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Chancellorsville - May 1, 1863

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Chancellorsville - May 1, 1863
Chancellorsville - May 1, 1863

American Battlefield Trust’s map of the Battle of Chancellorsville

On April 27, 1863 – three days before the historic Battle of Chancellorsville – Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker led the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps on a campaign to turn the Confederate left flank by crossing the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers above Fredericksburg. Passing the Rapidan via Germanna and Ely’s Fords, the Federals concentrated near Chancellorsville on April 30 and May 1.

The Third Corps was ordered to join the army via United States Ford. Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps and Gibbon’s division of the Second Corps remained to demonstrate against the Confederates at Fredericksburg. In the meantime, Lee left a covering force under Maj. Gen. Jubal Early in Fredericksburg and marched with the rest of his army to confront the large Federal force.

As Hooker’s army moved toward Fredericksburg on the Orange Turnpike, they encountered increasing Confederate resistance. Hearing reports of overwhelming Confederate force, Hooker ordered his army to suspend the advance and to concentrate again at Chancellorsville. Pressed closely by Lee’s advance, Hooker adopted a defensive posture, thus giving Lee the initiative. 

After learning that the Union right flank was “hanging in the air”, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson settled upon a highly aggressive plan that would march Jackson's forces around the Union positions and onto that exposed flank.  After a hard and dusty march on May 2, Jackson’s column reached its jumping off point for their attack upon the unsuspecting Federal right flank. At 5:20 pm, Jackson’s line surged forward in an overwhelming attack that crushed the Union Eleventh Corps. Federal troops rallied, resisted the advance, and counterattacked. Disorganization and darkness ended the fighting. While making a night reconnaissance, Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men and carried from the field - a serious blow to the Army of Northern Virginia.

J.E.B. Stuart took temporary command of Jackson’s Corps. On May 3, the Confederates attacked with both wings of the army and massed their artillery at Hazel Grove. This finally broke the Federal line at Chancellorsville. Hooker withdrew a mile and entrenched in a defensive “U” with his back to the river at United States Ford. On the night of May 5-6, after Union reverses at Salem Church, Hooker crossed to the north bank of the Rappahannock. This battle is considered by many historians to be Lee’s greatest victory.

Learn More: The Battle of Chancellorsville