The Stars of Night Contain The Glittering Day
One hundred and fifty years ago on May 3, 1863, the wheels were set in motion to begin the climatic end to the Civil War. A Confederate victory at Chancellorsville made General Robert E. Lee and his men feel unequivocally invincible. Two months later, the Confederate hopes were crushed at the Battle of Gettysburg. A group of Laurens County men, who called themselves the Blackshear Guards and the Laurens Volunteers, were assigned to the 14th Georgia Infantry Regiment of Thomas’s Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia. And, they were right in the middle of this horrific fight.
Following the devastating Union loss at Fredericksburg in December of 1862, Gen. Hooker, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, planned a bold move to attack Gen. Robert E. Lee’s (left) forces on the opposite side of the Rappahannock River. Hooker sent the major part of his force north up the river where they crossed and turned south. The move went totally unnoticed by Lee, who discovered the movements at the last moment.
Lee’s commanders, Ambrose Powell Hill and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, moved from Fredericksburg west along the Mine Road toward Tabernacle Church in late April, 1863. Jackson arrived at Chancellorsville on the 1st of May. Gen. Hill was located to his rear along the Orange Plank Road. By nightfall, the 14th Ga. was located about one mile east of Catherine's Furnace. Thomas relieved Posey's brigade just after sun up on the 2nd.
Jackson devised the boldest plan of his military career. He planned to take his entire corps on a long forced march south and west, all the way around Chancellorsville. At first, the Federals thought Jackson's men were moving away from their lines. Thomas's Brigade was sent to the rear of the column to assist the artillery train just after noon.
The Volunteers, under the command of Gen. A.R. Wright, came to the aid of their fellow Laurens Countians to prevent Geary’s attack on Thomas and the Blackshear Guards. Thomas and Archer were forced to turn their brigades back to help Wright and Posey in front of Catherine's Furnace. After the Federal attack was repulsed, Thomas and Archer double-timed along Jackson's route along the Brock Road. By six o'clock that afternoon, Thomas was still two miles below Catherine Furnace - miles away from Jackson's front.
Just after dark, Jackson moved to front of the column to scout for the Federal flank or rear. While he was returning from the Federal lines, “Stonewall Jackson” (left) was struck by elements of the North Carolina Infantry. Jackson fell and was taken away. The highly beloved General died at Guinea Station on the 10th of May. Many say that the hopes of the Confederate Army died with him. A.P. Hill succeeded to the command of Jackson’s corps.
“Everybody vacated the road, and lay flat on the ground. I did the same; and, while thus "hugging the ground", four litter bearers, carrying a wounded man, on account of that awful cannonading put the wounded man down so close to me that I could have touched him with my hand. I soon found it was "Stonewall" Jackson. He moaned frequently and piteously. When his friends proposed to move him out of the line of fire of the Federal batteries, he told them "not to mind him, but look out for themselves," wrote Washington Lafayette Goldsmith, who began the battle as Captain of Company K and after the battle was promoted to Major of the regiment.
Thomas’s Brigade marched up the Orange Plank Road, reaching Wilderness Church about ten o’clock that night. Thomas finally arrived west of Chancellorsville just before midnight. His command was placed on Pender's left, north of the turnpike and just west of Bullock Road. The moon was bright. Shells were bursting. The battle raged on until after midnight. By dawn, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, now commanding Hill's Corp's, had ten brigades massed, waiting for an early morning attack.
The climax of the Chancellorsville battle began just after dawn. Carr's Federal troops began to pull back as they were threatened by Pender and Thomas. Thomas's brigade at the northern line of the attack rapidly turned the Federal flank. At 7:30, Pender and Thomas attacked Huger, striking Hay's right line south of the Orange Plank Road. Thomas found the enemy two hundred and fifty yards away, and drove them from their works. A second attack met with a similar success. Gen. Hooker sent French's division of Couch's Corps to attack Thomas on his left flank and at his rear. At this point, Thomas had no troops to protect his flanks. Carroll's Federals threatened Thomas’s men, who were forced to retreat over Berry's and Slocumb's log works. Thomas joined with Pender and Hall. About ten o'clock that morning, the Confederates pushed the Federals across the Orange Plank Road and back north of Chancellorsville. For the next two days, Hill's Corps kept Burnside's Army in check north of Chancellorsville.
