May 1-4, 1863 … “Battle of Chancellorsville”
Defense: CSA Commanding General Robert E.Lee accomplishes one of his greatest victories of the war by dividing his armies in the face of vastly superior numbers.
Learning that the Federal Army has crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers near Fredericksburg, and are concentrating near the small village of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County, Lee divides his army for the first time. He will divide yet again.
Bottling up Federal forces near Fredericksburg with 1/4 of his army, Lee takes the initiative and attacks the main advancing Federal army with the balance of his army, confusing their command and forcing them back into a defensive posture near Chancellorsville. Lee now has the initiative..even with the smaller force. the Battle of Chancellorsville is quickly becoming Lees’ perfect battle !
CSA Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson will finish the fighting of May 2nd with a surprise attack after marching his “foot cavalry” 12 miles around the exposed Federal right flank swiftly and attacking just before sunset.
The march was generally undetected, and the surprise attack was complete when the Confederates hit the Federals as they cooked dinner after stacking arms.
Important Note: Lt. General “Stonewall” Jackson will later that same night be hit with friendly fire as he rides with his staff checking the lines. Jackson’s left arm is amputated, and General Lee losing such a valuable commander will state “General Jackson has lost his left arm, but I my right”.
CSA Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson will die 8 days later on May 10 from complications of pneumonia.
Attack: The initial strategy for defeating Lee seems successful on paper. Federal cavalry under Major General George Stoneman will ford the rivers quickly and attack the CSA rear, destroying supply lines and forcing Lee to move from Falmouth and Fredericksburg to defend Richmond and subsequent supply lines.
Lee than could be defeated while in motion and in the open by the greater Federal numbers. It was a good plan on paper.
Federal Commander: Major General Joseph “Fightin’ Joe” Hooker now has command of the Army of the Potomac since January.
He is in fact an aggressive commander and has made considerable positive changes.Developing a better cavalry system that is more easily commanded and also doing away with the Grand Corps system developed by Burnside which proved to be too “unwieldly” as each corps was too large to command effectively.
His aggressive strategy and new army designs are approved by Lincoln who has great hopes for a much needed Union victory.
“Fightin’ Joe” will later remark that the problem of his attack was when he stops his advance to fall back to Chancellorsville into a defensive position. He states in an honest way that “For the first time I just loss faith in Hooker”.
General Hooker himself “has a close one” on the morning of May 3rd when a rebel artillery shell strikes a porch he is standing on and shatters the wooden pillar next to him.
He is struck by the debris and most feel he suffered an undiagnosed concussion. His ability to lead,already diminished is now complete.
Hookers’ Union army corps are seperated and fighting it out in a disorganized fashion May 1st and 2nd. CSA General “Stonewall” Jackson is ordered to take approx. 28,000 men and “force march” 12 miles around the Yankee right flank.
The rebel flank march is undetected..and Jacksons’ rebels explode out of the woods around dinnertime.. attacking the unanchored Union left flank the evening of May 2.
The Union left flank is rolled up until several thousand yankees under the command of Major General Oliver O.Howard of XI corp formed with artillerymen of XII corp and slowed the rebel attack by nightfall. But the dark has left both armies disorganized and exhausted.
Communications between commanding Union General Hooker and his corp commanders will become worse. Some of the briagades fighting desperate skirmishes as they are seperated from the main bodies..and jockey for 2 more days to dig in and stay alive as Lee pounds them repeatedly.
The Union army will begin to fall across the Rappahannock River May 5th. The Battle of Chancellorsville, Lees’ perfect battle is over..but paid at a terrible cost. Lee has won the battle..his gambles of splitting the army twice paying off twice. But the ratio of rebels killed in their repeated attacks is far greater than the Union.
President Lincoln is saddened beyond words. General Hooker will soon be replaced as commander of the Union Army of the Potomac.
Battle outcome: Confederate victory. (Costly by ratio for men killed versus Union losses). A morale booster for the South. A sad addition to Northern despair and loss of confidence in our officers and President Lincoln.
Soldiers: Union-133,868 / CSA-60,892
Casualties: Union-17,197(1,606 killed) / CSA-13,303(1,665 killed)
is the story of “Lee’s perfect battle” as he defies military rules and pushes his men beyond their limits. The outcome was unexpected and dramatic.