Part XX

Battle Of Chancellorsville

       For three months after the battle of Fredericksburg the army of Northern Virginia rested in winter quarters, and when the spring opened it was well prepared for the Federal attack which General Hooker, the successor of Burnside, was expected to make with his army of nearly 132,000 men. The official report of the Confederate army arrayed on the south side of the Rappahannock against this large Federal force shows present for duty on March 31, 1863: Anderson's and McLaws' divisions of Longstreet's corps, 15,649; Jackson's corps, 33,333; cavalry, 6,509; reserve artillery, 1,821; total of all arms, 57,212. Of this number less than 42,000 participated in the battle of Chancellorsville.
       The army of the Potomac, with which Hooker was attempting to destroy the army of Lee, was composed of seven army corps of infantry--the First, Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth, Eleventh and Twelfth, containing 119,661 men, and a corps of cavalry, 12,000, making a total of 131,661. Of this number about 90,000 were employed in the battle of Chancellorsville. The physical force of the Federals thus appears to have been about double that of the Confederate army.
       The advance Federal movement began by the crossing of Sedgwick below Fredericksburg and the passage by Hooker of the upper fords. Soon after moving his own force across the river, Hooker withdrew a part of Sedgwick's force and concentrated at Chancellorsville an army of six corps, containing nearly 90,000 men under his immediate command. The dispositions thus made by the Federal commander to force a retreat by Lee at great disadvantage or a fight in which he could be crushed, have been commended by military critics, but the great abilities of the Confederate chieftain were equal to the vast responsibility now thrust upon him. With him were the superb corps and division generals, Jackson, Anderson, McLaws, Early, Stuart and Fitzhugh Lee, whose commands confided in their skill and were ready to execute their plans.
       It was quickly observed by Lee that the main assault was not to be made by Sedgwick, and that a direct attack on Hooker was perilous on account of his great numbers and strong position. A flank movement by Jackson while Early held Sedgwick was therefore soon adopted as the principal feature of the plan, notwithstanding the details of execution divided the Confederate army into three parts. Jackson executed his part of the plan on the afternoon of May 2d, with such wonderful daring and skill that his onset crushed through Hooker's right wing and spread a panic over nearly the whole of the Federal army at Chancellorsville. Sedgwick, at Fredericksburg, had meantime driven Early's small force from his front and was directing his advance toward Hooker. But on the next morning after Jackson's bewildering flank assault, his force, commanded by Stuart after the great hero of the first fight had fallen, joined the divisions which Lee had retained near the center of his line, and these united commands attacked Hooker with an impetuosity which made them masters of the works he had constructed. Sedgwick, with his superior weight, had captured Marye's hill and threatened the rear of Lee's victorious army, but this dangerous movement was foiled by Lee, who led McLaws and Wilcox against Sedgwick in the afternoon, driving him back upon his reserve at nightfall. Early advanced next day on the Telegraph road, and with a few assaults recovered Marye's heights and the ridges, which placed him in the rear of the enemy's left. Hooker, in the midst of these disasters which imperiled his army, diligently fortified his position near Chancellorsville, and Lee, being unwilling to attack him with only a part of his force then at hand, was compelled to consume the greater portion of the day in getting his divided army united and in position to advance. This difficult undertaking was accomplished during the afternoon, and a short time before sunset the attack was made. The Confederates swept again into the Federal breastworks and compelled a hasty retreat during the darkness of night of the whole of Hooker's army across the river. At the same time Fredericksburg was abandoned by Sedgwick. At sunrise of the next day the Confederates found themselves in full possession of the field, enjoying a complete victory. General Hooker, safe again on the bluffs, with the river rolling between him and Lee, reviewed the events of the week and frivolously congratulated the army of the Potomac on their ability to fight or to retreat as circumstances required. The death of Jackson was a loss most seriously felt by the army. No estimate of his military abilities has yet appeared extravagant to the men who fought with him, but no calculations as to results had his life been spared can ever be indulged.

This Page last updated 02/10/02

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