Boom Goes the History Hero

Boom Goes the History

A Podcast

Join us on a journey to the key battlegrounds of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War, unraveling the tales of valor, sacrifice, and pivotal moments that shaped the nation. We'll delve into some of the most significant chapters in American history, bringing the past to life with a unique blend of storytelling, expert analysis, and on-site exploration. 

Listen to the Latest Episodes

As the 1863 spring campaign got underway in Virginia, federal forces under fighting Joe Hooker converged on a small crossroads in the middle of the Virginia Wilderness, Chancellorsville. I'm Chris Makowski for the American Battlefield trust. We're at the start of a 16-episode podcast series that takes you to that crossroads to explore one of the most consequential battles of the Civil War. We'll meet the high command of the Army of the Potomac as it converged on the stately home of the Chancellorsville family. We’ll also meet the family living there as war turns their lives upside down.

For the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville, the American Battlefield Trust headed off into the field with a team of historians to trace the action of the first week of May 1863. In this episode, you'll hear from former Park Service historians, Greg Mertz and Don Fons, the Trust’s education specialist, Sarah Kay Byerly, and Deputy education director, Chris White. They'll join me at the rulings of the Chancellorsville Mansion, located at what became, that May, the most important intersection in America, the Crossroads of Fire.

Chris Makowski of Emerging Civil War for the American Battlefield Trust and I am standing at the Chancellorsville intersection, the Crossroads of Fire as the American Battlefield Trust commemorates the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville. Thanks so much for being with us. We want you to share this. We want you to like this. We want you to subscribe. Spread the word so others can join in on these great stories that we're gonna have for you over the course of the next few days. In the beginning of May 1863, this becomes the most important crossroads in America, because we have Joe Hooker’s Army consolidating at this point in an attempt to slide in behind Robert E Lee, who is some 10 miles to the east of us in Fredericksburg. As we look here at the intersection, East is in that direction, West is in that direction, North, and of course South. Hooker’s army is so big he has to use three different river crossings at US fort, Ellis fort, and Germanna fort. He concentrates here and then he's going to pause as he gets his army together for that advance against Robert E Lee. In the midst of all of that hubbub, we have a intersection here that has an N next to it. This is about a day's walk out of Fredericksburg. So that's why this House is here in the midst of this 70 square miles of deciduous forest. I actually forgot to set a timer to see how long it is before someone honks at us while we're out here, because that's inevitably going to happen. But so, this becomes like a really important wayfaring stop for travelers through the wilderness and to talk about what life was like here, I want to bring in my colleague Sarah Kay Barley. Sarah, tell us a little bit about what life was like here for the family that lived at this crossroads of fire.

Thanks, Chris, and thanks to our viewers who are watching with us here today. As Chris has mentioned, we're here at the Chancellorsville Crossroads. Behind me, you can see the ruins of this large structure, known as Chancellorsville. It's a brick building and the first parts of it built around 1816 and then a few additions added as time goes on. But when we get to the civil war years, you know this building already has about 5 decades of history associated with it. It's been used as a Tavern, as an inn, as a post office, but when we get to the Civil War years, it's in its maybe quieter phase of its history. That is, until the army shows up of course, but we have a widow here, Francis Chancellor and her six daughters are living here at Chancellorsville or the Chancellor House during the Civil War period. They did have enslaved persons living with them, though, by the spring of 1863, most of those individuals have sought freedom with the Union armies that have come through the area before. And the Chancellor women - the Chancellor girls are pro Confederate, so they really prefer it when Confederates and Southerners control the area. They are known to have the officers over for dinners, social scene happening here. Sue Chancellor, who's one of the young daughters, she's about 14 in the spring of 1863, and she remembers these interactions with the officers. One general gave her a gold coin, which I think is still on display at the Chancellorsville Visitor Center Museum. So, you can check that out if you're in the area. But Sue remembers these officers coming. They, you know, they're scouting, they're moving through the area, they stopped for a meal, they interact socially with the family. They were teaching some of the older daughters how to play cards, apparently to Francis Chancellor’s great dismay. So, this is kind of the scene, it's on the quieter side, but you have these interactions with the troops that have come through the area before. And when we get to April 30th, 1863, and these large Union Army Corps are coming into the area, the Chancellor women and girls are going to have a response to that. And one Union soldier would later recall that they were sitting on the porch of this brick home in pretty spring dresses, calls them light dresses, their manners were not so pretty though. They start scolding and hurling some insults at these Union soldiers and officers coming into the area, so there's a little bit of that military civilian tension going on here. Well, that's not going to prevent their home from being taken over as a headquarters. And I think some of our other guests are going to talk about that a little more. But as fighting begins to unfold around the Chancellorsville area, the women are going to take refuge in the basement and a lot more is going to happen and they're going to find themselves in the midst of a fiery ordeal. But we're going to save that for a later video because it doesn't happen until May 3rd. Chris.

So as the Union army begins to concentrate on this area, this certainly changes life for the Chancellors. They're gonna hide their food. They're gonna try to hide their valuables. The family themselves, though, won't give up their house. They're gonna hide in the basement as battle erupts. As we walk across the property, we can see off in the distance way off in that area, an area called Fairview and beyond it, an area called Hazel Grove. We're going to visit those as part of this tour. You can see some artillery pieces that are here, we'll talk about those in just a minute. But this is going to become kind of an important artillery platform, particularly on May 3rd. So as Joe Hooker gets to this area himself, he's going to use this as a headquarters because it's going to serve as a good central meeting point for his army, where he's going to be able to communicate with the different branches. When it's time for him to eventually send them out, there are three roads that are going to head eastward toward Fredericksburg, and he'll have a good central location to communicate with all three veins, but as his officers begin to collect here as they begin to chat, and they begin to plan, they're not entirely clear about what Hooker has in store. He's been very secretive. Even his second in command, Darius Couch, doesn't really know what's going on. His pushing of his armies back in Fredericksburg and or John Sedgwick. Sedgwick doesn't really have a full idea of what the scope of the plan is going to be, and so there's a lot of puzzlement among the Corps commanders about what's going to happen. I'm going to bring on my friend Greg Mertz, who's going to talk a little bit about some of that puzzlement that some of those Corps commanders are experiencing.

