EPISODE 1 -- CONFUSION DURING
THE SEVEN DAYS
The first situation where Chilton is mentioned at
length occurs during the Seven Days Battles. In his
appearances, we find him placing Magruder out of
position and the ordering Stuart to enter a battle by
a bridge much further than necessary.
"Magruder, the ever-galloping, started
immediately by a short route a local guide showed
him, and he left his artillery to follow by the road.
While he was on his way through the woods, another
summons came. Col. R.H. Chilton sent word that he
wished to show Magruder where to take position.
Without waiting to see what Chilton intended to do,
Magruder hurried off Major Brent to Holmes on the
unpleasant mission that already has been described.
Then "Prince John" dashed off and met the
Chief of Staff, who conducted him to a position in
the forest on the right of Holmes. There, Chilton
explained, Lee wished Magruder to place his troops.
Magruder did not wait for more details. He dispatched
officers to find his Brigades and to bring them up.
In person he spurred away to locate Holmes."
Magruder dashing about can't find Holmes and
orders Semmes to move forward in darkness. Semmes
protests. Magruder insists.
"Off once more rode Magruder, this time to
hasten the advance of the remainder of his troops. On
the way , he received orders to abandon the movement
on the right of Holmes and to return to the support
of Longstreet. Most of Magruder's troops by this time
had reached New Market, much farther to the rear than
he should have directed them. He sent an officer to
recall them, and himself waited for them at the
junction of the Long Bridge and Darbytown roads. As
soon as the head of his column arrived, he put spurs
to his mount again and hurried to report to Lee. At
headquarters, he was told that, when his troops were
at hand, he was to relieve Longstreet. To supervising
this transfer of front line position, Magruder
devoted himself until 3 AM and then he slept an hour.
It was his second hour of repose in seventy-two. His
men, of course, were exhausted. Most of them had
marched twenty miles that day and had kept the road
for eighteen hours, but not one of them had been
privileged to draw trigger."
Vol. I. p. 586
"This, then, was the result of the attempted
convergence of all the infantry opposite the line of
McClellan's retreat: Holmes had been stopped by
superior artillery; the reserve Divisions of Magruder
had been worn out to no purpose; Huger had spent the
day cutting a road; Jackson had not crossed White Oak
swamp; almost 50,000 Confederate troops, for one
reason or another, had done virtually nothing on the
day when Lee and hoped to overwhelm his
adversary." Vol. I. p. 587
"[At 3:30 AM on June 30], by his [Stuart] pallet
stood a courier with a dispatch from Lee's Chief of
Staff: the enemy, wrote Col. Chilton, had been
headed off at the intersection of the Long Bridge and
Charles City roads; Stuart should recross the
Chickahominy to cooperate with Jackson. Grapevine
probably would be the best bridge for him to use.
[OR, 11, pt. 2 PP. 497, 518] Stuart scrutinized the
note: it bore date of June 30, but no hour. When,
Stuart demanded of the courier, had the dispatch been
written? "Nine PM" answered the man.
"Stuart did not stop to question the statement
or to inquire how a courier could have found him so
quickly in the confusing hours of a dark night. he
reasoned that if the enemy had been found and had
been halted at the designated point, the quickest way
to reach Jackson would be to move by Bottom's Bridge,
not by Grapevine. Time might be saved, also, if he
rode ahead of his troops and ascertained for himself
what the situation was. Quickly he mounted and
galloped off. The orders left for the men were that
they should follow him via the bridge he had chosen.
"To Bottom's, Stuart rode at his dashing speed.
No enemy remained at that point. Up the Williamsburg
road he went, then turned abruptly to his left and
hurried southward to White Oak Swamp. There the rear
Brigades of Jackson's command were moving swiftly
over the swamp unopposed. No sound of firing was
audible. The Federals evidently were not "headed
off" at the crossroads as Chilton had written.
Jackson was advancing--and rapidly. If
"Stonewall" was to be overtaken and
supported, with the least delay, the march of the
cavalry should be shifted. The Chickahominy should be
crossed below Bottom's Bridge. Then the column could
come up on the left of Jackson.
"Back Stuart hurried by the same roads.
Fortunately, when he reached Bottom's Bridge, he
found that his troopers had not passed there and,
consequently, would not have to make a double
crossing of the river. He soon came upon his men East
of the Chickahominy, but he brought them
disappointment, because rumor had spread among them
they were en route to witness the surrender of
McClellan's Army." Vol. I. p.
