by Andy Mateja

Chancellorsville, arguably Lee’s greatest battlefield victory, is a prime example of positive results when battlefield generals are on the same page with their army commander and are willing to support him unconditionally to achieve VICTORY.
In April 1863, Maj Gen Joseph Hooker, the new commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, developed a daring plan to flank Gen Robert E Lee out of his impregnable position on Mayre’s Heights at Fredericksburg and to destroy his Army of Northern Virginia once and for all.
Hooker has amassed 130,000 troops to undertake this bold move. Lee on the other had had reduced his forces to about 60,000 men after detaching Gen Longstreet with two of his divisions to ward off a Union encroachment in Southeastern Virginia and while there, to forage for food and other supplies. Lee in essence was out numbered more than two-to-one at the start of this campaign.
Hooker initially dispatched his huge cavalry corps on a raid toward Richmond to divert Lee’s attention. Hooker then divided his forces, leaving 40,000 in front of Fredericksburg while he moved with the rest around Lee’s left flank in an attempt to attack him from behind. Hooker was attempting a pincer movement on Lee’s forces with the goal of crushing his entire army.
Hooker’s flanking movement almost went unnoticed. He we discovered when crossing at the river fords. Lee now had to determine if the main Union threat was from the front at Fredericksburg or from the flanking movement….. Consulting with his trusted subordinate – Gen Stonewall Jackson, Jackson suggested Lee should attack and destroy the Union forces in from of them at Fredericksburg. Lee disagreed and felt the move would be too dangerous, particularly from the Union artillery atop Stafford Heights. Jackson, unlike Longstreet who sulked at Gettysburg when overruled by Lee, decided to examine the ground for himself to see if Lee’s assessment was correct. After review Jackson DID concur with Lee and joined his commander in planning a counter-move to Hooker’s flanking endeavor.
Lee began his movement by ordering Longstreet’s remaining two divisions – Anderson’s & McLaw’s, to move west and concentrate around the small group of buildings called “Chancellorsville”. Jack would follow with his divisions, except for Jubal Early’s, who would remain on Marye’s Heights to observe and hold back if possible the Union forces remaining there.
When Jackson reached Anderson’s & McLaws divisions digging in at Chancellorsville, he took the initiative and ordered them to move further west into the wilderness to halt the anticipated approach of the Union forces. Jackson felt that moving forward with these and this other three divisions would be a more effective strategy than digging in waiting to be attacked.
He was right. Hooker, who thought he pulled a fast one over Lee was caught off guard by the aggressive nature of the Confederate movement and immediately moved to a defensive posture as he did not expect Lee’s forces to be where they were. When Lee arrived on the scene, he approved of Jacksons proactive modification of his original orders to Anderson & McLaws and supported Jackson to the fullest.
When later meeting with Lee at the now famous crossroads of the Orange Plank and Catherine Furnace Roads, Jackson believed Hookers forces would pull back during the night. Lee was not too sure and suggested that Jackson be ready to attack the Union forces in the morning if they remained in place. Lee’s idea was using reverse psychology…..flank Hookers forces the same way Hooker tried to do to Lee.
Lee wanted Jackson to march around the Union right flank, which he believed was the weakest part of their line. Lee and his engineers already scoped out the Union left flank and center and felt they were too strong for direct assault. Also Hooker’s left flank was anchored on the Rappahannock River.
However Lee wanted to be sure before ordering Jackson to move. Fate once again stepped in and a reported was provided by another of Lee’s trusted subordinates- Gen J.E.B. Stuart , undertaking a reconnaissance mission on his own initiative, confirmed that the Union right flank was “in the air” and vulnerable to attack. Lee then posed the question to Jackson… “How can we get to those people?” Without hesitation, Jackson’s response was “You know best – Show me what to do and we will try to do it “demonstrating once again Stonewall Jackson’s unswerving devotion to Robert E. Lee.
Now they had to find a way around the Union forces undetected. Jackson’s chaplain knew of an individual in the area familiar with the local roads and a plan was drawn up for the movement of Jackson’s men. They would march 12 miles and come up on the exposed Union right flank by late afternoon on May 2nd. In the morning, Lee and Jackson, both sitting on the same cracker box discussed the move whereas Lee would remain with 14,000 men to hold Hooker’s attention while Jackson made his flank march with 28,000 men. Lee also having complete confidence in Jackson gave his approval and the movement began.
As planned, by later afternoon Jackson’s forces were in place and initiated their flank attack that rolled up the Union right and created panic through their ranks. Hooker definitely was not expecting anything like this and tried in vain to rally his disorganized troops. Jackson’s attack would have been completely successful had there been a few more hours of daylight. He reluctantly had to call off the attack when it became too dark to see.
During the night Jackson wanted to reconnoiter for himself Fate again stepped in-this time in a negative way for the Confederates. Jackson, being mistaken in the dark as part of a cavalry contingent, was accidently shot and severely wounded by his own men. His left arm was amputated later that night and tragically died from complications eight days later.
Stonewall Jackson who once said of Lee – “So great is my confidence in General Lee that I am willing to follow him blindfolded” was now lost to Lee for the remainder of the battle. Someone had to command Jackson’s victorious troops the next morning to complete the glorious victory and reconnect with Lee’s 14,000 troops. Since Jackson’s senior division commander was also wounded the night before, command of his forces was transferred to JEB Stuart. Stuart had ridden with Jacking during his flank march the day before while a brigade of his cavalry led the way. Stuart was the next ranking officer and even though not an infantry commander, had the battlefield experience and Lee’s confidence to make sure Jackson’s victory was complete. After all, Lee’s forces were still divided and Hooker’s army, while badly shaken by Jackson’s attack, still outnumbered Lee’s army and with aggressive leadership, could have destroyed Lee’s divided forces piecemeal.
Without hesitation, Stuart renewed Jackson’s attack early the next morning and utilized Jackson’s artillery to support the attack. He pushed the Union troops off of the high ground and positioned his batteries there which swept the Union troops all the way back to Hooker’s headquarters at the Chancellor House. One of the cannon shots actually struck a pillar that Hooker was leaning against which caused him to fall to the ground senseless.
Stuart rode at the forefront of Jackson’s troops personally leading them on. He was either shouting “Forward Men! Forward! Just Follow Me “ and even began singing “Old Joe Hooker Get Out of the Wilderness” Eventually Stuart’s forces linked up with Lee’s and together they pushed Hookers army back to the Rappahannock , which they retreated over during the next few days.
JEB Stuart, without knowledge of the field or troop dispositions and without the aid Jacksons staff (most stayed with Jackson after his wounding) succeeded in completing the task he was assigned.
Lee had won his greatest victory, despite overwhelming odds, in part due to the loyal support of Stonewall Jackson and JEB Stuart. Despite differing opinions and lack of battlefield knowledge, with given orders by General Lee, BOTH followed them to the letter without question. Too bad that was not the same case at Gettysburg…. two months later
Lee-Jackson-Stuart worked in unison during the Battle of Chancellorsville. Sadly Lee would be without both of their loyal services in the next year…………Jackson on May 10th 1863 and Stuart on May 12th 1864.