CHANCELLORSVILLE

The Beginning
April 26 - May 1, 1863

        Morale in the Federal Army of the Potomac rose with the appointment of Joseph Hooker to command. Hooker reorganized the army and formed a cavalry corps. He wanted to strike at Lee's army while a sizable portion was detached under Longstreet in the Suffolk area. The Federal commander left a substantial force at Fredericksburg to tie Lee to the hills where Burnside had been defeated. Another Union force disappeared westward, crossed the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers, and converged on Fredericksburg from the west. The Federal cavalry would open the campaign with a raid on Lee's line of communications with the Confederate capital at Richmond. Convinced that Lee would have to retreat, Hooker trusted that his troops could defeat the Confederates as they tried to escape his trap.
       On April 29, Hooker's cavalry and three army corps crossed Kelly's Ford. His columns split, with the cavalry pushing to the west while the army corps secured Getmanna and Ely's fords. The next day these columns reunited at Chancellorsville. Lee reacted to the news of the Federals in the Wilderness by sending General Richard H. Anderson's division to investigate. Finding the Northerners massing in the woods around Chancellorsville; Anderson commenced the construction of earthworks at Zoan Church. Confederate reinforcements under Stonewall Jackson marched to help block the Federal advance, but did not arrive until May 1. The Confederates had no intention of retreating as Hooker had predicted.
       Hooker's troops rested at Chancellorsville after executing what is often considered to be the most daring march of the war. They had slipped across Lee's front undetected. To some the hardest part of the campaign seemed to be behind them; to others, the most difficult had yet to be encountered. The cavalry raid had faltered in its initial efforts and Hooker's main force was trapped in the tangles of the Wilderness without any cavalry to alert them of Lee's approach.

The End
May 1-6 1863

       As the Federal army converged on Chancellorsville, General Hooker expected Lee to retreat from his forces, which totaled nearly 115,000. Although heavily outnumbered with just under 60,000 troops - Lee had no intention of retreating. The Confederate commander divided his army: one part remained to guard Fredericksburg, while the other raced west to meet Hooker's advance. When the van of Hooker's column clashed with the Confederates' on May 1, Hooker pulled his troops back to Chancellorsville, a lone tavern at a crossroads in a dense wood known locally as The Wilderness. Here Hooker took up a defensive line, hoping Lee's need to carry out an uncoordinated attack through the dense undergrowth would leave the Confederate forces disorganized and vulnerable.
       To retain the initiative, Lee risked dividing his forces still further, 'retaining two divisions to focus Hooker's attention, while Stonewall Jackson marched the bulk of the Confederate army west across the front of the Federal line to a position opposite its exposed right flank. Jackson executed this daring and dangerous maneuver throughout the morning and afternoon of May 2. Striking two hours before dusk, Jackson's men routed the astonished Federals in their camps. In the gathering darkness, amid the brambles of the Wilderness, the Confederate line became confused and halted at 9 p.m. to regroup. Riding in front of the lines to reconnoiter, Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot and seriously wounded by his own men. Later that night, his left arm was amputated just below the shoulder.
       On May 3, Jackson's successor, General J.E.B. Stuart, initiated the bloodiest day of the battle when attempting to reunite his troops with Lee's. Despite an obstinate defense by the Federals, Hooker ordered them to withdraw north of the Chancellor House. The Confederates were converging on Chancellorsville to finish Hooker when a message came from Jubal Early that Federal troops had broken through at Fredericksburg. At Salem Church, Lee threw a cordon around these Federals, forcing them to retreat across the Rappahannock. Disappointed, Lee returned to Chancellorsville, only to find that Hooker had also retreated across the river.
       Chancellorsville is considered Lee's greatest victory, although the Confederate commander's daring and skill met little resistance from the inept generalship of Joseph Hooker. Using cunning, and dividing their forces repeatedly, the massively outnumbered Confederates drove the Federal army from the battlefield. The cost had been frightful. The Confederates suffered 14,000 casualties, while inflicting 17,000. Perhaps the most damaging loss to the Confederacy was the death of Lee's "right arm," Stonewall Jackson, who died of pneumonia on May 10 while recuperating from his wounds.
Source: "The Atlas of the Civil War" by James M. McPherson

This page last updated 02/16/02

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