At a crossroads mansion named Chancellorsville, in a dense forest locals called “The Wilderness,” Union General Joseph Hooker had assembled about 70,000 of his infantry. They were nine miles from the Virginia town of Fredericksburg on the 30th of April, 1863.
Absolutely confident he had Lee and the Confederates in a vice grip, Hooker told his men:
It is with heartfelt satisfaction the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.
General Hooker’s boast was premature. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson would not “ingloriously fly” from a potential battle. But they would, in a daring maneuver, give Hooker a fight on his own ground. It would not happen, however, the way the Union commander expected.
Lee knew he was outnumbered. His scouts had reported a serious situation - except for one potential bright spot. "Jeb" Stuart" reported that three miles west of Chancellorsville, Hooker’s right flank was “in the air.”
These blue coats were not dug in and would not expect an attack. To successfully surprise them, Lee would have to split his already outnumbered force into three units. If any one of those units were attacked, the results would be catastrophic.
Stonewall led the Second Corps - about 30,000 infantry and artillery - on a roundabout march. Screened by Stuart’s cavalry and guided by a local resident along a little-known path leading to an iron-smelting furnace, Jackson's plan was to surprise the vulnerable right flank of Hooker’s army, the 11th Corps commanded by Oliver Otis Howard.
Observing absolute quiet and secrecy, the Confederates would not attack until about 5 p.m. on May 2nd.
The Institute will be heard from today.
In one of the most daringly conceived and brilliantly executed operations in American military history, Jackson and his men crushed Hooker’s right flank.