Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30 - May 6, 1863)

Updated: July 17, 2013

The Battle of Chancellorsville was fought in and around the town of Chancellorsville, Virginia, from April 30 to May 6, 1863. In what many historians believe to be Confederate General Robert E. Lee's greatest victory, the Army of Northern Virginia defeated Major General Joseph Hooker's Army of the Potomac, despite being out-manned nearly two to one. The South, however, suffered a devastating blow when General Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire during the battle.

Following yet another decisive Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862) and General Ambrose Burnside's failed January "Mud March," President Abraham Lincoln was again searching for someone to lead his Federal forces to victory in the field in the Eastern Theater. In January 1863, he replaced Burnside with Major General Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac. "Fighting Joe" Hooker had a reputation for hard living and hard fighting. Hooker quickly set about reorganizing the Army of the Potomac and improving discipline and general living conditions for his troops. By the spring of 1863, morale within the army had been restored, and Hooker was ready to take on Robert E. Lee.

In the spring of 1863, the bulk of Lee's army was well entrenched along the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Wishing to avoid a costly head-on encounter, Hooker devised a three-part plan to entrap and defeat the Army of Northern Virginia. First, Hooker sent half of his army to cross the Rappahannock downstream from Fredericksburg, hoping to tie down most of Lee's army. Second, he sent most of the remainder of his army to cross the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers upstream, to the west, leaving Lee's army in a pincer. Each wing of the pincer was nearly the size of Lee's army. Finally, Hooker sent his entire cavalry around Lee's army to cut off his supply lines and communications with Richmond.

On April 26, the plan was put into action. The right wing of the Union army crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan. By April 30, the force had advanced to an area of near impenetrable thickets and bogs known locally as the Wilderness. Meanwhile, the Union left wing crossed the Rappahannock downstream and entrenched. Bad weather delayed the start of the cavalry movement until April 29, reducing any impact it might have had on Lee's supply lines during the battle. Seeing the Union left wing dig in convinced Lee that the major threat to his army was Hooker's flanking right wing. Therefore, he sent the bulk of his army off to meet Hooker near the Wilderness.

For unknown reasons, Hooker halted his advance through the Wilderness on April 30, assuming a defensive position and thereby limiting the maneuverability of his army in the dense forest. Lee seized the initiative and boldly split his army again to attack Hooker while the dense undergrowth hampered the Federals. On May 2, Stonewall Jackson marched his corps of approximately 28,000 men twelve miles via roundabout roads around Hooker's right flank, leaving Lee with fewer than 15,000 troops facing 70,000 Federals. Late in the afternoon, Jackson's troops slammed into the unsuspecting Union army, and Hooker's entire right flank collapsed within a quarter of an hour. Despite the huge numerical superiority of his army, Hooker became unnerved and began falling back through the Wilderness. That night, Jackson went out on a reconnaissance mission to scout the possibility of a moonlit attack to finish off Hooker's army. As Jackson returned, Rebel sentries mistakenly identified his party as Federals and accidentally shot him. Although the wound was not initially mortal, Jackson died from complications eight days later, striking a serious blow to the Confederacy.

On May 3, J.E.B. Stuart assumed command of Jackson's corps and continued to pursue the retreating Federals. Hooker called upon the other half of his army, commanded by Major General John Sedgwick, to break though the Confederate forces at Fredericksburg and to come to his aid by attacking Lee's rear. Sedgwick did eventually break through, but it was too late to help Hooker's retreating men. During the fighting on May 3, Hooker was injured when a Confederate cannonball hit a wooden pillar he was leaning against at his headquarters, causing him to become even more unnerved. When Lee faced Sedgwick's advancing troops on May 4, Hooker remained in a defensive posture, passing up the opportunity to crush Lee between the two wings of his still numerically superior army. On May 5, as a result of miscommunication, Sedgwick retreated north, across the Rappahannock, near Fredericksburg. Upon learning that Sedgwick had retreated, Hooker withdrew his entire army back across the Rappahannock on May 6, concluding another Federal defeat against Lee.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville included:

Infantry units:

  • 4th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 5th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 7th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 25th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 29th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 55th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 61st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 66th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 73rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 75th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 82nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 107th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

  • Battery H, 1st Ohio Light Artillery
  • Battery I, 1st Ohio Light Artillery
  • Battery K, 1st Ohio Light Artillery
  • Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery
  • 12th Ohio Light Artillery Battery

Cavalry units:

  • 6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

Despite being greatly outnumbered (133,000 to 61,000), Lee had achieved an amazing victory but at a high cost. The Rebels inflicted a higher number of casualties than the Federals (17,000 to 13,000), but they suffered a higher percentage of losses. On the Union side, Lincoln relieved Hooker of command on June 28, replacing him with George Meade just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg.

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Battle of Chancellorsville," Ohio Civil War Central, 2014, Ohio Civil War Central. 15 Sep 2014 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=206>

APA Style

"Battle of Chancellorsville." (2014) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved September 15, 2014, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=206

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