But Stonewall Jackson was not in a defensive mood. He ordered an advance at 11 a. McLaws's initial attack pushed back Sykes's division, but the Union general organized a counterattack that recovered the lost ground. Anderson then sent a brigade under Brig. Ambrose Wright up an unfinished railroad south of the Plank Road, around the right flank of Slocum's corps. This would normally be a serious problem, but Howard's XI Corps was advancing from the rear and could deal with Wright. Sykes's division had proceeded farther forward than Slocum on his right, leaving him in an exposed position, which forced him to conduct an orderly withdrawal at 2 p.
Meade's other two divisions made good progress on the River Road and were approaching their objective, Banks's Ford. Modern attempts to rehabilitate and fumigate Joe Hooker's reputation usually and remarkably employ special pleading about the difficulties of moving in the Wilderness. Such arguments actually emphasize the salient factor on May 1: Getting out of that wilderness of course was the very essence of the general's needs. When he abandoned the chance to reach that desirable goal, Hooker at once passed the initiative, with all of its advantages, to Lee.
The Confederate would make superb use of the opportunity. Despite being in a potentially favorable situation, Hooker halted his brief offensive. His actions may have demonstrated his lack of confidence in handling the complex actions of such a large organization for the first time he had been an effective and aggressive division and corps commander in previous battles , but he had also decided before beginning the campaign that he would fight the battle defensively, forcing Lee, with his small army, to attack his own, larger one.
At the [First] Battle of Fredericksburg December 13, , the Union army had done the attacking and met with a bloody defeat. Hooker knew Lee could not sustain such a defeat and keep an effective army in the field, so he ordered his men to withdraw back into the Wilderness and take a defensive position around Chancellorsville, daring Lee to attack him or retreat with superior forces at his back. He confused matters by issuing a second order to his subordinates to hold their positions until 5 p. That evening, Hooker sent a message to his corps commanders, "The major general commanding trusts that a suspension in the attack to-day will embolden the enemy to attack him.
The retrograde movement had prepared me for something of the kind, but to hear from [Hooker's] own lips that the advantages gained by the successful marches of his lieutenants were to culminate in fighting a defensive battle in that nest of thickets was too much, and I retired from his presence with the belief that my commanding general was a whipped man.
Hooker's subordinates were surprised and outraged by the change in plans. They saw that the position they were fighting for near the Zoan Church was relatively high ground and offered an opportunity for the infantry and artillery to deploy outside the constraints of the Wilderness. Meade exclaimed, "My God, if we can't hold the top of the hill, we certainly can't hold the bottom of it! Stephen W. Sears observed, however, that Hooker's concern was based on more than personal timidity.
The ground being disputed was little more than a clearing in the Wilderness, to which access was available by only two narrow roads. The Confederate response had swiftly concentrated the aggressive Stonewall Jackson's corps against his advancing columns such that the Federal army was outnumbered in that area, about 48, to 30,, and would have difficulty maneuvering into effective lines of battle. As the Union troops dug in around Chancellorsville that night, creating log breastworks, faced with abatis , Lee and Stonewall Jackson met at the intersection of the Plank Road and the Furnace Road to plan their next move.
Jackson believed that Hooker would retreat across the Rappahannock, but Lee assumed that the Union general had invested too much in the campaign to withdraw so precipitously. If the Federal troops were still in position on May 2, Lee would attack them. As they discussed their options, cavalry commander J. Stuart arrived with an intelligence report from his subordinate, Brig. Fitzhugh Lee. Although Hooker's left flank was firmly anchored by Meade's V Corps on the Rappahannock, and his center was strongly fortified, his right flank was "in the air.
Investigations of a route to be used to reach the flank identified the proprietor of Catharine Furnace, Charles C. Wellford, who showed Jackson's cartographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss , a recently constructed road through the forest that would shield marchers from the observation of Union pickets. Lee directed Jackson to make the flanking march, a maneuver similar to the one that had been so successful prior to the Second Battle of Bull Run Second Manassas. An account by Hotchkiss recalls that Lee asked Jackson how many men he would take on the flanking march and Jackson replied, "my whole command.
