A march around the enemy

On May 1, Lee began to respond to Hooker's movements and was most concerned about the Union divisions at his left. He left General Early to keep watch over Fredericksburg and then marched the remainder of his army quickly to the west to hit Hooker before the Union commander could remove his men from the Wilderness. Lee was wise in choosing the woods for a fight because the thickness of the woods would make the great size of Hooker's force work against him.

The Union commander should have known this, and he should have known that he should move his men forward, out of the woods, onto open ground. However, even after skirmishing broke out between the two sides, Hooker not only failed to move his men out of the Wilderness, he actually sent them farther into the tangle of thickets and trees. Suddenly, Hooker's plan had changed. By remaining in the Wilderness, Hooker had given up the offensive and turned to a nonaggressive, defensive status. It was almost impossible to explain. According to historian Geoffrey Ward, Hooker would later explain himself, saying, "To tell the truth, I just lost confidence in Joe Hooker."

That evening, Lee and Jackson met to discuss a strategy for the following day's fight. Fortunately for them, General J.E.B. Stuart provided Lee with solid information from a cavalry spy mission. They then put together a plan that defined the boldness for which Lee was already legendary. Despite being outnumbered almost two to one, he decided to divide his army, sending 26,000 men under Jackson's command on a long, roundabout, 14-mile (23-km) route through the woods and along back roads to come in around the back side of Hooker's right flank. During the long-shot march, Lee was to keep Hooker busy and focused on his center. Jackson's march would take an entire day and Lee's reduced numbers would be in danger. Should Hooker organize himself for a full assault, Lee and his men might well be overwhelmed. The plan was desperate, gutsy, against the odds, and classic Robert E. Lee style.

On the morning of May 2, Jackson's forces headed southwest of Lee's center by a route that took them through the heavy woods of the Wilderness, all thick with thorn bushes, heavy grape vines, and other undergrowth. The Wilderness was so thick that the men could often barely see 20 or 30 feet (6 to 9 m) directly in front of their path, when there was a path.

The Rebels passed close by an old iron forge site called Catherine's Furnace. Their sounds in the woods drew the attention of the Union 3rd Corps, under the command of General Daniel Sickles, who believed the sounds off in the woods were a sign that Rebel forces were retreating. After receiving permission from Hooker, Sickles ordered his men forward and briefly engaged Jackson's rear guard. The fight did not last long and the Union men did not pursue the Confederates through the difficult undergrowth.

All through the day, Union troops reported to their commanders that they had heard the sounds of Rebels in the woods, but their fears were minimized. No one thought any numbers of Confederates could possibly be maneuvering through the Wilderness. Of course, they were wrong. Late in the afternoon, around 5:00 p.m., Jackson and his men had arrived just east of the crossroads of Brock Road and Orange Turnpike, just out of sight of Hooker's right. The Union men in front of him were of the 6th Corps, under the command of Major General Oliver O. Howard, who had never before led an entire corps in battle. Throughout the day, Howard had received multiple messages from Hooker, first calling on him to establish a defense line, then another ordering him to take the offensive and pursue the enemy. Howard had not only failed to move, but he had also not secured his flank, which was the farthest westward extension of Hooker's lines.

Just as the men of the 6th, many of them German immigrant troops, were sitting down to prepare their evening meal and boil their coffee, deer and other forest animals came bounding out of the nearby woods. The Federals grabbed their guns to kill some fresh meat, only to face Jackson's men emerging behind the wild animals, their clothes ragged from the thickets and brambles of the day's march. They completely surprised the Union men, and Hooker's right flank simply fell apart. Ward offers a description of the fight from one Union soldier: "It was a perfect whirlwind of men. The enemy seemed to come from every direction."


The fighting continued as twilight began to fall. The 6th had not only abandoned their positions, but Jackson had also managed to push them back 3 miles (5 km). As darkness fell, Jackson wanted to continue with a night engagement, which almost never took place during the Civil War. But he was talked out of it. Instead, under cover of darkness, General Jackson and his staff rode ahead of his men on horseback to examine Union positions along their new right flank, located just west of Chancellorsville.

