The Germans: Army of the Potomac
May 1863

     On May 10, 1863, Major General Oliver O. Howard addressed his 11th Army Corps on the events surrounding the recent battle of Chancellorsville with his issuance of General Orders No. 9. A spirit of depression fell upon a portion of his corps in the wake of the battle as a result of the right flank crumbling under heavy Confederate pressure. In uplifting the morale, the 11th Corps commander felt disaster of such magnitude was capable of occurring to any other command and now looking back, all that could be done is to learn from it.
Von Gilsa
     The vulnerability of that right flank gave all in the army, as well as those across the nation, reason to assign the German soldier defending it unqualified blame in the horse whipping that General Robert E. Lee ordered at the hand of his illustrious 2nd Corps Commander.
     That right flank consisted of the soldiers of Colonel Leopold von Gilsa commanding 1st Brigade, of the 1st Division; roughly 1,400 soldiers reaching out into the forest, anchored to no natural barrier and left without a reserve to support it. The little cavalry support in the area produced no true intelligence as to a coming attack and only a last minute patrol by the 45th New York Infantry delivered word that a vast amount of butternuts were then collecting in their front beyond the trees.
     Major General Carl Schurz had been at corps headquarters making recommendations to realign the right placing the men at right angles from the Plank Road west, while bending the line back in the center making use of an open grove for the artillery by defending the edge of its wood line. The skirmish reports and word from pockets of cavalry that recent activity on the right was nothing to concern themselves about; General Howard elected not to make any changes whatsoever.

     It wasn't until heavy cannonading and musketry had been heard to the west that the commanding general of third division began ordering his soldiers to change fronts. The time consumption involved under mounting pressure of the coming combat proved terribly insufficient. Maneuvering his troops through the thicket proved slow and before they could be completed Brigadier General Nathaniel Collins McLean's forces were witnessed falling back through Schurz' line in mass confusion; von Gilsa's troops right behind and catching up fast.
     In the wake of the battle when after action reports were collected from the various commanders upon the field; Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig was furious. The newspapers all over had been reporting infamous falsehoods regarding the conduct of the German soldier at Chancellorsville. He spoke of the reporters having been a nest of vipers patiently waiting to spit out their poisonous slanders. The columns chock full of prurient imaginations by those dipping their pens in the blood of the battlefield slain instead of standing behind their country with sword and musket. The most heart wrenching infuriation to him had been noted that all the papers had been dated from "General Hooker's Headquarters" and thus signed by responsible names.
Hooker and Staff
     Schimmelfennig pointed out that as the First Division gave way and ran, it became the second line of Major General Schurz that changed fronts from south to west as the first line fell in behind the 82nd Illinois and 157th New York Infantries along with the brigade of Colonel Adolphus Buschbeck mustering altogether perhaps 4,000 muskets held the enemy advance for about an hour. Colonel Wladimir Kyzyzanowski's 2nd brigade likewise performed honorably on the field lending critical support in the moment of panic and chaos.
     The newspapers generated reports common of the prejudice of the day in making these German soldiers the easy target for blame. The brigade commander demanded an investigation regarding the entire event being now of the understanding that his superior officers proved insufficiently in control of the facts. He asked his division commander to exclude such reporters by public order from re-entering the camps of 11th Corps, listing the names for public use of the slanderers and holding them all accountable for their yellow journalism.

     Although the right flank had caved in on that fateful evening in early May, it became a great exaggeration to publicly chastise all the German soldiers assigned to 11th Corps, let alone create such a pall upon the corps flag as a whole. In an era where honor and duty was everything, not just the German but the newly designated 11th Army Corps had its reputation unjustly tarnished. In the coming months it would have to prove itself worthy of a combat unit by standing firm against the oncoming Confederate battle flags.

Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2005

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at