Battle of Chancellorsville
Today and tomorrow mark the 155th anniverary of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia. To commemorate the anniversary, the Civil War Trust will be posting live from the battlefield on its Facebook page.
Many events are planned, so check it out here.
My novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, discusses the battle and its terrible aftermath. Here is an excerpt.
It is well war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.
Personal Recollections of General Lee
David rode Renegade at a walk for a few miles, unsure which direction to follow. The early morning sky and surrounding forest were so dark that he could barely make out the road, let alone anyone foolhardy enough to be out in the unfamiliar countryside…like him. He hoped he wouldn’t encounter any Yankees. The possibility of being apprehended and thrown into a Northern prison was all too real, but his desire to find Jake outweighed his fear. After riding for nearly an hour, he encountered a Rebel soldier on picket duty, who directed him to where he thought O’Neal’s brigade was camped.
“You’re on the Orange Plank Road now,” the picket said, gazing out from under his forage cap. Even though it was still night, David could make out dark circles under the picket’s eyes. “Go up a ways until you reach Brook Road, and keep goin’ till you git to the Orange Turnpike. You’ll see the Hawkins farmstead and the Wilderness Church in front of you. Turn right and keep travelin’ on the turnpike until you see their camp. You should run into them before you reach Chancellorsville.”
“Thank you kindly,” David responded.
The picket turned, walked back to a fence post, and lit a pipe. The glow from his burning tobacco faded into the darkness behind David as he proceeded in the direction that the picket had indicated. Reaching the intersection, he could barely make out the Hawkins farmhouse, which sat back from the road. The chapel, a small, whitewashed frame building, stood closer to the road, giving him a sense of reassurance as he rode by. A zigzagged wooden-post fence lined the turnpike, and behind it in the fields, David thought he could distinguish objects on the ground. He assumed they were bodies of dead Yankees. The smell of burnt timber hung in the air, making the darkness feel even thicker.
He rode another mile or two. At long last, he saw rows of white tents off to the side of the road. The soldiers within them were just beginning to stir, rising with the dawn. He asked one man for directions to O’Neal’s brigade. The soldier pointed without saying a word. Nudging Renegade, David headed off on the route the silent soldier had specified. He saw another foot soldier, asked for the location of O’Neal’s command, and was directed to a different area. Over and over he was misled, until almost an hour and a half later, he finally found O’Neal’s brigade. He didn’t recognize anyone, so he asked one of the soldiers if he knew where Private Jacob Kimball might be. The infantryman shook his head.
“Don’t reckon I know a Kimball,” he stated.
“He’s a new enlistee,” said David.
The soldier stood shaking his head and scratching his dark beard. “We’ll be havin’ roll call in a few minutes. You can find out if he’s here then.”
David swung down from the saddle and tied Renegade. He followed the infantryman to a clearing where several other members of the brigade congregated. A bugler signaled reveille, prompting more tattered soldiers to wander over to the gathering. David looked closely for Jake or one of his friends but didn’t recognize a soul.
The sun peeked out from the horizon, casting long shadows around camp. An eerie, stifling stillness hung in the cold morning air, and a sharp breeze pierced the soldiers bedraggled and soiled clothing. They stood shivering in irregular rows, their breath casting misty puffs into the chilly air.
An officer approached. He glanced over at David before calling out names. “Albright,” he hollered.
“Here,” came a reply.
The officer hesitated, looking around at his soldiers before speaking the name again, but still no one answered. He continued to callout names on the list. Some received responses, some did not.
David’s heart leaped. His eyes darted around the group of soldiers. There was no answer.
Silence. Then the officer continued on to the next name.
“Reckon you ought to check the hospital,” the soldier with the dark beard whispered loudly to David. He heard his name called, and bellowed, “Here!”
David looked down at the trampled ground and drew a heavy sigh. He returned to Renegade and mounted, starting his search again. His heart hurt, but he was determined to find his best friend. As the sun appeared above the horizon, he sent up the same prayer request he’d repeated since the start of the battle.
Please, dear Lord, protect Jake and keep him safe from harm’s way. Amen.
He asked for directions to the army hospital. A short, stocky soldier directed him back to the turnpike toward Chancellorsville. He rode for a few miles, asking several infantrymen if he was headed in the right direction. All of them knew the exact location of the hospital.
By midmorning, he reached the hospital tents marked with bold red flags. He dismounted, tied Renegade out to graze, and after inhaling a breath of courage, went inside one of the tents. Immediately, the smell of death assaulted him. He quickly backed out, nauseated, struggling not to gag, and took in huge gulps of fresh air before attempting to reenter. More cautiously this time, he pulled open the tent flap and stepped inside.