Save 45 Historic Acres at the Battle of Chancellorsville
Three Historic Tracts at Jackson’s Flank Attack
We have an urgent opportunity to save three historic tracts of land across which the Battle of Chancellorsville raged. Taken together, these three parcels of hallowed ground add up to 45 acres and total $1,656,000 in transaction value. Through anticipated federal and state matching grants and other gifts, we have secured nearly 90% of the funding, but we must raise the final 10% before it’s too late.
Your generous support can help save these truly historic lands today for only $157,500 — a $10.50-to-1 match of any gift you make today.
The History: Jackson’s Flank Attack at Chancellorsville
With dawn on May 2, 1863, still hours away, Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, seated on crates in a small clearing in the woods, studied a hastily drawn map and decided to do the unthinkable.
Lee had already violated established military doctrine by dividing his forces in the face of an enemy, leaving a substantial portion of his army to guard the river crossings at Fredericksburg. Now, following a day of heavy fighting which resulted in the Union Army of the Potomac pulling back to the Chancellorsville crossroads, Lee proposed to split his forces once again.
By the low light of a small campfire and a few flickering candles, Lee traced the vague outline of the movement he wished Jackson to make. “Old Jack’s” entire corps, about 28,000 strong, would follow a series of country roads and paths to attempt to reach the Union right flank, which was reported to be “in the air,” or unprotected.
Lee, with his army’s scant remaining 14,000 soldiers (facing four or five times as many Federals), would noisily demonstrate and hopefully divert the attention of Union troops so Jackson could march his troops into position unnoticed and ready them for a flank attack.
On May 2, 1863, it took the increasingly exhausted Confederates most of the day to cover more than 12 miles to reach the point of attack. In the late afternoon, Jackson’s men slowly and silently deployed into battle lines along the Orange Turnpike. It was an awe-inspiring front that measured nearly a mile on either side of the Turnpike.
At approximately 5:15 p.m., bugles echoed notes up and down the Confederate line. Then, with the suddenness of a summer thunderstorm, waves of sweat-soaked soldiers rolled forward, screaming like banshees and driving all manner of animals — deer, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and more — ahead of them. Astonished Federals were sent reeling. “Along the road it was pandemonium,” recalled a Massachusetts soldier, “and on the side of the road it was chaos.”
As Jackson’s wave broke upon the exposed Union right and rear, many boys in blue fought valiantly to stem the tide. Near Dowdall’s Tavern, New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians under the command of Colonel Adolphus Buschbeck made a stand along with the Ohio battery of Captain Hubert Dilger. The brave Federals formed what is now known as the “Buschbeck Line” and fought with great ferocity before they, too, were overwhelmed by the Confederate onslaught.
Sunset and the confused intermingling of Jackson’s brigades compelled the general to call a temporary halt to reorganize. But even as darkness grew, Jackson was determined to renew the assault if possible, believing he could trap Hooker’s Army of the Potomac and destroy it.
In the gloom of the darkening forest, after a long and trying day, a North Carolina regiment mistook Jackson’s small scouting party as the enemy, which had ridden out beyond the lines to reconnoiter the Union position which lay ahead.
A few scattered shots and then a volley burst forth in the blackness, and Jackson reeled in his saddle, struck by three bullets, requiring the emergency battlefield amputation of his left arm. He would die eight days later. In literally the hour of his greatest triumph, Jackson had been struck down.
The first and largest of the three tracts is 42 acres and includes the site of the historic Dowdall’s Tavern.
In May of 1863, the Tavern served as the home of Reverend Melzi A. Chancellor, pastor of Wilderness Baptist Church. The tavern was a prominent landmark during the battle, with Union General Oliver O. Howard, commander of the Union’s 11th Corps, establishing his headquarters at the house, and Buschbeck’s men positioned in entrenchments on the southern edge of the property. Late on May 2nd, four Georgia regiments of Doles’s Brigade charged violently across the tract. Kirk Bissell of the 4th Georgia described attacking Federal guns near Dowdall’s Tavern: “a yell and a dash and over and around and on we flew.”
In the aftermath of the Confederates’ attack, Dowdall’s Tavern, like every other home, barn, or church for miles around, became a field hospital.
Given its size and prime location on the Orange Turnpike (now the dangerously busy Virginia State Route 3), it’s a miracle this tract hasn’t already been developed.
Robert K. Krick, who probably knows more about this battle and Jackson’s Flank Attack than anyone alive today, said “the survival, undeveloped, of a tract this large in this crucial location is nothing short of miraculous. Saving it would be a spectacular preservation coup.”
Chancellorsville Puzzle Pieces
The additional two tracts are smaller but no less important, for they help fill in key gaps and extend the areas of the battlefield we can preserve.
A nearly 2-acre tract, surrounded by land preserved by the Trust, partner organizations, and the National Park Service, is a critical puzzle piece of preservation. An Alabamian in O’Neal’s Brigade, which stormed through this tract, described a jubilant advance so overpowering that “Lucifer with his host” could not have halted it.
Finally, the small one-acre tract highlighted on your map between the Orange Turnpike and the Orange Plank Road is a key project by the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, and they have asked for our help in funding the transaction.
By securing these two additional puzzle pieces, we will succeed in preserving a contiguous stretch of preserved battle land that will be saved forever.