Early on the morning of May 2, Hooker began to realize that Lee's actions on May 1 had not been constrained by the threat of Sedgwick's force at Fredericksburg, so no further deception was needed on that front. He decided to summon the I Corps of Maj. John F. Reynolds to reinforce his lines at Chancellorsville. Given the communications chaos of May 1, Hooker was under the mistaken impression that Sedgwick had withdrawn back across the Rappahannock and, based on this, that the VI Corps should remain on the north bank of the river across from the town, where it could protect the army's supplies and supply line.
In fact, both Reynolds and Sedgwick were still west of the Rappahannock, south of the town. Reynolds was forced to make a risky daylight march. By the afternoon of May 2, when Hooker expected him to be digging in on the Union right at Chancellorsville, Reynolds was still marching to the Rappahannock. Meanwhile, for the second time, Lee was dividing his army. Jackson would lead his Second Corps of 28, men around to attack the Union right flank while Lee exercised personal command of the remaining two divisions, about 13, men and 24 guns facing the 70, Union troops at Chancellorsville.
For the plan to work, several things had to happen. Second, Hooker had to stay tamely on the defensive. Third, Early would have to keep Sedgwick bottled up at Fredericksburg, despite the four-to-one Union advantage there. And when Jackson launched his attack, he had to hope that the Union forces were unprepared. Confederate cavalry under Stuart kept most Union forces from spotting Jackson on his long flank march, which started between 7 and 8 a.
Several Confederate soldiers saw the Union observation balloon Eagle soaring overhead and assumed that they could likewise be seen, but no such report was sent to headquarters. David B. Birney , ordered his artillery to open fire, but this proved little more than harassment. The corps commander, Sickles, rode to Hazel Grove to see for himself and he reported after the battle that his men observed the Confederates passing for over three hours. When Hooker received the report about the Confederate movement, he thought that Lee might be starting a retreat, but he also realized that a flanking march might be in progress.
He took two actions. Oliver O. Howard on his right flank: "We have good reason to suppose the enemy is moving to our right. Please advance your pickets for purposes of observation as far as may be safe in order to obtain timely information of their approach. Sedgwick did not take action from the discretionary orders. Sickles, however, was enthusiastic when he received the order at noon. He sent Birney's division, flanked by two battalions of Col. Hiram Berdan 's U. But the action came too late.
Jackson had ordered the 23rd Georgia Infantry to guard the rear of the column and they resisted the advance of Birney and Berdan at Catherine Furnace. The Georgians were driven south and made a stand at the same unfinished railroad bed used by Wright's Brigade the day before. They were overwhelmed by 5 p. Two brigades from A. Hill 's division turned back from the flanking march and prevented any further damage to Jackson's column, which by now had left the area.
Most of Jackson's men were unaware of the small action at the rear of their column. As they marched north on Brock Road, Jackson was prepared to turn right on the Orange Plank Road, from which his men would attack the Union lines at around Wilderness Church. However, it became apparent that this direction would lead to essentially a frontal assault against Howard's line. Fitzhugh Lee met Jackson and they ascended a hill with a sweeping view of the Union position and Jackson was delighted to see that Howard's men were resting, unaware of the impending Confederate threat.
Although by now it was 3 p. The attack formation consisted of two lines—the divisions of Brig. Rodes and Raleigh E. Colston —stretching almost a mile on either side of the turnpike, separated by yards, followed by a partial line with the arriving division of A. Significant contributors to the impending Union disaster were the nature of the Union XI Corps and the incompetent performance of its commander, Maj.
Howard failed to make any provision for defending against a surprise attack, even though Hooker had ordered him to do so. The Union right flank was not anchored on any natural obstacle, and the only defenses against a flank attack consisted of two cannons pointing out into the Wilderness. Also, the XI Corps was an organization with poor morale.
