A Sussex Bank Manager's Civil War
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In 1993, Round Table member Julian Nassau-Kennedy forwarded a transcript of a letter (1) penned by Henry George Hore, an Englishman. Hore's respectable (but to us much less interesting) career as manager of the Capital & Counties Bank in Chichester, Sussex, lay in the future, for the letter dated May 1863 was written on the move, while fighting alongside Union General John Sedgwick's VI Corps at the battle of Chancellorsville.
Since its repulse from Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862, the Northern Army of the Potomac had been gathering strength for another push on the Southern capitol of Richmond. Now outnumbering General Lee's Southern army by 2:1, new Union Commander, Joseph Hooker, planned to move half his army around Lee and 'Stonewall' Jackson's forces, while the Union VI Corps under General John Sedgwick was to pin the Southerners against Fredericksburg. Hooker was sure this would give Lee and Jackson the stark choice of uncovering Fredericksburg or being outflanked.
"Camp near Fredericksburg, Friday, 1st May 1863.
My Dear Olivia,
I received your kind letter the week before last I think, and now take the opportunity of answering it.
In the first place I'm now in the 6th Army Corps, General Sedgewick's 2 Brigade (sic) attached to the staff. I was provost at Old Point Comfort, but it was tiring work and so I made an application to be removed and got on General Sedgwick's staff as Clerk and Ordinary Rank Second Lieutenant as a volunteer in the service.
I believe, I could get much higher, if I were to take the oath of allegiance to the United States, but I decline to do so in consequence of, perhaps, a war with England, and of course, then it would compel me to leave the army".
At first, Hooker's plan goes well. Even Hore seems to have been taken by surprise, as he finds time to write to Olivia later that day:
"My dear girl, there was a tremendous battle here today. The army of Potomac, under the command of General Jos. Hooker moved at last, and we have now crossed the Rappahannock. We began a day or two ago, but today had a general engagement with all General Lee's Forces on this side of the river. We are victorious and captured his batteries, men and all. By what I can learn we have gained a complete victory, of course.
As it is late at night I cannot tell you much about that as yet for the noise, it is fearful, cries of the wounded, cannonade, burning of houses, etc. I will attempt to describe the Battle; I suppose it will be named the Battle of Fredericksburg the Second.
This morning I had orders to be early on horse-back, and to move about with them, the Staff. So took my man John, a black fellow who helps me to get my things and clean my horse, we have a hard day's work ahead.
I was soon on my way to Head Quarters and our Division. Several regiments were what is known as skirmishing on the front and we lost a great many men as the Rebels are better shots with the rifle than our men, and nothing they like so much as bush fighting as I call it, for it's nothing more but they soon changed their game, and instead of our attacking them they made furious attack upon us for the purpose of driving us into the Rappahannock in our rear.
The men fought like demons, for they well know Jackson the rebel General would give them no quarter. General Sedgwick said: 'Bring up the artillery, say that is my orders!'. Anyway I went, the round shot flying in every direction and our men were falling thick and fast. I don't know how it is, but in the intense excitement of the battle you forget all fear and don't think a single thought of being killed.
As I got in the rear an Aide de Camp told that not only one Corps but the entire Army was in action that the whole Army of the Potomac was fighting. 120,000 men and that it was going hard with us on the left wing.
I reached the battery, told Colonel Butler who was in Command that he was to help us and that it was General Sedgwick's orders, so he limbered up his guns and came double quick just as the rebels were coming down on our men. He waited so long that I thought they would take the guns before we fired.
At last came the word: 'depress pieces' and I felt quite sick, they were just about fifty yards or so from my horse who was just as excited as myself. When the word 'fire' came, twenty cannons loaded with grapeshot and pieces of iron, old nails, etc., discharged right into their leading regiments.
Good God, my dear girl, it was awful! Their dead seemed piled onto heaps upon heaps, the shot went right clear through them, completely smashing the front of the columns.
Just at this moment when all was confusion, the word was given: 'clear the way, clear the way!', and right over the brow of the hill came the 5th Wisconsin, 22nd Mass., 77th New York, and the 5th Ohios.3 Hurrah!, Hurrah! It looked well now for us, 'close up men, charge bayonet', and right into the mass went the four regiments.
General Sedgwick now said, 'One more such a repulse as that my boys and we shall have Fredericksburg.' Turning to me he said: 'Ride, Sir to the rear and bring up any artillery you can find,' giving me an order written on a piece of paper to his wife.
