As the roads dried and the weather grew warmer, activities in camp began to foreshadow the beginning of the next battle campaign: surplus items were sent to Washington, the sick were moved to Washington, visitors were forced to leave, and the bakeries closed. The regiment left Falmouth on April 27 and marched westward. It crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers on April 29, and was the lead regiment to cross the Rapidan at Ely's Ford. They crossed a cold river at its springtime flow, with water up to their waists. They had to hold their guns over their heads to prevent them from getting wet. After crossing, the 44th chased away some enemy pickets and secured the hill ahead of them. Securing the crossing allowed the prompt laying of a pontoon bridge, sped the movement of the army, and saved many lives that would have been lost if a river crossing had been delayed. They camped near there that night. (1)
They returned to the march the next morning, now marching east, and continued until they reached Chancellorsville, a "town" consisting of a single brick mansion, which was used as an inn. They bivouacked for the evening near the mansion and continued to march east the next morning. Their goal was to attack Lee's army from the west, and they continued to march toward Fredericksburg. After advancing about a few miles on May 1, however, they were ordered back to fortify a position near Chancellorsville. (2)
Cannonading began at around 11 that morning. James Woodworth, guarding the regiment's mules and horses, watched them to graze in an enclosed pasture with other pack animals, when all of a sudden enemy shells began to fall on them, killing several of the animals and their guards. The pack animals were moved to a new position near the mansion, which was also being shelled, and then to a position in the woods. (3)
The rest of the regiment alternated between picket duty and the trenches until May 3, when they were moved to the right, in anticipation of another attack there. Of the 4 casualties from the regiment, 3 came from Company E. Norman Ottman, a school principal and merchant from Schoharie County, was mortally wounded by a shell fragment that drove the numbers on his hat into his skull. Thomas Mahoney was wounded in the arm, which had to be amputated. Lieutenant Husted took a bullet in the thigh. But he was saved by his diary, which stopped the bullet and prevented anything more serious than a bruise. (4)
The 44th was well protected behind strong breastworks, and the few attacks the enemy made on its position were easily repulsed. But the army, as a whole, did not fare as well. The Eleventh Corps was hit by a surprise attack on May 2, and Hooker lost all confidence in his plan. The Confederates gained the upper hand in the battle. (5)
The mule guard was ordered to retreat on May 5, a precursor to the retreat of the entire army. Woodworth brought the animals back toward Falmouth, crossing swollen rivers and creeks in the dark as he moved along unfamiliar paths in the woods. He made it back to camp early on May 6, several hours before the rest of the regiment. The 44th crossed the Rappahannock at U. S. Ford early on May 6 and returned to Falmouth that evening, dejected at their loss, but with the realization that they could defeat Lee's army if they had good commanders. (6)
1. Nash, 131-2.
2. Nash, 132-3.
3. James Woodworth Diary, May 1, 1863; James Woodworth to Phebe Woodworth, May 8, 1863.
4. James Woodworth Diary, May 2 and May 3; Nash, 145.
5. Nash, 133.
6. James Woodworth Diary, May 5, 1863; James Woodworth to Phebe Woodworth, May 8, 1863.
Home Normal School History Battles
The Men Memorial Contact us
The Men Memorial