After replacing General Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac, General Joseph Hooker revamped the army and prepared them to take on the Confederates.
On April 30, 1863, Hooker tried to out maneuver Confederate General Robert E. Lee by leading his 120,000-man army across the Rappahannock River in Virginia. Hooker’s forces were positioned on Lee’s supposedly vulnerable flank and outnumbered the Confederates 2-to-1.
On May 1, 1863, Lee’s second in command, General Stonewall Jackson, took 28,000 men, nearly half of the 60,000 Confederate force and headed north, while Lee lead his other troops in an attack of Hooker’s forces, hoping to distract them from Jackson’s movements. The ploy worked as when Hooker received word of the movement, he assumed that Jackson’s forces were retreating away from the larger Union army.
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On this day, May 2, 1863, Hooker decided to take up a defensive position to avoid the Confederate trenches near Chancellorsville. In the meantime, Jackson’s force turned back north to come up behind the flank of the Union forces. Union scouts reported Jackson’s movements, but any reports of his approach were general dismissed as overreaction on part of the sentries.
Towards the evening, Union General Oliver Otis Howard and his 11th Corps, were settling down for supper. Many of the Union soldiers were playing cards and generally relaxing. Suddenly, bugles sounded all along the line of the thick woods behind Howard’s troops. A large number of animals came charging out of the woods with Jackson’s men right behind as they surprised Howard’s troops. The Union soldiers ran in retreat for nearly 2 miles, before turning and trying to stop the Confederate charge.
Howard’s men tried three times to make a stand against the advancing Confederate forces, but each time, the stand was futile and easily overrun by the Rebel forces.
As darkness descended upon the battle field, Jackson sent Major General A.P. Hill and his division forward in hopes of continuing the battle into the night and dividing the Union forces and cutting off some of the possible retreat routes.
Emboldened by his apparent victory, Jackson road ahead of his troops to scout out the situation. When he rode back to his advancing troops, a Confederate force from North Carolina mistook Jackson for a Union scout and opened fire on him. Jackson was hit three times, but not killed. The next morning, Jackson’s arm was amputated in an attempt to save his life. A week later, General Stonewall Jackson died as a result of the friendly fire.
Even though Jackson ended up getting mortally wounded, his actions were instrumental in the Confederate defeat of the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville as Hooker was driven into retreat, taking his forces with him back to Washington DC.
Sources for the above includes: Confederates deliver blow to Union at Chancellorsville; Chancellorsville; Battle of Chancellorsville; Battle of Chancellorsville begins; Battle of Chancellorsville History; Chancellorsville: Virginia Civil War; The Battle of Chancellorsville; American Civil War Timeline 1863; American Civil War Timeline 1863.