, Florida buried the Cubs with 8 runs in the 8th, and the Cubs could score no more. Game 7 the next night went back and forth, but the Marlins again (for the third straight game) beat the Cubs and went on to their second World Series in franchise history, eventually defeating the New York Yankees. Steve Bartman, meanwhile, became the scapegoat in Chicago, blamed for the defeat.

In the film, Cub fans going to Game 6 are seen admitting their nervousness, and one stated “I’ve never been so nervous before a game.” Steve Lyons, who called the game for Fox Sports, said the whole stadium was “waiting for something crazy to happen.” Some people felt it in the 7th Inning Stretch, when Bernie Mac sang “champs” in Take Me Out to the Ballgame. But the Bartman play in the 8th (in the words of Cubs 1st Baseman Eric Karros) “took the air out of the stadium.” The team seemed to tense up, and that explains both Gonzalez’ error and the meltdown of Chicago pitching. After Game 6 many in Chicago felt it was already over; some Cubs players even booked flights home after Game 7, expecting not to go to the World Series.

This, in broad parallel, is the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville. After an energetic winter and spring during which Major General Joseph Hooker reformed, rebuilt, and re-energized the army, in late April 1863 it set off for its next contest against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The last clear-cut offensive victory the Army of the Potomac had won over the Confederates was at Williamsburg, almost exactly a year earlier. A year is a long time to an army in combat, and that record weighed on the Federals as much as the 95-year drought weighed on the Cubs in 2003. Indeed, a sense of nervous energy emanates from some of Hooker’s statements before the battle and the way some of his commanders strained to get into the fight.

Lee’s unexpected strong reaction on May 1 caused Hooker to pull back, and a strange lethargy set in among the Federals. Seizing the opening created by this passivity, Lee flanked the Army of the Potomac, launching Stonewall Jackson’s famed flank attack on the evening of May 2. Jackson’s corps routed the Union XI Corps on the army’s western flank, driving it back over 2 miles before darkness ended the fighting. The attack did not win the battle, but left the Confederates threatening to win. A strong Federal defense, and/or a resolute counterattack, would recover the Army of the Potomac’s fortunes.

Yet the Army of the Potomac was like the Cubs after Bartman – the air had gone out of them. The troops themselves fought well on May 3, but the leadership was defeated and steadily pulled back. Hooker also ordered the 20% of his army at Fredericksburg to save the other 80% at Chancellorsville – a panicked order which shows how far he had melted down mentally.

Even thought the fighting on May 3 ended with the Federals in a strong position south of U.S. Ford, the battle was all but over in the mind of Hooker and many of his commanders. After some skirmishing on May 4 and 5, the Army of the Potomac quit the field. After the battle the XI Corps became the scapegoat for the army because of its failure to hold Jackson – much like Steve Bartman became the scapegoat for the foul ball play in 2003.  In both cases, the overall group saw these events as the turning points where it all went wrong and spiraled into the inevitable defeat.

The next time Catching Hell is on, take the time to watch it, as the group dynamics among the Chicago Cubs fans and players echo those of the Army of the Potomac leadership 140 years before.

Top: Steve Bartman and Moises Alou go for a foul ball in Game 6, with one out in the Top of the 8th. 

Bottom: Jackson’s flank attack on May 2.

Notice the reorientation of the Union line and the isolated position of the XI Corps “behind” the new Union position.

Year In Review 2017: #10

It’s a tradition at ECW to countdown to our most-read blog post of the year as we review the closing year. We’ll begin today with 2017’s #10 blog post. 

It started out as an unintentionally inflammatory comment, and the explanation of the comment become our 10th most-read post of the year. Addressing the Battle of Chancellorsville and Lee’s victory, this post reveals some details about the fight, Jackson’s goals, and the Union position.

Presenting #10: Jackson’s Wounding: The Best Thing That Happened To Lee At Chancellorsville by Chris Mackowski, posted on May 5, 2017.

Christmas in the Cavalry

Holly still abounds on the outskirts of Camp Bayard, named for Brig. Gen. George Bayard, a Union cavalryman who was mortally wounded at Fredericksburg.

As 1862 faded into memory, Christmas approached for the horse soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac. Camped in the Rappahannock River Valley following the Battle of Fredericksburg, their experiences that holiday varied from one man to the next. Away from their loved ones at home and caught in the midst of bloody conflict, many, in the words of Charles Dickens, simply hoped to turn their eyes “to the blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode.”

