Battle of Chancellorsville

Battle of Chancellorsville

Overview
The Battle of Chancellorsville was a major battle of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, and the principal engagement of the Chancellorsville Campaign. It was fought from April 30 to May 6, 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia
Spotsylvania County, Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 90,395 people, 31,308 households, and 24,639 families residing in the county. The population density was 226 people per square mile . There were 33,329 housing units at an average density of 83 per square mile...

, near the village of Chancellorsville
Chancellorsville, Virginia
Chancellorsville is a historic site and unincorporated community in Virginia, about ten miles west of Fredericksburg. It is located in Spotsylvania County. The name of the locale derives from the mid-19th century inn operated by the family of George Chancellor at the intersection of the Orange...

. Two related battles were fought nearby on May 3 in the vicinity of Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located south of Washington, D.C., and north of Richmond. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 24,286...

. The campaign pitted Union Army
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 Maj. Gen.
Major general (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general...

 Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction, Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E...

's Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

 against an army half its size, Gen. Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's Confederate
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

. Chancellorsville is known as Lee's "perfect battle" because his risky decision to divide his army in the presence of a much larger enemy force resulted in a significant Confederate victory.
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Encyclopedia
The Battle of Chancellorsville was a major battle of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, and the principal engagement of the Chancellorsville Campaign. It was fought from April 30 to May 6, 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia
Spotsylvania County, Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 90,395 people, 31,308 households, and 24,639 families residing in the county. The population density was 226 people per square mile . There were 33,329 housing units at an average density of 83 per square mile...

, near the village of Chancellorsville
Chancellorsville, Virginia
Chancellorsville is a historic site and unincorporated community in Virginia, about ten miles west of Fredericksburg. It is located in Spotsylvania County. The name of the locale derives from the mid-19th century inn operated by the family of George Chancellor at the intersection of the Orange...

. Two related battles were fought nearby on May 3 in the vicinity of Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located south of Washington, D.C., and north of Richmond. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 24,286...

. The campaign pitted Union Army
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 Maj. Gen.
Major general (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general...

 Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction, Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E...

's Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

 against an army half its size, Gen. Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's Confederate
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

. Chancellorsville is known as Lee's "perfect battle" because his risky decision to divide his army in the presence of a much larger enemy force resulted in a significant Confederate victory. The victory, a product of Lee's audacity and Hooker's timid combat performance, was tempered by heavy casualties and the mortal wounding of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson
Stonewall Jackson
ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...

 to friendly fire
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire...

, a loss that Lee likened to "losing my right arm."

The Chancellorsville Campaign began with the crossing of the Rappahannock River
Rappahannock River
The Rappahannock River is a river in eastern Virginia, in the United States, approximately in length. It traverses the entire northern part of the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, across the Piedmont, to the Chesapeake Bay, south of the Potomac River.An important river in American...

 by the Union army on the morning of April 27, 1863. Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. George Stoneman
George Stoneman
George Stoneman, Jr. was a career United States Army officer, a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War, and the 15th Governor of California between 1883 and 1887.-Early life:...

 began a long distance raid against Lee's supply lines at about the same time. This operation was completely ineffectual. Crossing the Rapidan River
Rapidan River
The Rapidan River, flowing through north-central Virginia in the United States, is the largest tributary of the Rappahannock River. The two rivers converge just west of the city of Fredericksburg...

 via Germanna and Ely's Fords, the Federal infantry concentrated near Chancellorsville on April 30. Combined with the Union force facing Fredericksburg, Hooker planned a double envelopment, attacking Lee from both his front and rear.

On May 1, Hooker advanced from Chancellorsville toward Lee, but the Confederate general split his army in the face of superior numbers, leaving a small force at Fredericksburg to deter Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick
John Sedgwick
John Sedgwick was a teacher, a career military officer, and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He was the highest ranking Union casualty in the Civil War, killed by a sniper at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.-Early life:Sedgwick was born in the Litchfield Hills town of...

 from advancing, while he attacked Hooker's advance with about 4/5ths of his army. Despite the objections of his subordinates, Hooker withdrew his men to the defensive lines around Chancellorsville, ceding the initiative to Lee. On May 2, Lee divided his army again, sending Stonewall Jackson's entire corps on a flanking march that routed the Union XI Corps. While performing a personal reconnaissance in advance of his line, Jackson was wounded by fire from his own men, and Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart
J.E.B. Stuart
James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart was a U.S. Army officer from Virginia and a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. He was known to his friends as "Jeb", from the initials of his given names. Stuart was a cavalry commander known for his mastery of reconnaissance and the use...

 temporarily replaced him as corps commander.

The fiercest fighting of the battle—and the second bloodiest day of the Civil War—occurred on May 3 as Lee launched multiple attacks against the Union position at Chancellorsville, resulting in heavy losses on both sides. That same day, Sedgwick advanced across the Rappahannock River, defeated the small Confederate force at Marye's Heights in the Second Battle of Fredericksburg and then moved to the west. The Confederates fought a successful delaying action at the Battle of Salem Church
Battle of Salem Church
The Battle of Salem Church, also known as the Battle of Banks' Ford, took place on May 3–4, 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign of the American Civil War....

 and by May 4 had driven back Sedgwick's men to Banks's Ford, surrounding them on three sides. Sedgwick withdrew across the ford early on May 5, and Hooker withdrew the remainder of his army across U.S. Ford the night of May 5–6. The campaign ended on May 7 when Stoneman's cavalry reached Union lines east of Richmond.

Union attempts against Richmond


In the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War
Eastern Theater of the American Civil War
The Eastern Theater of the American Civil War included the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina...

, the basic offensive plan for the Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 had been to advance and seize the Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 capital, Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

. In the first two years of the war, four major attempts had failed: the first foundered just miles away from Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, at the First Battle of Bull Run
First Battle of Bull Run
First Battle of Bull Run, also known as First Manassas , was fought on July 21, 1861, in Prince William County, Virginia, near the City of Manassas...

 (First Manassas) in July 1861. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan
George B. McClellan
George Brinton McClellan was a major general during the American Civil War. He organized the famous Army of the Potomac and served briefly as the general-in-chief of the Union Army. Early in the war, McClellan played an important role in raising a well-trained and organized army for the Union...

's Peninsula Campaign
Peninsula Campaign
The Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War was a major Union operation launched in southeastern Virginia from March through July 1862, the first large-scale offensive in the Eastern Theater. The operation, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B...

 took an amphibious approach, landing his Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

 on the Virginia Peninsula
Virginia Peninsula
The Virginia Peninsula is a peninsula in southeast Virginia, USA, bounded by the York River, James River, Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay.Hampton Roads is the common name for the metropolitan area that surrounds the body of water of the same name...

 in the spring of 1862 and coming within 6 miles (9.7 km) of Richmond before being turned back by Gen. Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

 in the Seven Days Battles
Seven Days Battles
The Seven Days Battles was a series of six major battles over the seven days from June 25 to July 1, 1862, near Richmond, Virginia during the American Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee drove the invading Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, away from...

. That summer, Maj. Gen. John Pope's
John Pope (military officer)
John Pope was a career United States Army officer and Union general in the American Civil War. He had a brief but successful career in the Western Theater, but he is best known for his defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in the East.Pope was a graduate of the United States Military Academy in...

 Army of Virginia
Army of Virginia
The Army of Virginia was organized as a major unit of the Union Army and operated briefly and unsuccessfully in 1862 in the American Civil War. It should not be confused with its principal opponent, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E...

 was defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run
Second Battle of Bull Run
The Second Battle of Bull Run or Second Manassas was fought August 28–30, 1862, as part of the American Civil War. It was the culmination of an offensive campaign waged by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia against Union Maj. Gen...

. In December 1862, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside
Ambrose Burnside
Ambrose Everett Burnside was an American soldier, railroad executive, inventor, industrialist, and politician from Rhode Island, serving as governor and a U.S. Senator...

 commanded the Army of the Potomac and attempted to reach Richmond by way of Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located south of Washington, D.C., and north of Richmond. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 24,286...

, where he was defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Fredericksburg
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside...

. This string of Union defeats was interrupted in September 1862 when Lee moved into Maryland and his campaign was defeated by McClellan at the Battle of Antietam
Battle of Antietam
The Battle of Antietam , fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek, as part of the Maryland Campaign, was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Northern soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000...

, but this represented no threat to Richmond.

Shakeup in the Army of the Potomac


In January 1863, the Army of the Potomac, following the Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Fredericksburg
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside...

 and the humiliating Mud March
Mud March (American Civil War)
The Mud March was an abortive attempt at a winter offensive in January 1863 by Union Army Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside in the American Civil War....

, suffered from rising desertions and plunging morale. Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside decided to conduct a mass purge of the Army of the Potomac's leadership, eliminating a number of generals who he felt were responsible for the disaster at Fredericksburg. In reality, he had no power to dismiss anyone without the approval of Congress. Predictably, Burnside's purge went nowhere, and he offered President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 his resignation from command of the Army of the Potomac. He even offered to resign entirely from the Army, but the president persuaded him to stay, transferring him to the Western Theater
Western Theater of the American Civil War
This article presents an overview of major military and naval operations in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.-Theater of operations:...

