Lee’s Greatest Victory
MAY 1 – 3, 1863
Battle of Chancellorsville
• Things to know: MGEN Joseph Hooker has been in command of the Army of the
Potomac (AoTP) for a little less than 4 months, having maneuvered into the job after
Burnside’s less than stellar performance at Fredericksburg and the Mud March. Lincoln
is wary of Hooker, considering him ambitious and political.
• Hooker is good for the AoTP– he enforces discipline, provides better sanitation, better
food, and creates the new Corps Specific system for the AoTP, creating a new found unit
pride. Corps are groups of about 20,000 men (ideally) often less, with organic Artillery,
HQ, etc. More flexible than Burnside’s “Wings”
• Hooker was pressured to act aggressively and “with vigor” by President Lincoln. The
Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) was still encamped at Fredericksburg, VA after the
previous battle. Hooker was fixated on a grand descent on Richmond, VA, but there was
the problem of the ANV. Hooker knew he had to assault it directly, go around it, or out-
maneuver it. The first option had been tried and failed by Burnside. Going around was
optimal, but he had to contend with the ANV being between him and Richmond. The
last option had eluded previous Commanding Generals.
• General Hooker had a plan, and it was actually a good one.
• He would send a “Demonstration” of 1/3 of his Army across the bridges at
Fredericksburg to convince the ANV that a major attack was imminent, under General
Sedgwick. Meanwhile, he would take 1/3 of his Army West and cross the
Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers at Ely’s and Kelly’s Fords.
• 1/3 of the Army would stay North of Rappahannock as reserve, under General
Reynolds– this force was summoned across the river on Day 1.
• A very significant factor in the days ahead was the creation of the Federal Cavalry Corps
under General Stoneman, which had been tasked to swing WIDE AROUND the army,
then head South, destroying railroads and any useful war material, and generally cause a
disturbance the ANV couldn’t ignore. That was the theory, anyway. They set off ahead
of the Army on 17 April
Corps Badges, AoTP
First Stop: A quick glance at Day One
• May 1st advance: Gen. Joseph Hooker led the Fifth, Eleventh, and
Twelfth Corps on a campaign to turn the Confederate left flank by
crossing the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers above
Fredericksburg. Passing the Rapidan via Germanna and Ely’s
Fords, the Federals concentrated near Chancellorsville on April 30
and May 1. At this stage of the battle, they were elated. It
appeared that they had outmanuevered General Lee. Hooker’s
advance elements (Generals Meade, Sykes, Couch) moved East on
the road to Fredericksburg. Immediately, they encountered
stiffening Confederate resistance from the ANV left flank, under CS
Generals Rodes and Anderson. The field commanders of the AoTP
felt that victory was in sight.
• Hooker experiences… SOMETHING.. A loss of courage? Second
Thoughts? The Crushing Weight of Responsibility? Orders the
entire AoTP to concentrate at the area around Chancellorsville
Crossroads, break out shovels and start digging in.
Day 1 Battlefield, first stop
• The Day 1 battlefield crosses the around around the Plank Road
(Modern day route 3). Development as swallowed a lot of it, but a
recent purchase by the Battlefield trust has preserved many acres
of the North section of the field above Route 3. We will stop there
first for a general sense of where we are on early May 1. The early
first day battlefield was positioned roughly perpendicular to the
Plank Road stretching from Zoan Church (which you will pass on the
left en route to the first stop, though not the original buildings) to
the Furnace Road.
• The Day 1 battlefield is a big field on the right of the Plank Road (Rt.
3) about 5 miles down the road from Route I-95. To reach the
Chancellorsville Visitor Center from I-95, take exit 130B (Route 3)
west for approximately five miles. The field is on the right, north
side of the highway, and is clearly marked.
First Stop: Day 1 Field:
20 minutes plus questions,
Going over Hooker’s Plan, and
What had happened so far.
Second Stop, Visitor’s Center
Driving Tour of Day 2 & 3
• The Visitor’s Center offers four walking tours
averaging 3-4 miles each, or one comprehensive “see
it all” driving tour. Having hiked this field, I’m
recommending the driving tour. Address: 9001 Plank
Rd, Spotsylvania, VA 22553 Phone:(540) 786-2880
• About 3 miles West of the First Day field, on the
right. Closed on Wednesdays.
• We’ll park, and consolidate cars.
Stops 3-10: Driving Tour
Day 2 & 3
This is a guided tour of the key places surrounding events on Days 2-3 of this
Battle. Time: with allowances for questions, about 2 Hours.
11: Last Stop
• Last Stop: the monument where Jackson was
• About a 15 minute wrapup
about the battle and its
Consequences, and then
off to lunch, we’re done!
Where did Hooker’s plan go wrong?