Buschbeck’s brigade had better opportunities, and acted correspondingly better. It had time to occupy the rifle-pits facing west before the enemy had completed the destruction of the first and third divisions. Buschbeck’s stand covered a full half-hour. He was re-enforced by many fragments of broken regiments, holding together under such officers as had escaped utter demoralization. The troops remained behind these works until outflanked on right and left, for Jackson’s front of over two miles easily enveloped any line our little force could form.
During the early part of the attack, Colquitt’s brigade ran across the pickets of Devens’s and Schurz’s south front, which there had been no time to call in. Instead of joining in the advance, Colquitt remained to engage these latter, deeming it essential to protect Jackson’s right. This was the nucleus of one of the many detached engagements of this day. Several bodies of Union troops thus isolated were captured en masse.
The reports of the officers concerned, as a rule, possess the merit of frankness. As an instance, Col. Hartung, of the Seventy-Fourth New York, relates that he had no opportunity to fire a shot until after he arrived behind the Buschbeck intrenchments. The facts would appear to be given in an even-handed way, in all the reports rendered.
Little remains to be said. The Eleventh Corps was panic-stricken, and did run, instead of retreating. It was a mere disorganized mass in a half-hour from the beginning of the attack, with but a few isolated regiments, and one brigade, retaining a semblance of orderliness.
But was it so much the misbehavior of the troops as the faultiness of the position they occupied?
The corps was got together again before Sunday morning, in a condition to do good service. Had it been tested, it would, in all probability, have fought well.
The loss of the corps was one-quarter of its effective.
Some time after the battle of Chancellorsville, a motion was made to break up the Eleventh Corps, and distribute its regiments among the others; but it was not done. Hooker then remarked that he would yet make that corps fight, and be proud of its name. And it subsequently did sterling service. Gen. Thomas remarked, in congratulating Hooker on his victory at Lookout Mountain, that “the bayonet-charge of Howard’s troops, made up the side of a steep and difficult hill, over two hundred feet high, completely routing and driving the enemy from his barricades on its top, . . . will rank with the most distinguished feats of arms of this war.” And it is asserted that this encomium was well earned, and that no portion of it need be set down to encouragement.
In their evidence before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, Hooker and Sickles both testify that the panic of the Eleventh Corps produced a gap in the line, and that this was the main cause of disaster on this field. But the fatal gap was made long before the Eleventh Corps was attacked. It was Hooker’s giddy blunder in ordering away, two miles in their front, the entire line from Dowdall’s to Chancellorsville, that made it.