Battle of Chancellorsville
Location: Chancellorsville, VA
Dates: April 30 - May 6, 1863
Joseph Hooker, Major General
Robert E. Lee, General
Abraham Lincoln, and the citizens of the United States, were ready
for a change. After a terrible defeat, in front of Marye's Heights, at
the Battle of Fredericksburg, the army was in disarray on the east bank of
the Rappahannock River. Being further demoralized, in mid-January
1863, while searching out CS General
Robert E. Lee's left flank, in what was
dubbed the "Mud March," the Army of the Potomac was a shadow of its former
self. Abraham Lincoln had had enough. Promptly after the "Mud
March," Lincoln continued his search for a commanding general that could win
Burnside would continue
in corps command, where he performed his best service. Lincoln tapped
First Corps commander,
Joe Hooker to lead his army of the Potomac.
Hooker, who had earned the nickname, "Fighting Joe", after a punctuation
error in a newspaper, was known as a brave soldier who commanded respect.
Soldiers under his command, would fight for Hooker, as he would be there at
their side. However, outside of the First Corps, Hooker was not well
known. Hooker exhibited exemplary service leading the First Corps
at the Corn Field, at Antietam, and the center Grand Division at
Fredericksburg. While Lincoln's promotion of Hooker, was not without
reservations, he believed Hooker would exhibit the tempered aggressiveness
he needed to get wins in the east. Prompting some of Lincoln's
concerns was a comment made by Hooker, recently, that stated, "...the Army
and the Government needed a
dictator." In a letter, written to Hooker, Lincoln stated, "Only those
generals who gain successes, can set up dictators."
Hooker went to work
immediately, bringing order, out of chaos. He drilled his army,
provided leave for soldiers, and brought pride back to an army that was
demoralized after the fiasco in, and around, Fredericksburg. During February, March
and early April, Hooker's plan began to come together. It called for
a move north, along the east bank of the Rappahannock River, past Falmouth .
This move would be made by six of his seven infantry corps (I Corps, II
Corps, III Corps, V Corps, XI Corps and XII Corps) and his Cavalry Corps,
commanded by US Brigadier General
George Stoneman. His remaining
infantry corps, the VI Corps, commanded by US Major General
would remain in the Fredericksburg area, in attempt to keep Lee's Army of
Northern Virginia in the ridges behind Fredericksburg.
March gave way to April, and the roads in northern Virginia firmed up,
Hooker put his tactical plans in motion. His plans called for
to go upriver, fording the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers, to get behind
Lee, cutting his vital supply line: the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac
this was accomplished, he would cross his six infantry corps at Kelly's
Ford, before Lee knew his intentions, and was able to challenge his
crossing. To further confuse Lee,
Sedgwick would cross his VI Corps,
into Fredericksburg, in an effort to keep Lee engaged there, while the rest
of Hooker's Army of the Potomac would fall onto the rear of Lee's
Unfortunately, Lee quickly deduced what
Hooker's plans were. Sending a portion of his 1st Corps from Fredericksburg, Lee rushed two brigades, commanded by Brigadier Generals
Carnot Posey, and
William Mahone, to the area of a small crossroads tavern, Chancellorsville.
They were told to hold the Union army at bay, until Hooker's plans could be
better understood. Lee was in a quandary, he could not leave
Fredericksburg unguarded, as the road to Richmond would be wide open to the
Federals across the river. However, he was faced with growing danger
to his north. Fortunately, for Lee, the area near Chancellorsville was
heavily wooded, with small scrub oaks, and other dense vegetation.
This gave him the advantage of being able to plan his offensive away from
the prying eyes of the quickly gathering Federal force.
Hooker's flanking forces arrived on west side, of the Rappahannock, on April
30, most having crossed at Germanna, and Ely's Fords. There, he
deployed his army, with US Major General
George Meade's V Corps, US Major
Darius Couch's II Corps and US Major General
Henry Slocum's XII
Corps all in the vicinity of the Chancellorsville Tavern.
Additionally, US Major General
Oliver O. Howard's XI Corps, arrived and was
deployed along the Orange Plank Road, west of Chancellorsville.
On May 1, Hooker had fully enveloped the Chancellorsville
Inn, and was faced by all of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. With
Lee's army well protected by the Wilderness, the armies tangled during the
afternoon, with neither side gaining a significant advantage.
Additional troops had also arrived, for the action on May 1, as US Major
Dan Sickles had brought his III Corps into action via U.S. Ford.
Having probed forward, toward Fredericksburg, along the Orange Plank Road,
Hooker ran into stiffer resistance than he had anticipated, from Lee's
entrenched army. As the battle sputtered to a standstill, on May 1,
Hooker determined to defend his position, around the Chancellor house,
protecting his retreat
route at U.S. Ford.
