Battle of Chancellorsville

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Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia

Battle of Chancellorsville

Other Names: None

Location: Spotsylvania County, Virginia

Campaign: Chancellorsville Campaign (April-May 1863)

Date(s): April 30-May 6, 1863

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker [US]; Gen. Robert E. Lee and Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson [CS]

Forces Engaged: 154,734 total (US 97,382; CS 57,352)

Estimated Casualties: 24,000 total (US 14,000; CS 10,000)

Result(s): Confederate victory

Battle of Chancellorsville Civil War History

Battle of Chancellorsville (1863)
Battle of Chancellorsville.jpg
Kurz and Allison

Description: On April 27, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker led the V, XI, and XII 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. The III Corps was ordered to join the army via United States Ford. Sedgwick’s VI Corps and Gibbon's division remained to demonstrate against the Confederates at Fredericksburg. In the meantime, Lee left a covering force under Maj. Gen. Jubal Early in Fredericksburg and marched with the rest of the army to confront the Federals. As Hooker’s army moved toward Fredericksburg on the Orange Turnpike, they encountered increasing Confederate resistance. Hearing reports of an overwhelming Confederate force, Hooker ordered his army to suspend the advance and to concentrate again at Chancellorsville. Pressed closely by Lee’s advance, Hooker adopted a defensive posture, thus giving Lee the initiative.

Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville Map
Battle of Chancellorsville 1863 Battlefield.jpg
Battle of Chancellorsville Battlefield Map

Battle of Chancellorsville Map
Battle of Chancellorsville Map.jpg
(Click to Enlarge)

Chancellorsville Battlefield Map
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(Above) Satellite photograph of the "Bloodiest Landscape in North America." Unprecedented loss of life was witnessed at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania - more than 85,000 men wounded; 15,000 killed. No place in the United States more vividly reflects the Civil War’s tragic cost. Satellite photograph is courtesy Microsoft Virtual Earth.

On the morning of May 2, Lt. Gen. T.J. Jackson directed his corps on a march against the Federal left flank, which was reported to be “hanging in the air.” Fighting was sporadic on other portions of the field throughout the day, as Jackson’s column reached its jump-off point. At 5:20 pm, Jackson’s line surged forward in an overwhelming attack that crushed the Union XI Corps. Federal troops rallied, resisted the advance, and counterattacked. Disorganization on both sides and darkness ended the fighting. While making a night reconnaissance, Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men and carried from the field. J.E.B. Stuart took temporary command of Jackson’s Corps.
 
On May 3, the Confederates attacked with both wings of the army and massed their artillery at Hazel Grove. This finally broke the Federal line at Chancellorsville. Hooker withdrew a mile and entrenched in a defensive “U” with his back to the river at United States Ford. Union generals Berry and Whipple and Confederate general Paxton were killed; Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded. On the night of May 5-6, after Union reverses at Salem Church, Hooker recrossed to the north bank of the Rappahannock. This battle was considered by many historians to be Lee’s greatest victory.

Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville Map
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(1863 Civil War Virginia)

Aftermath

Chancellorsville Battlefield Map
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Stonewall Jackson's Attack
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The battle was fought under terrible conditions. Soldiers tended to get lost in the impenetrable maze of undergrowth, and many fires started during the course of the battle. Reports of wounded men being burned alive were common.

(Left) Battlefield Map of "Stonewall" Jackson's Flank Attack, 7pm to 9pm, on May 2.

Lee, despite being outnumbered by a ratio of about five to two, won arguably his greatest victory of the war. But he paid a terrible price for it. With only 57,000 infantry, he suffered approximately 10,000 casualties, losing a high percentage of his force—men that the Confederacy, with its limited manpower, could not replace. Just as seriously, he lost several top generals, most notably Jackson, his most aggressive field commander.

Hooker, who began the campaign believing he had "80 chances in 100 to be successful", lost the battle through miscommunication, the incompetence of some of his leading generals, and through some serious errors of his own.

Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville Map
Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville.jpg
Battle of Chancellorsville Map

Of the 90,000 Union men who bore the brunt of the fighting, just over 14,000 fell in battle, a casualty rate much lower than Lee's, and this without taking into account the 4,000 men of the XI Corps who were captured without a fight in the initial panic on May 2.

Hooker's tactic of forcing Lee to attack him was clearly sound in concept, but it was terribly flawed in the way he and his subordinates implemented it. The actual fighting showed the Union army had become as formidable in battle as Lee's heretofore "unbeatable" soldiers.

Union and Confederate Troops at Chancellorsville
Chancellorsville Battlefield Map.jpg
Civil War Chancellorsville Battlefield Map

The Union was shocked by the defeat. President Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, "My God! My God! What will the country say?" A few generals were career casualties. Hooker was relieved of command on June 28, just before the Battle of Gettysburg.

Portions of the Chancellorsville battlefield are now preserved as part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. See also: Battle of Chancellorsville Homepage and Chancellorsville Campaign: Virginia and Civil War.

(Sources and related reading listed at bottom of page.)

Recommended Reading: Chancellorsville, by Stephen W. Sears. Description: Chancellorsville was one of the Civil War's pivotal campaigns, a great victory for the South that also led directly to the death of top Confederate general Stonewall Jackson. It hasn't generated the amount of literature devoted to most major Civil War battles, largely because John Bigelow's 1910 classic, The Campaign of Chancellorsville, seemed for years to offer the last word. But Sears, employing a mix of published and unpublished primary accounts to buttress secondary studies, manages to offer more than one new word in a thoroughly engaging text. Most notable is his use of Union military intelligence reports to show how General Joseph Hooker was fed a stream of accurate information about Robert E. Lee's troops; conversely, Sears points out the battlefield communications failures that hampered the Union army at critical times. Continued below...

He also examines the roles of Hooker and his corps commanders, finding that half of the latter poorly served their commander during the campaign. Regarding the Confederate command, Sears analyzes Lee's faulty intelligence and his relationships with his subordinates. Throughout, he highlights Lee's marvelous good luck, as well as his army's tenacious fighting capability. One of the book's three appendices explores several of the battle's "romances", e.g., Jackson's wounding, Alfred Pleasonton's false stories, while two other appendices present orders of battle and casualties. A model campaign study, Sears's account of Chancellorsville is likely to remain the standard for years to come… It also includes numerous previously non-published maps and photos.

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Recommended Reading: Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls of the Brave. Description: Ferguson's book about Chancellorsville reads much like a vintage Stephen Sears book. Meticulous detail is crafted with primary accounts and combined with author analysis, and the book has a detailed narrative with human elements. Reading these types of accounts concerning Civil War battles is always enjoyable. Where Furgurson's book differs from Sears's book is, of course, the analysis of Joe Hooker's management of the campaign. Continued below...
While Sears blames subordinates, most notably Howard, and points to Hooker's concussion, Furgurson mentions the exploding pillar incident, adds soldier accounts of seeing Hooker looking drunk and unresponsive at headquarters and takes Hooker to task. Given Hooker's pre-victory celebratory orders and his subsequent defeat, I think it's hard to let Hooker completely off the hook. Furgurson also mentions near the end of the book that Jackson's death affected Gettysburg and ultimately the war. Had Jackson lived and taken Culp's Hill on July 1 in place of the inactive Ewell, the Union would have been forced to retreat, likely to the line of defense around Pipe Creek that Meade was aiming for in the first place. Would the Confederates have won the battle of Gettysburg in that case?
 

