The Campaign of Chancellorsville



Nearly two years after this campaign, in his testimony before the
Committee on the Conduct of the War, Hooker thus speaks about the
general result of the movement:–

“I may say here, the battle of Chancellorsville has been associated with
the battle of Fredericksburg, and has been called a disaster. My whole
loss in the battle of Chancellorsville was a little over seventeen

“I said that Chancellorsville had been called a disaster. I lost under
those operations, one piece artillery, I think five or six wagons,
and one ambulance.” “In my opinion, there is nothing to regret in
regard to Chancellorsville, except to accomplish all I moved to
accomplish. The troops lost no honor, except one corps, and we lost no
more men than the enemy; but expectation was high, the army in splendid
condition, and great results were expected from it. It was at a time,
too, when the nation required a victory.” “I would like to speak
somewhat further of this matter of Chancellorsville. It has been the
desire and aim of some of Gen. McClellan’s admirers, and I do not know
but of others, to circulate erroneous impressions in regard to it.
When I returned from Chancellorsville, I felt that I had fought no
battle; in fact, I had more men than I could use; and I fought no
general battle, for the reason that I could not get my men in position
to do so; probably not more than three or three and a half corps,
on the right, were engaged in that fight.”

And he repeats his understanding of his manoeuvring as follows: “My
impression was, that Lee would have been compelled to move out on the
same road that Jackson had moved on, and pass over to my right. I
should add in my testimony that before leaving Falmouth, to make this
move, I had a million and a half of rations on board lighters, and had
gunboats in readiness to tow them up to points on the Pamunkey River,
in order to replenish my provisions, to enable me to reach Richmond
before the enemy could, in case I succeeded in throwing him off that
line of retreat. When I gave the order to Gen. Sedgwick, I expected
that Lee would be whipped by manoeuvre. I supposed that he would be
compelled to march off on the same line that Jackson had. He would have
been thrown on the Culpeper and Gordonsville road, placing me fifty or
sixty miles nearer Richmond than himself.”

Criticism upon such an eccentric summing-up of the results of the
campaign of Chancellorsville, is too unprofitable a task to reward the
attempt. But assuredly the commander of the gallant Army of the Potomac
stands alone in his measure of the importance of the movement, or of the
disastrous nature of the defeat.



To the Commanding Officer,
Confederate Forces, Chancellorsville, Va.

I would most respectfully request the privilege of sending a burial-
party on the field of Chancellorsville, to bury the dead, and care for
the wounded officers and soldiers of my command.

Very respectfully, etc.,
Major-General Commanding.

May 6, 1863.
Commanding Army of the Potomac.

General,–I have had the honor to receive your letter of yesterday,
requesting permission to send a burial-party to attend to your dead and
wounded on the battle-field of Chancellorsville. I regret that their
position is such, being immediately within our lines, that the
necessities of war forbid my compliance with your request, which,
under other circumstances, it would give me pleasure to grant. I will
accord to your dead and wounded the same attention which I bestow upon
my own; but, if there is any thing which your medical director here
requires which we cannot provide, he shall have my permission to receive
from you such medical supplies as you may think proper to furnish.
Consideration for your wounded prompts me to add, that, from what I
learn, their comfort would be greatly promoted by additional medical
attendance and medical supplies.

I have the honor to be,
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE, General.

May 6, 1863, 4.30 P.M.
President of the United States.

Have this moment returned to camp. On my way received your telegrams of
eleven A.M. and 12.30. The army had previously re-crossed the river,
and was on its return to camp. As it had none of its trains of supplies
with it, I deemed this advisable. Above, I saw no way of giving the
enemy a general battle with the prospect of success which I desire.
Not to exceed three corps, all told, of my troops have been engaged.
For the whole to go in, there is a better place nearer at hand. Will
write you at length to-night. Am glad to hear that a portion of the
cavalry have at length turned up. One portion did nothing.

JOSEPH HOOKER, Major-General.

May 7, 1863.

