In the aftermath of defeat at Chancellorsville, the XI Corps received the bulk of the blame. They had run, had crumbled under Jackson’s attack without resistance. They were labeled cowards and forevermore known as the “Flying Dutchmen.” The nickname was earned within a short period of time on the battlefield but the series of events that caused the XI Corps’ flight was put into action long before that moment, even before the armies knew they would meet in the Wilderness west of Fredericksburg.Read More
Four hundred cavalrymen splashed across the icy waters of the Rappahannock River in central Virginia, moving north into enemy territory. The Confederate cavaliers, undeterred by the bitter cold and snowfall nearly eighteen inches deep, consisted of some of the Old Dominion’s finest: portions of the First, Second and Third Virginia Cavalry. At the gray-clad column’s head was twenty-eight year-old Fitzhugh Lee, nephew to Robert E. Lee and already a grim veteran of war’s horrors. On this day, February 24, 1863, Brigadier General Fitz Lee led his men across the Rappahannock in reconnaissance, seeking to determine what movements, if any, the Union Army of the Potomac was undertaking around Fredericksburg. The mission’s directive had come from Robert E. Lee himself.Read More
Daniel Sickles was an infamous figure even before the war began. Sickles is notorious for his role in the Battle of Gettysburg, a role that was debated between generals and officers after the war, a debate that continues today. The III Corps under Sickles arrived at the battlefield over a period of time from the evening of July 1 after the fighting had calmed for the day into the morning of July 2. Meade intended the corps to extend his line along Cemetery Ridge, attaching themselves to the end of the II Corps line and ending at the base of Little Round Top. Whether Sickles misunderstood his orders or willfully disobeyed them, the III Corps ended up in another position entirely.Read More
Complacency endangers history. The first plausible answer is not always the correct or solitary one, yet all too often we content ourselves with simplistic solutions to murky questions. Civil War historians have grappled with the Battle of Chancellorsville for nearly 150 years, and we (surprisingly) we still have very simple rejoinders for why Joseph Hooker and the Army of the Potomac lost a struggle which they entered into with every advantage. Joe Hooker lost the Battle of Chancellorsville because of his own arrogance and errors. Joe Hooker lost Chancellorsville because he was no match for the Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Fighting Joe Hooker lost Chancellorsville simply because Fighting Joe Hooker lost confidence in himself.
In all likelihood, there are grains of truth to all these theories. Yet one should be careful of placing too much emphasis on anyone of them singularly. Instead, I wish to focus on a forgotten answer to the age old question of what went wrong for the Union army and Joe Hooker in May of 1863. On the morning of May 3rd, General Hooker was wounded, probably suffering a severe concussion received from Confederate artillery fire. This event, minimized and overlooked in many accounts of the battle, perhaps played a far greater role at Chancellorsville than history has given credit for.Read More
On the morning of May 3, 1863, Confederate soldiers slunk through the thick foliage that dominated the Wilderness around the Orange Turnpike and the tiny hamlet of Chancellorsville, Virginia. Around 5:30am, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, outnumbered, outgunned, and divided, unleashed a series of brutal frontal assaults on the Union positions around the Chancellor House. By the late morning, over a span of five hours, the Confederates had battered and broken the will of Joseph Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac, compelling him to abandon the intersection near Chancellorsville and retreat back towards the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers.Read More