“Never was there a more beautiful sunrise…” The Battles for Fairview and Hazel Grove, Part One

The first in a four-part miniseries.

We are happy to welcome guest author Elizabeth “Beth” Parnicza. Beth is a West Virginia University graduate and is currently a historian with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Beth, is the supervisor of the Chancellorsville unit.Cville Map 1

The following is the text from her 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville tour covering the action of May 3rd, 1863, in the area between Hazel Grove and Fairview. This action took place just south of the modern day visitors center along Virginia Route 3 (The Orange Turnpike). At dawn, Confederate forces under the command of Major General Jeb Stuart, launched massive assaults from the west, toward the Chancellorsville Crossroads. Stuart looked to link his corps (Jackson’s 2nd Corps) with two divisions east of the crossroads over seen by Robert E. Lee. For nearly five hours a see-saw action took place, and over 17,000 men became casualties in the woods and fields around Chancellorsville. 

Stuart, who assumed command  of the Confederate forces west of the crossroads after the fall generals Thomas Jackson and Ambrose Powell Hill, engaged forces of the Union 3rd and 12th Army Corps’. These units were commanded by Daniel Sickles and Henry Slocum respectively.

As Major General Daniel E. Sickles’ III Corps fell back from the high ground of Hazel Grove, they came to a ridge line between Fairview and Hazel Grove.

Brigadier General Gershom Mott’s men in a reserve position were thrown forward at about 7am and had a brisk encounter with North and South Carolinians and were forced to fall back.

To the north of Mott’s position, the 123rd New York became heavily engaged.

Private Rice Bull of the 123rd New York recalled the beauty of the morning.  “Never was there a more beautiful sunrise, not a cloud in the sky,” he wrote. “It was an ideal Sunday morning, warm and fair. It seemed to me like sacrilege that such a sacred day should be used by men to kill and maim each other.”

As they prepared for battle, Bull described the men meeting their first major engagement: “I could see pallor on every face as we brought the hammers to a full cock. I believe every arm trembled as we raised our guns to our shoulders to fire but all eyes were to the front, not one looked back.”

Bull’s regiment met the onrush by Brigade General James Lane’s North Carolina brigade: “It was then load and fire at will as fast as we could. Soon the nervousness and fear we had when we began to fight passed away and a feeling of fearlessness and rage took its place.”

Robert Cuikshank, also 123rd NY, wrote of the oncoming Confederate attacks: “They appeared in one solid mass of living grey. The whole woods in front of us seemed to be full of them.” Confederates would come forward, then fall back but “It would only be for a moment as the empty places in the enemy’s ranks would be filled and on they would come again.”

Mott’s men surge forward. Past the line, the 123rd holds on, but then they’re pushed back, and fighting once more swings back to a Confederate advance.

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