The Greatest Civil War Battles: The Battle of Chancellorsville

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The Battle of Chancellorsville:

It was his last act as commander. Night attacks like the one Jackson contemplated at Chancellorsville were extremely rare during the Civil War not because of fatigue but because of the difficulty of fighting in the dark. Even under the best of conditions, Civil War battles were chaotic and confusing affairs: absent modern communications technologies, regiments depended on brightly-colored flags and uniforms to distinguish friend from foe. Even in daylight, troops sometimes mistook friendly regiments for enemy units: the thick, heavy smoke produced by Civil War firearms hung close to the ground, obscuring lines, and in the first years of the war many units on both sides employed nonstandard uniforms.

Nighttime amplified these problems, making it nearly impossible to determine the position of friendly and enemy units. Jackson himself became the best-known Civil War victim of friendly fire. On the morning of May 2, Lieutenant General T. Jackson directed his corps to move against the Union left flank, which was reported to be separated from the rest. Union troops rallied and were able to resist the attack and even counterattack. Fighting eventually ended due to darkness and disorganization on both sides.

During the nighttime reconnaissance, Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire. He was carried from the field. On May 3, the Confederate forces attacked with both sides of the army, massing their artillery at Hazel Grove. This finally broke the Union line at Chancellorsville. Paxton were killed. After waiting about 15 minutes, about 80 Union cannons added to the din.

The Army of Northern Virginia was critically low on artillery ammunition, and the cannonade did not significantly affect the Union position. Around 3 p. In the Union center, the commander of artillery had held fire during the Confederate bombardment in order to save it for the infantry assault, which Meade had correctly predicted the day before , leading Southern commanders to believe the Northern cannon batteries had been knocked out.

However, they opened fire on the Confederate infantry during their approach with devastating results. Nearly one half of the attackers did not return to their own lines. Although the Union line wavered and broke temporarily at a jog called the "Angle" in a low stone fence, just north of a patch of vegetation called the Copse of Trees, reinforcements rushed into the breach, and the Confederate attack was repulsed.


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The farthest advance of Brig. Lewis A. Armistead 's brigade of Maj. George Pickett 's division at the Angle is referred to as the " High-water mark of the Confederacy ", arguably representing the closest the South ever came to its goal of achieving independence from the Union via military victory. Armistead ordered his Confederates to turn two captured cannons against Union troops, but discovered that there was no ammunition left, the last double canister shots having been used against the charging Confederates.

Armistead was wounded shortly afterward three times. There were two significant cavalry engagements on July 3. Stuart was sent to guard the Confederate left flank and was to be prepared to exploit any success the infantry might achieve on Cemetery Hill by flanking the Union right and hitting their trains and lines of communications.

David McMurtrie Gregg 's division and Brig. Custer's brigade. A lengthy mounted battle, including hand-to-hand sabre combat, ensued. Custer's charge, leading the 1st Michigan Cavalry, blunted the attack by Wade Hampton's brigade, blocking Stuart from achieving his objectives in the Union rear. Meanwhile, after hearing news of the day's victory, Brig.

Judson Kilpatrick launched a cavalry attack against the infantry positions of Longstreet's Corps southwest of Big Round Top. Elon J. Farnsworth protested against the futility of such a move, but obeyed orders. Farnsworth was killed in the attack, and his brigade suffered significant losses. Many authors have referred to as many as 28, Confederate casualties, [81] and Busey and Martin's more recent work, Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg , documents 23, 4, killed, 12, wounded, 5, captured or missing.

In addition to being the deadliest battle of the war, Gettysburg also had the highest number of generals killed in action. Johnston Pettigrew during the retreat after the battle. Zook , Stephen H. Weed , and Elon J. Farnsworth , as well as Strong Vincent , who after being mortally wounded was given a deathbed promotion to brigadier general.

For the Confederacy, Major General John Bell Hood lost the use of his left arm, while Major General Henry Heth received a shot to the head on the first day of battle though incapacitated for the rest of the battle, he remarkably survived without long term injuries, credited in part due to his hat stuffed full of paper dispatches.

Confederate Generals James L.

Gods and Generals ~Battle of Antietam

Kemper and Isaac R. Trimble were severely wounded during Pickett's charge and captured during the Confederate retreat. General James J. Archer , in command of a brigade that most likely was responsible for killing Reynolds, was taken prisoner shortly after Reynolds' death. The following tables summarize casualties by corps for the Union and Confederate forces during the three-day battle.

Bruce Catton wrote, "The town of Gettysburg looked as if some universal moving day had been interrupted by catastrophe. Burns , a year old veteran of the War of who walked to the front lines on the first day of battle and participated in heavy combat as a volunteer, receiving numerous wounds in the process.