One of those Corps commanders that clearly has a different idea of what he thinks the Federal Army should be doing, is George Gordon Meade, the commander of the 5th Corps and the man that would eventually take command of this army just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg, right after the Battle of Chancellorsville. But he is leading troops that have crossed the Rapidan River at Ellis Fort, marching down the Elys Fort Rd that is just in front of me, and reach this intersection, realizes that he has accomplished quite a bit that the Union army has successfully crossed both of the rivers. On route here, he also cut in behind the Fort that was most furthest West of Fredericksburg along that one single stretch of the Rappahannock River. So, the first Fort passed the confluence, United States Fort, has cleared that and now some Union troops in the second Corps could move across and join in with them, and once he reached this intersection here at Chancellorsville, realizes that these roads will lead outside of the wilderness. So Meade, who is somebody that has quite a temper and so forth, is actually in a good mood when he arrives here. He is waiting for the troops that crossed over at Germanna fort to arrive, and they would be coming down the Orange Turnpike from my right to the left. Henry Slocum is the corps commander that is in the lead, and we have a cheering of Joseph Hooker that will occur here as Meade goes up the Slocum, slaps him on the back, and he says hurrah for Joe Hooker. We are on Robert E Lee's flank and rear and he doesn't even know it, and referring to some of the roads here, he said you take the Orange Turnpike and I'll take the plank road or vice versa, and we'll get out of this wilderness, get into some of the open ground. And Slocum had to explain to Meade that he had orders from Hooker to hold up here, to wait for additional troops to gather before they would move out. This occurred on the last day of April and the men would wait here for the rest of the day and not move out until May 1st. Even then, they would wait several hours into the morning before moving out. But just as and as an example of what Chris was talking about, Hooker subordinates do not have a good idea of exactly what Joseph Hooker wants to do. Meade clearly has in mind one thing that he believes the army should do once they reached here, but is going to be sadly disappointed once he has his conversation with General Slocum.

And there you start to see some of the aggressive attitudes that some of these commanders have. And, you know, the army of the Potomac has this reputation for having a bad bout of McClellanism. I'm gonna bring Chris Wade on here in just a second because Joe Hooker is gonna arrive at this intersection, and he's gonna try to straighten things out. But because he hasn't communicated clearly up to this point, these guys aren't quite sure, so that aggressiveness that they're feeling, they're not able to put into practice. Now a lot of this dates back to direct orders that Hooker got himself when President Lincoln visited this army back in the spring and he pulls Hooker aside and he says the next time you give battle, put in all of your men. He says it to Hooker on two different occasions and then there's an occasion where he pulls aside 2nd Corps commander Darius Coach, second in command to this army, he says next time you get battle put in allyour men. If you look at the way the army of the Potomac has used its superior numbers in previous battles, they've been piece meal attacks, so they've not been able to use those superior numbers. So Lincoln really urges Hooker to get your men consolidated, get them concentrated, and then use all of that might all at once. Hooker has not communicated this to his subordinates, as a result, they're ready to go, and he's not letting them. Hooker himself will eventually get here and to talk a little bit about that, I'm going to bring on my good friend, Chris White.

Notice on all of our videos, Chris Bukowski's good friends with a lot of people.

But you're still the best.

Yeah. It's what I like to hear. So Joe Hooker, you know, it's interesting to see how people interpret him over time. You know, Joe, is a fascinating character to me. I would love to have dinner with him, but I wouldn't believe a word that comes out of his mouth. And that's kind of what we see in the wake of the Chancellorsville Campaign. In the lead up, he doesn't talk really to his subordinates enough. He has some trust issues and a lot of that has to do with his own problems because he kind of backstabbed his way into command at times. But he was also a very good commander, a competent battlefield commander, one of the best combat leaders in the army of the Potomac prior to Chancellorsville. He's a 48-year-old Hadley, MA native who went to the West Point class of 1837. In fact, I always say that you could have a West Point class of ‘37 reunion here at Chancellorsville. We had Jubal Early, Robert Chiltoner, Henry Benham, Joe Hooker, and others who are out here fighting at Chancellorsville, but Joe Hooker after the battle, never writes a report that we know of or an official report that shows up and when he does talk about this battle, he changes his story depending on who he talks to and at one point he had asked if, you know, he's asked, you know, what was your plan at Chancellorsville? And one person said he tapped his head and said it was all up here. You know, so that doesn't do anyone any good, whenever you arrive here at this crossroads and you have Henry Slocum, and you have George Gordon Meade, and you have Oliver Otis Howard, who have to have orders of where to go. And then you have more showing up in this area like Couch and then eventually Devil Dan Sickles and others. But one of my favorite descriptions of Joe Hooker comes from Charles Francis Adams. He's from the Adams family up in Massachusetts, not the spooky ones, but the ones who go to the presidency. He says Hooker in no way and in no degree represents the typical soldiership of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Chancing to be born in Massachusetts, he was in 1861 and from that time forward, little better than a drunken West Point military adventurer. He was altogether devoid of character, insubordinate and entry. It is true that after superseding Burnside he did some effective work towards organizing the Army of the Potomac. Nevertheless, that was a period in its history when, so far, his character was concerned. The Army of the Potomac sank to its lowest point. It was commanded by a trio of each of whom the least said the better. It consisted of Joe Hooker, Dan Sickles, and Dan Butterfield. All of these men were a blemished character. During the winter of 1862-63. When Hooker was in command, headquarters of the Army of the Potomac was a place to which no self-respecting man liked to go and no decent woman could go. It was a combination of a ballroom and a brothel. He went on to state that Sickles, Butterfield, and Hooker are the disgrace and bane of this army. They’re three humbugs and triggers and demagogues, so he doesn't like them very much if you get the get the hint. And Sickles, who is in charge of the third Corps, who really shouldn't be in charge of the third Corps, is a political general. He is an intriguer. Dan Butterfield, who his father is the one of the founders of the American Express Company, is a guy who a lot of people don't like to get to know because prior to the war up in Utica, NY. Butterfield decided he wanted to start his own fire company because he's bored, and so he creates this fire company and then there's no fires in Utica. So, what does he do? He goes out and catches a church on fire and before his company can get there and put it out, it burned to the ground. Luckily, he had dad with him and his American Express card and dad repaid to build the church, but these are kind of the guys that we're starting to look at. A man who had to claim temporary insanity for murder in Washington. A guy who burned down a church, and then Joe Hooker, who couldn't tell the truth to get out of a paper bag. So, this is what some people are starting to look at whenever they look at the high command of the Army of the Potomac, they're looking at Hooker, side eyed. This guy's done some good things so far, but he's got to prove himself in front of Lee who right now is 3-1-1 in all of his campaigns. So how do we see the Joe Hooker come out as an actual army commander? That's still to be seen. But Joe Hooker is starting to see the wheels come off here at the Chancellorsville Crossroads, right as he's making contact with the enemy.

