Thursday, December 21, 2006
Hooker aligned himself with the 'Radical Republicans', who were among President Lincoln's fiercest critics, and he shared their hatred of the South. "May God have mercy on Robert E. Lee," he once vowed, "for I shall have none." Gen. Hooker's character often came into question. He allowed so many "camp followers" to set up shop near his headquarters that for ages to come prostitutes would be known as "hookers."
Gen. Hooker's plan to flank Gen. Lee's forces called for a three pronged movement. The main force would move up along the Rappahannock River, cross at well-known fords, and concentrate on Lee's left flank at a crossroads known as Chancellorsville. Chancellorsville consisted of a large brick tavern named Chancellorsville which dominated the intersection of the Orange Turnpike with the Orange Plank, Ely's Ford, and River roads. "This is splendid," exulted one of Hooker's corps commanders, "Hurrah for Old Joe." A second force would cross the river at Fredericksburg in a demonstration designed to divert Lee's attention from the main attack. Meanwhile a third Federal force would cross the river below Fredericksburg to envelop and crush Lee's Army when it was forced to retreat. Hooker had 130,000 troops; Lee could marshal about 60,000.
Hooker's main force reached Chancellorsville virtually unopposed. He proclaimed that "The Rebel army is now legitimate property of the Arny of the Potomac," The other Federal forces, however, were not so fortunate as they were not familiar with the topography and lacked adequate maps and therefore proceeded cautiously. Inexplicably, Gen. Hooker halted his advance on April 30th.
Lee learned that Hooker's right flank lay unprotected. Lee employed a bold plan that defied traditional military doctrine; he divided his army in the presence of a vastly superior force. He moved 15,000 troops to his front on a feint that kept Hooker's attention focused away from the exposed right flank. He then dispatched Gen. 'Stonewall' Jackson with approximately 30,000 troops to attack the exposed flank. As the Federal soldiers were settling down around their campfires for supper, Jackson's rebel force charged out of the woods.
Suddenly, a bugle rang out in the afternoon shadows. Bugles everywhere echoed the notes up and down the line. As waves of sweat-soaked soldiers rolled forward, the high defiance of the Rebel Yell pierced the gloomy woods. Jackson's Corps erupted from the trees and sent the astonished Unionists reeling. "Along the road it was pandemonium," recalled a Massachusetts soldier, "and on the side of the road it was chaos." Most of Howard's men fought bravely, drawing three additional battle lines across Jackson's path. But the over matched Federals occupied an untenable position. The screaming gray legions overwhelmed each Union stand and eventually drove the Eleventh Corps completely from the field. The Rebel charge was a sledgehammer blow that put thousands of Federal troops into a chaotic retreat. Jackson's surprise attack had shattered Hooker's army and his strategy beyond repair. Fighting would continue for another day, with even greater Union losses. Lee lost thirteen thousand troops, while inflicting about eighteen thousand casualties on the enemy.
The battle of Chancellorsville was Robert E. Lee's greatest triumph. But it was also very costly in that General Thomas Jonathan Jackson was severely wounded by one of his own pickets by mistake in the dark of night. Jackson died on May 10, 1863 if complications of his wound. "I know not how to replace him," Lee lamented.
The Daily Dispatch: May 5, 1863.
A glorious Confederate victory.
In the language of Gen. Lee's gratifying dispatch, of the 3rd of May, to President Davis, "We have again to thank Almighty God for a great victory." This grand and important triumph was achieved on Saturday. Gen Lee says in the beginning of his dispatch. "Yesterday Gen. Jackson penetrated to the rear of the enemy; and drove him to within one mile of Chancellorsville. This morning the battle was renewed." He (the enemy) was dislodged from all his positions around Chancellorsville and driven back towards the Rappahannock, over which he is now retreating." Many prisoners were captured. Gen. Lee states that the enemy's loss was heavy, and as he was in the act of retreating, it is to be hoped was still further to be increased. Our loss is killed and wounded, of course, must be considerable in such an engagement, but was much less than that of the enemy. The whole country will be distressed to learn that Gen. Jackson is seriously wounded. The prayers of every one in the South will go up to Heaven for his recovery, and his restoration to the country and the cause, in the field of battle.
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