My dear Sir,–The recent movement of your army is ended without
effecting its object, except, perhaps, some important breakings of the
enemy’s communications. What next? If possible I would be very glad of
another movement early enough to give us some benefit from the fact of
the enemy’s communication being broken; but neither for this reason or
any other do I wish any thing done in desperation or rashness. An early
movement would also help to supersede the bad moral effect of the recent
one, which is said to be considerably injurious. Have you already in
your mind a plan wholly or partially formed? If you have, prosecute it
without interference from me. If you have not, please inform me,
so that I, incompetent as I may be, can try and assist in the formation
of some plan for the army.

Yours, as ever,


His Excellency, President of the United States.

I have the honor to acknowledge your communication of this date, and in
answer have to state that I do not deem it expedient to suspend
operations on this line, from the reverse we have experienced in
endeavoring to extricate the army from its present position. If in the
first effort we failed, it was not for want of strength or conduct of
the small number of troops actually engaged, but from a cause which
could not be foreseen, and could not be provided against. After its
occurrence the chances of success were so much lessened, that I felt
another plan might be adopted in place of that we were engaged in,
which would be more certain in its results. At all events, a failure
would not involve a disaster, while in the other case it was certain to
follow the absence of success. I may add that this consideration almost
wholly determined me in ordering the army to return to its old camp.
As to the best time for renewing our advance upon the enemy, I can only
decide after an opportunity has been afforded to learn the feeling of
the troops. They should not be discouraged or depressed, for it is no
fault of theirs (if I may except one corps) that our last efforts were
not crowned with glorious victory. I suppose details are not wanted of
me at this time. I have decided in my own mind the plan to be adopted
in our next effort, if it should be your wish to have one made. It has
this to recommend it: it will be one in which the operations of all the
corps, unless it be a part of the cavalry, will be within my personal

Very respectfully, etc.,
Major-General Commanding.

May 7, 1863.
Commanding Army of the Potomac.

General,–The reasons that prevented me from complying with your request
with reference to your wounded no longer existing, I have the honor to
inform you that you can extend to them such attentions as they may
require. All persons whom it may he necessary to send within my lines
for this purpose will remain until the wounded are finally disposed of.
The burial of your dead has already been provided for.

I have directed that those of your wounded who desire it, shall be
paroled and transferred within your lines, should you be willing to
receive them; those in the vicinity of Chancellorsville at the
United-States Mine Ford, and those on the battlefield of Salem Church at
Banks’s Ford or Fredericksburg. As your wounded generally occupy the
few houses in the vicinity of the late battle-field, the transportation
of this army cannot be employed in conveying them to the river until my
own wounded have been removed to a place of shelter. As soon as this
can be accomplished, I will cause such of your wounded as may desire to
be paroled, to be delivered at the points above indicated, upon being
advised of your willingness to receive them. In the mean time they
shall have such care as is given to my own.

I have the honor to enclose a copy of my letter of yesterday in case the
original may not have reached you.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE, General.

CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., May 7, 1863, 8 P.M.
Commanding Confederate Forces at Fredericksburg, Va.

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your two communications
of May 6 and 7 this moment. If agreeable to you, I would like to send
medical supplies and attendance to my wounded, and, at such times as the
state of the stream will permit, send ambulances for them via the fords
designated in your communications, viz., United-States and Banks’s
Fords. I will, with your consent, send parties to those fords with
supplies at an early hour to-morrow. The swollen state of the
Rappahannock probably preventing the crossing of any vehicles with
supplies, I shall have to depend upon you for transportation for them.
I will receive the wounded at the points named as soon as it can be
done. I will send an officer to Chancellorsville, with your consent,
to arrange the details, which, judging from your letter, with the state
of the river, cannot now be determined by correspondence. Upon an
intimation from you as to any deficiency in your immediate necessities
of medical supplies of your own, by reason of their use for my wounded
or other causes, I shall with pleasure replace them. I would be obliged
for approximate information concerning the number of wounded, that a
sufficient amount of supplies may be forwarded. I would be under
obligations for an early reply.

Very respectfully, etc.,
Major-General Commanding.
(Copy furnished medical director.)

Commanding Army of Northern Virginia.

