Despite the heavy casualties sustained there, the Battle of Chancellorsville is considered Gen. Robert E. Lee’s greatest military victory. It was the last battle for Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who was mortally wounded by friendly fire.

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How it ended

Confederate victory. General Robert E. Lee’s audacious decision to take on Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac, though he had less than half the number of men, resulted in an improbable win for the South. Hooker’s timidity in battle led to poor choices and a huge disappointment for the North.

In context

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside lasted only a single campaign as the head of the Army of the Potomac. His abject failure at Fredericksburg in December 1862, followed by further fumbling on January"s "Mud March," convinced President Abraham Lincoln to make another change in army commanders. He appointed 48-year-old Massachusetts native Joseph Hooker to take charge.

Hooker"s energetic make-over polished the Union army into tip-top condition, and he declared them “the finest army on the planet.” With complete confidence, Hooker orchestrated a “perfect” plan to confront Lee and drive him from his camp at Fredericksburg. Though outmanned, Lee did not retreat. He met Hooker’s challenge head on, engaging him in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Brilliant tactics by Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson thwarted Hooker’s ambitions and resulted in a victory for the South. Buoyed by the outcome, Lee later launched an offensive into Pennsylvania, where the opposing armies met on the battlefield in Gettysburg in July 1863.


Seizing the initiative, Hooker develops a plan to trap Lee’s army around Fredericksburg between two pincers of his force. The calvary will ride toward Richmond and sever Lee’s communication with the Confederate capital. The infantry will cross the Rappahannock River, get behind the Confederate defenses, and sweep east against Lee’s left flank. “My plans are perfect,” Hooker boasts, “and when I start to carry them out, may God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none.” Part of Hooker’s confidence may be due to the fact that Lee’s valuable officer, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, is away on a resupply mission, leaving Lee with only 60,000 troops to confront Hooker’s 130,000 men.

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Hooker starts his campaign on April 27 and marches his men toward the Rappahannock. Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corp erects pontoon bridges below Fredericksburg. By April 29, the Federals are on Lee’s side of the river.