Stonewall Jackson's May 2 Attack

Andy Cardinal

First Sergeant
Feb 27, 2017


Jackson deplyed his attacking force with his three division stacked behind each other. This reminds me of A. S. Johnston's/Beauregard's attack at Shiloh. I have often see Johnston & Beauregard criticized for their decision to attack with 1 corps stacked behind the other, but I don't remember ever seeing criticism of Jackson for attacking in generally the same way.


Both attacks achieved surprise and were at least initially overwhelmingly successful. Both however lost momentum at least partially due to command and control issues caused by the unwieldy attack formation. Darkness was also a factor in slowing Jackson's attack.

Why did Jackson choose to attack,in this way? Should he have chosen to attack differently, with each division aligned in column of brigades (am I using the right terminology?) next to each other instead of in parallel lines? Would his attack have achieved even more success if he had done so, or did it not make much of a difference?

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Lt. Colonel
May 2, 2006
On Shiloh:
Before the battle, Johnston's plan was: "Polk the left, Bragg the center, Hardee the right, Breckinridge in reserve." He wanted to strike from the right, turn Grant, cut him off from the landing (naval support) and drive him north into the swamps.​
As the assault began, Johnston assigned Beauregard to remain in the rear to forward troops and handle matters as they happened. Johnston himself would go forward to direct the attack at the front, leading in person. In practice, this left Beauregard in charge -- and Beauregard was a man who always thought he had a better idea. Beauregard wanted to push straight ahead and drive Grant into the Tennessee, so he sent the Corps up in waves, one behind the other. The advance rapidly devolved as units intermixed, with Corps commands unable to exercise control over such a wide front and no reserves under their own hand.​
On Chancellorsville:
Jackson was coming up late in the day and needed to attack quickly. Striking while there was time to fight, before the Sun went down and the light was lost, had great importance. Deploying into a two-division wide column-of-brigades formation would delay the start of the assault and minimize the time available to fight and pursue the enemy. So Jackson threw his units in as they came up, creating the one-division wide formation.​
It is fairly common for low-level deployment decisions to impact the actions at a higher level for a variety of reasons, and they can be caused by factors that are not obvious from our distance. Sometimes a commander wants a particular unit to lead, possibly because of the quality of the command or the commander, and will jump through hoops to get that unit in front (or another unit in the rear). Examples abound:
  • At Five Forks, Sheridan is angered that Warren isn't moving fast enough, but Warren's deployment is aimed at striking a single strong blow with his whole command while Sheridan wants his units moving to the attack faster and is not concerned with concentrating the Corps first, or which units are where. Sheridan was more of a seat-of-the-pants, keep throwing punches until they land and something breaks type.
  • At Chickamauga, Longstreet's attack is essentially a five division assault with 3 divisions (8 brigades) in a column of 5 lines and 2 divisions moving on their flanks. He doesn't know the terrain, which is very dense, he doesn't know many of his units, he has little info on the Union dispositions. He decides to strike with a single iron fist, trying to smash and over-run whatever he hits. A stroke of unbelievable luck (a division-sized hole in the Union line, directly in front of his attack) combines with this massive blow to create one of the most successful battlefield blows of the war.

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