The corps had originally been commanded by Brig. Franz Sigel , a political general appointed because of his abolitionist views. Although inept as a commander, he was very popular with the Germans and the immigrant soldiers had a saying " I fights mit Sigel ". During the spring of , Sigel's corps was detached from the main Army of the Potomac and placed in the Shenandoah Valley , where it was defeated by Stonewall Jackson's forces at Cross Keys.
After the Peninsula Campaign , it was attached to Maj. The XI Corps did not participate in the Antietam or Fredericksburg campaigns, and after Hooker took command of the army Sigel was dismissed and replaced by Howard. He dismissed a number of popular generals and replaced them with men like Brig. Francis C. Barlow , a ferocious disciplinarian who was known for swatting stragglers with the blunt end of his sword.
Many of the immigrants had poor English language skills and they were subjected to ethnic friction with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, where all non-Irish immigrants were referred to as "Germans". In fact, half the XI Corps consisted of native-born Americans, mostly from the Midwest, but it was the immigrants with whom the corps came to be associated. The corps' readiness was poor as well. Of the 23 regiments, eight had no combat experience, and the remaining 15 had never fought on the winning side of a battle. And although many of the immigrants had served in European armies, they tended to not perform well under the loose discipline of the American volunteer military.
Because of these factors, Hooker had placed the XI Corps on his flank and did not have any major plans for it except as a reserve or mopping-up force after the main fighting was over. Most of the men of the XI Corps were sitting down for supper and had their rifles unloaded and stacked.
Their first clue to the impending onslaught was the observation of numerous animals, such as rabbits and foxes, fleeing in their direction. After the division of Brig. Charles Devens, Jr. Carl Schurz ordered his division to shift from an east-west alignment to north-south, which they did with amazing precision and speed. General Howard partially redeemed his inadequate performance prior to the battle by his personal bravery in attempting to rally the troops. He stood shouting and waving a flag held under the stump of his amputated arm lost at the Battle of Seven Pines in , ignoring the danger of the heavy rifle fire, but he could only gather small pockets of soldiers to resist before his corps disintegrated.
Several thousand of Howard's men gathered at Fairview, a clearing across the road from the Chancellor mansion, where 37 guns of the XII Corps artillery brought Rodes's now-disorganized division to a standstill at Hiram G. Berry to defend a line a half mile from Chancellorsville with their bayonets, but by that time, the momentum of the attack had passed. By nightfall, the Confederate Second Corps had advanced more than 1. The attackers were almost as disorganized as the routed defenders. Although the XI Corps had been defeated, it would be incorrect to characterize the action as thousands of men simply fleeing for their lives.
The corps suffered nearly 2, casualties killed, 1, wounded, and missing or captured , about one quarter of its strength, including 12 of 23 regimental commanders, which suggests that they fought fiercely during their retreat. Jackson's force was now separated from Lee's men only by Sickles's corps, which had been separated from the main body of the army after its foray attacking Jackson's column earlier in the afternoon. Between 11 p. Stonewall Jackson wanted to press his advantage before Hooker and his army could regain their bearings and plan a counterattack, which might still succeed because of the sheer disparity in numbers.
He rode out onto the Plank Road that night to determine the feasibility of a night attack by the light of the full moon, traveling beyond the farthest advance of his men. When one of his staff officers warned him about the dangerous position, Jackson replied, "The danger is all over. The enemy is routed. Go back and tell A. Hill to press right on. Jackson's three bullet wounds were not in themselves life-threatening, but his left arm was broken and had to be amputated.
While recovering, he contracted pneumonia and died on May His death was a devastating loss for the Confederacy. Some historians and participants—particularly those of the postbellum Lost Cause movement—attribute the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg two months later to Jackson's absence. Despite the fame of Stonewall Jackson's victory on May 2, it did not result in a significant military advantage for the Army of Northern Virginia.
About 76, Union men faced 43, Confederate at the Chancellorsville front.