By late day, on May 1, Lee had ordered
the last defenders, from Fredericksburg -
Jackson's 2nd Corps division, of
CS Major General
Jubal Early - to join the rest of the army.
VI Corps would follow them out the Plank Road, with little or no energy,
even after Hooker had ordered him to move with alacrity, pushing Early's
Division into Lee's rear, now holding the rest of his army, at Chancellorsville.
Late in the evening, of May 1, Lee would meet with his
most trusted subordinate, Lieutenant General
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson,
behind the lines in Chancellorsville. This would be their last meeting, but the outcome
of the meeting would be one of the most daring military moves in history.
Had it failed, Lee would be forever second guessed. If it were
successful, Lee would be able to crush Hooker's larger force (Hooker held
close to a 2:1 advantage at Chancellorsville) and destroy it against the
banks of the Rappahannock River. In this late night conference, upon
learning of a back road, through the Wilderness,
Lee determined to split his
army, sending Jackson's Corps on long march around Hooker's right flank.
As May 2 dawned, Jackson put his Corps in motion. It would be a long
route, to Hooker's right flank, which CS Major General
Cavalry Corps had determined was "in the air." In order to ensure
surprise, Jackson stayed well south of the Plank Road, so far that he
actually turned south along the Brock Road, heading away from the prying
eyes of the Federals, causing
Hooker to determine that Lee's army was in the
process of retreating to Richmond.
With sporadic fighting throughout the day, Hooker determined
to maintain his defensive posture in the area of the Chancellor homestead.
Further west, as supper was being prepared, in
Howard's XI Corps camps, the
soldiers were relaxing, inevitably talking about the far off rattle of
musketry near Chancellorsville. As the soldiers rested, around 5:20
PM, some troops noticed deer running towards them, from the thicket, of the
Wilderness, northwest of their camps. Within moments, the "Rebel yell"
was heard as their camps were stormed by
Jackson's infantry corps. The
resulting panic led to a headlong retreat, towards Hooker's headquarters
near the Chancellor house. Hooker was able to rally his troops,
counterattacking Jackson's Corps, before darkness fell over the blood soaked
fields of the Wilderness.
Hooker would contract his lines, bringing order,
out of disorder, but it was apparent that Lee had more than answered
Hooker's flanking move, neutralizing a vastly superior force, and was in
position to destroy the Federal army on May 3.
was engaged in repairing his damaged lines, Lee suffered the most
devastating loss of the entire war. After pushing the Federal XI
Corps, from their camps,
"Stonewall" Jackson was reconnoitering his
position, between the enemy lines, to make preparations for the final "mop
up" on May 3. Riding on his trusted horse, "Little Sorrel," Jackson would be
shot, in the left shoulder, by his own troops, as he approached his lines.
Jackson would have his left arm amputated and was expected to recover over
the coming months. However, pneumonia would set in, and
would die, at Guinea Station on May 10, 1863. Lee would later be
quoted as saying, "He lost his left arm; but I have lost my right arm."
On May 3,
Robert E Lee further tightened the vice, that
Hooker found himself
trapped in. After pushing
Sickle's III Corps from the heights, near
Hazel Grove, Lee's artillery came to life, bombarding Hooker's, ever more
precarious, position at the Chancellorsville Inn. With Sickle's
retreat from the Hazel Grove position, CS Major General
commanding Jackson's 2nd Corps, pushed forward into the ever shrinking Union
lines, from the west, while CS Lieutenant General
James Longstreet's 1st
Corps pushed them from the east. The fighting on this day would be
some of the most intense, of any battle in the eastern theater of the Civil
On May 4, with
Stuart's Corps holding Hooker's main army
at U.S. Ford, Lee turned his attention to US Major General
tardy VI Corps. Sedgwick would be pushed back to Fredericksburg and
was in a similar position as Hooker's army, just a couple miles away.
His lines formed a "U" shape, backed up against Scott's Ford - the only
With very few offensive options remaining open,
Hooker withdrew his forces on May 5 and 6, closing one of the most
campaigns for the North, during the entire Civil War.
Outcome: Confederate victory
Union: 18,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 12,800 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
The Battle of Chancellorsville was considered
Robert E. Lee's most
spectacular victory. Lee was able to achieve victory, dividing his
much smaller army, in two, in front of a very aggressive adversary.
Unfortunately, Lee was never fully able to overcome the loss of his most
trusted lieutenant -
Stonewall Jackson. After decimating
went back on the offensive, pushing north into Pennsylvania, to a fateful
meeting with the next commander of the Union's Army of the Potomac: US Major
George Gordon Meade. While this offensive move was designed to
alleviate some of the pressure from the western theater, where CS Lieutenant
John Pemberton, at Vicksburg, was under a siege by US Major General
Grant. Gettysburg, and Vicksburg would both be Confederate losses by July 4.