An officer by the name of Hansard, a first-rate, good-hearted fellow, I should have liked you to have seen him, Olivia, a regular type of South Carolina man with long hair flowing over his shoulders, a southern man by birth but a good man for the Union, I think without exception, the best looking man I have ever seen said: 'We will go together, Harry, it will be safer'.
We rode along as fast as we could do to the rear, for we did not know how things were going on there, when just as we were thinking all was safe, some of Mosby's cavalry that were scouting in our rear saw us and came down with a yell upon us. So thinking discretion the better part of valour, feeling quite confident that we should fall in with some of our rear guard in a few seconds I set Hansard the example of running away, but he did not have such a good horse as mine and one of the rebels was soon near enough to poor Hansard to call upon him to stop.
He would not and the rebel who was better mounted clutched at the bridle and then they had a struggle, their horses kicking so that I could not get near enough to strike him well or shoot him with my revolver. He got the better of Hansard on the ground and drove his sword right into Hansard's chest.
His horse had gone and he tore off Hansard's shoulder straps and shook them at me. I now felt as if he or I must be killed, so taking a good aim at him I had made my mind up that I would kill him if I could; I made my horse get so near that I was safe not to miss and I fired and dropped him dead alongside poor H. This did not take 30 seconds, not near so long as it takes me to write. I sighted him along the barrel of my revolver and if I had not killed him the first time I would have shot again for H. was a good friend to me.
My dear cousin, this is not much of a letter to write to you, full of fighting and since we have crossed the Rappahannock there has been not much else. Most likely your papers will have the American news in, so you will be able to see how we get on. I have got very good lodgings for the night, the inhabitants of most of the houses have fled and have left all, so part of our staff live here and part in a stable a little way up the road. We have got part of the rebel battery and 1,000 prisoners. I cannot find any more black ink so must write with blue. I'm getting tired now so must leave it for the present and hope to finish my letter another time when I get a few seconds.
It is now 12 o'clock at night and the Sergeant of the Guard says that the left wing of our army lost 3,000 men. Good night Cousin".
John Singleton Mosby, Confederate partisan leader, was indeed present at the Chancellorsville campaign, but in command of only around 70 men, and operating further south (at Warrenton). Yet his celebrated capture that March of a Union General near Washington DC made him a Northern 'boogeyman', and a press sensation everywhere. Perhaps Hore mentions Mosby to induce for his cousin an image of the Confederate cavalry at his most dashing and romantic.
Hore's impressions of absolute victory are premature. Far from being defeated, Stonewall Jackson's men have daringly attacked Hooker's half of the Union army, sending it reeling. Sedgwick's VI Corps is itself now in danger of being enveloped by Lee's victorious force and the smaller Confederate force still facing Fredericksburg. The campaign will come to be known not as Second Fredericksburg - but Chancellorsville, scene of the fighting between Hooker and Lee.
"Sunday night, 4th May. Fighting all day.
Generals Lee and Stonewall Jackson are doing everything in their power to destroy our army. Our cavalry, under General Stoneman, are in the rear of the rebels and are burning and killing all they can.
They have not gained (the rebels I mean) a single yard of ground and we don't mean they shall. Our loss very heavy again today, even now as I'm writing, one o'clock in the morning the guns have not ceased firing, boom, boom, all along the line.
It is a beautiful moonlight night with not a breath of air. In the daytime it is very hot, far more so than in England. I shall not be able to write much tonight as I have had the forage orders to make out for the staff, and this has taken some time.
This evening I went with a friend of mine to recover the body of poor Hansard, we needed to take a spade with us and, made our way to the rear, we eventually found him; the rebel had killed him. They were lying together just as I had shot him. We dug a hole about a foot deep and buried poor Hansard, but left the other body above ground. Our dead are lying all around, no one had time yet to bury them.
I am afraid we have not got on very well today by what men say that have come in our line, for we are so far away from the other part of this large army that beyond what our Corps are doing we know nothing. I hope to God Hooker will hold out or at least try and help us out of this.
Deserters say that the Richmond people are sending up reinforcements to them every hour and that Jackson is dead, I hope he may be with all my heart. My dear Cousin, you must think me quite a savage but the carnage of this frightful war and the horrid sights I see every day made me indifferent to human life. At one time I should have never thought of killing anyone, but now I can shoot a man without a shake of my hand. I think I am writing to you more as if you were a hard-hearted man than a very pretty girl. The rebels look very much like the Bognor Volunteers; they have a brown and grey uniform.
