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Battle of Chancellorsville Ends: May 6, 1863

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Fold3 Image - The Battle of Chancellorsville, Va., including operations from April 29th to May 5th, 1863.
May 6, 1863, was the final day of the Battle of Chancellorsville, which ended in a Confederate victory that is often considered General Robert E. Lee‘s “perfect battle,” as he successfully defeated an army more than twice the size of his own.

In April, Union general Joseph Hooker—the new commander of the Army of the Potomac—decided to move against Lee, whose Army of Northern Virginia was situated at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Hooker wanted to avoid attacking Fredericksburg head on, as that had proved a disaster in the past, so he planned to send a third of his army to Fredericksburg to hold Lee there, while his cavalry would cut Lee’s communication lines and the majority of his army would sweep around to outflank Lee from the rear and left.

Hooker’s movement to Chancellorsville, a crossroads not far from Lee’s left flank, was well-executed, but Lee—although outnumbered more than two to one (roughly 130,000 to 60,000)—left only a small part of his troops at Fredericksburg and moved the rest under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to face Hooker rather than retreat. When Jackson began to push back against Hooker’s vanguard, Hooker lost his nerve and had his troops take up defensive positions in a brushy, difficult area known as the Wilderness.

Fold3 Image - Wilderness, near Chancellorsville, Virginia
Defying conventional military wisdom, Lee and Jackson decided to split the army once again, leaving a portion of troops under Lee to distract Hooker’s front, while Jackson would take the bulk of the troops on a 12-mile march to hit the Union’s exposed right flank. The gamble paid off, and on the evening of May 2, Jackson’s troops caught the Union right by surprise and it crumbled.

The fighting continued for a few more days, with the most intense occurring on May 3. Besides fighting around Chancellorsville, there was also fighting at Fredericksburg and Salem Church. Eventually, Hooker retreated across the Rappahannock River, giving the Confederates the victory, despite heavy casualties on both sides.

However, although the battle was a Confederate triumph, the Lee sustained a major loss in the death of Jackson, one of the best Confederate generals. On the night of the 2nd, Jackson and some others had been returning from scouting Union positions when they were fired on by their own pickets. Jackson was wounded, and his left arm had to be amputated. Complications arose following the surgery, and on May 10, Jackson died of pneumonia.

Lee’s victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville would give him the necessary momentum for his campaign into the North, where he would face the Union on its home soil at the Battle of Gettysburg that July.

Do you have ancestors who fought at Chancellorsville? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the battle on Fold3.

244 Comments

  1. I would suggest to all that they consider the old, old comment: Rich man’s war; poor man’s fight.”

    In the north, one could buy himself out of the draft…or find a substitute usually bought as well. In the south, how many brave men died in the name of honor of the South but who did not own slaves and, in fact, were the laborers and small-time farmers?

    Instead of the current anger, how about looking at the war: The North initially fought to keep black people out of the border States; the South fought for the right to keep slaves and expand slavery. At the same time, the North managed major factories that created poor wage slaves. Economic differences provided a context for the clash…as did international markets…eg England and its desire for southern cotton.

    So, take a hard look at the context for the war in which so many brave people gave their lives on both sides….

    I suggest that this thread go back to honoring those who fought.

    • AGREE!! You are exactly right in your comment here. The war started due to economics NOT slavery but that is the politically correct road it’s gone down and most of these people today have bought into it and to be honest they are brain-washed. If schools would teach the facts to kids they wouldn’t grow up with these incorrect beliefs.

    • Theron,

      Regarding your comment of May 19, I am not quite sure what to do with your comments about “Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight”. I usually hear such words in the context of anti-war sentiment and class warfare, I think it better to see war in a more complete sense.

      First, let there be no more war. Such is my dream and I trust yours but we both know uptopia is not to be found and deep resentments will come and wars will come.

      Second, the nature of society and freedom necessitates that while we could all be poor, we cannot all be rich. All wars will be “rich man’s wars” for they are the ones with enough leisure to understand and study the threats that come and the capital to raise armaments and armies. All wars will be “poor men’s fights” for there simply are not enough “rich men” to engage in significant struggle, ever.

      Third, saying this in no way suggests it is the will of the rich to fight and the will of the poor to be pacifists. The Southern armies as well as Northern, believed in their causes to the depths of their bones, rich and poor. The severity of this war and the sentiments expressed by all classes, demonstrate this.

      It seems to me this is a more holistic and realistic way to see war.

  2. An interesting article in today’s Washington Post electronic issue: “The truth about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee: He wasn’t very good at his job” written by Post reporter Michael S. Rosenwald. Among other things he calls out Lee’s ineptitude in ordering Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg against the advice of his subordinate commanders. He cites the views of other historians who raise issues about Lee’s fundamental strategy that needlessly cost human lives in an offensive minded approach as opposed to a more defensive strategy.