On Christmas Eve, Robert E. Lee dictated a letter of congratulations to his cavalry chief, Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Lee “took great pleasure in expressing…gratification” at the recent successful expeditions launched by one of Stuart’s brigade commanders, Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton. “Please express to General Hampton my high sense of his service, mys just appreciation of the conduct of the officers and men of his command, and my congratulations on his complete success without the loss of a man” he directed.

Stuart was also busy that day. At his headquarters several miles south of Fredericksburg along the Telegraph Road, he hosted a Christmas dinner for his officers. Among the fare was turkey, chicken, ham and apple brandy. For Christmas, Stuart joined Lee and Second Corps commander Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the manor house near Jackson’s headquarters, Moss Neck. Emboldened by Hampton’s recent success, Stuart launched a raid behind Union lines beginning on December 26.

Moss Neck

Union cavalry also remained active in the days leading up to and on Christmas. Brigadier General William W. Averell, who had been embarrassed at the end of November when Wade Hampton swooped down and captured a contingent from the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry at Hartwood Church, kept scouts and patrols out in the direction of Warrenton, west of the Union lines.

On the eastern end of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s army, the 8th Illinois Cavalry went out on picket to relieve the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry in King George County. “On reaching the place” wrote the Illinoisans’ historian, “the officers of the latter regiment were found keeping a Christmas holiday, and were intoxicated. Lieutenant-Colonel [David] Clendennin, in command, reported them to headquarters, which created quite a sensation among those interested. If more such reports had been made it would have been better for the army.”

For troopers in the 6th New York Cavalry, Christmas Eve was “devoted to hunting turkeys for Christmas dinner.” The next morning, the men enjoyed pancakes for breakfast.

On Christmas Eve, in their camp on Potomac Creek, a member of the 1st Rhode Island quoted Clement Clark Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, in a letter to the Narragansett Weekly. “We hardly expect “Santa” Claus will find us away out here, this dark night, in the pines of old Virginia, where desolation has marked the course of the contending armies” he lamented. Another comrade, J.A. Babcock also quoted Moore on Christmas Day. “What a flood of recollections rush upon my mind, as I think of former- anniversaries of the much-looked-for day, from the time when nothing but “visions of sugar-plums danced through my head,” down to later years, when social gatherings and reunions were sure to celebrate it  in perhaps a greater, but none the less happy manner. How different the surroundings here!…the merry jingle of Christmas bells is exchanged for the sounds of the bugle and drum.” That night, a concert was given by members of the regiment for the headquarters and staff. “We only missed the comforts, gifts, and “Merry Christmas” salutations of our New England homes” one soldier lamented.

On Christmas Eve, Pvt. Sidney Davis’ squadron from the 6th U.S. Cavalry left their camp and marched up the river from Fredericksburg and went on picket duty. Davis had been detached on other service and rode out on Christmas morning to join his comrades. Cresting the heights beyond Falmouth, a lone Confederate infantryman caught Davis’ eye. The Southerner shouted “Merry Christmas” and raised his canteen to Davis. The Regular saluted and continued his journey. A little farther on, Davis encountered a German from Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s XI Corps, who offered him a drink. Davis politely declined and wished him a “happy Christmas” before riding on.

And so Christmas came and went along the Rappahannock. Soon, the horse soldiers in blue and gray would meet in the new year on fields in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.


Seven Pines and Seven Days: Robert E. Lee Replaces “Old Joe” Johnston (part three)

TurningPoints-logo(part three of three)

On the morning of June 29, Robert E. Lee was faced with an opportunity few commanders ever have. His enemy, with 100,000 men, hundreds of guns, and thousands of wagons, was retreating across his front. McClellan had few options in the way of roads, and Lee had five roads radiating from Richmond like the spokes of a wheel. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity! 

However, Lee had a problem. Most of his army was on the north side of the Chickahominy. The Federals had destroyed the bridges they had constructed, so Lee was left with New Bridge, and the crossing further back at Mechanicsville. It would take a good while to get his four divisions across. Lee needed to buy time, so he ordered John Magruder and Benjamin Huger to attack in an effort to pin down the Federal rear. Jackson would rebuild a bridge and join the attack.

