April 30, 1863 – May 6, 1863
The battle of Chancellorsville was like no other battle of the Civil War. It was so well orchestrated from a military perspective; it was General Lee’s finest hour of the war. Although Lee would have larger more decisive victories down the road, none were more spectacular in their tactical brilliance.
Lee showed the Union army just what he was made of when he divided his army and defeated the Union. Although outnumbered, Lee was able to defeat the Union with maneuvering his split forces around the Union army. The Union commander, General Hooker, wanted to meet Lee at Fredericksburg but this did not happen.
Hooker had planned to use Sedgwick’s Corps to defeat an undersized Lee army. The plan failed when Hooker was deprived of essential assistance from Sedgwick. With all of the Union plans of attack failing around him, General Lee commanded his troops to go on the offensive.
The fighting lasted into the second day as Lee positioned his army to face the Union forces head on. This disrupted the Union forces long enough to allow Jackson to fool the Union.
Confederate dead behind a stonewall after the battle of Chancellorsville
What Jackson did was to make it seem that he and his army of 30,000 were in full retreat. The plan worked and the Union forces under Sickle’s Corps pursued Jackson. With the Union forces exposed chasing the supposed hasty retreat by Jackson, the crafty southern commander then swung around and enveloped the pursuing Union troops.
Although Jackson was mortally wounded, General Jeb Stuart took control of the attack and inflicted heavy losses on the confused Union army. Sedgwick turned his army and secured a position at Fredericksburg. With this new attack on his rear, Lee was forced to suspend his attack and turn and face this new charge.
With both Sedgwick and Hooker in prime positions to destroy the Confederate armies the victory looked all but certain for the Union. This was not to be the case at Chancellorsville. The Union army was exhausted and their will to fight on was lost. The Union troops retreated across the river and the Confederate victory was at hand. This battle demonstrated the sheer brilliance of the Confederate army under the direction of Lee and Jackson.
The war at this point looked winnable for the Confederates. The Union with its vast superiority in both troops and cavalry seemed to be unbeatable. The Confederates were winning the war at this point and the will of the Union to fight on was definitely being tested. Something had to change and change fast or the war was going to be lost.
At Chancellorsville, both sides took heavy losses. Unbeknownst at the time, the loss of General Stonewall Jackson was a heavy blow to the Confederates. The Union had lost more men, 17,000 compared to 14,000 by the Confederates. The Union could afford the large loss of men but the Confederates could not. The main loss for the Confederates was Jackson. The battle was lost but the war would soon turn for the Union as the south started feeling the affects of losing such a brave and determined leader.