    • You can always count on the Washington Post to run stories that support their liberal agenda. They support removing Confederate statues so they now run stories disparaging long-honored and respected Confederate generals.

    • As a historian, I wonder about this kind of ‘second guessing.” As for Gettysburg, I wonder how closely they writers studied the particulars….or much military history they have studied.

      It is easy to second guess illustrious figures, especially if writers are trying for the sensational.

      With that said, I doubt VERY much that it has anything to do with ‘liberal’ agendas. Don’t let your current politics cloud your own vision.

    • My vision is clear. You are blind if you don’t see again and again how the liberal media like the Washington Post report issues, paint them to support their viewpoints, and join in the feeding frenzy that develops whenever an anonymous source creates new “facts.” Journalistic ethics and honest, unbiased reporting have sadly declined. You are naive if you don’t realize the Post story demeaning Lee is part of their support of an overall goal to eliminate or relocate Confederate statues, and change names of streets and roads. There are always multiple sides of an issue. Unfortunately, the Washington Post and other liberal media can no longer be relied on to report facts and fairly present both sides of any issue.

    • Another great comment Rick, thank you. I saw an old news recast by one of the early tv anchors, think it was Dave Garroway or David Brinkley (I have a good memory) and the way he presented the news was so refreshing compared to those of today. He simply stated the news while those of today want to make facial expressions, stress words the way they want you to interpret what they are saying, and often add their own take on things on the sly. I don’t appreciate that and it’s frustrating to try to get the news so that we can make our own decisions on how we feel about the subject. Seems the news broadcasters are on the liberal side most of the time. Conservative talk shows are better but they are gagged with how much they can say so the whole thing is a joke.

    • “He wasn’t very good at his job” written by Post reporter Michael S. Rosenwald”

      Even fools are allowed to write.

      Thank God they are usually not allowed to fight.

      Lee was a genius and is studied in war college even to this day. He was respected and feared by the North and almost worshipped by the South.

    • Bill, I would just like to say on behalf of MY ancestors concerning the Civil War. I know from my research that at least a few of my PA Civil war soldiers joined because they needed the job. They had no personal feelings negative to the South but they had a wife and children that had to eat and have a decent place to live and at that time jobs were few. I know of one man, not in my family, who walked many miles to try to get a job as a last resort at a colliery who he heard was hiring. When he got there no job was available as grabbed up. He was so tired and distressed he stopped by a home of a friend of his who happened to be in my Stine family ancestors. They gave him dinner and a bed to rest when they heard a shot. He had killed himself out of total despair so there were few jobs up there which was part of the reason for the war as I understand it. Just a comment I wanted to add. I, too, feel like everyone should be able to comment on here but bantering back and forth seems like beating a dead horse, still if someone seems to be wrong in their comment a counter reply seems to be natural. Will you be posting a new battle for us to comment on soon? Looking forward Bill to them.

    • Good afternoon, I, too, apologize for inserting the removal of the Historic Properties in New Orleans. Just an issue for which I feel strongly about. Indeed, interesting articles. Thank you, J. Bunn II

    • Ladies and Gentlemen,

      Thank you all for your comments and please understand that my comments were only and purposely meant to refocus the direction of the blog for historical understanding and continued learning.

      For the record my Confederate ancestors were poor, small farmers (MISS SUE, they were members of the Hall family and also were from Chesterfield County, Virginia like your ancestors, and they were members of Company C, the “New” Petersburg Greys, 12th Virginia Inf), they were recent immigrants who fought and died because their farm and home were attacked, regardless of the underlying reasons.
      My Federal ancestors also were recent immigrants who joined and fought as an alternative to entering the Anthracite Coal Mines in Northeastern Pennsylvania. At least one of them went directly from the East New York Port of Brooklyn to a recruiting station at the Five Points in Manhattan and was paid a bounty to replace one of those cowards who could afford to buy his way out of the Draft. He then went onto a train to Washington where he was given a uniform, rifle, accoutrements, rations and perhaps some minimal training and then sent off as part of the reinforcements for the Army of the Potomac then marching northward to catch up to the Army of Northern Virginia. He was assigned to Company K of the 81st Pennsylvania and followed that old political General Dan Sickles into The Cornfield at Gettysburg. There he was wounded, captured and disappears from history.

      I really do not know thay any of them fought and died for anything other than their own dreams of freedom and choice in America.

      Anyway, to maybe get back on track kindly allow me to say that I have always been intrigued at the focus of General Lee in moving the War out of Virginia immediately after the Chancellorsville Battle. Even with the wounding and subsequent irreplaceable loss of General Jackson he was able to mobilize the Army and move it Northward with purpose.

      I have always wondered if he and Jeff Davis had thought and planned that far ahead so to have developed a Plan and kept it available, waiting for the right time and opportunity to put it in motion. It always seemed to me that such a movement had to be planned well in advance and that the Confederate Government and General Lee in 1863, after The Emancipation Proclamation, were much more organized than they have received credit for. It appears that Lee had some idea of a succession plan and was able to effectively move the Army quickly.

