The Civil War – Battle of Chancellorsville, VA

Submitted by C.J. Johnson
The Battle of Chancellorsville, April 30 to May 6, 1863, has been
called General Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory. Union Major General
Joseph Hooker replaced General Ambrose Burnside, following the
Federal defeat at Fredericksburg during the winter.
Hooker had reorganized, reworked, and energized the Army of the
Potomac. Now he made a brilliantly-planned river crossing on April
30, and his troops were encamped in the Chancellorsville area.
Federal troops far outnumbered the Confederates, 115,000 to 60,000,
one of the largest disadvantages faced by General Lee.
CivilWar.org commented on the Confederate battle plan. “Rather than
retreat before this sizable Federal force, Lee opted to attack Hooker
while he was still within the thick wilderness. Late on May 1, 1863,
Lee and [Stonewall] Jackson conceived one of the boldest plans of the
war.”
On May 1, Hooker’s soldiers moved down the Orange Turnpike, headed to
Fredericksburg. News of a large Rebel force nearby and sporadic
Confederate encounters convinced Hooker to stay put in the
Chancellorsville area, and the Federal army assumed a defensive
position.
Now, the “boldest plans” were put into play, which required Jackson
and his 30,000 troops to make a hard, quick 14 mile march to get into
position to have the element of surprise. The attack began just
after 5 o’clock in the afternoon, while “Union soldiers from General
Oliver Otis Howard’s 11th Corps were cooking their supper and playing
cards when waves of animals charged from the woods. Behind them were
Jackson’s attacking troops,” according to History.com.
CivilWar.org continued, “Jackson’s line surged forward in an
overwhelming attack that crushed the Union Eleventh Corps. Federal
troops rallied, resisted the advance, and counterattacked.
Disorganization and darkness ended the fighting. While making a night
reconnaissance, Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men and
carried from the field – a serious blow to the Army of Northern
Virginia.”
As a result of Jackson’s injuries, General Lee put J. E. B. Stuart in
charge, temporarily, of Jackson’s forces. The following day, May 3,
the Rebels continued the offensive operation by hitting both wings of
the Union army, pushing back a greater Yankee force, causing them to
take a defensive position near the fords they had crossed a few days
earlier. The Confederates gathered their artillery at a hill position
called Hazel Grove.
“Once Stuart’s artillery occupied Hazel Grove, the Confederates
proceeded to wreak havoc on the Union lines around Chancellorsville.
Rebel cannons shelled the Union line, and the fighting resulted in
more Union casualties than Jackson’s attack the day before. Hooker
himself was wounded when an artillery shell struck the column he was
leaning against.
Stunned, Hooker took a shot of brandy and ordered the retreat from
the Chancellorsville area, which allowed Jackson’s men to rejoin the
bulk of Lee’s troops. The daring flanking maneuver had worked. Hooker
had failed to exploit the divided Army of Northern Virginia, and
allowed the smaller Rebel force to defeat his numerically superior
force,” stated History.com.
Casualties totaled about 24,000, with 14,000 Union and 10,000
Confederate troops wounded, missing, or killed. Included in the
casualties were Generals Berry and Whipple on the Yankee side and
Generals Paxton and Jackson on the Rebel side.
“…Lee’s tactical brilliance and gambler’s intuition saved him… The
crushing attack snapped the Union army…perhaps more than any other
event during the war, cemented Lee’s invincibility in the eyes of
both sides,” commended CivilWar.org.