So of course, if I'm one of the ladies of the Chancellor's family and I've got this rogues collection converging on my house, I've got to imagine that's a pretty tense afternoon. I'm going to bring on another of my good friends, Don Fons. He's a former historian here at Fredericksburg, National Military Park, Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania National Military Park, and Don, we've got this moment just pregnant with possibilities. We've got the Union army converging. We've got Robert E Lee still trying to figure things out. We've got civilians that are caught in the middle. Tell me about this moment from your perspective.

Well, as you say this, I think in some ways this is maybe the turning point, certainly the beginning of the turning point for the battle. Joe Hooker, as you say, has now arrived here. He's got his army exactly where he wanted it with the exception of Stoneman's cavalry. He's got his army on either side of Lee. All he now has to do is follow through with his plan. And he'll crush Lee between the two pincers of his army. But at this point, Joe Hooker, who's been very aggressive up to this point in action, but also in talk, Hooker prior to the campaign, boasted to everybody he could hear what he was going to do to Robert E Lee and the Confederacy once he got started, he said I once I get started I’ll march all the way to New Orleans and no one will be able to stop me. Once he got here to Chancellorsville he said, you know that due to the great marches we've just done, the meeting must now come out from behind his defenses or flee. So he's saying all these things that you know that are very aggressive and positive and it plays well with the troops. The generals that know Hooker, not so much. But anyhow hookers been very aggressive up to this point but that suddenly changes once he arrives here at Chancellorsville. Suddenly he puts the brakes on this movement. He orders Slocum and Meade to halt here so they can bring up other troops. He now calls on the 3rd Corps which he left back at the Falmouth and has them come up and now he's going to wait for them to arrive the next day. Meanwhile he's going to begin building earthworks around this intersection to protect it. and as it's pointed out, he doesn't really get started because of the the rival of Slocum, doesn't really get started until mid-morning of of May the 1st. So you suddenly start seeing caution and hesitation creeping into this audacious plan and we're going to see as each day passes a lot more of that creeping as Joe goes from being, you know, the bold, audacious, brash commander to suddenly being timid Joe Hooker.

So and of course, as all this is going on, Robert E Lee is trying to read the tea leaves, trying to see what's going on and make some sense of this. Where's Lee's head at this point?

Well, at this point, Lee is starting to figure out what's going on. He knew a day or two early that troops were crossing the river behind him. Of course, Cedric at the same time is crossing the river in front of him. The question is how many troops are on either side? Is one of these a diversion? If so, which one? And, by the time Hooker gets here, Jeb Stuart is now cutting into the Union lines, taking some prisoners. The Corps patches that the Hooker has instituted not only help his army, but now is helping Lee because now Lee can identify which Corps are with him. So now Lee knows that there's a big force behind him. This is not just a diversion in favor of Cedric. Now this is possibly the main effort is here. So now Lee has got to figure out what he's going to do about this. He's basically surrounded. If you want to look at it that way, but he didn't want to look at it that way. Lee, instead of seeing himself as surrounded, sees himself as having the enemy divided. He was outnumbered more than two to one, and if there's any chance he's going to have a victory, he's got to do it by attacking the enemy while they're divided. Attacking them one piece at a time and Hooker is now giving them the chance to do this. So, at this point, he's going to confer with Stonewall Jackson and they're going to determine to leave a holding force at Fredericksburg and then march out here with the main force, and give battle to Joe Hooker.

So it's the evening of April 30th. Tense moments, lots of moving parts. Commanders are both finally getting their head around things. We're going to take a trip out to the day one battlefield to start the action of this campaign on May 1st, 1863.

The American Battlefield Trust and our members have saved more than 1365 acres of Chancellorsville. If you'd like to help out more with ongoing preservation efforts there, you can find out more at our website, You can see a video version of this podcast episode on the American Battlefield Trust YouTube page. Search for Chancellorsville, 160th Anniversary. The Trust YouTube page has thousands of hours of great content covering not only the Civil war, but the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812, and you can go beyond the military story to the political and social science of American history and go from the big personalities to the common soldier, the civilian and the enslaved. All at the American Battlefield Trust YouTube page. If you enjoyed today's podcast, please be sure to like, share, and subscribe. We'll have more episodes coming up, and of course, don't forget to subscribe to the American Battlefield Trust’s YouTube page as well. Well, thanks again to our historians Chris White, Sarah Kay Byerley, Don Fons and Greg Mertz. Thanks to our producer Larry Swiader and our audio engineer, Jackson Mackowski. I'm Chris Makowski for the American Battlefield Trust. Thanks for all you do to support Battlefield preservation and education.
In the early days of May 1863, the Chancellorsville intersection just West of Fredericksburg, VA, was the most important crossroads in America. I'm Chris Mackowski for the American Battlefield trust.