Despite his age and injuries, Burns survived the battle and lived until Over 3, horse carcasses [88] were burned in a series of piles south of town; townsfolk became violently ill from the stench. The armies stared at one another in a heavy rain across the bloody fields on July 4, the same day that, some miles 1, km away, the Vicksburg garrison surrendered to Maj. Ulysses S. Lee had reformed his lines into a defensive position on Seminary Ridge the night of July 3, evacuating the town of Gettysburg. The Confederates remained on the battlefield, hoping that Meade would attack, but the cautious Union commander decided against the risk, a decision for which he would later be criticized.

Both armies began to collect their remaining wounded and bury some of the dead. A proposal by Lee for a prisoner exchange was rejected by Meade. Cavalry under Brig. John D. Imboden was entrusted to escort the miles-long wagon train of supplies and wounded men that Lee wanted to take back to Virginia with him, using the route through Cashtown and Hagerstown to Williamsport, Maryland.

Meade's army followed, although the pursuit was half-spirited. The recently rain-swollen Potomac trapped Lee's army on the north bank of the river for a time, but when the Union troops finally caught up, the Confederates had forded the river. The rear-guard action at Falling Waters on July 14 added some more names to the long casualty lists, including General Pettigrew, who was mortally wounded.

Kemper , severely wounded during Pickett's charge, was captured during Lee's retreat. In a brief letter to Maj. Henry W. Halleck written on July 7, Lincoln remarked on the two major Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. He continued:. Now, if Gen. Meade can complete his work so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee's army, the rebellion will be over. Halleck then relayed the contents of Lincoln's letter to Meade in a telegram.

However, the Army of the Potomac was exhausted by days of fighting and heavy losses. Furthermore, Meade was forced to detach 4, troops North to suppress the New York City Draft Riots [94] , further reducing the effectiveness of his pursuit. Despite repeated pleas from Lincoln and Halleck, which continued over the next week, Meade did not pursue Lee's army aggressively enough to destroy it before it crossed back over the Potomac River to safety in the South.

The campaign continued into Virginia with light engagements until July 23, in the minor Battle of Manassas Gap , after which Meade abandoned any attempts at pursuit and the two armies took up positions across from each other on the Rappahannock River. The news of the Union victory electrified the North. The results of this victory are priceless. The charm of Robert E. Lee's invincibility is broken.

The Army of the Potomac has at last found a general that can handle it, and has stood nobly up to its terrible work in spite of its long disheartening list of hard-fought failures. Copperheads are palsied and dumb for the moment at least. Government is strengthened four-fold at home and abroad. However, the Union enthusiasm soon dissipated as the public realized that Lee's army had escaped destruction and the war would continue.

Lincoln complained to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that "Our army held the war in the hollow of their hand and they would not close it! Alexander S.

Battle of Chancellorsville

Webb wrote to his father on July 17, stating that such Washington politicians as " Chase , Seward and others," disgusted with Meade, "write to me that Lee really won that Battle! In fact, the Confederates had lost militarily and also politically. During the final hours of the battle, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens was approaching the Union lines at Norfolk, Virginia , under a flag of truce. Although his formal instructions from Confederate President Jefferson Davis had limited his powers to negotiate on prisoner exchanges and other procedural matters, historian James M.

McPherson speculates that he had informal goals of presenting peace overtures. Davis had hoped that Stephens would reach Washington from the south while Lee's victorious army was marching toward it from the north. President Lincoln, upon hearing of the Gettysburg results, refused Stephens's request to pass through the lines.

Furthermore, when the news reached London, any lingering hopes of European recognition of the Confederacy were finally abandoned. Henry Adams , whose father was serving as the U.

Alerts In Effect

S ambassador to the United Kingdom at the time, wrote, "The disasters of the rebels are unredeemed by even any hope of success. It is now conceded that all idea of intervention is at an end. Compounding the effects of the defeat would be the end of the Siege of Vicksburg , which surrendered to Grant's Federal armies in the West on July 4, the day after the Gettysburg battle.

The immediate reaction of the Southern military and public sectors was that Gettysburg was a setback, not a disaster. The sentiment was that Lee had been successful on July 1 and had fought a valiant battle on July 2—3, but could not dislodge the Union Army from the strong defensive position to which it fled. The Confederates successfully stood their ground on July 4 and withdrew only after they realized Meade would not attack them.

The withdrawal to the Potomac that could have been a disaster was handled masterfully. Furthermore, the Army of the Potomac had been kept away from Virginia farmlands for the summer and all predicted that Meade would be too timid to threaten them for the rest of the year.