EPISODE 3 -- THE VERBAL
COMMAND AT CHANCELLORSVILLE
At Chancellorsville, Chilton appears to order Jubal
Early out of line on the heights above
Fredericksburg, in spite of Early's protests, and to
march toward Chancellorsville. A gap in the
Confederate line is created, which could have
collapsed Lee's rear just as he was initiating
activities at Chancellorsville. Furthermore, Chilton
orders the artillery to be evacuated on the railroad
to Richmond effectively removing it form the ensuing
April 30, 1863 Fredericksburg. Jubal Early's
division is holding heights above Fredericksburg
against superior numbers of Union troops. To his
rear, in the wilderness near Chancellorsville, Lee
and Jackson are confronting Hooker who has crossed
the Rappahannock and is pressing on Fredericksburg
from that direction. Early and others are speculating
on how to deal with enemy movements in their front
when Chilton appears.
"Details were being discussed when, about 11 AM,
straight from the headquarters of the Army, arrived Col.
R.H. Chilton, Chief of Staff. He at once took
Early aside and communicated what he described as
verbal orders from Lee: As soon as practicable,
Early was to march toward Chancellorsville with the
entire force at his command, except Pendleton's
artillery and one Brigade of infantry. The artillery
was to be divided. Eight or ten guns should be left
on the heights to support the infantry. The remainder
of the artillery, especially the heavy pieces, must
be started at once for a place of safety down the RF
& P Railroad. Those batteries and regiments left
behind were to do their utmost to keep the enemy from
seizing the ridge; and if they failed in this, they
were to retreat in the direction of Spotsylvania
Court House. That part of the order concerning the
artillery Chilton repeated to Pendleton.
"The parson-gunner and, even more, "Old
Jube" were stunned by these instructions. Early
had Chilton and Pendleton sit down with him and, item
by item, he went over the orders. It was impossible,
Early argued, to withdraw his force in daylight
without being observed by the Federals: They
overlooked his position and had up balloons besides.
As soon as he abandoned the position to the care of a
handful of troops, the Unionists would occupy
Fredericksburg and Marye's Heights. Pendleton, in the
language of his report, supported Early with
"one or two suggestions."
"To these arguments, Chilton replied that
General Lee presumably had decided that the advantage
of having Early with him outweighed the loss of
Fredericksburg, which could be recovered easily after
Hooker had been defeated. To make clearer what
Chilton assumed to be the reasoning of Lee, the Chief
of Staff, who seemed quite cool, called attention to
the Federals then in motion up Safford Heights. He
had no doubt, said Chilton, that those troops were
marching to join Hooker and to oppose Lee.
"Early still could not bring himself to believe
that Lee had set aside the plain orders given the
previous afternoon. The Union troops being held at
Fredericksburg, Early expostulated, were more than he
possibly could defeat in the Wilderness.
W"as there any possibility that Chilton had
misunderstood orders which were the more liable to
misinterpretation because they were more verbal?
Chilton was sure there could be no mistake.
"What, demanded Early, was the reason for
dividing the artillery? It was, Chilton explained,
because Lee did not need much artillery at
Chancellorsville and wished to be sure that the guns
at Fredericksburg would be sent to safety in the
"How long, asked Pendleton in his turn, was he
expected to hold the heights against the overwhelming
odds he would face? Long enough, answered Chilton,
for the artillery and the trains to get to the rear
and out of danger.
"This," Early afterward wrote, "was
very astounding...It is true that there was the force
massed near Falmouth and the indications were that it
was moving above, but still there was a much larger
force of infantry stationed below, which evinced no
disposition to move."
"This realistic argument the Fates set at
naught. While Early was talking, a messenger brought
word that the Federals who had retired under the
right bank of the river to get protection from the
"feeling-out" fire of the morning had
evacuated the position, had crossed the river and had
abandoned their bridgehead. Could anything have
seemed more positively to confirm Chilton's assertion
that the Federals were withdrawing from the district
of Fredericksburg to confront Lee in the Wilderness?
"Old Jube: a natural skeptic, was shaken but not
wholly convinced. He pointed out that the troops near
the mouth of Deep Run had not left the Confederate
side of the river and that a number of guns remained.
