1st May 1863: Lee's greatest victory
1st May 1863 was the 1st day of the four day battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia.
Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker was Lee’s new opponent in Virginia and he had moved quickly and aggressively to cross the Rappahannock and enter the Wilderness. He was sure he could beat Lee and had craved command of the Union’s biggest army. He had a large army(130000) and his plan was to steal a march on Lee and flank him out of his formidable Fredericksburg defences with half his army while the other half pinned him on the river.
He had not counted on Lee. The Southern commander, who in the last year had defeated a string of Northern commanders leading the Army of the Potomac, only had 58000 men.
It was not until his Cavalry commander JEB Stuart discovered Hooker’s other force to his West that be realised he had to retreat or be caught in a trap. That is what most men would have done. Lee was not most men.
He formulated a plan which entailed leaving a small force to hold the Union horde to his front, while 2/3 of his army marched to confront Hooker’s flanking one.
This was Hooker’s undoing: he had expected Lee to pull back. Yet he now found he had run into his troops.
What would tomorrow bring?
ABWorsham4 last edited by
Can’t wait for day two.
2nd May 1863: a great day for the South, tinged by sadness.
JEB Stuart, leading Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, had discovered Hooker’s right flank was ripe for attacking; it was “in the air”, not anchored on anything solid, like a river.
Jackson, Lee’s only Corps commander(Longstreet had been earlier sent South with 2 good Divisions, so was unavailable) had a plan. He found a man who knew the area and using back roads he would march his 3 Divisions(28000 men) around Hooker and attack Howard’s XI Corps in rear. It was audacious, but Lee agreed. It would mean Lee was left for most of the day with just 9 Brigades(18000men) in McLaws’ and Anderson’s Divisions facing over 60000 men.
Jackson left at 4am with General Rodes leading the march. Unfortunately for the South, delays getting into position meant the first wave of Rebel yelling Infantry did not hit Howard’s “Dutchmen”, as they were disparagingly called(many were Germans), until 5pm. The result was as expected: the Union troops were “rolled up like a blanket” and were soon fleeing the field.Much was Howard’s fault as he had not insisted his men entrench, thinking the woods, through which the Southern Infantry poured, were impassible. Everywhere was panic and Lee’s gamble was paying off.
Jackson was not happy: the job of finishing off the Union army on this side of the field was not complete. He had wrecked the smallest Corps(XI) and badly handled the III Corps, but three more Corps remained.
He knew he had them on the run, but he knew opportunity when he saw it. If his Division commanders, led by Virginian AP Hill, could keep up the pressure he could cut the enemy off from their one avenue of escape over the broad Rappahannock river: US Ford. Lee’s other two Divisions were still holding Hooker’s army to the South and the large VI Corps was stymied in front of the Heights overlooking Fredericksburg by a much smaller Southern force.
It was a moonlit evening and Jackson rode off with his staff to reconnoiter for himself. Returning at 930pm, he and a few others were hit by his own troops in a case of friendly fire. Jackson was hit in his left arm and bleeding badly had to be taken off on a litter. His arm was amputated at 2am. Before leaving the field he passed command over to AP Hill, who would have done a good job, but he too was wounded.
The 3rd May would see more fighting.
I know virtually nothing about the civil war, so keep going fella.
May 3rd 1863. While the Southern army of Norfhern Virginia and in particular Lee considered the ramifications of the loss, even temporary, of General Jackson, Hooker still remained as if stunned by the Southern commander’s audacity. His troops, hemmed in by almost as many Confederate troops, hung on awaiting orders.
Hooker had decided to pull back over the river himself and he was going to use the large Corps led by General John Sedgwick to do so. He had been left behind at Fredericksburg watching the Confederste troops there. He was now forcibly ordered to attack Marye’s Heights, therefore giving Hooker the diversion needed to withdraw the bulk of his battered army.
He had 24000 men to smash the reinforced Division of General Jubal Early, another Virginian and former lawyer, who had 9000 men in 6 Brigades. Only one of these Brigades held the Heights and most important position. The commander was a Mississippi lawyer and former Congressman, who was to soon find more fame at Gettysburg. His men held off two charges, before succumbing to a third, before Early could send him reinforcements. Early made a second line under a North Carolinian former US Officer General Wilcox, now commanding a Brigade of Alabamians. He did sterling work holding off Sedgwick’s renewed push around Salem Church. Early’s line held and he soon had the balance of his six Brigades in line.
Through all this Hooker remained motionless, as if stunned into inaction, after all his bluster and talk of whipping Lee.
There would be fighting on the 4th too.
ABWorsham4 last edited by
What do you believe happens in the career of Stonewall Jackson had he suvived Chancellorsville and the up coming invasion of the North?
Could you see him commanding the the Army in the West?
I think it would have been Longstreet who was sent West. Jackson and Lee understood each other so well and Lee found it impossible to replace him, as we know.
I think Longstreet would have requested to go West, as he was already feeling jealousy and a pro-Virginia bias in Lee’s choice of lead subordinates.
He was a Deep South native and had lived there until joining the US Army, so would have expected to feel better accepted in the West.
You know my feelings about the leadership void in the West and how I think the South’s hope lay with retaining the Western cities and industry, if they had any hope of a Democratic victory in 64.
I am not going to talk about Bragg:I am in a good mood!
May 4th 1863. Yesterday was the second bloodiest day in the war, after Sharpsburg,with possibly 22000 becoming casualties. Both Lee’s Southern army and Hooker’s Northern one were still in two parts, before Fredericksburg and to the West at Chancellorsville.
Lee had spent yesterday battering Hooker’s Army of the Potomac and Hooker had helped by giving up a good artillery park, which the young Georgian Artillery General Porter Alexander occupied with 30 guns which pounded the Northern troops. But Lee wanted to finish the Job Jackson had started: he wanted the Northern, Union, army back all the way to Washington and out of his beloved Virginia.
Hooker had ordered and expected General Sedgwick to his east and separated by Confederate troops to break through and to rescue him with half the number he possessed(a tall order).Lee realised he had the opportunity to prevent this. He would push Sedgwick hard by moving troops from his main body near Chancellorsville east to where General Early was. This was possible only because Hooker seemed content to sit(stupidly)on the defensive. Hooker had decided preservation of the foremost army of the Republic was all that mattered now. That played into Lee’s hands.
Seeing Hooker was never going to take the offensive, Lee pulled two more Divisions, those of South Carolinian RH Anderson and Georgian Lafayette McLaws from in front of Hooker and led them himself against Sedgwick in conjunction with Jubal Early. It was to be a day of frustration for Lee, as he could not prod McLaws forward and get the 3 division attack going. Sedgwick withdrew over Banks’ Ford when he lost Marye’s Heights to Early.(Early had a great battle.)
This was the cue for Hooker to call the campaign over and he withdrew over US Ford on the 5th. Casualties were high for the four day battle: 13000 for Lee and 17000 for Hooker. Lee’s proportion was too high, considering he only had 60000 to start with.
Lee and the South had bettered an army twice the size of their own and given Virginia breathing space. Lee’s next move, as it had been in 62, after a victory, was to move North.
Jackson would never again be Lee’s “right arm”’ as he passed away on the 10th from complications from his amputation.
His last words were: let us cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.