, where he became commander of the Department of the Ohio
Department of the Ohio
The Department of the Ohio was an administrative military district created by the United States War Department early in the American Civil War to administer the troops in the Northern states near the Ohio River.General Orders No...

. Burnside's former command, the IX Corps, was transferred to the Virginia Peninsula, a movement that prompted the Confederates to detach troops from Lee's army under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet
James Longstreet
James Longstreet was one of the foremost Confederate generals of the American Civil War and the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his "Old War Horse." He served under Lee as a corps commander for many of the famous battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in the...

, a decision that would be consequential in the upcoming campaign.

Abraham Lincoln had become convinced that the appropriate objective for his Eastern army was the army of Robert E. Lee's, not any geographic features such as a capital city, but he and his generals knew that the most reliable way to bring Lee to a decisive battle was to threaten his capital. Lincoln tried a fifth time with a new general on January 25, 1863—Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction, Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E...

, a man with a pugnacious reputation who had performed well in previous subordinate commands.

With Burnside's departure, Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin
William B. Franklin
William Buel Franklin was a career United States Army officer and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He rose to the rank of a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac, fighting in several notable early battles in the Eastern Theater.-Early life:William B. Franklin was born in York,...

 left as well. Franklin had been a staunch supporter of George B. McClellan
George B. McClellan
George Brinton McClellan was a major general during the American Civil War. He organized the famous Army of the Potomac and served briefly as the general-in-chief of the Union Army. Early in the war, McClellan played an important role in raising a well-trained and organized army for the Union...

 and refused to serve under Hooker, because he disliked him personally and also because he was senior to Hooker in rank. Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner stepped down due to old age (he was 65) and poor health. He was reassigned to a command in Missouri, but died before he could assume it. Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield
Daniel Butterfield
Daniel Adams Butterfield was a New York businessman, a Union General in the American Civil War, and Assistant U.S. Treasurer in New York. He is credited with composing the bugle call Taps and was involved in the Black Friday gold scandal in the Grant administration...

 was reassigned from command of the V Corps to be Hooker's chief of staff.

Hooker embarked on a reorganization of the army, doing away with Burnside's grand division system, which Hooker considered unwieldy; he also no longer had sufficient senior officers on hand that he could trust to command multi-corps operations. He organized the cavalry into a separate corps under the command of Brig. Gen.
Brigadier general (United States)
A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

 George Stoneman
George Stoneman
George Stoneman, Jr. was a career United States Army officer, a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War, and the 15th Governor of California between 1883 and 1887.-Early life:...

 (who had commanded the III Corps at Fredericksburg). But while he concentrated the cavalry into a single organization, he dispersed his artillery battalions to the control of the infantry division commanders, removing the coordinating influence of the army's artillery chief, Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt.

During the spring of 1863, Hooker established a reputation as an outstanding administrator and restored the morale of his soldiers, which had plummeted to a new low under Burnside. Among his changes were fixes to the daily diet of the troops, camp sanitary changes, improvements and accountability of the quartermaster system, addition of and monitoring of company cooks, several hospital reforms, an improved furlough system, orders to stem rising desertion, improved drills, and stronger officer training.

Opposing forces

Key Union commanders
Key Confederate commanders


The Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction, Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E...

, had 133,868 men and 413 guns organized as follows:
  • I Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds
    John F. Reynolds
    John Fulton Reynolds was a career United States Army officer and a general in the American Civil War. One of the Union Army's most respected senior commanders, he played a key role in committing the Army of the Potomac to the Battle of Gettysburg and was killed at the start of the battle.-Early...

    , with the divisions of Brig. Gens. James S. Wadsworth
    James S. Wadsworth
    James Samuel Wadsworth was a philanthropist, politician, and a Union general in the American Civil War. He was killed in battle during the Battle of the Wilderness of 1864.-Early years:...

    , John C. Robinson
    John C. Robinson
    John Cleveland Robinson had a long and distinguished career in the United States Army, fighting in numerous wars and culminating his career as a Union Army brigadier general of volunteers and brevet major general of volunteers in the American Civil War. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated...

    , and Abner Doubleday
    Abner Doubleday
    Abner Doubleday was a career United States Army officer and Union general in the American Civil War. He fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the war, and had a pivotal role in the early fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg was his finest hour, but his...

    .
  • II Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch
    Darius N. Couch
    Darius Nash Couch was an American soldier, businessman, and naturalist. He served as a career U.S. Army officer during the Mexican-American War, the Second Seminole War, and as a general officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War.During the Civil War, Couch fought notably in the...

    , with the divisions of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock
    Winfield Scott Hancock
    Winfield Scott Hancock was a career U.S. Army officer and the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1880. He served with distinction in the Army for four decades, including service in the Mexican-American War and as a Union general in the American Civil War...

     and William H. French
    William H. French
    William Henry French was a career United States Army officer and a Union Army General in the American Civil War. He rose to temporarily command a corps within the Army of the Potomac, but was relieved of active field duty following poor performance during the Mine Run Campaign in late 1863.-Early...

    , and Brig. Gen. John Gibbon
    John Gibbon
    John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

    .
  • III Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, with the divisions of Brig. Gen. David B. Birney
    David B. Birney
    David Bell Birney was a businessman, lawyer, and a Union General in the American Civil War.-Early life:Birney was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of an abolitionist from Kentucky, James G. Birney. The Birney family returned to Kentucky in 1833, and James Birney freed his slaves...

    , and Maj. Gens. Hiram G. Berry and Amiel W. Whipple.
  • V Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, with the divisions of Brig. Gens. Charles Griffin and Andrew A. Humphreys
    Andrew A. Humphreys
    Andrew Atkinson Humphreys , was a career United States Army officer, civil engineer, and a Union General in the American Civil War. He served in senior positions in the Army of the Potomac, including division command, chief of staff, and corps command, and was Chief Engineer of the U.S...

    , and Maj. Gen. George Sykes
    George Sykes
    George Sykes was a career United States Army officer and a Union General during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    .
  • VI Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick
    John Sedgwick
    John Sedgwick was a teacher, a career military officer, and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He was the highest ranking Union casualty in the Civil War, killed by a sniper at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.-Early life:Sedgwick was born in the Litchfield Hills town of...

    , with the divisions of Brig. Gens. William T. H. Brooks
    William T. H. Brooks
    William Thomas Harbaugh Brooks was a career military officer in the United States Army, serving as a major general during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

     and Albion P. Howe
    Albion P. Howe
    Albion Parris Howe was a Union Army general in the American Civil War. Howe's contentious relationships with superior officers in the Army of the Potomac eventually led to his being deprived of division command....

    , Maj. Gen. John Newton, and Col. Hiram Burnham
    Hiram Burnham
    Hiram Burnham was an officer in the Union Army who commanded a regiment and then a brigade in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War...

    .
  • XI Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard
    Oliver O. Howard
    Oliver Otis Howard was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War...

    , with the divisions of Brig. Gen. Charles Devens, Jr., and Adolph von Steinwehr
    Adolph von Steinwehr
    Baron Adolph Wilhelm August Friedrich von Steinwehr was a German-Brunswick army officer who emigrated to the United States, became a geographer, cartographer, and author, and served as a Union general in the American Civil War.-Early life:Steinwehr was born in Blankenburg, in the Duchy of...

    , and Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz
    Carl Schurz
    Carl Christian Schurz was a German revolutionary, American statesman and reformer, and Union Army General in the American Civil War. He was also an accomplished journalist, newspaper editor and orator, who in 1869 became the first German-born American elected to the United States Senate.His wife,...

    .
  • XII Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, with the divisions of Brig. Gens. Alpheus S. Williams
    Alpheus S. Williams
    Alpheus Starkey Williams was a lawyer, judge, journalist, U.S. Congressman, and a Union general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

     and John W. Geary
    John W. Geary
    John White Geary was an American lawyer, politician, Freemason, and a Union general in the American Civil War...

    .
  • Cavalry Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. George Stoneman
    George Stoneman
    George Stoneman, Jr. was a career United States Army officer, a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War, and the 15th Governor of California between 1883 and 1887.-Early life:...

    , with the divisions of Brig. Gens. Alfred Pleasonton
    Alfred Pleasonton
    Alfred Pleasonton was a United States Army officer and General of Union cavalry during the American Civil War. He commanded the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg Campaign, including the largest predominantly cavalry battle of the war, Brandy Station...

    , William W. Averell
    William W. Averell
    William Woods Averell was a career United States Army officer and a cavalry general in the American Civil War. After the war he was a diplomat and became wealthy by inventing American asphalt pavement.-Early years:...

    , and David M. Gregg
    David McMurtrie Gregg
    David McMurtrie Gregg was a farmer, diplomat, and a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

    .


Gen. Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

 fielded 60,892 men and 220 guns, organized as follows:
  • First Corps
    First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia was a military unit fighting for the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. It was formed in early 1861 and served until the spring of 1865, mostly in the Eastern Theater. The corps was commanded by James Longstreet for much of its...

    , commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet
    James Longstreet
    James Longstreet was one of the foremost Confederate generals of the American Civil War and the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his "Old War Horse." He served under Lee as a corps commander for many of the famous battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in the...