Recommended Reading: Chancellorsville: The Battle and Its Aftermath (Military Campaigns of the Civil War). Description: A variety of important but lesser-known dimensions of the Chancellorsville campaign of spring 1863 are explored in this collection of eight original essays. Departing from the traditional focus on generalship and tactics, the contributors address the campaign's broad context and implications and revisit specific battlefield episodes that have in the past been poorly understood. Chancellorsville was a remarkable victory for Robert E. Lee's troops, a fact that had enormous psychological importance for both sides, which had met recently at Fredericksburg and would meet again at Gettysburg in just two months. But the achievement, while stunning, came at an enormous cost: more than 13,000 Confederates became casualties, including Stonewall Jackson, who was wounded by friendly fire and died several days later. Continued below... 

The topics covered in this volume include the influence of politics on the Union army, the importance of courage among officers, the impact of the war on children, and the state of battlefield medical care. Other essays illuminate the important but overlooked role of Confederate commander Jubal Early, reassess the professionalism of the Union cavalry, investigate the incident of friendly fire that took Stonewall Jackson's life, and analyze the military and political background of Confederate colonel Emory Best's court-martial on charges of abandoning his men. Contributors: Keith S. Bohannon, Pennsylvania State University; Gary W. Gallagher, Pennsylvania State University; A. Wilson Greene, Petersburg, Virginia; John J. Hennessy, Fredericksburg, Virginia; Robert K. Krick, Fredericksburg, Virginia; James Marten, Marquette University; Carol Reardon, Pennsylvania State University; James I. Robertson, Jr., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

 

Recommended Reading: Chancellorsville 1863 (Osprey Trade Editions). Description: General Joseph Hooker's attack was calculated to take his army to Richmond and end the war. Faced with an army twice the size of his own, Robert E. Lee split his forces, leaving Early to fend off Hooker's Fredericksburg attack, whilst ‘Stonewall’ Johnson was sent to take the Federal right flank by surprise. Continued below...

The Bringing History to Life collection is made up of Osprey's all-time favorite titles, re-released with striking new covers - selected titles also include visitor information sections.

 

Recommended Reading: Guide to the Battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Description: The battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, 1862-63, were remarkable in several respects. Both revealed the problems of mounting a serious attack at night and provided the first examples of the now-familiar trench warfare. Fredericksburg featured street fighting and river crossings under fire. Chancellorsville was marked by Stonewall Jackson's death and the rare instance of mounted cavalry attacking infantry. In addition, the latter battle also demonstrated in striking fashion the profound influence of the commander on the battle. The Union committed more soldiers, supplies, money, and better equipment than did the Confederacy, and yet Lee won. Continued below...

Eyewitness accounts by battle participants make these guides an invaluable resource for travelers and non-travelers who want a greater understanding of five of the most devastating yet influential years in our nation's history. Explicit directions to points of interest and maps--illustrating the action and showing the detail of troop position, roads, rivers, elevations, and tree lines as they were 130 years ago--help bring the battles to life. In the field, these guides can be used to recreate each battle's setting and proportions, giving the reader a sense of the tension and fear each soldier must have felt as he faced his enemy.

Sources: National Park Service; Civil War Preservation Trust located online at civilwar.org; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Dupuy, R. Ernest, Dupuy, Trevor N., and Braim, Paul F., Military Heritage of America, McGraw-Hill, 1956, ISBN 0-8403-8225-1; Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5; Esposito, Vincent J., West Point Atlas of American Wars, Frederick A. Praeger, 1959; Livermore, Thomas L., Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America 1861-65, reprinted with errata, Morningside House, 1986, ISBN 0-527-57600-X; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian, Random House, 1958, ISBN 0-394-49517-9; Furgurson, Ernest B., Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls of the Brave, Knopf, 1992, ISBN 0-394-58301-9; Hebert, Walter H., Fighting Joe Hooker, University of Nebraska Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8032-7323-1; McGowen, Stanley S., "Battle of Chancellorsville", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-19-503863-0; Salmon, John S., The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide, Stackpole Books, 2001, ISBN 0-8117-2868-4; Sears, Stephen W., Chancellorsville, Houghton Mifflin, 1996, ISBN 0-395-87744-X.

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