We're kicking off a 16-part podcast series that will take you to that crossroads to explore one of the most consequential battles of the Civil War on the union side, fighting Joe Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac. On the Confederate side, Robert E Lee, commanding the Army of Northern. Virginia. For the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville, the American Battlefield Trust headed into the field with a team of historians to trace the action of the first week of May 1863. In our first episode, you'll hear from former Park Service historian Greg Mertz, the Trust senior education manager Dan Davis, and deputy education. Director Chris White. They'll join me on the banks of the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford to open the campaign, and then we'll trace the movement of part of the Federal Army into the Virginia Wilderness toward the start of battle. Chris Mackowski of Emerging Civil War for the American Battlefield Trust and I'm standing on the banks of the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford because we're about to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the Chancellorsville Campaign, one of the pivotal campaigns of the civil war here in the Eastern Theater. We're going to visit all sorts of sites. Related to this campaign, over the course of the next few days, and we want you to follow along, make sure you like, make sure you share, make sure you subscribe and help people join in on this incredible commemoration. We're going to have a lot of guest stars that are going to join in with us. We're going to start bringing them in today. Our friend Greg Mertz, a former historian here at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. I've got Andrew, Andy Poulton, the professor behind the camera, doing great job. He's holding this microphone. He looks like he's about to start singing to us. So if you hear any crooning in the background. Yeah, there it goes. It could happen. Dan Davis will be joining us in just a few minutes. We're gonna hop in the car with Chris White and take a little drive to follow the route of the army of the Potomac. Sarah Kay Byerly will be joining us, and we've got lots more to come. So we want you to join. To start, I'm going to ask Greg to come in and tell us a little bit about where we're standing. What are we looking at and why is this important to the Chancellorsville campaign?

Well, Germanna Ford originally in the revolutionary time, was a ferry. It's interesting. The first fees for utilizing the ferry, the currency was to. Echo, but throughout its history it had bridges. Here, Ford at the location as well. And during the Civil War it would be utilized in multiple campaigns, including Chancellorsville. The Mine run campaign and the wilderness. We actually have an excellent. Photograph of the bridge area from the wilderness campaign and the pontoon bridges were just a little bit downstream from us from where we stand right now. Now so one of the most important crossings of the the Rapidan River for the various maneuvers in this vicinity.

And Greg, I'm gonna have you come back on here in just a second, but you know, as we set this stage, this river crossing becomes really important because this is how Joe Hooker's gonna get his army across the rivers and converge on Robert. Lead the army of the Potomac has been situated in the north Bank of the Rappahannock River over the course of the winter when Joe Hooker was brought in as commander, he institutes an incredible number of reforms and changes trying to bring the morale of the army up trying to improve its organization and operation. He's going to institute a new vision for cavalry, which we'll talk about in just a second. He's gonna create a new Bureau of Military Intelligence that's going to keep him extremely well informed about what the Confederates are up to, but. Of course, that river is in his way, and so he's going to have to try to figure out a way to get across that river and get at Robert E Lee without suffering the same fate that Ambrose Burnside had suffered the year before in December at the Battle of Fredericksburg. So as Hooker begins his planning and plotting what he wants to do is basically carry out a maneuver that Burnside tried to do in January when he got bogged down on what becomes known as the mud. And he wants to kind of keep the Confederates pinned in Fredericksburg, distracted by a decoy, and then swing the majority of his army to the north, to the West, and then swing down around behind the Confederates. But because the hookers going to move with so many men, he's going to need a number of river crossings in order to get across the river. Without creating a bottleneck, so that's why the Germanna Fort is just one of several that the army is going to use as it makes that menu. Ever. But hookers going to leave half of his army under John Sedgwick back in Fredericksburg on the north Bank of the river and Falmouth, Stafford Heights trying to distract Robert in these attention. Keep him fixated on where he thinks the army still is as Hooker makes this big, broad, sweeping movement. He's going to then. And verge at a little small crossroads, known as Chancellorsville, consolidate his army and then push. To the east. He says my plans are perfect. May God have mercy on Robert E Lee, for I shall have none. In fact, his idea is to really kind of choose his own ground and force Lee to fight on hookers terms, which of course. We all know Robert. He loves to set the terms of battle, but Hooker thinks if he sneaks up on Lee, he's either going to force the Confederates to retreat toward Richmond to Ingloriously fly as he puts it. Or turn and give battle on ground of hookers choosing. And that's the kind of the terms that. Hookers trying to set up. In order to pave the way for this movement, he's going to send George Stoneman's cavalry on a raid South and I want to bring Dan Davis in here to talk about a little bit about what Stoneman does and why that's important and how Stoneman's operations as a cavalry men are actually pretty revolutionary for this army that is still. Kind of trying to struggle to learn how to use its horsemen.