Battle of Chancellorsville - Forming Union Lines
Unless Lee could devise a plan to eject Sickles from Hazel Grove and combine the two halves of his army, he would have little chance of success in assaulting the formidable Union earthworks around Chancellorsville. Fortunately for Lee, Joseph Hooker inadvertently cooperated. As they were withdrawing, the trailing elements of Sickles's corps were attacked by the Confederate brigade of Brig. James J. Archer , which captured about prisoners and four cannons. Hazel Grove was soon turned into a powerful artillery platform with 30 guns under Col.
Porter Alexander. After Jackson was wounded on May 2, command of the Second Corps fell to his senior division commander, Maj. Hill was soon wounded himself, however. He consulted with Brig. Rodes , the next most senior general in the corps, and Rodes acquiesced in Hill's decision to summon Maj. Stuart to take command, notifying Lee after the fact.
Henry Heth replaced Hill in division command. Although cavalryman Stuart had never commanded infantry before, he would turn in a very creditable performance at Chancellorsville. By the morning of May 3, the Union line resembled a giant horseshoe. On the western side of the Chancellorsville salient, Stuart organized his three divisions to straddle the Plank Road: Heth's in the advance, Colston's — yards behind, and Rodes's, whose men had done the hardest fighting on May 2, near the Wilderness Church.
The Confederates were resisted fiercely by the Union troops behind strong earthworks, and the fighting on May 3 was the heaviest of the campaign. The initial waves of assaults by Heth and Colston gained a little ground, but were beaten back by Union counterattacks. At Hazel Grove, in short, the finest artillerists of the Army of Northern Virginia were having their greatest day. They had improved guns, better ammunition and superior organization.
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With the fire of battle shining through his spectacles, William Pegram rejoiced. Rodes sent his men in last and this final push, along with the excellent performance of the Confederate artillery, carried the morning battle. Chancellorsville was the only occasion in the war in Virginia in which Confederate gunners held a decided advantage over their Federal counterparts.
Confederate guns on Hazel Grove were joined by 20 more on the Plank Road to duel effectively with the Union guns on neighboring Fairview Hill, causing the Federals to withdraw as ammunition ran low and Confederate infantrymen picked off the gun crews. Hooker ordered it abandoned for good. The loss of this artillery platform doomed the Union position at the Chancellorsville crossroads as well, and the Army of the Potomac began a fighting retreat to positions circling United States Ford. The soldiers of the two halves of Lee's army reunited shortly after 10 a.
Lee's presence was the signal for one of those uncontrollable bursts of enthusiasm which none can appreciate who has not witnessed them. The fierce soldiers, with their faces blackened with the smoke of battle, the wounded crawling with 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 battle and hailed the presence of a victorious chief.
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He sat in the full realization of all that soldiers dream of—triumph; and as I looked at him in the complete fruition of the success which his genius, courage, and confidence in his army had won, I thought that it must have been from some such scene that men in ancient days ascended to the dignity of gods. He later wrote that half of the pillar "violently [struck me] Although clearly incapacitated after he arose, Hooker refused to turn over command temporarily to his second-in-command, Maj.
Darius N. Couch , and, with Hooker's chief of staff, Maj. Daniel Butterfield , and Sedgwick out of communication again due to the failure of the telegraph lines , there was no one at headquarters with sufficient rank or stature to convince Hooker otherwise. This failure may have affected Union performance over the next day and may have directly contributed to Hooker's seeming lack of nerve and timid performance throughout the rest of the battle.
As Lee was savoring his victory at the Chancellorsville crossroads, he received disturbing news: Maj. John Sedgwick 's force had broken through the Confederate lines at Fredericksburg and was headed toward Chancellorsville. On the night of May 2, in the aftermath of Jackson's flank attack, Hooker had ordered Sedgwick to "cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg on the receipt of this order, and at once take up your line of march on the Chancellorsville road until you connect with him. You will attack and destroy any force you may fall in with on the road.
Jubal Early to "watch the enemy and try to hold him. On the morning of May 2, Early received a garbled message from Lee's staff that caused him to start marching most of his men toward Chancellorsville, but he quickly returned after a warning from Brig. William Barksdale of a Union advance against Fredericksburg.
