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Doles Brigade and The Battle of Chancellorsville


The year 1862 found the 12th Georgia going through a secession of leaders, Colonel Johnson wounded, Conner arrested, Rodgers and Scott killed ,and Major Willis Hawkins resigning because of “chronic  illness”. On March 26th 1863 22 year old Edward S. Willis would become the 12th Georgia’s new Colonel. ”Ned”, as he was affectionately called attended West Point for four years and resigned when Georgia left the Union.


On January 19, 1863, the 12th and 21st Georgia Regiments were transferred from Hoke’s Brigade to Doles Brigade.  The other two regiments in Doles Brigade were the 4th and 44th Georgia. Brigadier General George Doles was born in Milledgeville Georgia and was had been the Colonel of the 4th Georgia. From this date until the end of the war, these four valiant Georgia regiments, the 4th, 12th, 21st and 44th would remain together and earn their place in history.


By April 1863, General Joseph Hooker’s reorganized army consisted of 130,000 well equipped and well fed men.  The Federals were ready to dislodge the Southerners from along the Rappahannock River and advance toward Richmond.  In contrast, General Lee’s 60,000 man army had weathered a long, harsh winter, and lacked needed supplies. Unlike the well fed and equipped Federals, Lee’s army wore ragged uniforms, lacked sufficient shoes, and many suffered from scurvy and other illnesses.  The Southerners daily rations consisted of “just over a pound of flour and a quarter of a pound of pork,” which was occasionally supplemented with a little rice, molasses, or sugar.


On April 29th under cover of fog the Federal Army began crossing the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford and moved swiftly forward and crossed the Rapidan at Ely’s and Germanna Fords.  General Hooker having stolen a march on General Lee placed his Army Of The Potomac on the left flank of the Army Of Northern Virginia at Chancellorsville. Hooker left two of his corps to confront the Confederates at Fredericksburg to hold them in a defensive position and sent his cavalry towards Richmond. Even though the Federal cavalry failed to carry out their mission, everything else went according to plan.  For the first time the Federals sensed they were in a position to defeat the Confederates, but instead of pressing forward, . General Lee left 10,000 men under the command of Major General Early to hold the Federals at Fredericksburg, and as dawn broke the next morning, the rest of Lee’s army moved toward Chancellorsville.


At 8:00 am on the 29th the 12th Georgia left it’s camp at Port Royal with about 400 men and marched with the brigade to Hamilton’s Crossing where it formed a line of battle and stayed there that day and most of the night. Early  the next morning  the brigade moved westerly along the Orange Turnpike towards Chancellorsville and about 2;00 pm formed a line of battle and drove a Federal skirmish line from the field. The brigade marched one mile past Todd’s tavern and rested for the night.


During the night of May 1, Lee’s scouts reported that the Union right ended abruptly in the woods. The Southern commander again split his forces and on May 2, sent the three divisions of Jackson’s Corps to flank the enemies exposed right. The remainder of the Confederates kept up a steady fire in their position at Chancellorsville to conceal the thin grey line. The ploy worked so well, that while “Fighting Joe Hooker” was being flanked by Jackson he failed to assault the Confederates even though he had the numerical advantage, five corps (II, III, V, XI, XII) to two Confederates divisions (Anderson and McLaws)


Jackson’s division’s marched 12 miles in a wide semicircle to get on the Union right flank. The order of march was D.H. Hill’s Division commanded by General Rodes with the 12th Georgia leading Doles’ Brigade  followed by Colston’s  and A.P.Hill’s  Division’s   After the Confederates had traversed the Furnace and Block roads they formed three battle lines across the Old Orange Turnpike with a total of about 38,000 men. Four of  General Rodes’ five brigades made up the first battle line, Colquitt (right), Doles (right center), Rodes’ old brigade, now commanded by O’Neil (left center), and Iverson (left) with Ramseur’s behind Colquitt and slightly overlapping Doles.  Doles Brigade rested on the south side of the turnpike, and O’Neil’s rested on the north side.


Just after five o’clock in the afternoon, the order was given to advance.  The first battle line moved forward with  a yell driving game of all sorts through the camps of Howard’s 11th Corps.  The Federals were completely overwhelmed by the surprise attack.  The enemy fled in confusion and any effort made to stop the panic-stricken Yankees and resist the Rebel advance quickly disintegrated. Not hearing the command to stop the 12th Georgia found itself in an advanced position, unsupported on both flanks and subject to Federal artillery fire. There were few injuries while in this sector due to over shelling and the fact that Colonel Willis kept his men in a safe position until darkness and quietly removed the regiment to a position to the right of the brigade.  Because of the speed of the attack in the center of the first battle line  and rumors that Federal troops were on the right flank  some regiment’s had slowly drifted in that direction leaving the brigade unsupported on its own right flank . At times  the 12th found itself inverted and faced by the rear rank. In his report written on May 9th General Doles list the brigade casualties as 437 and states the brigade captured eight pieces of artillery and two battery flags. In a report issued by General Rodes both General Doles and  Colonel Willis are mentioned for great gallantry and efficiency during this engagement. The attack only ended when darkness, confusion, and densely wooded terrain made any further advance impractical.


At 6 a.m. on May 3, the attacked resumed and Doles Brigade soon met stiff resistance.  After driving the enemy before them, they were ordered to fall back and take charge of a large number of prisoners. By 10;00 am General Lee was in full possession of the field, Hooker having withdrawn north of Chancellorsville. By the night of the 4th the brigade constructed field works as skirmishers were sent out and found the Federals in strong numbers and well entrenched


By May 6, the Union army was across the river, and the12th Georgia started to move back to their original camp. The Battle of Chancellorsville  produced over 29,000 casualties with the 12th Georgia suffering a total of 72. In his report Colonel Willis praised Lieutenants T.W. Harris and W.F. Lowe and Sergeant Howard of company “F” for good conduct on the battlefield. 


The great Confederate victory at Chancellorsville was over shadowed by the lost of one of the South’s greatest generals, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men, Lane’s Brigade (North Carolina) and died on May 10 from complications.  Being a man of profound faith, his last words were, “Let us cross the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”