Captain Goldsmith wrote, “Next morning, the 3rd of May, the order came to "charge, and remember Jackson," was given, it was said, by Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, who had taken command of Jackson's corps. A.P. Hill was also wounded. Instead of Jackson' death casting a gloom and damper on the troops, it acted just the opposite. I never saw our soldiers act so much like insane demons; they moved forward utterly regardless of the blinding rain of bullets. The Federals fought with great bravery. My company was the first to gain the breastworks, and I was the second man across them. Here I first saw hand-to-hand fighting. A young Federal soldier came at me with fixed bayonet. With sword in my right hand, I knocked up his musket and grabbed it with my left hand. The tussle was a fearful one; but George Kelly, a sergeant in Company D, shot and broke the Federal's thigh. The poor fellow fell, but continued to fight game. I could have cleaved his head with my sword, and Kelly started to brain him with his clubbed musket; but I forbade it, and called on my brave enemy to surrender, or I would have him shot, which he did in broken English. He was a German, and a brave fellow, and elicited our hearty praise.”
Private George W. Hall of Company G described the scene at Chancellorsville: “The shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying as I lay nearly insensible around me that night, displayed all the horrors of war and put feelings and imaginations through the mind that I never wish to experience again. There scattered over the fields and immense forest the battle field encompassed lay thousands of poor wounded and dying soldiers far away from home and friends, writhing in the agonies of death with no one to speak a soothing words to their ears."
Gen. Lee’s top aide, Col. Charles Marshall, described the scene as the triumph, as the oh so beloved Virginia general rode on the battlefield after the fighting subsided. " The fierce soldiers with their faces blackened with the smoke of battle, the wounded crawling on feeble limbs from the fury of the devouring flames, all seemed possessed with a common impulse. One long unbroken cheer, in which the feeble cry of those who lay helpless on the earth, blended with the strong voices of those who still fought, rose high above the roar of the battle, and hailed the presence of the victorious chief."
Thomas’s Brigade lost 177 killed and wounded, including Lt. Colonel James Fielder, who was killed along with three captains in the brigade. No Laurens Countians lost their lives.
The Laurens County men took the rest of the month to rest and reorganize the regiment. David Bush and John J. Dominy, Robert L. Hill and Francis A. Linder of the Blackshear Guards were wounded during the fighting. Of the Laurens Volunteers, William Henry Harrison Ashley, a musician, and Henry Curl were also wounded.
George Washington Brooks, who would later move to Dublin, was captured during the battle and taken to Elmira Prision in New York, from which he escaped, only to be recaptured at the Battle of Petersburg and taken back to Elmira at the end of the war. John Davidson lost his eye during the fighting. Other future Laurens Countians who were injured during the fighting were John Thomas Floyd, John Benjamin Roberts and Peyton Shy.
During the lull in the war, the 14th Georgia and Thomas's Brigade were placed in Pender's Division. By mid-June, Lee launched his offensive into the North. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia moved through the Shenandoah Valley with their sights set on Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
In the first three days of July, the Guards and the Volunteers would witness Lee’s greatest defeat, “The High Water Mark of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg. Fortunately for the men and their families, the men of Laurens County were not totally engaged in the several skirmishes in and around Gettysburg. They survived those horrible days, only to be engaged in the vicious fighting next spring west and south of the battle known as Chancellorsville.
The Dying Words of Stonewall Jackson
by Sidney Lanier, Signal Corps, C.S.A.
And rain his glory down with sweeter grace
Upon the dark World’s grand, enchanted face—
All loth to turn away.
And so the Day, about to yield his breath,
Utters the stars unto the listening Night,
To stand for burning fare-thee-wells of light
Said on the verge of death.
O hero-life that lit us like the sun!
O hero-words that glittered like the stars
And stood and shone above the gloomy wars
When the hero-life was done!
The phantoms of a battle came to dwell
I’ the fitful vision of his dying eyes—
Yet even in battle-dreams, he sends supplies
To those he loved so well.
His army stands in battle-line arrayed;
His couriers fly: all’s done: now God decide!
And not till then saw he the Other Side
Or would accept the shade.
Thou Land whose sun is gone, thy stars remain!
Still shine the words that miniature his deeds.
O thrice-beloved, where’er thy great heart bleeds,
Solace hast thou for pain!