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John Newton and Brig. Albion P. Howe and William T. Brooks —were arrayed in line from the front of the town to Deep Run. Most of Early's combat strength was deployed to the south of town, where Federal troops had achieved their most significant successes during the December battle. Harry T. Hays from the far right to Barksdale's left.
By midmorning, two Union attacks against the infamous stone wall on Marye's Heights were repulsed with numerous casualties. A Union party under flag of truce was allowed to approach ostensibly to collect the wounded, but while close to the stone wall, they were able to observe how sparsely the Confederate line was manned.
A third Union attack was successful in overrunning the Confederate position. Early was able to organize an effective fighting retreat. John Sedgwick's road to Chancellorsville was open, but he wasted time in gathering his troops and forming a marching column. His men, led by Brooks's division, followed by Newton and Howe, were delayed for several hours by successive actions against the Alabama brigade of Brig.
Cadmus M. His final delaying line was a ridge at Salem church, where he was joined by three brigades from McLaws's division and one from Anderson's, bringing the total Confederate strength to about 10, men. The advance south of the road reached as far as the churchyard, but was driven back. The attack north of the road could not break the Confederate line. Wilcox described the action as "a bloody repulse to the enemy, rendering entirely useless to him his little success of the morning at Fredericksburg.
Was to relieve me from the position in which I found myself at Chancellorsville. In my judgment General Sedgwick did not obey the spirit of my order, and made no sufficient effort to obey it. When he did move it was not with sufficient confidence or ability on his part to manoeuvre his troops. The fighting on May 3, , was some of the most furious anywhere in the civil war. The loss of 21, men that day in the three battles, divided equally between the two armies, ranks the fighting only behind the Battle of Antietam as the bloodiest day of the war in American history. On the evening of May 3 and all day May 4, Hooker remained in his defenses north of Chancellorsville.
Lee observed that Hooker was threatening no offensive action, so felt comfortable ordering Anderson's division to join the battle against Sedgwick. He sent orders to Early and McLaws to cooperate in a joint attack, but the orders reached his subordinates after dark, so the attack was planned for May 4. By this time Sedgwick had placed his divisions into a strong defensive position with its flanks anchored on the Rappahannock, three sides of a rectangle extending south of the Plank Road.
Early's plan was to drive the Union troops off Marye's Heights and the other high ground west of Fredericksburg. Lee ordered McLaws to engage from the west "to prevent [the enemy] concentrating on General Early. Early reoccupied Marye's Heights on the morning of May 4, cutting Sedgwick off from the town.
However, McLaws was reluctant to take any action. Before noon, Lee arrived with Anderson's division, giving him a total of 21, men, slightly outnumbering Sedgwick. Despite Lee's presence, McLaws continued his passive role and Anderson's men took a few hours to get into position, a situation that frustrated and angered both Early and Lee, who had been planning on a concentrated assault from three directions. The attack finally began around 6 p. Two of Early's brigades under Brig. Hays and Robert F. Hoke pushed back Sedgwick's left-center across the Plank Road, but Anderson's effort was a slight one and McLaws once again contributed nothing.
Throughout the day on May 4, Hooker provided no assistance or useful guidance to Sedgwick, and Sedgwick thought about little else than protecting his line of retreat. Sedgwick withdrew across the Rappahannock at Banks's Ford during the pre-dawn hours of May 5. When he learned that Sedgwick had retreated back over the river, Hooker felt he was out of options to save the campaign. He called a council of war and asked his corps commanders to vote about whether to stay and fight or to withdraw. Although a majority voted to fight, Hooker had had enough, and on the night of May 5—6, he withdrew back across the river at U.
It was a difficult operation. Hooker and the artillery crossed first, followed by the infantry beginning at 6 a. Meade's V Corps served as the rear guard. Rains caused the river to rise and threatened to break the pontoon bridges. Couch was in command on the south bank after Hooker departed, but he was left with explicit orders not to continue the battle, which he had been tempted to do.