Unfortunately for Lee, Huger did nothing. Jackson never attacked, mainly due to a misunderstanding of orders drafted by one of Lee’s aides, and because of the time it took to rebuild a bridge. Magruder finally attacked, but with only a portion of his force. In Magruder’s defense, he faced two Union corps. The resulting battle of Savage Station was a minor affair (unless you were a participant!),

During the night the Federals continued their escape, slipping across the bridge at White Oak Swamp. One more day and the Union army might make it to the safety of their gunboats on the James.

On the 30th, Lee planned for what would be his best chance in this campaign, and one of his best in the war, to inflict a catastrophic defeat on the enemy. Benjamin Huger would strike towards the Riddell’s Shop crossroads, now known as Glendale. James Longstreet and A.P. Hill would attack on his right flank, and the three would cut the Union army in two. Theophilus Holmes had been brought up from the Petersburg area, and he would move down the River Road and harass the Union retreat. Magruder would be in reserve. The “hammer” would be Jackson, who would cross the White Oak Swamp and smash the portion of the Federal army cut off at Riddell’s Shop.

Things began to unravel almost immediately. Huger did nothing, save for a minor artillery duel. Theophilus Holmes also showed a lack of competence and made no contribution. In fact, his was a negative one: he requested reinforcements from Lee, who sent Magruder’s 13,000 men marching to the river in support and so would take no part in the day’s action. They would be needed desperately.

The greatest disappointment was Stonewall: this would be the low point of the war for him. Totally exhausted from the Valley campaign and several rides to Richmond, he spent an important part of the day asleep. All that remained for Lee were the divisions of Longstreet and A.P. Hill—19,000 men out of the 72,000 available to Lee that day!

It’s so important to walk a battlefield if you want to understand it, and Glendale is a perfect example. The wooded area has some clearings for small farms, rolling terrain, and swamps. At times, it’s impossible to see anything around you. Longstreet ordered four brigades to attack, but they did not do so in unison. Kemper advanced, but owing to the heavy woods could not see if Jenkins, to his left, was beginning his assault. Branch was supposed to move ahead with Kemper, but had difficulty locating him until he could hear the sound of the guns. As a result, Kemper’s brigade attacked on its own. Each of the subsequent scattered attacks was eventually beaten back. Near nightfall, A.P. Hill’s division was brought up, and the Union defenses were finally taken. Unfortunately for the Confederates, the road the Federals were retreating on was never severed. More than 7,000 men, blue and gray, fell that day, with little gain for the Confederates.

During the night, McClellan’s army retreated over the gentle slope of Malvern Hill. By morning, four union corps would be arrayed in a horseshoe configuration, with 30-40 guns in front, nearly hub-to-hub over a 900-yard wide front. The Confederates could see the guns, but had no idea what was on the other side of the hill. It appeared formidable, but Longstreet suggested that Confederate artillery could be positioned in a manner that would drive the Union guns off of the hill. However, the gray guns could never even establish themselves in position: batteries were destroyed as soon as they appeared.

As Lee and Longstreet rode off to scout the Federal right flank, Lee left one of his most disastrous orders. Lewis Armistead’s men were in front. Armistead was to watch to see if the Federals pulled back, and if they did, his men were to charge “with a yell.” At this signal, other Confederates were ordered to do the same. At the time, his men were engaged with Union pickets and sharpshooters. As they gained on the enemy, those few Federals pulled back, and Armistead’s men, of course, yelled.

Taking this for the signal to attack, John B. Magruder sent his men forward. D.H Hill also sent his men in. It was a perfect slaughterhouse. Wave after wave of Confederates advanced across the open slope and were cut down by the thousands. By nightfall, 5,000 Confederates lay on the field, dead, dying or wounded. Union generals urged McClellan to attack, but he would have none of it. By dawn his men were gone, soon to be beneath the cover of the Union fleet.

The seven days of battle—subsequently known as the Seven Days—proved to be one of the war’s great turning points. Two actually.

The first is obvious. The Confederates, backed up to their capital and seeing the imminent demise of their cause, had triumphed over the Union’s premier army. Once threatening Richmond, the AoP was now cowering at the river. Lee would soon take advantage of the shift in momentum and strike north, destroying John Pope’s plans at Second Manassas and eventually invading Maryland. It was an amazing turn of events.

