Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Battle of Chancellorsville, 1863

When Union Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker crossed the Rappahannock on this date in 1863, he placed his Army of the Potomac on Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s vulnerable flank. His advance would signal the beginning of the 7-day Battle of Chancellorsville.

Rather than retreat before Hooker's sizable Federal force, (130,000 Federals to Lee's 60,000) Lee opted to risk an attack against Hooker while he was still within the thick wilderness. Late the following day, Lee and his Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson conceived one of the boldest plans of the war. Jackson, with 30,000 Confederates, would follow a circuitous route to the Union right and from there conduct an attack on that exposed flank.

Jackson, having completed his legendary circuit around the enemy, unleashed his men in an overwhelming attack on Hooker's right flank and rear on May 2. His attack stunned the Union XI corps and threatened Hooker’s position, pushing the Northern army back more than 2 miles.

Tragically, the victorious Confederate attack ended with the mortal wounding of Stonewall Jackson, mistakenly fired on by his own men. Jackson, with 8 other Confederate horsemen, were riding forward through the dense woods and thickets on the night of May 2. Returning towards the Confederate lines, his party came under fire from combat-weary Confederates. Jackson was struck by 3 different balls. As he was being evacuated, his litter bearers stumbled and dropped the general twice, further worsening his loss of blood. Later that night, Jackson’s left arm was amputated, and he was subsequently evacuated to Guinea Station, where he died of pneumonia eight days later.

On May 3, 1863, the Confederates resumed their offensive and drove Hooker’s larger army back to a new defensive line nearer the fords. Swinging east, Lee then defeated a separate Federal force near Salem Church, just west of Fredericksburg, that had threatened his rear. Lee went to the fight in person to ensure final success on the 4th, then returned to Chancellorsville to mop up Hooker's defeated army.  With nowhere else to go, on May 6th, Hooker recrossed the Rappahannock River from where he had come 6 days earlier.

Having been outnumbered more than 2 to 1, Lee's victory at Chancellorsville is widely considered to be his greatest. The campaign had cost him about 13,000 casualties, but his enemy about 18,000. However, none of the losses on either side would resonate as loudly and long as the death of Stonewall Jackson. As Jackson lay dying, Lee sent a message, saying "Give General Jackson my affectionate regards, and say to him: he has lost his left arm but I my right." On his death bed, remaining spiritually strong, although he was growing physically weaker, the godly warrior said, "It is the Lord's Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday."

Source: Civil War TrustWikipedia


During Chancellorsville Campaign, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg was readying his Army of Tennessee in the area around Tullahoma, Tennessee. To view my blog about Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes and the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment of Bragg's army, please visit: http://32ndmississippi.blogspot.com

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