The relatives and friends of several of the officers of this army who
fell in the recent battles, have visited my headquarters with the view,
if possible, of proceeding to the battle-fields to recover the bodies of
those near to them. I therefore have the honor to ask whether any
person will be permitted to visit the battle-fields for the purpose
indicated, or whether any arrangement can be made for sending to the
lines of this army the bodies of such of our fallen officers as may have
friends here seeking for them.

Very respectfully, etc.,
Major-General Commanding.

May 10, 1863.
Commanding United-States Forces on the Rappahannock.

General,–In reply to your communication of the 9th inst., I have the
honor to state that it will give me pleasure to afford every facility to
relatives and friends of officers killed in the late battles, to recover
their bodies; but I have no means of identifying them, or of
ascertaining the fields on which they fell. If you will have me
informed, I will cause search to be made.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE, General.


In February and March, 1886, there was delivered at the Lowell Institute,
in Boston, a series of lectures upon the late civil war, by the
following gentlemen:–

Feb. 16. Introduction. Gen. Charles Devens of Boston.
Feb. 19. Pope’s Campaign. Col. Jed. Hotchkiss of Staunton, Va.
Feb. 23. Antietam. Gen. George H. Gordon of Boston.
Feb. 26. Chancellorsville. Col. Theodore A. Dodge, U. S. Army.
March 2. Stonewall Jackson. Col. W. Allan of McDonough, Md.
March 5. Gettysburg. Gen. Francis A. Walker of Boston.
March 9. The Northern Volunteer. Col. T. L. Livermore of Boston.
March 12. The Southern Volunteer. Major H. Kyd Douglas of Hagerstown, Md.
March 16. Chattanooga. Gen. William F. Smith of Wilmington, Del.
March 19. The Wilderness. John C. Ropes, Esq., of Boston.
March 23. Franklin and Nashville. Col. Henry Stone of Boston.
March 26. The Last Campaign. Col. Fred. C. Newhall of Philadelphia.

These lecturers were well equipped for their task. Earnest study of
their respective subjects had been attested by numerous volumes
published by them relating to the war. The desire to have the truth
told was apparent in the presence of three Confederate officers among
the number; and the special feature of the course seemed to be, that not
only was the truth spoken in the most unvarnished manner, but that it
was listened to with marked approval by overflowing audiences.

Perhaps the most invidious subject fell to my lot. What I said was
merely a summary of the foregoing pages. But one point in my lecture
aroused the ire of some of Gen. Hooker’s partisans, and was made the
subject of attacks so bitter that virulence degenerated into puerility.
The occasion of this rodomontade was a meeting of Third-Corps veterans,
and its outcome was a series of resolutions aimed at the person who had
dared to reflect on Gen. Hooker’s capacity, and to refer to the question
of Gen. Hooker’s habitual use of stimulants. The public mention of my
name was as sedulously avoided as a reference to his satanic majesty is
wont to be in the society of the superstitious; but the exuberance of
the attack must have afforded unbounded satisfaction to its authors,
as it very apparently did to the audience.

Following are the resolutions, which are of mild flavor compared to
their accompanying seasoning of speeches:–


The veterans of the Third Army Corps assembled here to-day, soldiers who
served under Gen. Joseph Hooker in his division, corps, and army,
re-affirm their lifelong affection for their old commander, their
admiration for his brilliant achievements as one of the prominent
generals of our armies, and protest against the recent revival of unjust
assaults made on his conduct at Chancellorsville. Whether, after _one
of the most noted tactical victories of modern times_, having placed the
Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock River on the flank of Lee,
he might have gained a still farther advanced position; whether the
failure of the cavalry to fully accomplish what was expected of it;
whether the disaster to the Eleventh Corps and the delay in the advance
of the Sixth Corps,–are to be attributed to errors of judgment of
Gen. Hooker or of the subordinate commanders, are points which will be
discussed again and again with profit to the military student. But we,
who witnessed his successful generalship at Williamsburg, Glendale,
Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, and Antietam, have no language at our
command strong enough to express our contempt for any one who, twenty
years after the war, affirms that on any occasion in battle, with the
lives of his men and the cause of his country in his keeping, Gen. Hooker
was incapacitated for performing his whole duty as an officer by either
the use of liquor or by the want of it.

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