Jackson and his men, in the confusion and the darkness, rode close to some Confederate troops, who opened fire on the general and his staffers. They wounded Jackson twice, as well as several of the officers under his command. Jackson was thrown from his horse and had to be carried off the field. His left arm was shattered, and it was amputated the following morning. General Stuart was given command of Jackson's forces. It would be the last time Stonewall Jackson would engage in a fight. He died eight days later of pneumonia. It was a dreadful loss for Lee. As noted by historian Geoffrey Ward, Lee said: "He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right."

Jackson's march had successfully caused the rollback of Hooker's right flank. But in doing so, Hooker had become aware that Lee had divided his men. By the morning of May 3, the possibilities for the Union commander looked promising. If he could only take advantage of Lee's divided positions, he could possibly bring down the Army of Northern Virginia. But Hooker did not make obvious moves, and instead, he remained on the defensive. The night before, General Sickles had pulled back closer to Chancellorsville. By doing so, he had abandoned

The Battle of Chancellorsville (above) was a victory for the Confederate Army, but they suffered a major blow when General Stonewall Jackson was mistakenly shot by fellow soldiers. The Southern general was an important leader in the Confederate offensive attack, but he needed immediate medical attention for his injuries. Jackson's arm, shattered by friendly fire, was amputated, and he died eight days later from pneumonia.

The Battle of Chancellorsville (above) was a victory for the Confederate Army, but they suffered a major blow when General Stonewall Jackson was mistakenly shot by fellow soldiers. The Southern general was an important leader in the Confederate offensive attack, but he needed immediate medical attention for his injuries. Jackson's arm, shattered by friendly fire, was amputated, and he died eight days later from pneumonia.

Hazel Grove, which stood on the high ground of the battlefield. Confederates soon put up artillery units there and began to pound Chancellorsville with shot and shell. One artillery shell struck the Chancellor mansion's front porch, which caused a large chunk of plaster to fall and strike Hooker on the head. Although he was not killed, he became disoriented and was semiconscious. Nevertheless, Hooker refused to give up direct command and tried to continue directing the battle. He managed to pull his men back into a tighter formation between the rivers, with his right flank next to the Rapidan and his left on the Rappahannock. But he did not take the offensive.

As Confederate shelling continued, a shell exploded on the Chancellor mansion, setting it on fire. Other explosions set fire to the surrounding woods in several places. At the same time, the Union's Major General John Sedgwick was moving his forces from Fredericksburg after receiving a call for help from General Hooker. After several assaults, Sedgwick's men managed to get Confederate commander Jubal Early's men off of Marye's Heights, something Burnside had not been able to do five months earlier. They then marched onward to Chancellorsville. With Hooker almost bottled up, Lee turned on Sedgwick's army and nearly surrounded the Union commander. Sedgwick managed to escape Lee's clutches by moving to the north bank of the Rappahannock. Then, just as Lee was preparing to attack Hooker's defensive lines, Hooker pulled Sedgwick's forces back across the two rivers to a safer area. The Battle of Chancellors-ville was over and Lee and Jackson had proven themselves to be a great pair of commanders. But it was the end for Jackson, who died of pneumonia on May 10.

Hooker had entered the Chancellorsville fight with all the confidence of a commander certain of victory. But Lee had beaten him badly. The Confederate general's actions that day were a military masterpiece, though one that came at a high cost. The casualties at Chancellorsville mounted to nearly 30,000, with the North losing 17,287 to 12,764 for the Confederates. Man for man, Lee suffered a greater percentage of casualties than Hooker, losing nearly a quarter of his army. The Army of Northern Virginia was slowly fading away.

By May 6, the Union forces had crossed back over the Rappahannock and were back where they had started before Hooker had launched his complicated and overconfident strategy. One Federal private summed up his disappointment at Hooker's failure, as noted by historian Geoffrey Ward: "Thus ended the campaign which Hooker opened as with a thunderbolt from the hand of Mars, and ended as impotently as an infant who has not learned to grasp its rattle." As for President Lincoln, who had expressed concern toward Hooker's overconfidence, he was crushed. Receiving the news of his army's great loss at Chan-cellorsville, Lincoln could only cry, notes historian Ward, "My God! My God! What will the country say?"

0 0

Post a comment