The Battle of Chancellorsville Begins
Chapter 10 (April 27, 1863 – May 2, 1863)
The army numbered 119,661 men on April 21, 1863. Each man was to carry eight days’ rations, 40 to 60 rounds of ammunition and all his house-goods weighing at least 75 or 80 pounds.
On the 27th the bugles sounded, we broke camp, and the army was on the move towards Chancellorsville, traveling this day 12 miles. We crossed Potomac Creek and encamped.
April 28th. Broke camp, traveled 13 miles, passed Harwood Church and encamped in the vicinity of the church. Here we met Captain Ryan’s company of the 131st, P. V. I. Lieut. M. L. Wagenseller, W. H. Gemberling, J, J. Houseworth and a number of others, whose names we cannot recall, belonged to this command.
During the winter of 1862 and 1863 some cavalry was encamped near this church, and someone with charcoal had drawn a cavalry charge on the wall, back of the pulpit. This picture, of course, showed the Johnnies routed, and the Yankees in full pursuit.
April 29th. Broke camp, crossed the Rappahannock River, at Kelley’s Ford on a canvas pontoon bridge. This was 27 miles above Fredericksburg. We also crossed Cedar Creek, and the Rapidan River at Germania Ford, and having traveled 18 miles encamped just beyond the river. Here a bridge was in course of construction. General Lee preparing for a northern invasion.
A spy of General Geary’s, disguised as an old planter, was sent ahead of the army, rode to the bridge and engaged these workmen in a conversation about the invasion, hoping that the Confederates would be successful, and the Yankees badly beaten. During the conversation he looked around and said to these men “See, there the Yankees are coming. Let us flee out this way.” They all took his advice and were captured. This was all planned before he started away from headquarters. The prisoners were then taken back to where General Geary was and he seeing them said, “What is that old man doing in there?” and ordered him out. He was taken to the rear, his disguise removed, and he came up on another horse and conversed with the old Confederates with whom he had been captured. Those of us who knew this spy could scarce believe that he was the same person. Eighty Johnnie rebs were in this bridge gang and all were made prisoners.
April 30th. We are again on the move, traveling on the old plank road leading to Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. We skirmished along this road until we reached what was to be one of the greatest battle fields of the war. As we were advancing the skirmish line the Confederates opened on us with artillery. This was our initiation and introduction to rebel shell. The skirmishers captured about 200 rebels, with a loss of only one man. Traveled 10 miles and encamped in sight of the Chancellor house.
May 1st. Our line was advanced about two miles on the plank road in the direction of Fredericksburg. We halted in an open field where some one was burning charcoal. Here the boys divested themselves of all their surplus clothing and everything that would lighten their load. In the distance artillery and musketry could be distinctly heard. A few shells were thrown around us, and later in the day we were withdrawn to our former position near Chancellor house. Here we remained all night.
Saturday, May 2. We constructed breast works as best we could with the few implements we had. We lay behind these works until 7 o’clock in the evening, when down the plank road a charge was made upon us and after some very hard fighting the Confederates were compelled to withdraw.
Sergeant Simpson, of Company A, was killed, and Sergeant George W. Townsend, of Company G, was the first man wounded in our company. After this charge the skirmishers were again sent out.
Samuel F. May, of Company G, had been detailed, and after being out on the skirmish line a little while he sent word in that it was impossible for him to keep awake, and he asked to be relieved. He was relieved, and the writer, knowing full well the dangers to be confronted, very unwillingly took May’s place, to which he had been detailed. May who had been a member of the old 28th Regiment, and transferred to the 147th, was always twitting Company G as conscripts and cowards, and now, when he smelled the smoke of battle in the air, he was the first to show the white feather.