National Park Civil War Series: The Battle of Chancellorsville

Lee himself had a positive view of the campaign, writing to his wife that the army had returned "rather sooner than I had originally contemplated, but having accomplished what I proposed on leaving the Rappahannock, viz. John Seddon, brother of the Confederate secretary of war, "Sir, we did whip them at Gettysburg, and it will be seen for the next six months that that army will be as quiet as a sucking dove.

On August 8, Lee offered his resignation to President Davis, who quickly rejected it. Gettysburg became a postbellum focus of the "Lost Cause" , a movement by writers such as Edward A. Pollard and Jubal Early to explain the reasons for the Confederate defeat in the war. A fundamental premise of their argument was that the South was doomed because of the overwhelming advantage in manpower and industrial might possessed by the North. They also contend that Robert E. Lee, who up until this time had been almost invincible, was betrayed by the failures of some of his key subordinates at Gettysburg: Ewell, for failing to seize Cemetery Hill on July 1; Stuart, for depriving the army of cavalry intelligence for a key part of the campaign; and especially Longstreet, for failing to attack on July 2 as early and as forcefully as Lee had originally intended.

In this view, Gettysburg was seen as a great lost opportunity, in which a decisive victory by Lee could have meant the end of the war in the Confederacy's favor. After the war, General Pickett was asked why Confederates lost at Gettysburg. He was reported to have said, "I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it. The ravages of war were still evident in Gettysburg more than four months later when, on November 19, the Soldiers' National Cemetery was dedicated. During this ceremony, President Abraham Lincoln honored the fallen and redefined the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

There were 72 Medals of Honor awarded for the Gettysburg Campaign. With the first badge being awarded in December ; the currently final awarding was in when it was, of course posthumously, given to Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing. The nature of the result of the Battle of Gettysburg has been the subject of controversy for years [ when?

Although not seen as overwhelmingly significant at the time, particularly since the war continued for almost two years, in retrospect it has often been cited as the "turning point" , usually in combination with the fall of Vicksburg the following day.

10 Major Battles of the American Civil War

Grant in and —and by the speculative viewpoint of the Lost Cause writers that a Confederate victory at Gettysburg might have resulted in the end of the war. Bruce Catton , Glory Road []. It is currently a widely held view that Gettysburg was a decisive victory for the Union, but the term is considered imprecise. It is inarguable that Lee's offensive on July 3 was turned back decisively and his campaign in Pennsylvania was terminated prematurely although the Confederates at the time argued that this was a temporary setback and that the goals of the campaign were largely met.

However, when the more common definition of "decisive victory" is intended—an indisputable military victory of a battle that determines or significantly influences the ultimate result of a conflict—historians are divided.

The Background of Battle of Chancellorsville

For example, David J. Eicher called Gettysburg a "strategic loss for the Confederacy" and James M. McPherson wrote that "Lee and his men would go on to earn further laurels. But they never again possessed the power and reputation they carried into Pennsylvania those palmy summer days of Woodworth wrote that "Gettysburg proved only the near impossibility of decisive action in the Eastern theater.

The army needed a thorough reorganization with new commanders and fresh troops, but these changes were not made until Grant appeared on the scene in March Glatthaar wrote that "Lost opportunities and near successes plagued the Army of Northern Virginia during its Northern invasion," yet after Gettysburg, "without the distractions of duty as an invading force, without the breakdown of discipline, the Army of Northern Virginia [remained] an extremely formidable force.

Nevertheless, at best the Army of the Potomac had simply preserved the strategic stalemate in the Eastern Theater Peter Carmichael refers to the military context for the armies, the "horrendous losses at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, which effectively destroyed Lee's offensive capacity," implying that these cumulative losses were not the result of a single battle. Thomas Goss, writing in the U. Army's Military Review journal on the definition of "decisive" and the application of that description to Gettysburg, concludes: "For all that was decided and accomplished, the Battle of Gettysburg fails to earn the label 'decisive battle'.

Gettysburg was a landmark battle, the largest of the war and it would not be surpassed. The Union had restored to it the belief in certain victory, and the loss dispirited the Confederacy. If "not exactly a decisive battle", Gettysburg was the end of Confederate use of Northern Virginia as a military buffer zone, the setting for Grant's Overland Campaign.

Prior to Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee had established a reputation as an almost invincible general, achieving stunning victories against superior numbers—although usually at the cost of high casualties to his army—during the Seven Days , the Northern Virginia Campaign including the Second Battle of Bull Run , Fredericksburg , and Chancellorsville. Only the Maryland Campaign , with its tactically inconclusive Battle of Antietam , had been less than successful. Therefore, historians have attempted to explain how Lee's winning streak was interrupted so dramatically at Gettysburg.