    . Longstreet and the majority of his corps (the divisions of Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood
    John Bell Hood
    John Bell Hood was a Confederate general during the American Civil War. Hood had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on recklessness...

     and Brig. Gen. George E. Pickett, and two artillery battalions) were detached for duty in southeastern Virginia. The divisions present at Chancellorsville were those of Maj. Gens. Lafayette McLaws
    Lafayette McLaws
    Lafayette McLaws was a United States Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

     and Richard H. Anderson
    Richard H. Anderson
    Richard Heron Anderson was a career U.S. Army officer, fighting with distinction in the Mexican-American War. He also served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, fighting in the Eastern Theater of the conflict and most notably during the 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania Court House...

    .
  • Second Corps
    Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was a military organization within the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during much of the American Civil War. It was officially created and named following the Battle of Sharpsburg in 1862, but comprised units in a corps organization for quite...

    , commanded by Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson
    Stonewall Jackson
    ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...

    , with the divisions of Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill, Brig. Gen. Robert E. Rodes
    Robert E. Rodes
    Robert Emmett Rodes was a railroad civil engineer and a promising young Confederate general in the American Civil War, killed in battle in the Shenandoah Valley.-Education, antebellum career:...

    , Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, and Brig. Gen. Raleigh E. Colston
    Raleigh E. Colston
    Raleigh Edward Colston was a French-born American professor, soldier, cartographer, and writer. He was a controversial brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War...

    .
  • Cavalry Corps
    Cavalry Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was the only organized cavalry corps in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Prior to the establishment of a formal corps, cavalry organization in the Confederacy consisted mostly of partisan ranger units and some battalions, a few...

    , commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart
    J.E.B. Stuart
    James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart was a U.S. Army officer from Virginia and a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. He was known to his friends as "Jeb", from the initials of his given names. Stuart was a cavalry commander known for his mastery of reconnaissance and the use...

    . (Stuart's corps had only two brigades at Chancellorsville, those of Brig. Gens. Fitzhugh Lee
    Fitzhugh Lee
    Fitzhugh Lee , nephew of Robert E. Lee, was a Confederate cavalry general in the American Civil War, the 40th Governor of Virginia, diplomat, and United States Army general in the Spanish-American War.-Early life:...

     and W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee
    William Henry Fitzhugh Lee
    William Henry Fitzhugh Lee , known as Rooney Lee or W.H.F. Lee, was the second son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis. He was a planter, a Confederate cavalry General in the American Civil War, and later a member of the U.S. Congress.-Early life:Lee was born at Arlington House in...

    . The brigades of Brig. Gens. Wade Hampton
    Wade Hampton III
    Wade Hampton III was a Confederate cavalry leader during the American Civil War and afterward a politician from South Carolina, serving as its 77th Governor and as a U.S...

     and William E. "Grumble" Jones
    William E. Jones
    William Edmondson Jones, known as Grumble Jones, was a planter, a career United States Army officer, and a Confederate cavalry general, killed in the Battle of Piedmont in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

     were detached.)


The Chancellorsville Campaign was one of the most lopsided clashes of the war, with the Union's effective fighting force more than twice the Confederates', the greatest imbalance during the war in Virginia. Hooker's army was much better supplied and was well-rested after several months of inactivity. Lee's forces, on the other hand, were poorly provisioned and were scattered all over the state of Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

. Some 15,000 men of Longstreet's Corps had previously been detached and stationed near Norfolk
Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. With a population of 242,803 as of the 2010 Census, it is Virginia's second-largest city behind neighboring Virginia Beach....

 in order to block a potential threat to Richmond from Federal troops stationed at Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe was a military installation in Hampton, Virginia—at Old Point Comfort, the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula...

 and Newport News on the Peninsula, as well as at Norfolk and Suffolk
Suffolk, Virginia
Suffolk is the largest city by area in Virginia, United States, and is located in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 84,585. Its median household income was $57,546.-History:...

. In light of the continued Federal inactivity, by late March Longstreet's primary assignment became that of requisitioning provisions for Lee's forces from the farmers and planters of North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

 and Virginia. As a result of this the two divisions of Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood
John Bell Hood
John Bell Hood was a Confederate general during the American Civil War. Hood had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on recklessness...

 and Brig. Gen. George Pickett
George Pickett
George Edward Pickett was a career United States Army officer who became a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War...

 were 130 miles (209.2 km) away from Lee's army and would take a week or more of marching to reach it in an emergency. After nearly a year of campaigning, allowing these troops to slip away from his immediate control was Lee's gravest miscalculation. Although he hoped to be able to call on them, these men would not arrive in time to aid his outnumbered forces.

Intelligence and strategy



Hooker's intelligence
Military intelligence
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions....

 about the positioning and capabilities of his enemy was superior to that available to his predecessors in command of the Army of the Potomac. A complete overhaul of the army's Bureau of Military Intelligence, which was commanded by Col.
Colonel (United States)
In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, colonel is a senior field grade military officer rank just above the rank of lieutenant colonel and just below the rank of brigadier general...

 G. H. Sharpe, meant that for once the army's commander had a much more accurate appraisal of the number of troops in Lee's army, of how they were organized, and where they were stationed. Apart from gathering the usual sources of information from interrogating prisoners, deserters, "contrabands" (slaves), and refugees, the bureau for the first time coordinated intelligence from other sources including infantry and cavalry reconnaissance, signal
Signal Corps in the American Civil War
The Signal Corps in the American Civil War comprised two organizations: the U.S. Army Signal Corps, which began with the appointment of Major Albert J...

 stations, and an aerial balloon corps. Col. Sharpe also recruited scouts from the army and spies from the local population to infiltrate Lee's army and report directly back to the bureau. Overall the new service provided Hooker with a far more accurate estimate of the size of the forces confronting his army than the wild overestimates that had been provided by Allan Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton was a Scottish American detective and spy, best known for creating the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.-Early life, career and immigration:...

 and his detective agency to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan
George B. McClellan
George Brinton McClellan was a major general during the American Civil War. He organized the famous Army of the Potomac and served briefly as the general-in-chief of the Union Army. Early in the war, McClellan played an important role in raising a well-trained and organized army for the Union...

 during his tenures in command. Armed with this more realistic information, Hooker realized that if he were to avoid the bloodbath of direct frontal attacks
Frontal assault
The military tactic of frontal assault is a direct, hostile movement of forces toward the front of an enemy force . By targeting the enemy's front, the attackers are subjecting themselves to the maximum defensive power of the enemy...

, which were features of the Battles of Antietam
Battle of Antietam
The Battle of Antietam , fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek, as part of the Maryland Campaign, was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Northern soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000...

 and, more recently, Fredericksburg
Battle of Fredericksburg
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside...

, he could not succeed in his crossing of the Rappahannock "except by stratagem."
Hooker's army faced Lee across the Rappahannock from its winter quarters in Falmouth
Falmouth, Virginia
Falmouth is an unincorporated community in Stafford County, Virginia, United States. Situated on the north bank of the Rappahannock River at the falls, the community is north of and opposite the city of Fredericksburg. Recognized by the U.S...

 and around Fredericksburg. Hooker developed a strategy that was, on paper, superior to those of his predecessors. He planned to send his 10,000 cavalrymen under Maj. Gen. George Stoneman
George Stoneman
George Stoneman, Jr. was a career United States Army officer, a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War, and the 15th Governor of California between 1883 and 1887.-Early life:...

 to cross the Rappahannock far upstream and raid deep into the Confederate rear areas, destroying crucial supply depots along the railroad from the Confederate capital in Richmond to Fredericksburg, which would cut Lee's lines of communication and supply. Hooker assumed that Lee would react to this threat by abandoning his fortified positions on the Rappahannock and withdrawing toward his capital. At that time, Hooker's infantry would cross the Rappahannock in pursuit, attacking Lee when he was moving and vulnerable. Stoneman attempted to execute this turning movement on April 13, but heavy rains made the river crossing site at Sulphur Spring impassable. President Lincoln lamented, "I greatly fear it is another failure already." Hooker was forced to create a new plan for a meeting with Lincoln, Secretary of War
United States Secretary of War
The Secretary of War was a member of the United States President's Cabinet, beginning with George Washington's administration. A similar position, called either "Secretary at War" or "Secretary of War," was appointed to serve the Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation...

 Edwin M. Stanton
Edwin M. Stanton
Edwin McMasters Stanton was an American lawyer and politician who served as Secretary of War under the Lincoln Administration during the American Civil War from 1862–1865...

, and general in chief Henry W. Halleck in Aquia
Aquia Harbour, Virginia
Aquia Harbour is a census-designated place in Stafford County, Virginia, United States, 13 miles north of Fredericksburg. The population was 7,856 at the 2000 census...

 on April 19.
Hooker's second plan was to launch both his cavalry and infantry simultaneously in a bold double envelopment of Lee's army. Stoneman's cavalry would make a second attempt at its deep strategic raid, but at the same time, 42,000 men in three corps (V, XI, XII Corps) would stealthily march to cross the Rappahannock upriver at Kelly's Ford. They would then proceed south and cross the Rapidan at Germanna and Ely's Ford, concentrate at the Chancellorsville crossroads, and attack Lee's army from the west. While they were under way, 10,000 men in two divisions from the II Corps would cross at the U.S. Ford and join with the V Corps in pushing the Confederates away from the river. The second half of the double envelopment was to come from the east: 40,000 men in two corps (I and VI Corps, under the overall command of John Sedgwick) would cross the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg and threatened to attack Stonewall Jackson's position on the Confederate right flank. The remaining 25,000 men (III Corps and one division of the II Corps) would remain visible in their camps at Falmouth to divert Confederate attention from the turning movement. Hooker anticipated that Lee would either be forced to retreat, in which case he would be vigorously pursued, or he would be forced to attack the Union Army on unfavorable terrain.