Can't write any more, have got to put out the lights as they say it might draw the fire of the guns. Good night to you".
The rumour of Jackson's death is correct. But Hooker, overawed by the Confederate audacity, tells Sedgwick to find his own way home. The Confederates are now poised to push the VI Corps out of Fredericksburg, back across the river.
"Monday night - This has been a most disastrous day for us, dear Cousin, I have been hard at work ever since 10 o'clock carrying orders to the different regiments and we have evacuated all we had won and drove back on to the Rappahannock.
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He wants to know to whom I am writing this letter to, so I said it was to my Cousin in England. He has just said 'Don't tell them that we're beaten Harry, the papers will soon let them know that.'
The fight has been very heavy all along today and we have lost a great many. I'm afraid to say how many, some men who understand say that we are in a much stronger position than yesterday. But there seems to be no plans. What can be expected - none of them had experience?
I believe from my heart that the men are as brave as any on the face of the earth but they must have good commanders. One thing in our favour is we have the road to go back and no danger behind us and can get letters and papers from the rear. I think our Division, the 6th Army Corps and General Hooker's Division, have done well as any Corps. We must have reinforcements.
If we could only get 30,000 more men up by tomorrow night we might yet get on. I believe my Corps has been fighting today, not much firing tonight, we are all pretty nearly tired out.
Saturday morning, 9th May - On board the ship Louisiana, my dear Cousin, the whole of the army has been driven across the Rappahannock. Your papers in England will be sure to have something of it in them. Some of us got separated in the confusion and are now in Hampton Road - outside Fortress Monroe. Don't know what has become of the 6th Corps as the rebels got between us and General Hooker.
You will see by this we had to come within a few miles of Richmond and have got down here regularly fatigued. We are quite safe here and after a little rest shall be all well again.
We frightened the people and now must take a lot of Stoneman's cavalry, cut off with us and when we were coming down here, burnt and destroyed everything we could lay our hands on because it was the rebels' country we were coming through.
When we reached Gloucester Point, the place of embarkation to Fortress Monro the people thought we had been beaten and asked us what had become of the rest.
That was more than I could tell them I said. One of the citizens said that he had seen in the papers that we had lost many great men, and wanted to know what all the news was. Everybody thinks that you can tell them about every regiment that is engaged, when the truth is that beyond knowing what your own Division is about you know nothing until after it is over, because you may be victorious in one part of the field and be routed in another.
My dear cousin, I must now say goodbye, for I'm very tired and need to rest. Give my love to your Mama, Papa, George and dear Annie. You must excuse this because I have had it in my saddlebag for a week and it is not a very clean letter to send, so my dear Olivia, pray excuse it".
After the war Hore returned to England and married. I don't know whether he ever did marry his cousin, though the 1881 UK census suggests he was by then living in St Albans, Hertfordshire with his wife Clarissa (born in India and some 16 years his junior) along with her infant daughter (Clarissa appears to have been a widow of one Mackenzie) and son of their own. He died in 1887.
© ACWRT(UK) 2002
The letter extracts originally appeared in 'Crossfire' the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) No. 46 (1993) under the title 'Britons in the Civil War (2)'
(1) Taken from 'Sussex: People, Places and Things' by Bernard Price.
(2) Hore consistently spells his general's name 'Sedgewick', and is changed here to 'Sedgwick'.
(3) This is intriguing: according to a recently published order of battle (see 'further reading' below) only the Wisconsin and New York regiments mentioned were of the VI Corps: the other regiments were of the V and XII Corps (see below) whom might be expected to have been with Hooker's command:-
5th Wisconsin: VI Corps- Light Division/ Col Thos. Allen (613 men)
22nd Massachusetts: V Corps (Meade) 1 Div- 1st Bgde/ Col. Wm. Tilton (138)
77th New York: VI Corps - 2 Div - 3rd Bgde/ Lt Col Windsor French (451)
5th Ohio: XII Corps (Slocum) 2 Div - 1st Bgde/Col John Patrick (382)
Lt Henry Hore, 1863 - owner(s) unknown at time of publication - would any claimants kindly contact webmaster.
General John Sedgwick - source www.trader-skis.com
General Sedgwick and his staff - 1863: Anne S K Browne Military Collection: © All rights reserved.
'Chancellorsville 1863' by Carl Smith (Osprey Military 1998)
Valerie Halpin, for recovering the original (unscannable!) text.
Anne Hughes, for information on Mosby at Chancellorsville
John Laskey, Additional notes