Thanks, Chris. And hey there, everyone. Now one of the reforms that Joseph Hooker implemented when he took command of the Army of the Potomac in January of 1863 was to reorganize his cavalry corps. He's going to put all of the cavalry units in his army under in one command, one corps under one commander, and that was, as Chris mentioned, George Stoneman. He's going to have roughly around 10 to 11,000. Troopers at his disposal. Now hookers plan again. He doesn't want to repeat what Burnside did and attack Lee. Head on at Fredericksburg. He wants to pry Lee out of his Fredericksburg position. Get him away from that defensive barrier of the Rappahannock River. So what Hooker proposes to Stoneman to do and an effective effectively sending away the bulk of his mounted arm through The Who will not be with Hooker. Through the course of the campaign. It's the sandstone. Up the Rappahannock River from their camps in Falmouth across the Rappahannock upstream, around Culpeper County and then. Swing. South from the Rappahannock well off to the South, toward Richmond, getting him behind Lee's army, cutting off Lee's lines of supply and communications. And that is what Hooker believes will finally priley out of Fredericksburg. Lee will have to withdraw back to to defend Richmond. Stoneman will be the Annville hookers. Infantry will follow and be the. Hammer, if you will, and the major battle will be fought somewhere. Off to the South. But Joseph Hooker does not plan for Mother Nature. Stoneman begins his movement in the middle of April only to get bogged down. The skies open up. The rains come the Rappahannock River is running bank full. I think. One trooper said that it was running over 7 feet high at one point in time. Now hookers going to muddle his orders a little bit, he doesn't quite. Know how to use this. Cavalry arms. Something. Of course. The Union Cavalry Union commanders have a major issue with through the course of the war in the Eastern Theater, the orders are muddled. That's going to become a big controversy that we may talk about. Later on, between Stoneman and Hooker. But by the time that the waters have receded, it's time for Stoneman to get going. Hookers change his plan. The infantry is going to follow directly after the cavalry Stoneman's gonna have with him John Beauford's Reserve Brigade, the US Regular, 6 Pennsylvania Cavalry, and David Gregg's division. And he's going to detach William Avery's division to operate off in the direction of Culpepper South of Culpepper toward Orange and Gordonsville along the Orange and Alexandria. Railroad leaving Hooker really with one brigade under Thomas. Even that will remain with the rest of the army. Now, where is Jeb Stuart, where are the Confederates? What? Jeb Stuart is typically where he always is and where we always find Jeb Stewart. He's off to the West in Culpeper County. Stewart has the same issue that. The rest of the of Lee's army has and that he is only going to have a very a minimum force with him. He only has two brigades commanded by the Lee's Rooney Lee and Fitz Lee. However, Lee's gonna make the decision Robert E Lee, that is to keep the bulk of his cavalry. What he has available with him and operating off to the West when the Union infantry crossing. Begins 13th Virginia Cavalry, 9th Virginia Cavalry are going to harass the federal troopers going to be shots fired prisoners taken at a place called Madden's Tavern off to the West in Culpepper. Stewart is gonna begin shadowing those union infantry columns as they approach the rapid anninger Manafort Federals get to the Rapidan first Stewart, or rather, to Germanna first Stewart. Across here, so he has to swing all the way downstream, down off to the South and West, he crosses at Raccoon. Ford moves on to Todd's Tavern. There's gonna be a very sharp fight with Duncan Mcvicker in the six New York Cavalry. And what is known as Alsops field near what will become the spot for what will become part of the Spotsylvania. Courthouse battlefield on the night of April the 30th, but Stewart is finally going to reunite with the Stonewall Jackson Robert Lee in the main force, April 30th into May 1st. Stewart has to take that long circuitous roundabout route to get around those union infantry columns. But again, there's going to have the bulk of. His cavalry available to him. To operate and support the army operations serve is that screening force that intelligence force, something that Hooker really does not have at his disposal because of his decision to send Stoneman off to the South. Chris.

Now one of the interesting things about the delay that that rain causes in mid-april and you know delays Stoneman's advance is in some strange way. Vindicates Ambrose Burnside. Why? Because when the Federals moved down toward Fredericksburg in November of 1862 and they find their way blocked and no pontoons get across the river, Hooker looks up river and he says we could cross at some of these up river crossings and get to the other side of the river. It's that way. And Bernstein says, no, no, no, we can't do that because you know, the weather could cause some of these Fords to flood. We could have portions of our army cut off. And so that's why Burnside initially resisted that idea that Hooker had put forward. And so the very thing that Burnside was worried about happens in April when that poor weather. Thumbs raises up the the the water levels and makes this passable barrier and so. Hooker doesn't really learn that lesson very well because he's still going to try to make this move and he gets stymied right away and Greg, let me bring you back on here for just a second. I had the privilege a couple of years ago to take a canoe trip down this river with Greg, and we're here at the Rapidan River. And how does this relate to the Rappahannock River? And tell me a little bit about the topography. Of these steep banks and how it affects. Our ability to get across here.

Getting a grasp of the river network is very important for understanding this campaign. You heard from both Chris and Dan about the. Main portion of the army being centered in Fredericksburg off to the east of us well. They're situated the infantry men and artillery. Men are situated on a portion of the Rappahannock River. Where there is just one stream that is a barrier between the Union army to the north of the river and the Confederates to the South. But. About 12 miles West of Fredericksburg, this river, the Rapidan, the most important tributary for the Rappahannock, runs into it and 12 miles West of Fredericksburg, also, not coincidentally, is where Chancellorsville is located. So if the Union army is to maneuver any further West of the confluence of those two rivers, they not only have to get across the Rappahannock, but also get across the Rapidan twice the barrier than if you go closer to Fredericksburg. So while the Confederates had their infantry. Foot soldiers watching some of the most important river crossings to the east. They simply had their cavalry patrolling the area where there were the two different rivers. And if the Union army does decide to come out here and take on the 2 river. Barriers. Where do they find themselves? But in the middle of a 70 square mile region known as the wilderness, a thick, dense vegetation that has mainly developed because of all the iron industries in this vicinity, with trees being cut down to convert into charcoal to fuel the iron. And the Union army, with its larger army, with its larger numbers and superior types of cannon in theory, would like to get into some open ground, or at least get into some wooded area where the there's not much undergrowth to take advantage of their superior numbers and bear down on the Confederates. So that's a little about how the topography of the area, both the rivers and the vegetation, fit into this campaign.

And Greg, I'll keep you right here with me for a second, because as I look back here, the the river looks pretty shallow, but I see lots of rocks. How hard is it physically to get across this river, particularly with this bank being so steep?