"It was now between 11 and 12 o'clock on the 2nd
of May. Jackson at that hour was well advanced on his
march to the left of Hooker. South and Southeast of
Chancellorsville, Lee was playing a fine game of
bluff with Anderson's and McLaw's Divisions and was
trying to make the Unionists believe that he was
preparing to attack on that sector with his whole
force. Of this general plan of operations, Chilton
may have told Early something. All that either of the
officers knew of the progress of the action was what
they could determine from the sound of the distant
artillery. It seemed heavy. By it, and by the whole
situation, Early was nonplused. He could not see the
logic of his orders, brought by Chilton, but when the
Chief of Staff insisted that the instructions were
explicit and positive, Early did not feel that his
discretion extended to them. Foolish as abandonment
of the Fredericksburg front appeared to be, orders
were orders. Lee must know more about the operation
than Early could.
"What Chilton required, Early set about doing as
promptly as he could. Pendleton dropped plans for
bombarding the force at Falmouth and began to
designate the batteries that were to start for the
rear. To cover their withdrawal he made a show of
moving horses and vehicles as if he were increasing
the number of guns on the heights. Early devoted
himself to getting off his foot troops covertly.
Barksdale had one regiment in Fredericksburg. As it
could not be withdrawn without attracting attention,
it must stay where it was. Harry Hay's Brigade, with
one regiment of skirmishers near the mouth of Deep
Run, most conveniently could be left.
"Slow business it was to get the regiments on
the ridge, in marching order, an to make them ready
to start for the Plank Road. At length, about 2 PM,
Early said au revoir to Hays and Pendleton on Lee's
Hill, and rode off to expedite in person the movement
of his men. To his dismay, as he was leaving, he
observed that one of the Federal balloons had risen,
most inquisitively, as if "Professor" Lowe
had know that the "rebels" had afoot some
new treason against the Union. Early concluded that
the Federals had discovered his move and he
anticipated the worst, but,battling delay, he kept
pushing men and wagons on. By late afternoon he had
the last of his men in motion toward the Plank Road.
"Now, abruptly, came another disconcerting
messenger. He brought a dispatch which Lee had
written after Colonel Chilton had returned and had
reported the orders given Early. Those orders, Lee
wrote, had been based on a misunderstanding by
Colonel Chilton of Lee's wishes. It had not been
intended that Early should withdraw from
Fredericksburg unless this could be done with safety.
The discretion given Early still was to be exercised.
"How profusely "Old Jube" swore, and
whether he went to the extreme of shifting his quid
of tobacco to the other jaw , the record does not
show. He was relieved of a march but not of a
quandary. The enemy, he assumed, already had
occupied--or was in the act of seizing -- his abandoned
works. These he could not hope with his small force
to recapture. If he went back and made the effort and
failed, he would deprive Lee of any use of the
Division. It simply would have marched out, then have
returned, and then have wrecked or, at the least,
have immobilized itself when Lee needed it. The
start, under misapprehension of orders, had been
foolish; an attempt to go back might be equally so.
Let the column go on!
"A mile the exasperated Early rode with his men
along the Plank Road and then--another messenger.
This one had a note from Barksdale, whose Brigade was
following Early's Division. An officer of Pendleton's
--so the paper read-- had overtaken the column and
had reported to Barksdale that the enemy was
advancing against the heights in great strength.
Pendleton and Hays had informed the Mississippian
that unless they had immediate relief, all the
artillery left behind by Early would be captured. The
courier who brought this information to Early added
that Barksdale was hurrying to help Hays.
"[Early returned] "On arrival, to his
relief, Early found that the Federals had not
advanced at Fredericksburg and, on the
Confederate,right and not proceeded beyond the
Richmond Stage Road. There even was an element of
hospitable cheer in the return of the infantry.
"A singular episode appeared to have closed with
more of good luck than the Confederates could have
hoped to enjoy. Exasperating and nerve-wearing had
been the result of Colonel Chilton's curious and
never-explained misunderstanding of orders, but it
had involved no loss of life or of ground. The chief
complaint was Pendleton's. Had he been apprised
earlier, he told the division commander, that
Chilton's instructions had been disavowed, the
Confederate left would not have been weakened by the
withdrawal of those guns that now had gone far
southward. With what artillery had had, said
Pendleton, he would make the best defense he could.
He made no effort, so far as the record shows, to
recall during the night the batteries that first had
been started to the rear." Vol.
II. pp. 607-610
"A black entry must have followed an occurrence
of the afternoon of May 3. After Chancellorsville had
been reached, Lee temporarily halted the advance in
order to get entangled units separated an to prepare
for an advance that would drive Hooker back against
United States Ford. During this pause in the battle,
Lee received news of Early's evacuation, by Chilton's
order, of the heights at Fredericksburg.
Vol. II. p. 661