The second turning point might be a little more difficult to see, but it was not only a turn in the war, it would bring a major change to American history. McClellan, and his like in Congress, sought only to crush the rebellion and put the army back together again. There were to be no reprisals against Confederate property, and freeing the slaves was not on the agenda. With McClellan’s defeat, more radical members of Congress became influential. Lincoln now knew that slavery had to be on the table, and he began drafting the Emancipation Proclamation.

It is one of history’s great ironies that the institution the Confederacy was fighting to defend would die more rapidly due to Confederate victory in the field. The course of the war, and of American history, had experienced a seismic shift.

Join us for the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge, where Doug Crenshaw will talk more about the Seven Days’ Battles as a turning point of the war. That ties into our overall theme, “Turning Points of the Civil War,” which also ties into ECW’s new book, Turning Points of the American Civil War. (See how clever that all is!) Check out Kris White’s essay in the book, “The Cresting Tide: Robert E. Lee and the Road to Chancellorsville”—a road that begins at Seven Pines. And check out Kevin Pawlak’s essay in the book, “’The Heavyest Blow Yet Given the Confederacy’: The Emancipation Proclamation Changes the Civil War,” which builds on Doug’s last point in this post.

Seven Pines and Seven Days: Robert E. Lee Replaces “Old Joe” Johnston (part two)

TurningPoints-logo(part two of three)

Robert E. Lee’s first actions as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia were to instill discipline and to construct earthworks around the city. He was quickly derided for this in the press and in the army, and was called “Granny Lee” and the “King of Spades.” How could a real soldier hide behind fortifications?

Lee was way ahead of his critics, however. Not only would the earthworks even the odds against his Union counterpart, but they would allow him to defend more space with fewer men, freeing troops to take the offensive. Lee also called up men from further south, and by late June, his ranks had swelled to about 90,000 men—the largest army he would ever command. 

The members of the Confederate press were not the only ones to seriously underestimate Lee. McClellan made a comment that was, in retrospect, amazing. On April 20, he wrote to President Lincoln, “I prefer Lee to Johnston—the former is too cautious & weak under great responsibility—personally brave & energetic to a fault, he yet is wanting in moral firmness when pressed by heavy responsibility & is likely to be timid & irresolute in action.”

Porter Alexander, who would become a famous artillery chief, witnessed the construction of the fortifications and asked a friend “Has Gen. Lee the audacity that is going to be required?” His companion, Colonel Joseph C. Ives, responded, “His name might be Audacity. He will take more desperate chances and take them quicker than any other general in this country, North or South; and you will live to see it, too.”

All would quickly learn what Robert E. Lee was made of.

Despite his best efforts, Lee still had serious disadvantages. The army was new to him, and he was not familiar with the capabilities of its leaders. Who would prove to be strong? Who would he be able to count on? His staff was new, too—and much too small. They didn’t understand him yet, which would be a problem when they drafted his orders. The army also lacked accurate maps—an amazing shortcoming considering the fact that the army was only a few miles from the capital. Yet good maps were difficult, if not impossible, to find.

Like Johnston, Lee knew he had to attack. McClellan had moved most of his army south of the Chickahominy, leaving only the corps of Fitz John Porter on the north bank. Lee ordered J.E.B. Stuart to take his cavalry and scout the Federal right, looking for a weak spot in the Federal defense. Stuart’s ride became the stuff of legend, but it brought back a piece of key information: Porter’s corps was outside of Mechanicsville, on a ridge at Beaver Dam Creek. Its right flank was “in the air,” meaning that it wasn’t anchored against a protective terrain feature. In other words, Porter’s position was vulnerable to a flank attack.

Lee called a meeting at the home of the widow Dabbs (“High Meadows”) on Nine Mile Road to discuss his strategy. In attendance were D.H. Hill, James Longstreet, A.P. Hill, and Stonewall Jackson, who had made the long ride from the Valley. On June 26 A.P. Hill would cross the Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge, then sweep through the village of Mechanicsville. Longstreet and D.H. Hill could then cross at the bridge near that village. Jackson’s Valley Army would come all the way to Richmond and descend upon Porter’s flank and rear. It was, indeed, an audacious plan.

A.P. Hill followed his instructions, and by mid afternoon, faced Porter’s corps at Beaver Dam Creek. Longstreet and D.H. Hill began to cross the river. Jackson’s men had arrived at Hundley’s Corner, only three miles from the battlefield, but there they stayed. He was a stickler for following orders, and those he had received led him to believe that he and D.H. Hill would advance together on Porter’s flank. Hill never appeared, so Jackson stayed put. A.P. Hill saw no signs of Jackson, so he took it upon himself to launch the attack, which was a fiasco. He lost some 1,400 troops and achieved no success.

