The Battle of Chancellorsville

Rather than engage in a disastrous frontal attack like the one that Burnside had tried a few months earlier, Hooker planned to launch an assault from two directions. As Hooker approached Lee's position around Fredericksburg, he divided his army into two main forces. He stationed a large section of troops directly across from the Confederate positions, but he also took another seventy thousand men around Lee's left flank (side) to a spot near the town of Chancel-lorsville, Virginia.

Lee knew that Hooker's Union Army posed a major threat to his own force, especially since his army was smaller than usual. Earlier in the

Major General Joseph Hooker

Union major general Joseph Hooker.

(Photograph by Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Union major general Joseph Hooker.

(Photograph by Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

spring, Lieutenant General James Longstreet (1821-1904) had taken a corps of fifteen thousand rebels to gather food and supplies. This left Lee with only sixty thousand Confederate troops at his disposal, less than half the total number of soldiers under Hooker's command. The Confederate commander recognized that his only hope of victory was to devise a strategy that could neutralize the Union force's numerical advantage.

As Hooker moved his seventy thousand-man detachment around Lee's flank, Lee decided to launch his

Life in the Army Camps

Many people think that soldiers in the Civil War fought nearly every day. Actually, though, one of the main characteristics of daily life in the army camps was boredom. Soldiers in the Civil War spent an average of fifty days in camp for every one day they fought in battles. While in camp, they settled into a routine of training and relaxation. For soldiers in the Union Army, a typical day began with roll call early in the morning, followed by breakfast. Then the men spent most of the morning and early afternoon marching and performing drills. Most soldiers did not like the endless drilling, but it did help them learn to follow orders and work together as a unit.

In the late afternoon, Northern soldiers usually took some time to mend their uniforms and polish their boots for the daily inspection that took place after dinner. The standard Union Army uniform consisted of a blue cap with a black visor, a blue coat with a stand-up collar, light blue pants, and black shoes. Different colored stripes on the uniform indicated the branch of service to which the soldier belonged. For example, infantry (foot soldiers) uniforms had blue stripes, artillery uniforms had red stripes, and cavalry (soldiers on horseback) uniforms had yellow stripes. The soldiers' caps also had different symbols sewn onto them depending on their branch of service. The uniforms were made of wool and were of high quality, especially after the first year of the war.

Union soldiers usually received adequate amounts of food. Their diet consisted mainly of meat, coffee, and bread, although fresh fruits and vegetables were sometimes available. Most soldiers did not like the thin, cracker-like bread they received, which they called "hardtack." They usually soaked it in water or coffee to soften it up before eating it. After dinner and the evening inspection, the soldiers usually relaxed by singing songs, writing letters to their families, and playing games, including an early version of baseball. This routine tended to change for a few days every other month, when the soldiers received their pay. Some of them used their money for gambling, buying alcohol, or visiting prostitutes.

Daily life in the army camps was very similar for Confederate soldiers. The main differences occurred due to the shortages of food, clothing, and other necessities that plagued the South during the war years. Prior to the Civil War, the Northern economy was based on manufacturing, while the Southern economy was based on farming. The North also had more railroads, canals, and roads to aid in the transportation of supplies. As a result, the South had

Union Soldier Battle Chancellorsville
Soldiers relax after a drill. (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

problems obtaining supplies and distributing them to its troops throughout the war.

The chronic shortages affected Confederate soldiers in many ways. For example, the shortage of cloth meant that there were not enough uniforms for all the troops. The standard Confederate uniform consisted of a gray coat and pants and black shoes. But many soldiers were forced to make their own uniforms, so the Southern troops often appeared ragged and inconsistent. Later in the war, even the gray dye for the uniforms was in short supply. The soldiers began using a homemade dye on their clothing, which turned it a yellow ish-brown color they called "butternut." Some men had to march and fight barefoot until they could take a pair of shoes from a Union soldier they captured or killed. The Confederate Army also had a shortage of tents, which meant that many soldiers slept out in the open under a blanket.

Food was in short supply as well. Even though the farms and plantations of the South could produce enough to feed the Confederate Army, the limited transportation system made it difficult to send the food where it was needed before it spoiled. In addition, some Southern farmers found that their crops were ruined by violent battles and military movements. As a result of these factors, the Confederate soldiers ate mostly cornbread and beef and were hungry much of the time. The men sometimes gambled their paychecks for extra food rations and could trade food for such luxuries as tobacco or stationery. Despite the hardships they faced, however, the troops from both the North and the South managed to keep their spirits up. "On each side the soldier realized that he personally was getting the worst of it, and when he had time he felt very sorry for himself," Bruce Catton wrote in The Civil War. "But mostly he did not have the time, and his predominant [most frequent] mood was never one of self-pity. Mostly he was ready for whatever came to him."

James Longstreet Timeline
Confederate lieutenant general James Longstreet. (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

own surprise attack. Using Confederate cavalry under the command of Jeb Stuart (1833-1864) to mask his movements, Lee took forty-five thousand men to Chancellorsville. The two armies met on May 1 on the outskirts of the town. By this time, however, Confederate movements had confused Hooker, and he held off on calling a full-scale assault.

After a day of skirmishing, Lee ordered Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (1824-1863) to circle around Hooker's force with twenty-six thousand men. All during the day of May 2, Jackson marched his troops around the unsuspecting Union Army. By late afternoon, Jackson's force was in position in the woods along the Federal army's right flank. Two hours before dusk, Jackson attacked with brutal force. His assault shattered the right side of Hooker's force and destroyed the Yankee position. Nonetheless, the successful attack ended in tragedy for the South. As evening fell over the battlefield, a group of Confederate soldiers accidentally shot Jackson, who had been riding ahead of his troops.

When the Confederate hero died a few days later, the entire South went into mourning.

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  • Kevin
    What was it like to be a average soldier in the battle of chancellorsville?
    8 years ago
  • Annika
    What were the advantages in the battle of chancellorsville?
    5 years ago

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