Battle of Chancellorsville: April 27 - May 3, 1863
For specific details of this
battle, see The Battle of Chancellorsville
Three months before the Battle of Chancellorsville (January 1863), President
Lincoln appointed Major General Joseph Hooker
to command the Army of the Potomac. Hooker was appointed to succeed Major
General Ambrose Burnside
after the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg (December 11 - 13, 1862); after
was transferred to command the Department of Ohio. Although,
Hooker was not considered the
most eligible replacement for Burnside,
he was chosen for his ability to "bring the fight to the Rebels". (The Union's
last major victory up to this time had been at Antietam in mid-September,
Lincoln, who was eager to restart a Spring offensive, ordered
Hooker to attack Lee's
army as soon as the Spring showers ceased. Lee's army, at this time, consisted
of the First Corps (4 Divisions) commanded by Longstreet, the Second
Corps commanded by Jackson, and the Cavalry under Stuart. Lee's
army was located around Fredericksburg, along the south bank of the
Rappahannock River in a very formidable position. Earlier, Lee had sent Longstreet
with two divisions to forage for food to the south. This left Longstreet's
Corps (who was now commanded by Lee) with only 2 divisions (1/2 normal
size). The total Confederate force numbered about 59,000 men compared to
he could not directly attack Lee's defenses around Fredericksburg so he
decided to send five of his seven corps upstream to cross behind Lee's
left flank. Two Corps were to remain south of Fredericksburg to feint an attack
across the Rappahannock. (Howard,
were to cross approximately 20 miles upstream while
Sykes would cross about 10 miles
By April 30, the Union had crossed the Rappahannock and began to arrive in
Chancellorsville. At the same time, Sedgwick's
Corps had crossed downstream, but was inactive to the east of Lee. At
first, Lee only sent Richard Anderson's Division to meet the
approaching five Union Corps. But, realizing a much larger force lay to the
west, he sent Jackson's Corps to reinforce the western flank.
Fortunately for Lee, Hooker
decided to stop at Chancellorsville and for some reason to form a defensive
On May 2, both Lee and Jackson realized that they were heavily
outnumbered. Conventional tactics dictated that when outnumbered, to
concentrate one's forces and avoid battle by attrition. Jackson and Lee
decided to do the exact tactically opposite - to go on the offensive instead.
The plan called for Jackson to move most of his Corps (3 Divisions) to
attack the Union's vulnerable right flank. Because Jackson
was directly facing Sickles'
Corps (the center of the Union force), it would call for the removal of 2/3 of
the defenders from the most critical place in the line. Fortunately, the
movement would take place in dense forest and would remain largely undetectable
unless the Union was on the offensive. Sickles'
men did detect some elements of Jackson's Corps transferring to the west
and attacked them. But, Sickles'
advance was halted by Posey's Brigade and supported by Archer and Thomas'
had received reports of the westward movement, but mistook the movement for a
retreat and therefore ignored the Confederate movements on his right flank.
Later that evening (5:00 PM), Brigadier General Robert Rodes' Division,
immediately followed by Colston and A.P. Hill
, hit the Union right flank (Howard's
Corps). Because of the absolute surprise, Howard's
Corps broke into a complete rout. But soon, darkness fell and the Confederates
were forced to halt the attack. In the confusion and darkness, Jackson (after
personally performing a recon of the Union lines) was accidentally shot fatally
by his own troops upon returning. JEB Stuart now assumed command of Jackson's
corps. Also, A.P. Hill was wounded and his division was now commanded by
Brigadier General Henry Heth. After the day's heavy fighting,
the night preparing defenses and recovering from the surprise attack.
The next morning, May 3, Heth's Division followed by Colston's and Rodes
' Divisions, resumed the attack on the Union's right flank. Archer's brigade
occupied a hill by the name of Hazel Grove (which
Sickles had previously been told
to abandon) and placed several artillery pieces upon it. The hill provided a
perfect location in which to bombard Sickles'
Corps. Realizing that his army's position could not be held, Hooker order a
retreat. At the same time, Hooker
(who had crossed the Rappahannock downstream earlier) to attack Lee from
the east. Sedgwick
obeyed, but as he approached Chancellorsville, he encountered McLaw's
Division which had been sent by Lee to intercept. Lee wished to
Corps altogether and planned to attack his Corps from three different
directions. But, after fierce battle and skillful delaying tactics,
Sedgwick was able to pull his
Corps safely back across the Rappahannock.
By May 6, the entire Army of the Potomac had withdrawn north of the
Rappahannock. On May 10, Stonewall Jackson
eventually died of his wounds received in the battle. Despite
Hooker's failure and indecision
at Chancellorsville, he remained in command of the Army until June 27 when he
was finally replaced by General George G. Meade.
Many consider the Battle of Chancellorsville as one the most brilliant battles
fought by Lee and Jackson. Although the Confederates were heavily
outnumbered, they forced the Union army to retreat and prevented a possible
siege of Richmond and the occupation of central Virginia. The Union suffered
approximately 17,000 casualties while the Confederates suffered 13,000.