One of the defining characteristics of the battlefield was a dense woodland south of the Rapidan known locally as the "Wilderness of Spotsylvania". The area had once been an open broadleaf forest, but during colonial times the trees were gradually cut down to make charcoal for local pig iron furnaces. When the supply of wood was exhausted, the furnaces were abandoned and secondary forest growth developed, creating a dense mass of brambles, thickets, vines, and low-lying vegetation. Catherine Furnace, abandoned in the 1840s, had recently been reactivated to produce iron for the Confederate war effort. This area was largely unsuitable for the deployment of artillery and the control of large infantry formations, which would nullify some of the Union advantage in military power. It was important for Hooker's plan that his men move quickly out of this area and attack Lee in the open ground to the east. There were three primary roads available for this west-to-east movement: the Orange Plank Road, the Orange Turnpike, and the River Road.

The Confederate dispositions were as follows: the Rappahannock line at Fredericksburg was occupied by Longstreet's First Corps division of Lafayette McLaws on Marye's Heights, with Jackson's entire Second Corps to their right. Early's division was at Prospect Hill and the divisions of Rodes, Hill, and Colston extended the Confederate right flank along the river almost to Skinker's Neck. The other division present from Longstreet's Corps, Anderson's, guarded the river crossings on the left flank. Stuart's cavalry was largely in Culpeper County near Kelly's Ford, beyond the infantry's left flank.

April 27–30: Movement to battle


On April 27–28, the initial three corps of the Army of the Potomac began their march under the leadership of Slocum. They crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers as planned and began to concentrate on April 30 around the hamlet of Chancellorsville
Chancellorsville, Virginia
Chancellorsville is a historic site and unincorporated community in Virginia, about ten miles west of Fredericksburg. It is located in Spotsylvania County. The name of the locale derives from the mid-19th century inn operated by the family of George Chancellor at the intersection of the Orange...

, which was little more than a single large, brick mansion at the junction of the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Road. Built in the early 19th century, it had been used as an inn on the turnpike for many years, but now served as a home for the Frances Chancellor family. (Some of the family remained in the house during the battle.) Hooker arrived late in the afternoon on April 30 and made the mansion his headquarters. Stoneman's cavalry began on April 30 its second attempt to reach Lee's rear areas. The two II Corps divisions crossed at U.S. Ford on April 30 without opposition. By dawn on April 29, pontoon bridges spanned the Rappahannock south of Fredericksburg and Sedgwick's force began to cross. Pleased with the success of the operation so far, and realizing that the Confederates were not vigorously opposing the river crossings, Hooker ordered Sickles to begin the movement of the III Corps from Falmouth the night of April 30–May 1. By May 1, Hooker had approximately 70,000 men concentrated in and around Chancellorsville.

In his Fredericksburg headquarters, Lee was initially in the dark about the Union intentions and he suspected that the main column under Slocum was heading towards Gordonsville
Gordonsville, Virginia
Gordonsville is a town in Louisa and Orange counties in the U.S. state of Virginia. The population was 1,496 at the 2010 census.-History:Nathaniel Gordon purchased in 1787 and in 1794, or possibly earlier, applied for and was granted a license to operate a tavern...

. Jeb Stuart's cavalry was cut off at first by Stoneman's departure on April 30, but they were soon able to move freely around the army's flanks on their reconnaissance missions after almost all their Union counterparts had left the area. As Stuart's intelligence information about the Union river crossings began to arrive, Lee did not react as Hooker had anticipated. He decided to violate one of the generally accepted principles of war
Principles of War
The Principles of War were tenets originally proposed by Carl von Clausewitz in his essay Principles of War, and later enlarged in his book, On War. Additionally, Napoléon Bonaparte had pioneered the "Principles of War," and "The armies of today are based on the organization created by Napoleon...

 and divide his force in the face of a superior enemy, hoping that aggressive action would allow him to attack and defeat a portion of Hooker's army before it could be fully concentrated against him. He became convinced that Sedgwick's force would demonstrate against him, but not become a serious threat, so he ordered about 4/5 of his army to meet the challenge from Chancellorsville. He left behind a brigade under Brig. Gen. William Barksdale
William Barksdale
William Barksdale was a lawyer, newspaper editor, U.S. Congressman, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War...

 on heavily fortified Marye's Heights behind Fredericksburg and one division under Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, on Prospect Hill south of the town. These roughly 11,000 men and 56 guns would attempt to resist any advance by Sedgwick's 40,000. He ordered Stonewall Jackson to march west and link up with Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson
Richard H. Anderson
Richard Heron Anderson was a career U.S. Army officer, fighting with distinction in the Mexican-American War. He also served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, fighting in the Eastern Theater of the conflict and most notably during the 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania Court House...

's division, which had pulled back from the river crossings they were guarding and began digging earthworks on a north-south line between the Zoan and Tabernacle churches. McLaws's division was ordered from Fredericksburg to join Anderson. This would amass 40,000 men to confront Hooker's movement east from Chancellorsville. Fortunately for the Confederates, heavy fog along the Rappahannock masked some of these westward movements and Sedgwick chose to wait until he could determine the enemy's intentions.

May 1: Hooker loses his nerve



Jackson's men began marching west to join with Anderson before dawn on May 1. Jackson himself met with Anderson near Zoan Church at 8 a.m., finding that McLaws's division had already arrived to join the defensive position. But Stonewall Jackson was not in a defensive mood. He ordered an advance at 11 a.m. along two roads toward Chancellorsville: McLaws's division and the brigade of Brig. Gen. William Mahone
William Mahone
William Mahone was a civil engineer, teacher, soldier, railroad executive, and a member of the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress. Small of stature, he was nicknamed "Little Billy"....

 on the Turnpike, and Anderson's other brigades and Jackson's arriving units on the Plank Road. At about the same time, Hooker ordered his men to advance on three roads to the east: two divisions of Meade's V Corps (Griffin and Humphreys) on the River Road to uncover Banks's Ford, and the remaining division (Sykes) on the Turnpike; and Slocum's XII Corps on the Plank Road, with Howard's XI Corps in close support. Couch's II Corps was placed in reserve, where it would be soon joined by Sickles's III Corps.

The first shots of the Battle of Chancellorsville were fired at 11:20 a.m. as the armies collided. McLaws's initial attack pushed back Sykes's division, but the Union general organized a counterattack that recovered the lost ground. Anderson then sent a brigade under Brig. Gen. Ambrose Wright up an unfinished railroad south of the Plank Road, around the right flank of Slocum's corps. This would normally be a serious problem, but Howard's XI Corps was advancing from the rear and could deal with Wright. Sykes's division had proceeded farther forward than Slocum on his right, leaving him in an exposed position, which forced him to conduct an orderly withdrawal at 2 p.m. to take up a position behind Hancock's division of the II Corps, which was ordered by Hooker to advance and help repulse the Confederate attack. Meade's other two divisions made good progress on the River Road and were approaching their objective, Banks's Ford.
Despite being in a potentially favorable situation, Hooker halted his brief offensive. His actions may have demonstrated his lack of confidence in handling the complex actions of such a large organization for the first time (he had been an effective and aggressive division and corps commander in previous battles), but he had also decided before beginning the campaign that he would fight the battle defensively, forcing Lee, with his small army, to attack Hooker's larger one. At the [First] Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Fredericksburg
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside...

 (December 13, 1862), the Union army had done the attacking and met with a bloody defeat. Hooker knew Lee could not sustain such a defeat and keep an effective army in the field, so he ordered his men to withdraw back into the Wilderness and take a defensive position around Chancellorsville, daring Lee to attack him or retreat with superior forces at his back. He confused matters by issuing a second order to his subordinates to hold their positions until 5 p.m., but by the time it was received, most of the Union units had begun their rearward movements. That evening, Hooker sent a message to his corps commanders, "The major general commanding trusts that a suspension in the attack to-day will embolden the enemy to attack him."
Hooker's subordinates were surprised and outraged by the change in plans. They saw that the position they were fighting for near the Zoan Church was relatively high ground and offered an opportunity for the infantry and artillery to deploy outside the constraints of the Wilderness. Meade exclaimed, "My God, if we can't hold the top of the hill, we certainly can't hold the bottom of it!" Viewing through the lens of hindsight, some of the participants and many modern historians judged that Hooker effectively lost the campaign on May 1. Stephen W. Sears
Stephen W. Sears
Stephen Ward Sears is an American historian specializing in the American Civil War.A graduate of Lakewood High School and Oberlin College, Sears attended a journalism seminar at...

 observed, however, that Hooker's concern was based on more than personal timidity. The ground being disputed was little more than a clearing in the Wilderness, to which access was available by only two narrow roads. The Confederate response had swiftly concentrated the aggressive Stonewall Jackson's corps against his advancing columns such that the Federal army was outnumbered in that area, about 48,000 to 30,000, and would have difficulty maneuvering into effective lines of battle. Meade's two divisions on the River Road were too far separated to support Slocum and Sykes, and reinforcements from the rest of the II Corps and the III Corps would be too slow in arriving.