We have various reports that were done of the river to try to explain the situation at each of the various river crossings. You do have to consider the steepness of the banks. You have to consider what the bottom of the river is like. Is it a nice kind of stone that can support something, or is it muddy? Likewise the width. Sometimes you might have a nice bottom, but you've got to stay straight. If you go a little bit too far upstream or downstream could drop into a hole. So the Union army in particular would have various at various times, get reports about the conditions of these Fords, and it is one thing, of course, for the farmers that live around here to go across a Ford, making one trip, maybe with a simple, fairly light wagon. That's another thing. Have 10s of thousands of soldiers moving across that same spot and heavy wagons and so forth. They the number of troops that crossed over into Culpepper County. 10,000 cavalry men followed by some 50,000. Three men. You basically need some help in bridging to get across and one of the interesting things here is that the Confederates had a bridge building team in this vicinity in preparation for what we now know of as the Gettysburg Campaign. Robert E Lee's plan. At this time, a major portion of his army was in the southeastern part of the state of Virginia under James Longstreet. They're there to try to keep open some supply lines, but also it eased the supply problem of the army here in Fredericksburg. Robert E Lee was getting two trains. Day and that was not sufficient to feed his entire army. He went to the person who's in charge of the railroad and said, can't you put more cars on your trains or make additional trips? And he was told that that would stress out the equipment and he would not get the two guaranteed trains and interestingly. The man in charge was Pennsylvania born and was a Union sympathizer, Samuel Ruth, who was part of Joseph Hooker's Spike Camp spy operations. So Joseph Hooker was well aware of Lee's problems with supply. Lies. Lee had a lot of his cavalry and a lot of his artillery dispersed to make it easier to supply them. His plan was once the spring came and the pastures here around Fredericksburg Greened up and could support his army that way without the need to haul in as much hay and other fodder. That is when he would assemble his troops together, and they're already thinking of the. The Gettysburg campaign. But he has bridge. Builders here and when the Union army would arrive here, they would take some of the materials that the Confederates had planned to use to build the bridge and started to build on top of some Piers. Interestingly, some wood fell down into the river and got wedged against the Piers. As the Rapids came and pushed against it, and rather than kind. To come up with a plan, well, it gets basically did come up with a Plan B, and once they found them so wedge. It's like, wow, that's pretty sturdy. Let's just build our bridge right on top of the water. So here we have some examples of the initial Union soldiers wading over the river themselves and then eventually utilizing. Some of the bridging material. Now I'm crossing over the river. They had some hazards with that. They realized that the water for a lot of people was up to their armpits and that they could lose their balance. So they did put some horsemen downstream when they had to Ford troops and they took the taller men and mix them in with some of the smaller. And that might be able to grab a hold of them and and help them in crossing and even with those precautions, we do know that some men die drowning in the Union army crossing over the river here. So there were some interesting casualties early in the war. War federal some of the first federal soldiers to die in this campaign drowned while crossing Germana.

So as Hooker then begins to consolidate on this side of the river, he's going to head down toward Fredericksburg. Chancellorsville is going to be his point of consolidation. We're going to hop in the car with Chris White, and he's going to take us in that direction. So we can follow in the footsteps of the army of the Potomac. And here we are in the car. This is Joe Hookers command car and we are heading toward Chancellorsville. Thank. To the fine driving of Chris White.

Thank you, Doctor Makowski. We are actually heading back to Chancers, though we're kind of facing north as we start off here and now we're gonna be heading out towards the east. We're heading out towards Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the. Wilderness. So we have a a short drive out to the battlefield, which we figured we would utilize and you're inside the command car with myself, Chris White. Greg Mertz is off to my right. I think Sarah Byerly is behind me. We have Dan Davis behind Greg and then riding way in the back, where he belongs is Doctor Chris Mackowski. Bringing up the rear. So we talked a lot about the the river. Front down there along the Rapidan. You know it named after Queen Anne known as the Rapid Anne River. Just smash it together. One of my friends back in the day told me he thought it was an insult to the queen because that usually meant that you were a slow person back in the day. But not sure that's what it meant. As it was a fast moving river at the time, but as we leave Germanna, which is a place you can actually come out and visit, and we encourage you to come right down to the riverfront, we're gonna turn right onto modern day Route 3. And this is roughly where the army of the Potomac, at least one portion of it, the 11th and 12th core, will be marching down. To open up our Chancellorsville campaign. And as we head down this way, we are now facing basically due E we're going to follow the road here, going to go down past Walmart. You may have heard about a lot of Walmart action out in the Wilderness crossing area more than a decade ago. Walmart. Wanted to install a facility near the crossroads at the wilderness, which we're gonna pass through, and after a prolong. Battle, if you will, between Walmart and preservationists, Walmart relented and actually moved down to this location, which is just a few miles from that original location at Wilderness Crossing. So it was a victory for them because they were still able to put up their facility and a victory for preservationist because they didn't put it down at or near the historic. Intersection of Route 20 and Route 3, the Orange Turnpike and the Orange Plank well at times called the Orange Plank Rd. But the Orange Turnpike turned West and Route 3 heading east. So as we're heading down this way, if anybody wants to chime in, feel free. But I think that we're talking about Mr. FJ Hooker down by the river front of him. Right or wrong, Chris?

We were just a little bit FJ Hooker. The term of contempt that Robert E Lee prescribed to his federal opponent. He didn't think very highly of Mr. FJ Fighting Joe Hooker, who gets his name from a topographer's error as someone sends off a telegram. Describing some of the fighting that Hooker was doing on the peninsula fighting Dash Joe Hooker and then leave out that dash. So Hooker gets this nickname and then Robert E Lee twists it even further with that turn of contempt.

Yeah, you don't see a lot of contempt out of Robert E Lee. He's an interesting guy. He will call John Pope. That miscreant that's about as far as. As harsh as he will be, many of his rebukes to his own officers will be a glare if he doesn't respond to you. In fact, in the wilderness, he's gonna glare at Henry Heath at one point whenever Heath gives. Kind of a sheepish answer of why he wasn't ready to meet in assault on May 6th, and we'll kind of do the same thing to Cadmus Wilcox, but then tell him to go down the road to reform his men. So Lee has what is termed by some of his own men, a wicked temper on him. So it's interesting to see and and lead throughout the winter of 6263 have been overcoming. Some illnesses, he said he had been beat on by the doctors, like an old boiler. And you know, there's a question mark around Robert E Lee's going into this campaign, not from a command standpoint, cause it's Robert. Lee, he's three 1:00 and 1:00 during this war so far. But there's a a question mark about his health on the other side, we have Mr. FJ Hooker. This is his first campaign as a army commander. He talks a big game, he's reorganized the army, he's reinvigorated it. He's resupplied it, and he's put it on the fighting trim that will eventually bring it to victory at Gettysburg in July of 18. 63 But he still has to face off with Robert E Lee and his vaunted army of northern. Yeah. As we head down to this area, we're still heading east along modern day Route 3. This is this road will take you out to call Pepper Virginia behind us. If you would go to the West to those of the lanes onto our left as we head east and we come up into this area, this will be the lake of the woods. This is coming into the wilderness battlefield. Area and as you come up onto the lake of the woods, there is a lake up here, hence the name lake of the woods. That was not here during the time of the American Civil War. In fact, there's no large bodies of water outside of the rivers up in this portion of Virginia today, there's many bodies of Water, Lake, Wilderness, Lake of the woods. We also have. Motts Run reservoir up to the north. East of us. Along Route 610, so just to keep that in mind.