      President Lincoln was still struggling to find his best Commander in the East in 1863 and to be sure he had the whole picture to consider, both in the Eastern and Western theatres. And of course while Gettysburg was raging, General Grant was directing the investment of Vicksburg and forcing the Confederate surrender there.

      I guess where I am going here is twofold; does anyone have insight or commentary on the movements of the armies after Chancellorsville and leading to Gettysburg, and can I open the forum for commentary on the roles of Generals Longstreet and Ewell on the Confederate advance, the reconnaissance of Jubal Early to Carlisle and if his delay there was hurtful or helpful to Lees Plan, and the critical actions of Federal Generals Hancock, Warren, Slocum, Reynolds and Buford on June 29, 30 and early on July 1 eventually leading to the arrival of General Meade.

      Thanks,
      Bill

    • Bill…

      Have you tried the Lincoln and/or J. Davis papers…both official and personal? The work both men I think are collected in various volumes that you should be able to access in a large library or via interlibrary loan. You might also look for the papers of the US Secretary of State.

      If that doesn’t work, I would suggest you google NARA….the national archives and records administration. Using their search engines, you may find something there.

      NARA does photocopy…at a huge price since it includes their search time…but they do have some material on line. They also can provide the names of researchers whom you can pay by the hour…and in-house photocopies are cheaper. Or, if lucky, you go yourself. Doing research at NARA is quite an experience, complete with its own arcane rhythms and rules.

      If you set up a visit beforehand, it works best. They will have the document boxes ready..and you don’t have to submit pull slips and then have to wait to begin.

      PS…if you are the same Bill who commented about my rich man’s war….I respectfully disagree and was instead referring to the inherent contradictions and tensions within a capitalist economy. Both sides had the equivalent of slaves…one real and one wage-slave even though the participants on both sides believed in their hearts for their causes…or the enlistment bounty. These two positions are not contradictory, I think. I am NOT a pacifist, however.

    • Thank you Theron for the pathways, the suggestions are greatly appreciated.

      I did not comment on your “rich mans war.” I would not lower my credibility to express such an opinion and in fact prior to today have not posted since Miss Sue Mason posted about successfully finding the resting place of her ancestor in a Culpeper cemetery.

      To be honest since then I have focused on two ongoing projects I am working on, one for my family and the other for a close friend, helping in tracing her family tree in Templecrone Parish, County Donegal, Ireland which is also where three quarters of my ancestors called home.
      Quite simply what prompted me to post my comments today regarding the direction of this blog was driven by the very unnecessary and unprofessional assault on your educational background by “Scot” the other day; that was way too personal and uncalled for, it crossed the line of acceptability in my opinion.

      There are public forums for people interested in disparaging each other; actual historians whether they be professional or amateur generally have much, much higher standards and my read into the comments on this blog is that the participants here are truly historians.

      Stay well everyone, Miss Sue, I will contact you via email during the upcoming week between travel destinations.

    • Ok, happy to hear from you then Bill.

    • Hi Bill, We look forward to your updates and comments so thank you for those. On your Hall family in Chesterfield Co. VA. How about a Sue Hall? She lives or lived in Chesterfield Co and worked with my friend David Wright, SCV. He said he thinks her husband was Buddy Hall. Then I knew a Ron Hall in Hopewell, VA that went to school with my cousin 5 yrs older than me. Can’t recall his older sister’s name.

    • I think there may be enough of us – who are upset(?) about this to make it a separate blg subject. Let’s move it off this one.But HOW?

    • Thank you for your comment Sue.

      Tragic story about your relative. I can almost feel his anguish. Hopelessness truly is a killer and we all have likely felt its touch at one time or another.

      Best regards,

      Bill

  3. Yes, these reporters have only their own names and faces to be on the tongues of readers because they really don’t have much going for themselves otherwise. On the liberal agendas that Theron doesn’t think are part of all of this, they are the ones that are behind all types of things like this. The press itself is liberal so hard to agree with your statement on that but do agree on all the other remarks and also Dennis’ and Rick’s. The thing that really gets me is that it was against the LAW to remove those statues in New Orleans yet because of political pressure they went ahead and did it anyway. I can only hope the people stand up against them all when the time comes if they won’t do it now. HOW MANY PEOPLE would it take anyway to make these people stop and say “no”?

  4. As to what mistakes General Lee may or may not have made, what does that matter? Unless one has been the Commanding Officer in a combat situation, especially with the lack of adequate communication with “the front lines”, how can General Lee’s decision at Gettysburg be questioned? But again, what does that really matter 152 years after the Civil War ended?

    Dr. Snell, did you ever teach at Lee College in Cleveland, TN?

  5. Civilized comment. Thank you.

    • And just one last footnote, my blog ID signature contains my last name.

      Nothing to hide here.

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