As the Union troops dug in around Chancellorsville that night, creating log breastworks, faced with abatis
Abatis
Abatis, abattis, or abbattis is a term in field fortification for an obstacle formed of the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy. The trees are usually interlaced or tied with wire...

, Lee and Stonewall Jackson met at the intersection of the Plank Road and the Furnace Road to plan their next move. Jackson believed that Hooker would retreat across the Rappahannock, but Lee assumed that the Union general had invested too much in the campaign to withdraw so precipitously. If the Federal troops were still in position on May 2, Lee would attack them. As they discussed their options, cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart arrived with an intelligence report from his subordinate, Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee
Fitzhugh Lee
Fitzhugh Lee , nephew of Robert E. Lee, was a Confederate cavalry general in the American Civil War, the 40th Governor of Virginia, diplomat, and United States Army general in the Spanish-American War.-Early life:...

. Although Hooker's left flank was firmly anchored by Meade's V Corps on the Rappahannock, and his center was strongly fortified, his right flank was "in the air." Howard's XI Corps was camped on the Orange Turnpike, extending past Wilderness Church, and was vulnerable to a flanking attack. Investigations of a route to be used to reach the flank identified the proprietor of Catherine Furnace, Charles C. Wellford, who showed Jackson's cartographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss
Jedediah Hotchkiss
Jedediah Hotchkiss , also known as Jed, was an educator and the most famous cartographer and topographer of the American Civil War...

, a recently constructed road through the forest that would shield marchers from the observation of Union pickets. Lee directed Jackson to make the flanking march, a maneuver similar to the one that had been so successful prior to the Second Battle of Bull Run
Second Battle of Bull Run
The Second Battle of Bull Run or Second Manassas was fought August 28–30, 1862, as part of the American Civil War. It was the culmination of an offensive campaign waged by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia against Union Maj. Gen...

 (Second Manassas). An account by Hotchkiss recalls that Lee asked Jackson how many men he would take on the flanking march and Jackson replied, "with my whole command."

May 2: Jackson's flank attack



Early on the morning of May 2, Hooker began to realize that Lee's actions on May 1 had not been constrained by the threat of Sedgwick's force at Fredericksburg, so no further deception was needed on that front. He decided to summon the I Corps of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds
John F. Reynolds
John Fulton Reynolds was a career United States Army officer and a general in the American Civil War. One of the Union Army's most respected senior commanders, he played a key role in committing the Army of the Potomac to the Battle of Gettysburg and was killed at the start of the battle.-Early...

 to reinforce his lines at Chancellorsville. His intent was that Reynolds would form up to the right of the XI Corps and anchor the Union right flank on the Rapidan River. Given the communications chaos of May 1, Hooker was under the mistaken impression that Sedgwick had withdrawn back across the Rappahannock and, based on this, that the VI Corps should remain on the north bank of the river across from the town, where it could protect the army's supplies and supply line. (In fact, both Reynolds and Sedgwick were still west of the Rappahannock, south of the town.) Hooker sent his orders at 1:55 a.m., expecting that Reynolds would be able to start marching before daylight, but problems with his telegraph communications delayed the order to Fredericksburg until just before sunrise. Reynolds was forced to make a risky daylight march. By the afternoon of May 2, when he should have been digging in on the Union right at Chancellorsville, he was still marching to the Rappahannock.

Meanwhile, for the second time, Lee was dividing his army. Jackson would lead his Second Corps of 28,000 men around to attack the Union right flank while Lee exercised personal command of the remaining two divisions, about 13,000 men and 24 guns facing the 70,000 Union troops at Chancellorsville. For the plan to work, several things had to happen. First, Jackson had to make a 12-mile (19 km) march via roundabout roads to reach the Union right, and he had to do it undetected. Second, Hooker had to stay tamely on the defensive. Third, Early would have to keep Sedgwick bottled up at Fredericksburg, despite the four-to-one Union advantage there. And when Jackson launched his attack, he had to hope that the Union forces were unprepared.

All of these conditions were met. Confederate cavalry under Stuart kept most Union forces from spotting Jackson on his long flank march, which started between 7 and 8 a.m. and lasted until midafternoon. Several Confederate soldiers saw the Union observation balloon Eagle soaring overhead and assumed that they could likewise be seen, but no such report was sent to headquarters. When men of the III Corps spotted a Confederate column moving through the woods, their division commander, Brig. Gen. David B. Birney
David B. Birney
David Bell Birney was a businessman, lawyer, and a Union General in the American Civil War.-Early life:Birney was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of an abolitionist from Kentucky, James G. Birney. The Birney family returned to Kentucky in 1833, and James Birney freed his slaves...

, ordered his artillery to open fire, but this proved little more than harassment. The corps commander, Sickles, rode to Hazel Grove to see for himself and he reported after the battle that his men observed the Confederates passing for over three hours.

When Hooker received the report about the Confederate movement, he thought that Lee might be starting a retreat, but he also realized that a flanking march might be in progress. He took two actions. First, he sent a message at 9:30 a.m. to Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard
Oliver O. Howard
Oliver Otis Howard was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War...

 on his right flank: "We have good reason to suppose the enemy is moving to our right. Please advance your pickets for purposes of observation as far as may be safe in order to obtain timely information of their approach." At 10:50 a.m., Howard replied that he was "taking measures to resist an attack from the west." Hooker's second action was to send orders to Sedgwick ("attack the enemy in his front" if "an opportunity presents itself with a reasonable expectation of success") and Sickles ("advance cautiously toward the road followed by the enemy, and harass the movement as much as possible"). Sedgwick did not take action from the discretionary orders. Sickles, however, was enthusiastic to receive the order at noon. He sent Birney's division, flanked by two battalions of Col. Hiram Berdan
Hiram Berdan
Hiram Berdan was an American engineer, inventor and military officer, world-renowned marksman, and guiding force behind and commanding colonel of the famed United States Volunteer Sharpshooter Regiments during the American Civil War...

's U.S. sharpshooters, south from Hazel Grove with orders to pierce the column and gain possession of the road. But the action came too late. Jackson had ordered the 23rd Georgia Infantry to guard the rear of the column and they resisted the advance of Birney and Berdan at Catherine Furnace. The Georgians were driven south and they made a stand at the same unfinished railroad bed used by Wright's Brigade the day before. They were overwhelmed by 5 p.m. and most were captured. Two brigades from A.P. Hill's division turned back from the flanking march and prevented any further damage to Jackson's column, which by now had left the area.

Most of Jackson's men were unaware of the small action at the rear of their column. As they marched north on Brock Road, Jackson was prepared to turn right on the Orange Plank Road, from which his men would attack the Union lines at around Wilderness Church. However, it became apparent that this direction would lead to essentially a frontal assault against Howard's line. Fitzhugh Lee met Jackson and they ascended a hill with a sweeping view of the Union position and Jackson was delighted to see that Howard's men were resting, unaware of the impending Confederate threat. Although by now it was 3 p.m., Jackson decided to march his men two miles farther and turn right on the Turnpike instead, allowing him to strike the unprotected flank directly. The attack formation consisted of two lines—the divisions of Brig. Gens. Robert E. Rodes
Robert E. Rodes
Robert Emmett Rodes was a railroad civil engineer and a promising young Confederate general in the American Civil War, killed in battle in the Shenandoah Valley.-Education, antebellum career:...

 and Raleigh E. Colston
Raleigh E. Colston
Raleigh Edward Colston was a French-born American professor, soldier, cartographer, and writer. He was a controversial brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War...

—stretching almost a mile on either side of the turnpike, separated by 200 yards, followed by a partial line with the arriving division of A.P. Hill.
Significant contributors to the impending Union disaster were the nature of the Union XI Corps and the incompetent performance of its commander, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard
Oliver O. Howard
Oliver Otis Howard was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War...

. Howard failed to make any provision for defending against a surprise attack, even though Hooker had ordered him to do so. The Union right flank was not anchored on any natural obstacle, and the only defenses against a flank attack consisted of two cannons pointing out into the Wilderness. Also, the XI Corps was an organization with poor morale. The corps had originally been commanded by Brig. Gen. Franz Sigel
Franz Sigel
Franz Sigel was a German military officer, revolutionist and immigrant to the United States who was a teacher, newspaperman, politician, and served as a Union major general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

, a political general
Political general
A political general is a general officer or other military leader without significant military experience who is given a high position in command for political reasons, such as his own connections or to appease certain political blocs...

 appointed because of his abolitionist views. Although inept as a commander, he was very popular with the Germans, who had a saying "I fights mit Sigel". During the spring of 1862, Sigel's corps was detached from the main Army of the Potomac and placed in the Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah Valley
The Shenandoah Valley is both a geographic valley and cultural region of western Virginia and West Virginia in the United States. The valley is bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians , to the north by the Potomac River...

, where it was defeated by Stonewall Jackson's forces at Cross Keys
Battle of Cross Keys
The Battle of Cross Keys was fought on June 8, 1862, in Rockingham County, Virginia, as part of Confederate Army Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's campaign through the Shenandoah Valley during the American Civil War...

