Field Trip #3: Chancellorsville Battlefield
Photos by Michael Aubrecht (10/06) Information source: NPS


The Battle of Chancellorsville was a major engagement of the American Civil War fought from April 30 to May 6, 1863. Referred to as General Robert E. Lee's "perfect battle," due to his risky but successful division of his army in the presence of a much larger enemy force, the battle pitted Union Army Major General Joseph Hooker's Army of the Potomac against an army half its size, Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Lee's audacity and Hooker's timid performance in combat combined to result in a significant and embarrassing Union defeat. The Confederate victory was tempered by the mortal wounding of General Stonewall Jackson, a loss that Lee likened to "losing my right arm." The Battle of Chancellorsville, along with the May, 1864, Battle of the Wilderness fought nearby, formed the basis for Stephen Crane's 1895 novel The Red Badge of Courage For more information, visit NPS Fredericksburg.

Chancellorsville Battlefield

The Chancellorsville campaign began with the crossing of the Rappahannock River by the Union army in late April of 1863. Heavy fighting began on May 1 and did not end until the Union forces retreated on the night of May 5 to May 6. A noteworthy characteristic of the battle was the horrifying conditions under which it was fought. Soldiers tended to get lost in the impenetrable maze of undergrowth and many fires started during the course of the battle. Grisly reports of wounded men being burned alive were common.


Old Mountain Road

This is the road on which General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was riding when he was injured by friendly fire. Accompanied by aides and couriers, the general scouted in front of his main line, hoping to determine the new Union position. Members of the 18th North Carolina believed that the returning Confederates were Union cavalrymen charging their line, and carelessly fired into the darkness. One bullet lodged in Jackson's right palm and two struck his left arm.


"Stonewall" Jackson Rock

In the midst of his great victory Confederate commander Robert E. Lee suffered an irreparable loss. On the night of May 2, 1863, his dynamic subordinate "Stonewall" Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire. Several markers commemorate Jackson at Chancellorsville. The first was the unmarked quartz Jackson Rock, which was placed sometime between 1876 and 1883 by Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy and James Power Smith, who had both served on the general's staff.


Jackson Monument

In 1888 the Jackson Monument Association erected this granite pillar as a testament to the spot where Jackson fell. Several noteworthy inscriptions cover the marker's four sides including two quotes. The first recalls the legendary statement by Gen. Bernard Bee at the First Battle of Manassas in which he said "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall." On the opposite side, Jackson's last words of "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees" are forever memorialized.


Confederate Artillery

The forests and landscape around Chancellorsville, known as the Wilderness of Spotsylvania and characterized by dense woods, offered few opportunities for the use of artillery. The Southern forces quickly realized that this open ground was well suited for cannon. Shortly after Stuart's seizure of Hazel Grove, Rebel guns crowned this hill. They targeted the Yankee cannon at Fairview and the supporting infantry in the woods on either side of the clearing.

Hazel Grove

This hill formed approximately one-fourth of a large open field on a tract of land called Hazel Grove. In the pre-dawn hours of May 3, Union chieftain Joseph Hooker unwisely ordered his forces positioned here to abandon Hazel Grove. Jackson's attacks the previous evening had played havoc with Hooker's deployment, and the commander wished to adjust his lines. He instructed his men to fall back closer to the Union artillery at Fairview, which was located across the field.

Union Guns at Fairview

Acting-commander Gen. JEB Stuart immediately exploited the opportunity handed to him by the Federal abandonment of the open ground by placing 31 cannon on Hazel Grove. Combined with artillery located west along the Turnpike, the gunners at Hazel Grove pounded Fairview with a spectacular bombardment. The Federals responded with 34 pieces of their own. The see-saw fighting began to favor the Southerners as, one by one, Union artillery pieces dropped out of the contest. Hooker himself was knocked momentarily unconscious.


27th Indiana Monument

This modest stone monument stands between two smaller flank markers indicating the front occupied by the 27th Indiana, one of more than 200 Federal regiments present for duty on the Chancellorsville battlefield. An average regiment, 430 strong, could form a pair of lines, each line two men deep, in the space between these flank markers. Colorful Col. Silas Colgrove led the 27th. At a hot point during the battle he shouted to the regiments major, his son, "Here boy, you run the regiment while I run this here gun!"


General Paxton Monument

Gen. Paxton knew on the night of May 2 that he would die the next morning. He calmly expressed the unshakable premonition to his staff, told them where to find important papers in his desk, and asked that someone write to his wife. As the brigade prepared to join the dawn attack the next morning, he peered myopically at his pocket Bible in the dim light. Just as the advance started, a bullet hit the general in the chest. An aide by his side put an arm under the wounded man to lift him, but within moments Frank Paxton was dead.


Chancellor Inn Ruins

From May 1-3, 1863, this house served as headquarters for Union Gen. Joseph Hooker and as a hospital during the Battle of Chancellorsville. Frances Chancellor, her children and a few other local people remain sheltered in the house while the battle raged around them. During the melee, Gen. Hooker was knocked to the ground and rendered briefly unconscious when a porch column against which he was leaning was split in half by a shell. With the house in flames, Confederate forces converged on the clearing from three directions as the retreating Federals streamed northward.


Catherine Furnace Ruins

Here are the ruins of the Catherine Furnace which the Confederates had used to aid in the manufacture of much needed weaponry. Prior to the battle, General's Lee and Jackson had decided upon a daring plan, a gamble that Jackson could get around the Union flank without the Federals attacking and crushing the much smaller Southern force which remained in their front. Despite an attack by Union Brig. Gen. David Birney, the column proceeded on their march past this furnace, led by the son of Charles Wellford, the furnace's owner, in lines 4-men wide and nearly 10-miles long.



Ellwood Manor

After being severely wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville on the evening of May 2, 1863, Gen. Jackson was transported to the field hospital near the Wilderness Tavern. Dr. Hunter McGuire saved Jackson's life by stopping the bleeding and later in the night amputated Stonewall's left arm. Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy, chaplain of Jackson's Corps, buried the arm in the Lacy family cemetery at Ellwood. In 1903 a monument was put in the cemetery by James Power Smith, a member of Jackson's staff and son-in-law of James Horace Lacy.


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