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Chancellorsville death sparks letters

January 20, 2007 12:50 am


Lt. William B. Hutton is buried in Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery. The Alabamian was killed May 3, 1863, in the Battle of Chancellorsville.

I N JANUARY OF 1921, Confed- erate Veteran magazine pub- lished a memoir by Sue Chancellor about the Battle of Chancellorsville. At the time of the battle, She was a young teenager living in the Chancellor House for which the battle was named. Sue married her cousin Vespasian Chancellor, so her last name remained the same after marriage. Her article vividly details her awful memories of the fighting that swirled around her house on May 3, 1863.

The publication of Sue Chancellor's memoir struck a chord on the other side of the continent. A.H. Hutton responded to the article by writing two letters from his law office in Los Angeles to Mrs. Chancellor. Hutton's older brother, William, was killed at Chancellorsville on May 3.

William B. Hutton was a young Alabamian whose parents both died by the time he was 12 or 13. He left home in 1856 to attend the University of Virginia. He intended to go to Germany to pursue his studies as a linguist, but war interrupted his plans. On May 25, 1861, at age 20, he enlisted as a corporal in the North Sumter Rifles, an artillery company. They traveled by train to Northern Virginia, where they were present at, but not engaged in, the First Battle of Manassas. In 1862 they were combined with other companies to form an infantry unit, the 5th Alabama Battalion.

This unit's first serious action was at Mechanicsville and Gaines Mill during the Seven Days' Campaign near Richmond at the end of June 1862. According to one memoir, Hutton's company sent 70 men into the waves of attacks on the Union strong position at Gaines Mill and 40 members of the company were casualties. William Hutton reported it was worse than that. He sent home a scrap of paper with the names of the killed and wounded and indicated that only nine members were uninjured. So badly was the company hurt that in the aftermath Hutton, a corporal, was in command.

Hutton was absent on sick leave during the Second Manassas and Maryland campaigns, but returned for the Battle of Fredericksburg. His unit held the extreme right end of the Confederate line at Prospect Hill. In a letter home he called this battle "the prettiest" he had seen.

On Jan. 22, 1863, Hutton was promoted to junior second lieutenant. The next battle would be Hutton's last. His unit, part of Gen. James Archer's Brigade, made the long and famous flank march with Stonewall Jackson on May 2. The key ground the next day became a relatively high plateau known as Hazel Grove.

Just before sunrise, the Union forces made a major mistake by withdrawing from this important spot. Archer's Brigade quickly occupied the plateau, and the bloodiest fighting during the entire campaign raged for several hours between Hazel Grove and the Chancellor House, a mile away.

The 5th Alabama Battalion suffered 36 casualties out of approximately 150 engaged. A memoir by a member of the 5th Alabama mentions by name one man who died in this battle: Lt. William B. Hutton. The memoir states that Hutton was "a brave useful officer and his place was a difficult one to fill."

In 1866, George Chancellor (Sue Chancellor's cousin and brother-in-law) located and moved Hutton's body to Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery. A Miss French of the Spotsylvania Ladies Memorial Association marked the grave in the cemetery.

A.H. Hutton followed his older brother to the University of Virginia. After graduation ceremonies, Hutton traveled by train to Fredericksburg and stayed in the home of Miss French's niece on July 3, 1868. The next day, Hutton and a former Confederate soldier he met on the train went to the cemetery, where they placed a tombstone at the grave site.

The next year, Hutton moved to California and began his law practice. He returned east only once. On March 1, 1903, he returned to Fredericksburg to see the grave and visit the people who had been so kind to him in 1868. He was sad to see that all of them had died or moved away. He did visit the Chancellors, and thanked George for moving his brother's body to the cemetery, but did not see Sue, because she was sick. Vespasian Chancellor arranged for a wagon and team of horses to take Hutton to the cemetery to visit the grave.

Sue Chancellor responded to the first of Hutton's 1921 letters by placing flowers on his brother's grave. Hutton's second letter thanked her for her kindness and said that if she had known his brother, she would understand "how worthy of every attention his ashes are."

What appears to be a new headstone for William B. Hutton can see seen today at the far left end of the first row in the Alabama section of Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery.

MAC WYCKOFF of Spotsylvania County is a historian. Send e-mail to his attention to

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