The surprise withdrawal frustrated Lee's plan for one final attack against Chancellorsville. He had issued orders for his artillery to bombard the Union line in preparation for another assault, but by the time they were ready Hooker and his men were gone. The Union cavalry under Brig. George Stoneman , after a week of ineffectual raiding in central and southern Virginia in which they failed to attack any of the objectives Hooker established, withdrew into Union lines east of Richmond—the peninsula north of the York River , across from Yorktown —on May 7, ending the campaign.
Battle of Chancellorsville Begins, 30 April 1863
My God! It is horrible—horrible; and to think of it, , magnificent soldiers so cut to pieces by less than 60, half-starved ragamuffins! Lee, despite being outnumbered by a ratio of over two to one, won arguably his greatest victory of the war, sometimes described as his "perfect battle. Just as seriously, he lost his most aggressive field commander, Stonewall Jackson. Elisha F. Paxton was the other Confederate general killed during the battle. After Longstreet rejoined the main army, he was highly critical of Lee's strategy, saying that battles like Chancellorsville cost the Confederacy more men than it could afford to lose.
Of the , Union men engaged, 17, were casualties 1, killed, 9, wounded, 5, missing ,  a percentage much lower than Lee's, particularly considering that it includes 4, men of the XI Corps who were captured on May 2. When comparing only the killed and wounded, there were almost no differences between the Confederate and Federal losses at Chancellorsville. The Union lost three generals in the campaign: Maj. Berry and Amiel W. Whipple and Brig. Edmund Kirby. Lee's Chancellorsville consisted of a pastiche of unbelievably risky gambits that led to a great triumph.
Hooker's campaign, after the brilliant opening movements, degenerated into a tale of opportunities missed and troops underutilized. Hooker, who began the campaign believing he had "80 chances in to be successful", lost the battle through miscommunication, the incompetence of some of his leading generals most notably Howard and Stoneman, but also Sedgwick , but mostly through the collapse of his own confidence.
Hooker's errors included abandoning his offensive push on May 1 and ordering Sickles to give up Hazel Grove and pull back on May 2. He also erred in his disposition of forces; despite Abraham Lincoln's exhortation, "this time put in all your men," some 40, men of the Army of the Potomac scarcely fired a shot. When later asked why he had ordered a halt to his advance on May 1, Hooker is reputed to have responded, "For the first time, I lost faith in Hooker. Sears has categorized this as a myth:. Sears's research has shown that Bigelow was quoting from a letter written in by an E.
Halstead, who was on the staff of Doubleday's I Corps division. Finally, Doubleday made no mention of such a confession from Hooker in his history of the Chancellorsville Campaign, published in Lincoln later told Congressman Deming of Connecticut that he believed the war could have been terminated at Chancellorsville had Hooker managed the battle better: specifically, "when Hooker failed to reinforce Sedgwick, after hearing his cannon Silent Sentinels. George Newton.
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Steven E. Along the Lines of Devotion. James Smith. Opposing the Second Corps at Antietam. Marion V. William Glenn Robertson. Shiloh: Confederate High Tide in the Heartland. Theodore P. Determined to Stand and Fight. Ryan Quint. LTC Jeffrey J. Major Raymond Scott Eresman. Extraordinary Circumstances. Brian K. Unfurl Those Colors.
The Maps of Chickamauga. Old Jube. Millard K. LTC Daniel C. Joseph Pierro. Major Philip J. Baker Jr. Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee.
The Battle of Peach Tree Creek. The Original Iron Brigade. Thomas J. The Peninsula Campaign of William J. Remembering Virginia's Confederates. Sean M. Civil War Infantry Tactics. Meade and Lee After Gettysburg. Jeffrey Wm Hunt. Patrick R. Major Joseph M. Major F. Edward Schwabe Jr. That Field of Blood.
Battle of Chancellorsville - Forming Union Lines
Daniel Vermilya. Edward Porter Alexander. The Tullahoma Campaign: Operational Insights. Major Richard J. Major Keith A. Atlanta Will Fall. Rick Barram. Gettysburg Study Guide, Volume 1.