|Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia
A stunning victory for the noted Southern
generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J.
"Stonewall" Jackson, Chancellorsville cost the
latter his life.
Battle of Chancellorsville
The boulder seen here was
the first placed to mark the site
where Stonewall Jackson was
Catharine Furnace Ruins
This iron furnace marked the
spot where Stonewall Jackson
turned left to begin his flanking
of the Union army.
Battle of Chancellorsville
Spotsylvania County, Virginia
|Copyright 2011 & 2017 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: April 29, 2017
Cannon at Chancellorsville
The battlefield today provides
a good understanding of the
nature of the historic fight.
Chancellor House Ruins
Chancellorsville was not really
a town, but instead was the
name of a crossroads where
the Chancellor House stood.
The Battle of Chancellorsville was a
major Confederate victory fought in
Spotsylvania County, Virginia. The site
is now part of the Fredericksburg &
Spotsylvania County Battlefields
Memorial National Military Park.
The battle developed when the Union
Army of the Potomac launched its
second major attempt to get across the
Rappahannock River. The first had
ended in disaster at the Battle of
Fredericksburg in December 1862.
The bloody debacle at Fredericksburg
led to a change in command for the
Federal army. General Joseph Hooker
was named to replace General
Photos by Savannah Brininstool
Hooker was proud of his nickname "Fighting Joe," but his tendency to have women of ill
repute around his camps caused his last name to be remembered even today in the term
Determined to use his overwhelming force in a pincer movement against General Robert E.
Lee's smaller Army of Northern Virginia, Hooker began crossing the Rappahannock in late
April of 1863. Hooker held a numerical superiority of more than 2 to 1 over the
Taking Lee by surprise, Hooker pushed across the river and by the afternoon of April 30th
had 50,000 men and 105 cannon in position in and around Chancellorsville, a vital road
junction in a heavily wooded area known as the Wilderness.
There, just when it seemed his plan might work, he inexplicably called a halt to his
operations for 24-hours. This gave the Confederates time to respond. Leaving his
headquarters at Fredericksburg and rushing to the threatened point, General Thomas J.
"Stonewall" Jackson boldly ordered two divisions of Southern troops to launch an immediate
Jackson's May 1st attack took the Federals by surprise and they quickly fell back and
began to entrench. This allowed time for Lee to bring up the main body of his army. Over
the objections of his generals, "Fighting Joe" decided to wage a defensive battle, claiming
to have Lee "just where I want him." The Southern commander was happy to oblige.
At around midnight on May 1, 1863, Lee's cavalry commander General J.E.B. Stuart arrived
at Lee's new headquarters to report that Hooker's right flank was entirely "up in the air."
This meant that it was poorly positioned and vulnerable to a flank attack.
Lee and Jackson now saw a chance to defeat an army of 130,000 men with a command of
Using a mere 14,000 men to demonstrate and hold Hooker in position, Lee sent Jackson
with 30,000 men in quiet flanking march through the tangled Wilderness. Jackson's
maneuver began on the morning of May 2, 1863.
Union soldiers caught glimpses of the Confederate movement from treetops on the high
ground at Chancellorsville and Federal cannon fired on Jackson's column. Hooker even
realized that a flanking movement was underway and warned General Oliver O. Howard on
his right flank to be ready.
As the morning passed, however, Hooker convinced himself that the Confederates were
really retreating. So convinced was he of the wisdom of his plan that he allowed General
Dan Sickles to strike at the rear of Jackson's column around Catharine Furnace, leaving
Howard completely without support. The move led to disaster.
After moving his men for 12 miles around the Union right on a narrow, twisting road,
Stonewall Jackson struck.
With darkness approaching, the famed Confederate general ordered a bugle sounded and
the Southern troops came storming out of the woods and smashed into the unprotected
right flank of Hooker's much larger army. Pandemonium resulted as the Confederates
drove Howard's men from position after position.
It became so dark by 7:15 p.m. that Jackson finally ordered his men to halt. He rode
forward to study the Union lines in person, but as he returned Confederate soldiers mistook
his small group of horsemen for the enemy and opened fire. General Jackson was seriously
wounded in a tragic "friendly fire" incident. Taken from the battlefield, he died nearby on
May 10, 1863.
Command of the flanking operation now fell to General "Jeb" Stuart, who drove forward the
next morning in an effort to link back up with Lee. Heavy artillery exchanges were followed
by bloody infantry fighting.
At this critical stage of the battle, Hooker was stunned by a Confederate cannon shot that
struck a pillar at Chancellorsville. He was forced to relinquish command, but not before
ordering his subordinates to begin looking for a way out.
Stuart, meanwhile, drove forward and the two wings of the Confederate army reunited. With
Lee now advancing simultaneously from the south and west, the Federals admitted defeat
Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jeb Stuart had achieved one of the most remarkable
military victories in history. The price, however, was high. The Union army lost 17,000 men
while the Confederates lost 14,000. The brilliant Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson would
never fight again.
The Battle of Chancellorsville opened the door for Lee's invasion of the North. That
campaign would end on the bloody fields of Gettysburg in July.
The Chancellorsville Battlefield is seven miles west of I-95 on Route 3 (Exit 130A). The
Chancellorsville Visitor Center will be on your right and is an excellent place to begin your
visit. The park also features a 12 mile driving tour and miles of walking trails.
Entry to the park is free, but there is a small fee to view the film at the Visitor Center.
Please click here to learn more.