Strategically, however, things were beginning to swing Lee’s way. McClellan had received word that Jackson was approaching, and Lee’s attack was further proof of the Confederates’ superior numbers. After all, only a madman would take most of his army across a river and leave his capital vulnerable! Yet Lee had done just that. Only John B. Magruder’s and Benjamin Huger’s divisions were left to defend Richmond—approximately 23,000 troops against four of McClellan’s corps.

However, McClellan began moving his supply base to the James River. he needed more time, so he instructed Porter to buy at least another day.

Near the mill of Dr. William Gaines stood a defensible ridge, and this is where Lee expected Porter to take his position. Accordingly, he ordered A.P. Hill to advance in the center, down the Cold Harbor Road. Longstreet was to advance on the right, down the river road, and Jackson and D.H. Hill would move to the left, around Porter’s right flank to Old Cold Harbor. There they would wait for A.P. Hill and Longstreet to drive the Federals into their waiting guns.

Unfortunately for Lee, Porter didn’t follow the script and, instead, set up his position on a ridge behind the nasty Boatswain’s Creek. On the center and right, his men were arrayed in thee lines: one at the creek, another halfway up the ridge, and the third, and the artillery, at the top.

A.P. Hill approached Dr. Gaines’s mill and found no sign of Porter’s troops. He continued to advance. Soon he slammed into them at Boatswain’s Creek and immediately attacked. All afternoon, Hill sent his men forward, but any time they came close to breaching the Federal line, Porter rushed in reinforcements. Longstreet arrived on Hill’s right, and D.H. Hill appeared on the left, at Old Cold Harbor, but where was Jackson? His week was continuing to go downhill. He had asked a local guide to take him to “Cold Harbor.” As his men advanced, he heard the sound of battle to his front. How could this be? He was supposed to be on the left flank! The guide had indeed taken him to Cold Harbor, but little did Jackson know that there were two buildings with this name and the guide had led him to “New” Cold Harbor. Jackson had to retrace his steps, which cost valuable time.

By 7:00 everyone was in place. Daylight Savings time did not exist, so there was only about an hour of light remaining. The situation was desperate for Lee. He had only two divisions south of the river, and if McClellan realized that, Richmond could be lost. Lee needed a victory now. He ordered an all-out assault; it would be, by far, his largest of the war.

As the Confederates attacked, John Bell Hood told his men not to stop and fire, but to keep charging. As they did, they broke through the first line of the Federal defense at the bottom of the ridge by the creek. As the Federals retreated, they blocked the view of their compatriots further up the hill; these men in turn retreated and blocked the third line of defense. Confederates on the far left also broke through. Porter’s men quickly retreated across the Chickahominy, saved by nightfall.

Lee had won his first battlefield victory, but at a horrific cost. The two armies suffered some 15,000 casualties that day.

More bloodshed awaited in the days ahead.

(to be continued)

EXTRA: Go “On Location” at Beaver Dam Creek with Doug Crenshaw and Chris Mackowski

The Woundings of Jackson and Longstreet

War Department-WoundingsThe circumstances were eerily similar: both Confederate lieutenant generals had led successful flank attacks through the dark, close woods of the Wilderness when they were accidentally shot by their own men. For both Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet, it seemed as if “the evil genius of the South” hovered “over those desolate woods,” one Confederate staff officer lamented.

How did those woundings impact the Army of Northern Virginia? What were the implications for Robert E. Lee? 

Take a look at the newest “War Department” video from the Civil War Trust: “The Woundings of Jackson and Longstreet.

Doug Ullman and Kris White are joined by ECW’s Chris Mackowski and historian Don Pfanz, author of the ECWS title No Turning Back: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign. White, Mackowski, and Pfanz have been deeply steeped in the stories of Jackson and Longstreet their entire careers and have much insight to offer about these parallel stories.

During the course of the interview, Chris made a comment that he later reflected on in a post, “Jackson’s Wounding: The Best Thing to Happen to Lee at Chancellorsville.”

You can also check out Kris and Chris’s two-part ECW series, “Forgotten Casualty: James Longstreet Wounded in the Wilderness” as well as an excerpt from their book The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson that focuses on Jackson’s wounding.