And this is a great illustration that the wilderness is not all that wild. You'll see a lot of development along Route 3. Not a big surprise. This is the road that brought the armies to the to the area, and it's still the road that's used today. And so that's why we see a lot of growth around it. But off in the woods to our right, for instance, that huge housing development that Chris just talked about. Thousands of homes. It's one of three large sub develop subdivisions in the wilderness, and so that's why preservation becomes so important. Because these development is just gobbling up all this very precious and limited battlefield. Property so we can see off to the side a lot of those homes. It's beautiful subdivision, you know, really nice spot. But of course it really kind of impedes on the integrity of these battlefields.

Yeah. As we come down into this area, it's important to remember we're still battling for preservation out into this this vicinity. You know, the wilderness is a dense second and third growth forest. It's a tangle that we'll talk about throughout our videos here for the 160th of of Chancellors. But it is still an area that is embattled with between preservationist and folks who are trying to develop this area. In fact, there's another idea to expand this area right where we're looking at right in this this vicinity as we speak here in 2023 to put in a large facility that would really. Impact the wilderness area out here and in what makes this important. In May of 1864, the armies come marching through here in December, November and December of 1863, the armies come through here and in April and May of 1863 the armies come through here, they're back and forth through. So many times and they would come down through the wilderness Run Valley, which we're entering here to our right is the May 1864 Battlefield. The battle sheets, which will first hit Robert E Lee and Ulysses Grant together then as we we start to ascend out of this valley. The historic Rd. would have actually been off to our right hand side coming up the modern intersection we just passed is not the historic intersection we're actually coming up on to where the wilderness. Tavern, owned in 1863 by William Sims. The third he has 93 acres out here on the wilderness battlefield and owned a Tavern in this area, and one of the last remaining pieces of that Tavern was just off to our right, a building that burned in 1978, and all that's left is a a chimney that's kind of sticking. Up.

Now this is the area where there's. Going to be. A huge field hospital during the Battle of Chancellorsville. And so folks are familiar with the story of Stonewall Jackson. He's going to be brought back. Look how long it took me to get his name worked in there, though. This is the area where he's going to be brought back. He's going to be assessed, the amputation is going to take place, but he is one of of hundreds of thousands of casualties that are going to be treated in this area as they are triaged close to the front, brought back here and then tended in a in a massive hospital complex.

Yeah. And as Chris is working in Stonewall Jackson, I'm gonna work in some cavalry during the Union March down from Germany. Ford's Colonel Thomas Owen of the Third Virginia Cavalry are going to skirmish with the head of the Union Infantry Column. Not a major engagement, but it's going to take place roughly in the area of Wilderness Tavern. Again, not a major engagement, but just the Confederates. They unlimber a couple of guns fire into the head of the column, and then they dispersed just to let the Yankees know that they're still out there. They're still operating in the area.

So we just passed Brock Rd. which runs north-south. It's modern day Route 613. If you take that right hand turn at the Valero Mart, you would go 12 miles South Down to Spotsylvania Courthouse. Another May 1864 action, but you would also cross through the Brock Rd. Plank Rd. intersection. Very important intersection there in the wilderness battle in May of 1864. But the Brock Rd. is portion that we will follow in another video of Stonewall Jackson's famed flank March. In fact, we are entering into the very edges of the Chancellorsville battlefield right now. We're coming up into the area where Stonewall Jackson will start to deploy 3 divisions, nearly 31,000 men for an assault on the evening of May 2nd, 1863. The members of the American Battlefield Trust, as well as our friends at the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. Since around 1998 have worked very diligently to help put back together the flank attack area where Stonewall Jackson will launch that flamed famed flank attack on the evening of May 2nd. In fact, when we get past Laurel Hill Cemetery over here on the left hand side, we will see the National Park Service. Planned and that will be Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, encompassing more than 7500 acres down here in Virginia. And it is going to encompass Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville Wilderness and Spotsylvania. And it was established in 1927. So as we break out into the opening on the left, this opening would have been owned by the Hawkins as well as the tallies during the time of the battle, we would had a a farm off to our right kind of in the woods known as the Burton Farm, which plays a role in Stonewall Jackson's flank attack on meat, with Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E Lee's nephew, over there and kind of overlooked this area and. Overlook the union's right flank. We do think that fizzled. Took some, I don't know. He he took a little bit of a stretched imagination sometimes in his post war writings about exactly where they were and how much they saw and and things on that day. But we do know that Stonewall Jackson was just down this road for about 621 off to our right, the orange plank Rd. But there's all kinds of features out here on our right hand side. Is 42 acres that the trust as well as the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust has just preserved the site of Dawdles Tavern, which was a Tavern site owned by Melicia chancellor and was the headquarters of Union 11th Corps commander Oliver Otis Howard. So there's all kinds of things to see here. If you drive in from Germany or drive out to Germanna, and I know Dan wants to mention some cab coming up here on the right hand side, we'll see the wilderness presidential resort very shortly. Dan, anything about the 8th Pennsylvania cap?

Yeah. Pennsylvania Cavalry on the evening of May 2nd is going to ride up from Hazel Grove and reach the Orange Turnpike roughly in the area that we are about to or that we. Are approaching. Unfortunately for them, they're going to run right into the final stages of Jackson's famous flank attack, and we talked about this and a couple of our other videos with that, that fighting the fighting takes place roughly right here in this area. The 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, unfortunately, is going to be cut to pieces, but their division commander fellow named AL for Pleasanton, had an overly inflated. Opinion of himself will write to Joseph Hooker in so many words in his after action report that he single handedly with Warren Regiment was able to stop the entire Confederate offensive. All by himself.