. After the Peninsula Campaign
Peninsula Campaign
The Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War was a major Union operation launched in southeastern Virginia from March through July 1862, the first large-scale offensive in the Eastern Theater. The operation, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B...

, it was attached to Maj. Gen. John Pope
John Pope (military officer)
John Pope was a career United States Army officer and Union general in the American Civil War. He had a brief but successful career in the Western Theater, but he is best known for his defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in the East.Pope was a graduate of the United States Military Academy in...

's Army of Virginia
Army of Virginia
The Army of Virginia was organized as a major unit of the Union Army and operated briefly and unsuccessfully in 1862 in the American Civil War. It should not be confused with its principal opponent, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E...

 where it fared no better, delivering a poor performance at Second Bull Run. The XI Corps did not participate in the Antietam
Maryland Campaign
The Maryland Campaign, or the Antietam Campaign is widely considered one of the major turning points of the American Civil War. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North was repulsed by Maj. Gen. George B...

 or Fredericksburg campaigns, and after Hooker took command of the army Sigel was dismissed and replaced by Howard. He dismissed a number of popular generals and replaced them with men like Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow
Francis C. Barlow
Francis Channing Barlow was a lawyer, politician, and Union General during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

, a ferocious disciplinarian who was known for swatting stragglers with the blunt end of his sword. Many of the immigrants had poor English language skills and they were subjected to ethnic friction with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, where all non-Irish immigrants were referred to as "Germans". In fact, half the XI Corps consisted of native-born Americans, mostly from the Midwest, but it was the immigrants with whom the corps came to be associated. The corps' readiness was poor as well. Of the 23 regiments, eight had no combat experience, and the remaining 15 had never fought on the winning side of a battle. And although many of the immigrants had served in European armies, they tended to not perform well under the loose discipline of the American volunteer military. Because of these factors, Hooker had placed the XI Corps on his flank and did not have any major plans for it except as a reserve or mopping-up force after the main fighting was over.

Around 5:30 p.m., Jackson's 21,500 men exploded out of the woods screaming the Rebel Yell. Most of the men of the XI Corps were sitting down to dinner and had their rifles unloaded and stacked. Their first clue to the impending onslaught was the observation of numerous animals, such as rabbits and foxes, fleeing in their direction. After the division of Brig. Gen. Charles Devens, Jr., collapsed, Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz
Carl Schurz
Carl Christian Schurz was a German revolutionary, American statesman and reformer, and Union Army General in the American Civil War. He was also an accomplished journalist, newspaper editor and orator, who in 1869 became the first German-born American elected to the United States Senate.His wife,...

 ordered his division to shift from an east-west alignment to north-south, which they did with amazing precision and speed. However, they were overlapped significantly on both sides by the Confederate onslaught and Schurz ordered a retreat at 6:30 p.m. General Howard partially redeemed his inadequate performance prior to the battle by his personal bravery in attempting to rally the troops. He stood shouting and waving a flag held under the stump of his amputated arm (lost at the Battle of Seven Pines
Battle of Seven Pines
The Battle of Seven Pines, also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks or Fair Oaks Station, took place on May 31 and June 1, 1862, in Henrico County, Virginia, as part of the Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War. It was the culmination of an offensive up the Virginia Peninsula by Union Maj. Gen....

 in 1862), ignoring the danger of the heavy rifle fire, but he could only gather small pockets of soldiers to resist before his corps disintegrated. Several thousand of Howard's men gathered at Fairview, a clearing across the road from the Chancellor mansion, where 37 guns of the XII Corps artillery brought Rodes's now-disorganized division to a standstill at 7:15. Hooker urged the III Corps division of Maj. Gen. Hiram G. Berry to defend a line a half mile from Chancellorsville with their bayonets, but by that time, the momentum of the attack had passed.

By nightfall, the Confederate Second Corps had advanced more than 1.25 miles, to within sight of Chancellorsville, but darkness and confusion were taking their toll. The attackers were almost as disorganized as the routed defenders. Although the XI Corps had been defeated, it would be incorrect to characterize the action as thousands of men simply fleeing for their lives. The corps suffered nearly 2,500 casualties (259 killed, 1,173 wounded, and 994 missing or captured), about one quarter of its strength, including 12 of 23 regimental commanders, which indicates that they fought fiercely during their retreat. Jackson's force was now separated from Lee's men only by Sickles's corps, which had been separated from the main body of the army after its foray attacking Jackson's column earlier in the afternoon. By 9 p.m., Sickles's men had struggled back to Hazel Grove, but their day was not finished. Between 11 p.m. and midnight, Sickles organized an assault north from Hazel Grove toward the Plank Road, but called it off when his men began suffering artillery and rifle fire from the XII Corps.

Stonewall Jackson wanted to press his advantage before Hooker and his army could regain their bearings and plan a counterattack, which might still succeed because of the sheer disparity in numbers. He rode out onto the Plank Road that night to determine the feasibility of a night attack by the light of the full moon, traveling beyond the farthest advance of his men. When one of his staff officers warned him about the dangerous position, Jackson replied, "The danger is all over. The enemy is routed. Go back and tell A.P. Hill to press right on." As he and his staff started to return, they were incorrectly identified as Union cavalry by men of the 18th North Carolina Infantry
18th North Carolina Infantry
The 18th North Carolina Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment raised in North Carolina for service in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. It fought mostly with the Army of Northern Virginia....

, who hit Jackson with friendly fire
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire...

. Jackson's three bullet wounds were not in themselves life-threatening, but his left arm was broken and had to be amputated. He contracted pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

 and died on May 10. His death was a devastating loss for the Confederacy. Some historians and participants—particularly those of the postbellum Lost Cause
Lost Cause of the Confederacy
The Lost Cause is the name commonly given to an American literary and intellectual movement that sought to reconcile the traditional white society of the U.S. South to the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War of 1861–1865...

 movement—attribute the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

 two months later to Jackson's absence.

May 3: Chancellorsville



Despite the fame of Stonewall Jackson's victory on May 2, it did not result in a significant military advantage for the Army of Northern Virginia. Howard's XI Corps had been defeated, but the Army of the Potomac remained a potent force and Reynolds's I Corps had arrived overnight, which replaced Howard's losses. About 76,000 Union men faced 43,000 Confederate at the Chancellorsville front. The two halves of Lee's army at Chancellorsville were separated by Sickles's III Corps, which occupied a strong position on high ground at Hazel Grove. Unless Lee could devise a plan to eject Sickles from Hazel Grove and combine the two halves of his army, he would have little chance of success in assaulting the formidable Union earthworks around Chancellorsville. Fortunately for Lee, Joseph Hooker inadvertently cooperated. Early on May 3, Hooker ordered Sickles to move from Hazel Grove to a new position on the Plank Road. As they were withdrawing, the trailing elements of Sickles's corps was attacked by the Confederate brigade of Brig. Gen. James J. Archer
James J. Archer
James Jay Archer was a lawyer and an officer in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War, and he later served as a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War....

, which captured about 100 prisoners and four cannons. Hazel Grove was soon turned into a powerful artillery platform with 30 guns under Col. Porter Alexander
Edward Porter Alexander
Edward Porter Alexander was an engineer, an officer in the U.S. Army, a Confederate general in the American Civil War, and later a railroad executive, planter, and author....

.

After Jackson was wounded on May 2, command of the Second Corps fell to his senior division commander, Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill. Hill was soon wounded himself, however. He consulted with Brig. Gen. Robert E. Rodes
Robert E. Rodes
Robert Emmett Rodes was a railroad civil engineer and a promising young Confederate general in the American Civil War, killed in battle in the Shenandoah Valley.-Education, antebellum career:...

, the next most senior general in the corps, and Rodes acquiesced in Hill's decision to summon Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart
J.E.B. Stuart
James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart was a U.S. Army officer from Virginia and a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. He was known to his friends as "Jeb", from the initials of his given names. Stuart was a cavalry commander known for his mastery of reconnaissance and the use...

 to take command, notifying Lee after the fact. Brig. Gen. Henry Heth
Henry Heth
Henry "Harry" Heth was a career United States Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War. He is best remembered for inadvertently precipitating the Battle of Gettysburg, when he sent some of his troops of the Army of Northern Virginia to the small Pennsylvania village,...

