The Battle of Chancellorsville


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The latest installment in my Lunchtime All Hands Civil War series for work, covering the battle of Chancellorsville.

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The Battle of Chancellorsville

  1. 1. The Battle of ChancellorsvilleLee’s Greatest BattleLee Hooker
  2. 2. What’s gone on in the Civil War?• Ambrose Burnside resigns as commander of the Army of Potomacin January 1863, Lincoln accepts the resignation, sends him West.He’ll be back.• JOSEPH HOOKER, aka “Fighting Joe” Hooker, a hard-fighting, hard-drinking Army Regular, had campaigned for the job under Burnside.He was appointed Army Commander on 26 Jan 63.• Despite being somewhat controversial for many reasons (includingthe origin of the term “Hooker”), Hooker cared about his men, andgreatly improved food, lodgings, sanitary conditions and rebuilt theArmy’s spirit after Fredericksburg and the Mud March.• One important innovation under Hooker was the reorganization ofthe Army of the Potomac into smaller, more flexible Corps levelunits, each with their own distinctive Corp badges.I II V VI XIOriginally intended for better command and control, this simpleinnovation created tremendous espirit du corps among the corps ofArmy of the Potomac. Men wore their cap badges with pride.Fact: He alsocreated themodern Army’sSystem of BugleCalls, includingTaps.
  3. 3. Hooker’s Plan of Campaign“A Grand Envelopment”Leaving MGEN John Sedgewick with 30,000 men atFredericksburg, Hooker intended to secretly marchNW with the bulk of the army, then cross theRappahannock in Lees rear. Attacking East asSedgwick advanced West, Hooker sought to catchthe Confederates in a large double envelopment.The plan was to be supported by a large-scalecavalry raid conducted by MGEN George Stonemanwhich was to cut Lees supply lines and isolate theConfederates . Moving out on April 26-27, Hookersmen successfully crossed the river and concentratednear Chancellorsville.ARMY OF THE POTOMAC 134,000 TROOPSARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA 61,000 TROOPS*“May God have mercy onGeneral Lee, for I will havenone.” – Joe Hooker* Half of Longstreet’sFirst Corps was foragingIn the Southwest of VA
  4. 4. Events, First Day• On April 27, MGEN Joseph Hooker led the V, XI, and XII Corps on a campaignto turn the Confederate left flank by crossing the Rappahannock and RapidanRivers above Fredericksburg.• Passing the Rapidan via Germanna and Ely’s Fords, the Federals concentratednear Chancellorsville on April 30 and May 1. The III Corps was ordered to jointhe army via United States Ford.• Sedgwick’s VI Corps and Gibbon’s division remained to demonstrate againstthe Confederates at Fredericksburg.• In the meantime, Lee left a covering force under MGEN Jubal Early inFredericksburg and marched with the rest of the army to confront theFederals.• As Hooker’s army moved toward Fredericksburg on the Orange Turnpike, theyencountered increasing Confederate resistance. Hearing reports ofoverwhelming Confederate force, Hooker ordered his army to suspend theadvance and to concentrate again at Chancellorsville. Pressed closely by Lee’sadvance, Hooker adopted a defensive posture, thus giving Lee the initiative.What was thatabout “May Godhave mercy on mysoul”, again?And the Cavalry?Delayed by riversrunning high fromrecent rainfallthrowing off thetimetable!
  5. 5. May 1, 1863
  6. 6. Lee’s Plan in Response• Lee knew he was badly outnumbered, therefore hisplan was simple– fight in the Wilderness whereterrain gave the ANV an advantage, maintain pressureon the enemy, and knock him off-balance.• The night of May 1, General Jackson met withGeneral Lee, to plan the next day’s action. Eventhough they were facing very bad odds, they woulddivide their forces, have Lee’s force “fix” the mainbody of Hooker’s army, and have Jackson swooparound to the open flank by 11th Corps, which was“hanging in the air”.• Together, they set the plan in motion.
  7. 7. Events, Second Day• After a hard and dusty march on May2, Jacksons column reached its jumping offpoint for their attack upon theunsuspecting Federal right flank.• At 5:20 pm, Jackson’s line surged forwardin an overwhelming attack that crushedthe Union Twelfth Corps.• Federal troops, however, rallied, resistedthe advance, and counterattacked.Disorganization and darkness ended thefighting.• While making a nightreconnaissance, Jackson was shot by hisown troops in the darkness and fellmortally wounded—Shot by his own men.This was a serious blow to the Army ofNorthern Virginia.• Major General Jeb Stuart, leader of theCavalry Corps of the ANV, stepped intoJackson’s shoes as temporary commanderof Second Corps for the next day’sfighting, and did a commendable jobdriving the men on to the convergingattack.Stonewall Jackson
  8. 8. May 2, 1863
  9. 9. Events, Third Day• The 3rd of May was a slugging match in the woods on three sides of theChancellorsville intersection. Hooker abandoned key ground in a furtherdisplay of timidity; Confederate artillery roared from a crucial hilltop.• When a Confederate artillery round smashed into a pillar against whichHooker was leaning, the Federal leader spent an unconscious half hour.His return to semi-sentience disappointed the veteran corps commanderswho had hoped, unencumbered by Hooker, to employ their armysconsiderable untapped might.• By mid-morning, Southern infantry smashed through the final resistanceand united in the Chancellorsville clearing. Their boisterous, well-earned, celebration did not run long: word came from the direction ofFredericksburg that a Northern rearguard had broken through andthreatened the rear.• The May 3 Battle of Salem Church, just west of Fredericksburg, halted thethreat from the east. Lee went to that zone in person to ensure finalsuccess on the 4th, then returned to Chancellorsville to superintend thecorralling of Hookers defeated army.
  10. 10. Events, Onward• Hooker, from every report of the battle, had lost his nerve. Perhaps it wasthe effects of a possible concussion from that near-miss, or perhaps (assome suspect) he might have had a tot of “nerve-steadier” that day and itgot the better of him, but he gave orders to retreat the Army of thePotomac across the Rappahannock River from whence it came.• Hooker re-crossed the Rappahannock River to its left bank, whence he hadcome, early on May 6. The campaign had cost him about 18,000casualties, and his enemy about 13,000. Perhaps the most importantcasualty was the death of Stonewall Jackson, the offensive counterpart tothe defensive Longstreet. With Jackson’s death, Longstreet grew ininfluence.• Without a doubt, this was a victory for the Confederacy, and perhaps theworst loss for the Union. Truly, this was Lee’s most audacious andsuccessful battle plan of the war, bringing victory from a conflict where theenemy outnumbered his army two to one.• What’s next for the Union Army? Once again, regime change.EXIT, JOE… ENTER, GEORGE…
  11. 11. Finis• "I was not hurt by a shell and I wasnot drunk. For once I lost confidencein Hooker, and that is all there is toit.“ -- Joseph Hooker** May be apocryphal