Although the issue is tainted by attempts to portray history and Lee's reputation in a manner supporting different partisan goals, the major factors in Lee's loss arguably can be attributed to: 1 his overconfidence in the invincibility of his men; 2 the performance of his subordinates, and his management thereof; 3 his failing health, and 4 the performance of his opponent, George G. Meade, and the Army of the Potomac. Throughout the campaign, Lee was influenced by the belief that his men were invincible; most of Lee's experiences with the Army of Northern Virginia had convinced him of this, including the great victory at Chancellorsville in early May and the rout of the Union troops at Gettysburg on July 1.

Since morale plays an important role in military victory when other factors are equal, Lee did not want to dampen his army's desire to fight and resisted suggestions, principally by Longstreet, to withdraw from the recently captured Gettysburg to select a ground more favorable to his army. War correspondent Peter W. Alexander wrote that Lee "acted, probably, under the impression that his troops were able to carry any position however formidable.

If such was the case, he committed an error, such however as the ablest commanders will sometimes fall into.

The most controversial assessments of the battle involve the performance of Lee's subordinates. The dominant theme of the Lost Cause writers and many other historians is that Lee's senior generals failed him in crucial ways, directly causing the loss of the battle; the alternative viewpoint is that Lee did not manage his subordinates adequately, and did not thereby compensate for their shortcomings.

Ewell and A. Hill —had only recently been promoted and were not fully accustomed to Lee's style of command, in which he provided only general objectives and guidance to their former commander, Stonewall Jackson ; Jackson translated these into detailed, specific orders to his division commanders. In addition to Hill's illness, Lee's performance was affected by heart troubles, which would eventually lead to his death in ; he had been diagnosed with pericarditis by his staff physicians in March , though modern doctors believe he had in fact suffered a heart attack.

As a final factor, Lee faced a new and formidable opponent in George G. Meade , and the Army of the Potomac fought well on its home territory. Although new to his army command, Meade deployed his forces relatively effectively; relied on strong subordinates such as Winfield S. Hancock to make decisions where and when they were needed; took great advantage of defensive positions; nimbly shifted defensive resources on interior lines to parry strong threats; and, unlike some of his predecessors, stood his ground throughout the battle in the face of fierce Confederate attacks. Lee was quoted before the battle as saying Meade "would commit no blunders on my front and if I make one Stephen Sears wrote, "The fact of the matter is that George G.

Meade, unexpectedly and against all odds, thoroughly outgeneraled Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. Coddington wrote that the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac received a "sense of triumph which grew into an imperishable faith in [themselves]. The men knew what they could do under an extremely competent general; one of lesser ability and courage could well have lost the battle.

Meade had his own detractors as well. Similar to the situation with Lee, Meade suffered partisan attacks about his performance at Gettysburg, but he had the misfortune of experiencing them in person. Supporters of his predecessor, Maj. Joseph Hooker , lambasted Meade before the U. Congress 's Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War , where Radical Republicans suspected that Meade was a Copperhead and tried in vain to relieve him from command. Daniel E. Sickles and Daniel Butterfield accused Meade of planning to retreat from Gettysburg during the battle. Most politicians, including Lincoln, criticized Meade for what they considered to be his half-hearted pursuit of Lee after the battle.

A number of Meade's most competent subordinates— Winfield S. Hancock , John Gibbon , Gouverneur K. Warren , and Henry J. Hunt , all heroes of the battle—defended Meade in print, but Meade was embittered by the overall experience. National Park Service as two of the nation's most revered historical landmarks. Although Gettysburg is one of the best known of all Civil War battlefields, it too faces threats to its preservation and interpretation. Many historically significant locations on the battlefield lie outside the boundaries of Gettysburg National Military Park and are vulnerable to residential or commercial development.

On July 20, , a Comfort Inn and Suites opened on Cemetery Hill , adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery , just one of many modern edifices infringing on the historic field. The Baltimore Pike corridor attracts development that concerns preservationists. Some preservation successes have emerged in recent years. Two proposals to open a casino at Gettysburg were defeated in and most recently in , when public pressure forced the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to reject the proposed gambling hub at the intersection of Routes 15 and 30, near East Cavalry Field.

Department of the Interior in Less than half of the over 11, acres on the old Gettysburg Battlefield have been preserved for posterity thus far. The Civil War Trust a division of the American Battlefield Trust and its partners have acquired and preserved 1, acres 4. Lee used as his headquarters during the battle. The Trust razed a motel, restaurant and other buildings within the parcel to restore Lee's Headquarters and the site to their wartime appearance, adding interpretive signs.

It opened the site to the public in October, During the Civil War Centennial , the U.

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