and the Twelfth New Hampshire Volunteers
By Rudy VanVeghten
PART 8: Hooker Skedaddles
Shortly before Bedee received his head injury, “Old Joe” Hooker suffered a similar fate when a support column at the Chancellor House was dislodged by a Rebel cannonball and some of the masonry fell on him. When he regained his bearings, he directed the continued retreat to the north of the Plank Road with his new line anchored about a half mile north of the Chancellorsville crossroads.
Late that morning, “Marse” Lee, overlooking the battlefield of his greatest military accomplishment, was preparing to embarrass his foe even more when word arrived that Sedgwick’s corps had finally taken Fredericksburg and was moving west toward Chancellorsville. Not surprisingly, Lee for the third time divided his army, leaving only three divisions to hold back the full six corps of the now apparently “Fightless” Joe Hooker, who once again failed to take advantage.
When the roll was called the morning of May 4 for the 12th New Hampshire, the approximately two dozen Mountaineers left standing the previous day had been joined by about 70 more men as displaced soldiers relocated their base unit.
Although there was no fighting on May 4 for the depleted Mountaineers, they were put to work digging entrenchments along the river near U.S. Ford. They were ordered to leave everything behind but their canteens, and never had a chance to retrieve their belongings.
Hooker spent much of the day and night playing telegraph tag with Gen. Sedgwick. During the night of May 4-5, Sedgwick quietly retreated across Banks Ford as Lee reinforced General Jubal Early’s Rebel division at Fredericksburg and the nearby Salem Church. Lee’s hope to crush Sedgwick was foiled due to slow-moving line formations and a fruitless night attack. At dawn on Tuesday, May 5, Lee angrily discovered that his prey had escaped.
Back at Chancellorsville, Hooker called a council of war with his corps commanders and announced the rest of the Army of the Potomac would also start an orderly retreat over the river. Before Lee could regroup his army into a final assault, the blue Goliath of the North effected his escape from the South’s “chestnut and gray” David.
Following the crossing, which took place in a torrential downpour, the whipped federal army headed back to Falmouth “through mud beneath and rain above.”
After arriving back, Bartlett made the following entry in his diary: “May 7, 1863 – The many vacant quarters in the company lines tell but too plainly of the terrible havoc of war.”