ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia
Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia
A stunning victory for the noted Southern generals
Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson,
Chancellorsville cost the latter his life.
Battle of Chancellorsville
The boulder seen here was
the first placed to mark the
site where Stonewall Jackson
was wounded.
Catharine Furnace Ruins
This iron furnace marked the
spot where Stonewall
Jackson turned left to begin
his flanking of the Union army.
Battle of Chancellorsville - Spotsylvania County, Virginia
Chancellorsville Battlefield
Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
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Cannon at Chancellorsville
The battlefield today provides
a good understanding of the
nature of the historic fight.
Chancellor House Ruins
Chancellorsville was not
really a town, but instead was
the name of a crossroads
where the Chancellor House
stood.
The Battle of Chancellorsville was a major
Confederate victory fought in Spotsylvania
County, Virginia. The site is now part of the
Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania County
Battlefields Memorial National Military Park.

The battle developed when the Union Army of
the Potomac launched its second major
attempt to get across the Rappahannock
River. The first had ended in disaster at the
Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862.

The bloody debacle at Fredericksburg led to
a change in command for the Federal army.
General Joseph Hooker was named to
replace General Ambrose Burnside. Hooker
was proud of his nickname "Fighting Joe,"
but his tendency to have women of ill repute
around his camps caused his last name to
be remembered even today in the term
"hookers."

Determined to use his overwhelming force in
a pincer movement against General Robert
E. Lee's smaller Army of Northern Virginia,
Hooker began crossing the Rappahannock
in late April of 1863. Hooker held a numerical
superiority of more than 2 to 1 over the
outnumbered Lee.

Taking Lee by surprise, Hooker pushed
across the river and by the afternoon of April
30th had 50,000 men and 105 cannon in
position in and around Chancellorsville, a
vital road junction in a heavily wooded area
known as the Wilderness.

There, just when it seemed his plan might
work, he inexplicably called a halt to his
operations for 24-hours. This gave the
Confederates time to respond. Leaving his
headquarters at Fredericksburg and rushing
to the threatened point, General Thomas J.
"Stonewall" Jackson boldly ordered two
divisions of Southern troops to launch an
immediate attack.

Jackson's May 1st attack took the Federals by
surprise and they quickly fell back and began
to entrench. This allowed time for Lee to
bring up the main body of his army. Over the
objections of his generals, "Fighting Joe"
decided to wage a defensive battle, claiming
to have Lee "just where I want him." The
Southern commander was happy to oblige.

At around midnight on May 1, 1863, Lee's
cavalry commander General J.E.B. Stuart
arrived at Lee's new headquarters to report
that Hooker's right flank was entirely "up in
the air." This meant that it was poorly
positioned and vulnerable to a flank attack.

Lee and Jackson now saw a chance to
defeat an army of 130,000 men with a
command of only 44,000.

Using a mere 14,000 men to demonstrate
and hold Hooker in position, Lee sent
Jackson with 30,000 men in quiet flanking
march through the tangled Wilderness.
Jackson's maneuver began on the morning
of May 2, 1863.

Union soldiers caught glimpses of the
Confederate movement from treetops on the
high ground at Chancellorsville and Federal
cannon fired on Jackson's column. Hooker
even realized that a flanking movement was
underway and warned General Oliver O.
Howard on his right flank to be ready.

As the morning passed, however, Hooker
convinced himself that the Confederates
were really retreating. So convinced was he
of the wisdom of his plan that he allowed
General Dan Sickles to strike at the rear of
Jackson's column around Catharine
Furnace, leaving Howard completely without
support. The move led to disaster.

After moving his men for 12 miles around the
Union right on a narrow, twisting road,
Stonewall Jackson struck.
With darkness approaching, the famed
Confederate general ordered a bugle
sounded and the Southern troops came
storming out of the woods and smashed into
the unprotected right flank of Hooker's much
larger army. Pandemonium resulted as the
Confederates drove Howard's men from
position after position.

It became so dark by 7:15 p.m. that Jackson
finally ordered his men to halt. He rode
forward to study the Union lines in person,
but as he returned Confederate soldiers
mistook his small group of horsemen for the
enemy and opened fire. General Jackson
was seriously wounded in a tragic "friendly
fire" incident. Taken from the battlefield, he
died nearby on May 10, 1863.

Command of the flanking operation now fell
to General "Jeb" Stuart, who drove forward
the next morning in an effort to link back up
with Lee. Heavy artillery exchanges were
followed by bloody infantry fighting.

At this critical stage of the battle, Hooker was
stunned by a Confederate cannon shot that
struck a pillar at Chancellorsville. He was
forced to relinquish command, but not before
ordering his subordinates to begin looking
for a way out.

Stuart, meanwhile, drove forward and the two
wings of the Confederate army reunited. With
Lee now advancing simultaneously from the
south and west, the Federals admitted defeat
and retreated.

Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jeb
Stuart had achieved one of the most
remarkable military victories in history. The
price, however, was high. The Union army
lost 17,000 men while the Confederates lost
14,000. The brilliant Thomas J. "Stonewall"
Jackson would never fight again.

The Battle of Chancellorsville opened the
door for Lee's invasion of the North. That
campaign would end on the bloody fields of
Gettysburg in July.

The Chancellorsville Battlefield is seven
miles west of I-95 on Route 3 (Exit 130A).
The  Chancellorsville Visitor Center will be on
your right and is an excellent place to begin
your visit. The park also features a 12 mile
driving tour and miles of walking trails.

Entry to the park is free, but there is a $2 fee
to view the film at the Visitor Center.

Please click here to learn more.
Photos by Savannah Brininstool