 replaced Hill in division command. Although cavalryman Stuart had never commanded infantry before, he would turn in a very credible performance at Chancellorsville. By the morning of May 3, the Union line resembled a giant horseshoe. The center was held by the III, XII, and II Corps. On the left were the remnants of the XI Corps, and the right was held by the V and I Corps. On the western side of the Chancellorsville salient, Stuart organized his three divisions to straddle the Plank Road: Heth's in the advance, Colston's 300–500 yards behind, and Rodes's, whose men had done the hardest fighting on May 2, near the Wilderness Church. The attack began about 5:30 a.m. and was aided by the newly installed artillery at Hazel Grove, and by simultaneous attacks by the divisions of Anderson and McLaws from the south and southeast. The Confederates were resisted fiercely by the Union troops behind strong earthworks, and the fighting on May 3 was the heaviest of the campaign. The initial waves of assaults by Heth and Colston gained a little ground, but were beaten back by Union counterattacks.
Rodes sent his men in last and this final push, along with the excellent performance of the Confederate artillery, carried the morning battle. Chancellorsville was the only occasion in the war in Virginia in which Confederate gunners held a decided advantage over their Federal counterparts. Confederate guns on Hazel Grove were joined by 20 more on the Plank Road to duel effectively with the Union guns on neighboring Fairview Hill, causing the Federals to withdraw as ammunition ran low and Confederate infantrymen picked off the gun crews. Fairview was evacuated at 9:30 a.m., briefly recaptured in a counterattack, but by 10 a.m. Hooker ordered it abandoned for good. The loss of this artillery platform doomed the Union position at the Chancellorsville crossroads as well, and the Army of the Potomac began a fighting retreat to positions circling United States Ford. The soldiers of the two halves of Lee's army reunited shortly after 10 a.m. before the Chancellor mansion, wildly triumphant as Lee arrived on Traveller
Traveller (horse)
Traveller was Confederate General Robert E. Lee's most famous horse during the American Civil War.-Birth and war service:...

 to survey the scene of his victory.
At the height of the fighting on May 3, Hooker suffered an injury when at 9:15 a.m. a Confederate cannonball hit a wooden pillar he was leaning against at his headquarters. He later wrote that half of the pillar "violently [struck me] ... in an erect position from my head to my feet." He likely received a concussion, which was sufficiently severe to render him unconscious for over an hour. Although clearly incapacitated after he arose, Hooker refused to turn over command temporarily to his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch
Darius N. Couch
Darius Nash Couch was an American soldier, businessman, and naturalist. He served as a career U.S. Army officer during the Mexican-American War, the Second Seminole War, and as a general officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War.During the Civil War, Couch fought notably in the...

, and, with Hooker's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield
Daniel Butterfield
Daniel Adams Butterfield was a New York businessman, a Union General in the American Civil War, and Assistant U.S. Treasurer in New York. He is credited with composing the bugle call Taps and was involved in the Black Friday gold scandal in the Grant administration...

, and Sedgwick out of communication (again due to the failure of the telegraph lines), there was no one at headquarters with sufficient rank or stature to convince Hooker otherwise. This failure affected Union performance over the next day and directly contributed to Hooker's seeming lack of nerve and timid performance throughout the rest of the battle.

May 3: Fredericksburg and Salem Church


As Lee was savoring his victory at the Chancellorsville crossroads, he received disturbing news: Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick
John Sedgwick
John Sedgwick was a teacher, a career military officer, and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He was the highest ranking Union casualty in the Civil War, killed by a sniper at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.-Early life:Sedgwick was born in the Litchfield Hills town of...

's force had broken through the Confederate lines at Fredericksburg and was headed toward Chancellorsville. On the night of May 2, in the aftermath of Jackson's flank attack, Hooker had ordered Sedgwick to "cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg on the receipt of this order, and at once take up your line of march on the Chancellorsville road until you connect with him. You will attack and destroy any force you may fall in with on the road." Lee had left a relatively small force at Fredericksburg, ordering Brig. Gen. Jubal Early to "watch the enemy and try to hold him." If he was attacked in "overwhelming numbers," Early was to retreat to Richmond, but if Sedgwick withdrew from his front, he was to join with Lee at Chancellorsville. On the morning of May 2, Early received a garbled message from Lee's staff that caused him to start marching most of his men toward Chancellorsville, but he quickly returned after a warning from Brig. Gen. William Barksdale
William Barksdale
William Barksdale was a lawyer, newspaper editor, U.S. Congressman, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War...

 of a Union advance against Fredericksburg. At 7 a.m. on May 3, Early was confronted with four Union divisions: Brig. Gen. John Gibbon
John Gibbon
John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

s of the II Corps had crossed the Rappahannock north of town, and three divisions of Sedgwick's VI Corps—Maj. Gen. John Newton and Brig. Gens. Albion P. Howe
Albion P. Howe
Albion Parris Howe was a Union Army general in the American Civil War. Howe's contentious relationships with superior officers in the Army of the Potomac eventually led to his being deprived of division command....

 and William T. H. Brooks
William T. H. Brooks
William Thomas Harbaugh Brooks was a career military officer in the United States Army, serving as a major general during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

—were arrayed in line from the front of the town to Deep Run. Most of Early's combat strength was deployed to the south of town, where Federal troops had achieved their most significant successes during the December battle. Marye's Heights was defended by Barksdale's Mississippi brigade and Early ordered the Louisiana brigade of Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays
Harry T. Hays
Harry Thompson Hays was an American Army officer serving in the Mexican-American War and a general who served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War....

 from the far right to Barksdale's left.


By midmorning, two Union attacks against the infamous stone wall on Marye's Heights were repulsed with numerous casualties. A Union party under flag of truce was allowed to approach ostensibly to collect the wounded, but while close to the stone wall, they were able to observe how sparsely the Confederate line was manned. A third Union attack was successful in overrunning the Confederate position. Early was able to organize an effective fighting retreat. John Sedgwick's road to Chancellorsville was open, but he wasted time forming a marching column. His men, led by Brooks's division, followed by Newton and Howe, were delayed for several hours by successive actions against the Alabama brigade of Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox
Cadmus M. Wilcox
Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox was a career United States Army officer who served in the Mexican–American War and also was a Confederate general during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

. His final delaying line was a ridge at Salem church, where he was joined by three brigades from McLaws's division and one from Anderson's, bringing the total Confederate strength to about 10,000 men.

Artillery fire was exchanged by both sides in the afternoon and at 5:30 p.m., two brigades of Brooks's division attacked on both sides of the Plank Road. The advance south of the road reached as far as the churchyard, but was driven back. The attack north of the road could not break the Confederate line. Wilcox described the action as "a bloody repulse to the enemy, rendering entirely useless to him his little success of the morning at Fredericksburg." Hooker expressed his disappointment in Sedgwick: "my object in ordering General Sedgwick forward ... Was to relieve me from the position in which I found myself at Chancellorsville. ... In my judgment General Sedgwick did not obey the spirit of my order, and made no sufficient effort to obey it. ... When he did move it was not with sufficient confidence or ability on his part to manoeuvre his troops."

The fighting on May 3, 1863, was some of the most furious anywhere in the war. The loss of 21,357 men that day in the three battles, divided equally between the two armies, ranks the fighting only behind the Battle of Antietam
Battle of Antietam
The Battle of Antietam , fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek, as part of the Maryland Campaign, was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Northern soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000...

 as the bloodiest day of the war.

May 4–6: Union withdrawals



On the evening of May 3 and all day May 4, Hooker remained in his defenses north of Chancellorsville. Lee observed that Hooker was threatening no offensive action, so felt comfortable ordering Anderson's division to join the battle against Sedgwick. He sent orders to Early and McLaws to cooperate in a joint attack, but the orders reached his subordinates after dark, so the attack was planned for May 4. By this time Sedgwick had placed his divisions into a strong defensive position with its flanks anchored on the Rappahannock, three sides of a rectangle extending south of the Plank Road. Early's plan was to drive the Union troops off Marye's Heights and the other high ground west of Fredericksburg. Lee ordered McLaws to engage from the west "to prevent [the enemy] concentrating on General Early."

Early reoccupied Marye's Heights on the morning of May 4, cutting Sedgwick off from the town. However, McLaws was reluctant to take any action. Before noon, Lee arrived with Anderson's division, giving him a total of 21,000 men, slightly outnumbering Sedgwick. Despite Lee's presence, McLaws continued his passive role and Anderson's men took a few hours to get into position, a situation that frustrated and angered both Early and Lee, who had been planning on a concentrated assault from three directions. The attack finally began around 6 p.m. Two of Early's brigades (under Brig. Gens. Harry T. Hays
Harry T. Hays
Harry Thompson Hays was an American Army officer serving in the Mexican-American War and a general who served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War....

 and Robert F. Hoke) pushed back Sedgwick's left-center across the Plank Road, but Anderson's effort was a slight one and McLaws once again contributed nothing. Throughout the day on May 4, Hooker provided no assistance or useful guidance to Sedgwick, and Sedgwick thought about little else than protecting his line of retreat.

Sedgwick withdrew across the Rappahannock at Banks's Ford during the pre-dawn hours of May 5. When he learned that Sedgwick had retreated back over the river, Hooker felt he was out of options to save the campaign. He called a council of war
Council of war
A council of war is a term in military science that describes a meeting held to decide on a course of action, usually in the midst of a battle. Under normal circumstances, decisions are made by a commanding officer, optionally communicated and coordinated by staff officers, and then implemented by...

 and asked his corps commanders to vote about whether to stay and fight or to withdraw. Although a majority voted to fight, Hooker had had enough, and on the night of May 5–6, he withdrew back across the river at U.S. Ford. It was a difficult operation. Hooker and the artillery crossed first, followed by the infantry beginning at 6 a.m. on May 6. Meade's V Corps served as the rear guard. Rains caused the river to rise and threatened to break the pontoon bridges. Couch was in command on the south bank after Hooker departed, but he was left with explicit orders not to continue the battle, which he had been tempted to do. The surprise withdrawal frustrated Lee's plan for one final attack against Chancellorsville. He had issued orders for his artillery to bombard the Union line in preparation for another assault, but by the time they were ready Hooker and his men were gone.

