Following the Battle of Fredericksburg, both armies slipped into winter quarters. For the Army of Northern Virginia, the year 1862 had delivered major battlefield victories, including the Seven Days, Second Bull Run, and Fredericksburg. Antietam had ended in defeat, but compared to the year the Federals had in the East—including the disaster that was Fredericksburg—Lee and his army had reason to hope that their cause might succeed.

For the Union men, spirits were extremely low. Then, when a January campaign failed due to heavy rains and mud, the Army of the Potomac sank even lower. There was a general agreement that General Ambrose Burnside was simply not up to the command he had been given. Some of his generals even campaigned for his removal. President Lincoln himself was also displeased with Burnside. Just two months after putting him in command, the president replaced Burnside with Major General "Fighting Joe" Hooker, who had seen action in several battles in the East.


Hooker was not an easy choice for Lincoln. He had been one of the generals who sought Burnside's removal. As historian Steven Woodworth describes Hooker, he "combined extreme ambition with shocking political views and loathsome personal habits." He also, however, had a reputation as an aggressive war leader. Lincoln hoped he might therefore be the answer for the poor leadership under which the Army of the Potomac had suffered for more than a year and a half. But even as he selected Hooker for command, he wrote the general a letter, informing him that he had some misgivings about him. Woodworth notes the following from the letter:

I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.

Fortunately, Hooker took Lincoln's letter to heart and soon set out to rebuild the Army of the Potomac back to fighting strength, both physically and psychologically. Historian Geoffrey Ward recalls the words of one Union soldier: "Under Hooker, we began to live"

From winter to spring, Hooker showed himself to be a capable administrator and military organizer, plus he was a shot in the arm for his army's spirits. To encourage pride in his units, he began the practice of corps and division patches for their uniforms. He increased his army in size and outfitted them with the best equipment. According to Woodworth, the general often spoke of his forces as "the finest army on the planet." He also made it clear that he not only intended to engage the Confederate general Robert E. Lee come spring, he intended to defeat him. He often boasted, "May God have mercy on Bobby Lee, for I shall have none."

But all this retooling of his army and his personal boasting still needed to be backed up with a good strategy against the enemy and a victory in the field. As to his campaign strategy, he worked up a clear-cut plan of action against Lee. The plan called for one of his corps to distract Lee by crossing the Rap-pahannock near Fredericksburg, and then the remainder of the Union forces were to march to the west and turn to Lee's left flank. Then the Federals would make their own Rappahannock crossing, followed by a crossing of the Rapidan River before crossing into a thick woods referred to locally as the Wilderness. With their movements hidden by the dense underbrush, thickets, and vine-bearing trees, Hooker intended to emerge from the Wilderness and surprise Lee, with the Army of the Potomac between the Confederate general's forces and Richmond. Given Hooker's position, Lee would be forced to attack him at a location of the Union commander's choosing and would surely be defeated. Hooker was always absolutely sure of his plan, even as circumstances did not allow him to fully put it into operation when the time came.


By late April 1863, General Hooker was ready to put his plan and his army into action. On April 27, he sent Major General George W. Stoneman's cavalry out to harass Lee's lines and destroy rail lines at Lee's rear. Then he moved westward out of Falmouth, Virginia, to march around Lee with three corps: the 5th Corps under Major General George G. Meade; the 11th Corps, commanded by Major General Oliver O. Howard; and the 12th, General Henry Slocum's men. These three corps made up only a third of Hooker's army. By the following day, they reached the upper fords of the Rappahannock and crossed over at Kelly's Ford, which placed them 20 miles (30 km) upriver from Falmouth and at Lee's rear. Then, Hooker marched one of his corps to Germanna Ford and a second to Ely's Ford, both on the Rapidan River, a tributary of the Rappahannock. According to Hooker's plan, they then marched through the Wilderness to a major road junction at Chancellorsville. It was hardly a town, but a crossroads dominated by a large plantation home belonging to the local Chancellor family, plus a few other buildings and storefronts.

Meanwhile, Hooker left behind four corps at Falmouth. He ordered two of them, the 1st and the 6th, to cross the Rappahannock on April 29 with a great show. They were then to cross the river below Franklin's Crossing, where Burnside had sent his left flank over the river during the Fredericksburg campaign. Their purpose was to distract Lee while Hooker's other three corps on the move executed their turning movement against Lee's left flank. Then, Hooker's remaining two corps at Falmouth, the 2nd and 3rd, were to set out on a march to join up with the 5th, 11th, and 12th Corps, completing Hooker's elaborate maneuvering. The end result had Stoneman's cavalry at Lee's rear, three corps in place to turn to Lee's left, two additional corps hidden from Lee's view but prepared to cross once Hooker captured Chan-cellorsville, and his final two corps moving as obviously as pos-sibe toward the Confederates.

For the most part, every portion of Hooker's strategy before the opening of the battle came together with no real problems. By April 30, Slocum and Howard were located south of the Rapidan at Germanna Ford and Ely's Ford. They then marched to the crossroads of Germanna Plank Road and the Orange Turnpike at Wilderness Tavern. That same afternoon, three corps were at Chancellorsville. The 1st and the 6th were in position along the Richmond Stage Road. Hooker could not have been more excited about his plans to whip Bobby Lee.

Chancellorsville was a key location in Hooker's plans. It was the home of a widow, Mrs. Sanford Chancellor, and her

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