Battle of Chancellorsville "Certain Destruction Awaits" May 1-4, 1863
"The operations of the last three days have determined that the enemy must either ingloriously fly or come out from behind his entrenchments and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him," was the order Union Gen. Joseph Hooker issued to his men on April 30, 1863, upon their reaching Chancellorsville, VA., a crossroads in the Wilderness just 10 miles from the rear of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Fredricksburg.
Lee was painfully aware that his army was outnumbered by more than two to one, when on April 29 he learned that a Union force was moving on his left flank and rear. That night he sent a division commanded by Gen. Richard H. Anderson to cover the roads leading from the Wilderness to Fredricksburg. Anderson confirmed the approach of a large Union force and took a position on the edge of the tangled undergrowth that blocked the federals' approach from Chancellorsville. Because of the inaction of the Union corps Hooker had left behind, Lee was convinced that his real threat lie to the west. Audacious as always, he decided on a bold plan: he left 9,000 of his men at Fredricksburg to confront the 19,000-man federal force there and marched the rest of his army to join Anderson's division, facing Hooker's force, which now numbered 75,000 men.
Early on the morning of May 1, the front of Lee's column, commanded by Gen. Stonewall Jackson, arrived at Anderson's position near the Tabernacle Church and found that the vast Union army was advancing towards them. Characteristically, Jackson told his men to attack, and as they advanced down the roads into the Wilderness, they came into contact with Hooker's force. A fierce firefight began and raged for several hours; then, inexplicably, the Yankees began withdrawing back deep into the Wilderness. Hooker, in spite of protests from his generals, had ordered his men back to Chancellorsville.
Fascinating Fact: By ordering his men to withdraw, Hooker seemed to have lost his nerve, but he kept up a bold front: "The enemy is in my power and God Almighty cannot deprive me of them."
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