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"May God have mercy on General Lee- For I will have none."



After the Federal debacle at Fredericksburg in December of 1862, President Lincoln replaced the incompetent Ambrose Burnside with "Fighting" Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of The Potomac. Across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg was Lee's vaunted Army of Northern Virginia, still resting in their winter camp.

Hooker went right to work to lift the morale and fighting capability of his men. He did away with the cumbersome "Grand Division" organization for easier handling, and for the first time the Union Cavalry was used as an independent branch of the army.

In early April 1863, Hooker began planning his move against Lee and his forces, minus John Hood's and George Pickett's Divisions who were away laying siege to Suffolk with General James Longstreet. Similar to Burnside, Hooker wanted to cross the Rappahannock south of Fredericksburg. But this had two distinct flaws: 1.) It would uncover the direct route to Washington, which would displease Lincoln and 2.) any attempt to cross south of the town would not go unnoticed due to pontoon bridges being laid. He decide the plan wouldn't be feasable.

Next Hooker turned his eyes north of the Rappahannock where there were 3 shallow fords. Bank's Ford, five miles above Fredericksburg; United States Ford, seven miles farther west; and Kelly's Ford beyond that.

He told his cavalry commander, General George Stoneman to cross the river with 22 guns and 11,500 men no later than April 13, to turn the Confederate left and place his forces between Lee and Richmond. Hooker hoped that the cavalry would isolate the Army of Northern Virginia's supplies and check a possible retreat.

But as Stoneman was about to cross, the rains came and isolated a brigade of his forces on the south bank of the Rappahannock. He recalled the brigade, then changed the jump-off date to the 15th. But for almost two weeks the weather didn't change for the better.

By this time Hooker was becoming impatient. He decided to march 60,000 men (Meade's, Slocum's, and Howard's Corps)into Lee's rear by crossing the Rappahannock upstream.

The other two Corps with 60,000 also, under Sedgwick and Reynolds, plus a division from Couch's Corps would attack Fredericksburg simultaneously, thus driving a pincer movement into the Army of Northern Virginia.

While Bank's and U.S. Ford were being heavily guarded by Confederate forces, Kelly's Ford, 15 miles upstream, was lightly held. Crossing the river at Kelly's Ford would conceal the 60,000 Federals moving into Lee's rear. After crossing the Rapidan River due south, they would move east and uncover the other two fords as the went, allowing for easier access to reinforcements.

On April 26, Meade, Howard, and Slocum moved out of their Falmouth camps. They were to be in position to cross the Rappahannock no later than 4 p.m. on the 28th. From there they would march toward Ely's and Germanna Fords on the Rapidan and take seperate routes leading southeast to the Orange Turnpike. Couch was scheduled to march for Bank's Ford on the 29th, meanwhile Sedgwick and Reynolds would lead their 60,000 men down to Franklin's Crossing and cross the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg. Stoneman would add to the confusion by striking the Virginia Central Railroad.

The grand upstream march began on the 27th. By dusk on the next day, the head of the flanking column was approaching Kelly's Ford, while Couch had two divisions waiting behind Bank's Ford ready to cross.

Everything appeared to be business as usual in the Confederate camps outside Fredericksburg. It seemed as if Lee would be taken by suprise this time. Howard had his Corps over the Rappahannock, Slocum's crossed at dawn, followed by Meade, and finally Stoneman brought up the rear with his horsemen.

Slocum and Howard crossed Germanna Ford the next day while Meade crossed Ely's Ford. At 11 a.m. on the 30th, Meade reached the Chancellor house. Sedgwick and Reynolds crossed the Rappahannock on the 29th. All the pieces in Hooker's plan seemed to be falling into place. Lee was giving no signs of danger to his rear.

Soon after, Couch began his march across Bank's Ford with his Corps. The combined strength of Meade, Slocum, Howard, and Couch put four Union Corps in the Confederate rear. But after Meade reached the Chancellor House, Hooker ordered a halt and told Dan Sickles to cross the river at U.S. Ford. His arrival tomorrow morning would raise Federal strength to 78,000 men ready to pounce on Lee.

Feeling that Hooker might advance on the Army of Northern Virginia soon, Lee ordered James Longstreet to return from his siege at Suffolk with Hood's and Pickett's Divisions. Then came word from J.E.B Stuart, commander of all cavalry in the army, that he had captured prisoners from three different Union Corps in his rear. Along with a report from a courier confided to Lee that he had witnessed bluecoats crossing the Rapidan River fords.

Marse Robert decided that this was enough intelligence to make a reaction. He ordered two of Richard Anderson's brigades to march on Chancellorsville. Lafayette McLaws, who commanded Longstreet's only remaining division on the field, was put on alert for a forced march.

On the 30th, Lee received another report that the Federals were moving east along the Orange Turnpike. At noon Anderson sent him a message that he had prepared a good defensive position to resist a possible attack. Lee replied that he should begin preparing entrenchments for McLaw's division, which headed west minus one brigade soon after.

Jubal Early's division, with McLaw's other brigade, was to remain in the Fredericksburg entrenchments and block any forward movement by Sedgwick. Corps commander, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, was ordered to march west with his three divisions (Brig Gen. Robert Rodes, Raleigh Colston, and A.P. Hill).

Lee was concentrating 45,000 men against Hooker's 78,000 4 miles east of the Chancellor House. Barely 10,000 Confederates were left to occupy the 5-mile entrenchments outside Fredericksburg against Sedgwick's 30,000.


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Battle of Chancellorsville: Return to homepage

Read on!

May 1, 1863: Lee steals the initiative
May 2, 1863: Jackson's Apex
May 2, 1863: Continued: A Star has fallen
May 3-5, 1863: Lee cleans house
Death of a TItan: Lee loses his right arm

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