The following is the Editor’s Letter from Chancellorsville Pt.2, Volume 29, #5
Lee’s Greatest Victory
The reaction to last issue’s part one of a two-issue treatment of Chancellorsville, Blue & Gray’s choice to kick off the 1863 Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration, has been highly favorable, and a curiosity to some readers. Longtime subscribers, some as far back as Vol. I, #1, were surprised to learn, or to realize, that during the past 30 years we had never done a feature on the battle.
You may recall that we got the same reaction in 2011, when First Manassas was chosen to lead off the 1861 commemoration, another battle we had never featured. I’d like to claim it was all part of a brilliant long-range plan, but that is not the case. It just happened that way.
Frank A. O’Reilly, the author of our two-part feature, knows a great deal about Chancellorsville. He has studied, lectured on, and written about the battle, as well as led tours of the battlefield, for many years. It seems only natural that O’Reilly, who lived at Guiney Station for 20 years—where Stonewall Jackson, wounded on May 2, 1863, was taken after the amputation of his left arm—would have a special affinity for the events there and the people involved. Jackson’s famed flank march, his wounding by friendly fire in the dark woods, and his death eight days later at Guiney Station were well chronicled by O’Reilly in part one. Also detailed were the opening moves of the campaign and the rout of the XI Corps.
The horrific action on May 3, 1863, the bloodiest day of the campaign, decided the Battle of Chancellorsville in favor of the Confederates. It has gone down in history as Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory. For the first time in this war, the growing reverence toward Lee by the men of the Army of Northern Virginia burst forth in a spontaneous outpouring of devotion amid the wreckage of the battlefield and the smoldering remains of the Chancellor house.
By the same token, Chancellorsville was one of the North’s greatest blunders. Army of the Potomac commander Joseph Hooker’s actions and decisions contributed mightily to Lee’s victory. The Union commander’s poor judgment calls after deftly stealing a march on Lee in late April, include misusing the only three horse regiments he had with him, and misjudging the enemy’s movements and intentions. These factors led to disaster for the XI Corps on May 2. The main blood-letting on the 3rd is the focus of this issue. Hooker’s decision making was further affected by a serious injury to the general on the 3rd.
This important 1863 campaign, which paved the way to Gettysburg, includes more than Lee and Hooker battling it out around the Chancellorsville intersection. Events that occurred to the east, known as the Second Battle of Fredericksburg and Salem Church, where a part of Lee’s divided army faced the Union VI Corps, will be featured in a future issue.