I think our friend Eric Wittenberg said it perfectly. He's a compulsive liar.

This is a tough turn to make. I just want to caution folks when they do this themselves. The Route Route 3 is really busy and so you've got to make sure you're using extra caution as you cross the divided highway because it can get really busy and dangerous.

So we're on a historic Rd. trace. Come right back to it in a moment. I just want to show you the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center. We're going to visit here later on in our tour. This will be the wounding site of Stonewall Jackson will give that part of the story away, but this this property is a. A place where you can come to you can watch a 22 minute orientation film, take a 35 minute walking tour. You can see a museum go into a bookstore and you can also most importantly, use the restroom.

There's also a fantastic three mile hiking trail called the Chancellorsville History Loop Trail. If you come here in the mornings in the summertime, you're app to find me in my morning hike. It's an excellent way to see the the terrain that took that the the battle took place on in part or in part on on the 3rd of May and the some of the fall back position that hunters going to have on the 4th. Of May, and it's a great way to tour. On that ground.

OK, so this will give you a better angle of the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center. You can head on out here and check it out. The National Park Service Staffs this building year round, and we're gonna take her right up here right now. We're heading due West, and we're actually going to take her right here, onto the Bullock Rd. in 1863. This road did. Exist. There were a number of roads cutting through this area and the Bullock Rd. obviously was not an asphalt Rd. at the time. Over in the woods you might notice 3 structures as well as a water tank. The most historic structure, and the chancers of Battlefield is over there. That's where I used to live. So that's what makes it very historic and some of the Rangers do live on site here in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. They also we use them as offices. You might see houses. Scattered across the battlefield, non historic structures, those were built in the 19. 60s as we head down here along the Bullock Rd. we're heading roughly northeast. We're heading towards Ellies Ford Rd. We're heading kind of towards Fredericksburg at this point and we're driving through at some point. No man's land, where some Confederates on May 3rd will try to, but. Up against some of the Federals to the north, northeast of us. It won't go well for the Confederates. It's one of the more positive aspects of the battle. On May 3rd for the. Federals. And then we'll come up into a clearing here that was owned by Oscar and Catherine Bullock. They had about 300 acres here on the Chancellorsville battlefield, roughly 80 acres were what we would call them improved. And she will live here with her husband, be another a number of other folks living here, including five. Slaves, but most importantly to the story of the Battle of of Chancellorsville. There'll be a kid who lived here with her, one of her relatives named David Kyle, who serves as a guide. On the evening of May 2nd for Stonewall. Jackson, the bulk house was actually destroyed during the battle. At one point, Joe Hooker will be back here, laid on a blanket and nearly hit by an artillery shell for the second time during the battle. And that's something that we will cover here shortly. So we call up to the stop sign where at the apex over on the left you might see of hookers last line. This is a fall back position. For the Union Army of the Potomac, and we're making a right on to Elies Ford Rd. where we're heading towards the South SE now. And on the left hand side, you'll be seeing quickly a a road that's known as Hooker Drive and that will be part of the Union second core line. But you might notice a building tucked off into the woods and that will be and it's coming up just around this corner that will be a 1930s building built. By the Civilian Conservation Corps, who have a lot to do with the early construction of park roads and other facilities here at Chancellor. Still ahead, you might be able to see some red lights. That is the most important intersection for the chance result campaign, and that is the Chancellor. They'll intersection. We're going to make a right into auto tour. Stop #3 on the park driving tour. And that is the Chancellor House site itself. And we are going to jump out here in this video. Start another video to talk about the chancellor house, the chancellor, ladies Joe Hooker and the fighting that took place up here at the most important intersection of Chancellorsville.

The American Battlefield Trust and our members have saved more than 1365 acres at Chancellorsville. If you'd like to help in the ongoing preservation efforts there, you can find out more at our website, You can see a video version of this podcast episode on the American Battlefield. YouTube page search for Chancellorsville 160th anniversary. The Trust YouTube page has thousands of hours of great content covering not only the civil war, but the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and you can go beyond the military story to the political and social sides of American history and go from the big personalities to the common soldier and the civilians, all at the American battlefield. YouTube page and if you enjoyed today's podcast, please be sure to like, share, and subscribe. We'll have more episodes coming up and of course, don't forget to subscribe to the American Battlefield Press YouTube page as we. Thanks again to our historians Chris White, Dan Davis and Greg Mertz. And thanks to our audio engineer Jackson Mackowski. I'm Chris Mackowski for the American Battlefield trust. Thanks for all you do to support Battlefield preservation and education.
About the Podcast

Hosted by American Battlefield Trust historians, "Boom Goes the History" transcends traditional storytelling by leveraging the power of modern technology to transport listeners to the very locations where history unfolded. With vivid narration the series recreates the landscapes and scenarios of pivotal battles, providing a visceral experience that enhances the understanding of historical events.

Renowned historians, each an authority in their field, guide listeners through the intricate details of each battlefield, offering deep insights and contextualizing the significance of every skirmish. Their passion for history is contagious, making even the most complex narratives accessible and engaging for a diverse audience.

The podcast also boasts special guests, ranging from fellow historians to descendants of key historical figures, adding a layer of personal connection to the stories being told. These guests contribute unique perspectives, anecdotes, and familial insights, enriching the overall narrative and fostering a deeper appreciation for the human elements that shaped the course of history.

"Boom Goes the History" offers a fresh perspective on familiar tales, making history accessible, engaging, and relevant to a broad audience. By leveraging the expertise of passionate historians, this podcast series provides an immersive and educational experience that transcends the constraints of time, bringing the past into the present for a new generation of history enthusiasts.

Got a question or idea? Find us at

Related Topics


The American Battlefield Trust's Battle of Chancellorsville page includes history articles, battle maps, photos, video, and other historical resources...