Aftermath



The Union cavalry under Brig. Gen. George Stoneman
George Stoneman
George Stoneman, Jr. was a career United States Army officer, a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War, and the 15th Governor of California between 1883 and 1887.-Early life:...

, after a week of ineffectual raiding in central and southern Virginia in which they failed to attack any of the objectives Hooker established, withdrew into Union lines east of Richmond—the peninsula north of the York River
York River (Virginia)
The York River is a navigable estuary, approximately long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. It ranges in width from at its head to near its mouth on the west side of Chesapeake Bay. Its watershed drains an area including portions of 17 counties of the coastal plain of Virginia north...

, across from Yorktown
Yorktown, Virginia
Yorktown is a census-designated place in York County, Virginia, United States. The population was 220 in the 2000 census. It is the county seat of York County, one of the eight original shires formed in colonial Virginia in 1634....

—on May 7, ending the campaign.

Casualties


Lee, despite being outnumbered by a ratio of over two to one, won arguably his greatest victory of the war, sometimes described as his "perfect battle." But he paid a terrible price for it. With only 60,000 men engaged, he suffered 13,303 casualties (1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded, 2,018 missing), losing some 22% of his force in the campaign—men that the Confederacy, with its limited manpower, could not replace. Just as seriously, he lost his most aggressive field commander, Stonewall Jackson. Brig. Gen. Elisha F. Paxton
Elisha F. Paxton
Elisha Franklin Paxton was an American lawyer and soldier who served as a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He died in combat leading the famed Stonewall Brigade during the Battle of Chancellorsville.-Early life and career:Paxton was born in Rockbridge County,...

 was the other Confederate general killed during the battle. After Longstreet rejoined the main army, he was highly critical of Lee's strategy, saying that battles like Chancellorsville cost the Confederacy more men than it could afford to lose.

Of the 133,000 Union men engaged, 17,197 were casualties (1,606 killed, 9,672 wounded, 5,919 missing), a percentage much lower than Lee's, particularly considering that it includes 4,000 men of the XI Corps who were captured on May 2. When comparing only the killed and wounded, there were almost no differences between the Confederate and Federal losses at Chancellorsville. The Union lost three generals in the campaign: Maj. Gens. Hiram G. Berry and Amiel W. Whipple and Brig. Gen. Edmund Kirby.

Assessment of Hooker



Hooker, who began the campaign believing he had "80 chances in 100 to be successful", lost the battle through miscommunication, the incompetence of some of his leading generals (most notably Howard and Stoneman, but also Sedgwick), but mostly through the collapse of his confidence. Hooker's errors included abandoning his offensive push on May 1 and ordering Sickles to give up Hazel Grove and pull back on May 2. He also erred in his disposition of forces; despite Abraham Lincoln's exhortation, "this time put in all your men," some 40,000 men of the Army of the Potomac scarcely fired a shot. When later asked why he had ordered a halt to his advance on May 1, Hooker is reputed to have responded, "For the first time, I lost faith in Hooker." However, Stephen W. Sears
Stephen W. Sears
Stephen Ward Sears is an American historian specializing in the American Civil War.A graduate of Lakewood High School and Oberlin College, Sears attended a journalism seminar at...

 has categorized this as a myth:
Sears's research has shown that Bigelow was quoting from a letter written in 1903 by an E. P. Halstead, who was on the staff of Doubleday's I Corps division. There is no evidence that Hooker and Doubleday ever met during the Gettysburg Campaign, nor was there any chance of them meeting—they were dozens of miles apart. Finally, Doubleday made no mention of such a confession from Hooker in his history of the Chancellorsville Campaign, published in 1882. Sears concludes:

Union reaction


The Union was shocked by the defeat. President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 was quoted as saying, "My God! My God! What will the country say?" A few generals were career casualties. Hooker relieved Stoneman for incompetence and for years waged a vituperative campaign against Howard, who he blamed for his loss. He wrote in 1876 that Howard was "a hypocrite ... totally incompetent ... a perfect old woman ... a bad man." He labeled Sedgwick as "dilatory." Couch was so disgusted by Hooker's conduct of the battle (and his incessant political maneuvering) that he resigned and was placed in charge of the Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

 militia
Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

. President Lincoln chose to retain Hooker in command of the army, but the friction between Lincoln, general in chief Henry W. Halleck, and Hooker became intolerable in the early days of the Gettysburg Campaign
Gettysburg Campaign
The Gettysburg Campaign was a series of battles fought in June and July 1863, during the American Civil War. After his victory in the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia moved north for offensive operations in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The...

 and Lincoln relieved Hooker of command on June 28, just before the Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

. One of the consequences of Chancellorsville at Gettysburg was the conduct of Daniel Sickles
Daniel Sickles
Daniel Edgar Sickles was a colorful and controversial American politician, Union general in the American Civil War, and diplomat....

, who undoubtedly recalled the terrible consequences of withdrawing from Hazel Grove when he decided to ignore the commands of his general and moved his lines on the second day of battle
Battle of Gettysburg, Second Day
The Battle of Gettysburg, Second Day was an attempt by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to capitalize on his first day's success. He launched the Army of Northern Virginia in multiple Gettsyburg Battlefield attacks on the flanks of the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G...

 to ensure that a minor piece of high ground, the Peach Orchard, was not available to the enemy's artillery.

Confederate reaction


The Confederate public had mixed feelings about the result, joy at Lee's tactical victory tempered by the loss of their most beloved general, Stonewall Jackson. Following the death of Jackson, Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia from two large corps into three, under James Longstreet
James Longstreet
James Longstreet was one of the foremost Confederate generals of the American Civil War and the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his "Old War Horse." He served under Lee as a corps commander for many of the famous battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in the...

, Richard S. Ewell
Richard S. Ewell
Richard Stoddert Ewell was a career United States Army officer and a Confederate general during the American Civil War. He achieved fame as a senior commander under Stonewall Jackson and Robert E...

, and A.P. Hill. The new assignments for the latter two generals caused some command difficulties in the upcoming Gettysburg Campaign, which began in June. Of more consequence for Gettysburg, however, was the attitude that Lee absorbed from his great victory at Chancellorsville, that his army was virtually invincible and would succeed at anything he asked them to do.

Battlefield preservation



The battlefield was a scene of widespread destruction, covered with dead men and animals. The Chancellor family, whose house was destroyed during the battle, placed the entire 854-acre property for sale four months after the battle. A smaller version of the house was rebuilt using some of the original materials, which served as a landmark for many of the veteran reunions of the late 19th century. In 1927, the rebuilt house was destroyed by fire. That same year, the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 authorized the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is a unit of the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and elsewhere in Spotsylvania County, commemorating four major battles in the American Civil War.-Park:...

, which preserves some of the land that saw fighting in the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Fredericksburg
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside...

, the Chancellorsville Campaign, the Battle of the Wilderness
Battle of the Wilderness
The Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–7, 1864, was the first battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Both armies suffered heavy casualties, a harbinger of a bloody war of attrition by...

, and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, sometimes simply referred to as the Battle of Spotsylvania , was the second major battle in Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. Following the bloody but inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness, Grant's army disengaged...

 (the latter two being key battles in the 1864 Overland Campaign
Overland Campaign
The Overland Campaign, also known as Grant's Overland Campaign and the Wilderness Campaign, was a series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June 1864, in the American Civil War. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union armies, directed the actions of the Army of the...

).

In popular media


The Battle of Chancellorsville was depicted in the 2003 film Gods and Generals
Gods and Generals (film)
Gods and Generals is a 2003 American film based on the novel Gods and Generals by Jeffrey Shaara. It depicts events that take place prior to those shown in the 1993 film Gettysburg, which was based on The Killer Angels, a novel by Shaara's father, Michael...

, based on the novel of the same name. The treatment of the battle in both the novel and the movie focused on Jackson's assault on the Union right flank, his wounding, and his subsequent death.

The battle formed the basis for Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane was an American novelist, short story writer, poet and journalist. Prolific throughout his short life, he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism...

's 1895 novel The Red Badge of Courage
The Red Badge of Courage
The Red Badge of Courage is a war novel by American author Stephen Crane . Taking place during the American Civil War, the story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming, who flees from the field of battle. Overcome with shame, he longs for a wound—a "red badge of courage"—to...

.

Further reading

  • Ballard, Ted, and Billy Arthur. Chancellorsville Staff Ride: Briefing Book. Washington, DC: United States Army Center of Military History, 2002. .
  • Bigelow, John. The Campaign of Chancellorsville, a Strategic and Tactical Study. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1910. .
  • Crane, Stephen
    Stephen Crane
    Stephen Crane was an American novelist, short story writer, poet and journalist. Prolific throughout his short life, he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism...

    . The Red Badge of Courage
    The Red Badge of Courage
    The Red Badge of Courage is a war novel by American author Stephen Crane . Taking place during the American Civil War, the story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming, who flees from the field of battle. Overcome with shame, he longs for a wound—a "red badge of courage"—to...

    . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1895. ISBN 978-0-13-435466-8.
  • Dodge, Theodore A. The Campaign of Chancellorsville. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co., 1881. .

External links