The battle of Chancellorsville is a victory that never materialized for the Army of the Potomac. The Union’s Army of the Potomac, on paper, was a force clearly superior in terms of manpower and technology to that of their adversary, however, tactical mistakes proved to be detrimental to their cause. On the contrary, planning and the execution of those plans propelled the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia to the most recognized underdog victory in the American Civil War. Examining the Battle of Chancellorsville from both the Union and Confederate perspective provides military leaders an example of the importance of planning, adapting to the fluidity of combat, and the crucial nature of military warfare tactics all while leveraging the war-fighting functions necessary to achieve victory on the battlefield.
II. The subject
Scholars recognize the battle of Chancellorsville as the primary conflict during the Chancellorsville campaign in the American Civil War. Chancellorsville is perhaps the most doctrinally sound battle fought in the entire America Civil War. Chancellorsville tested the commander’s ability, scheme, and tactical maneuver of both the Army of Northern Virginia (Confederate States of America) and the Army of the Potomac (Union/United States Army). The fighting at Chancellorsville occurred over a three-day period, from May 1 through May 3, 1863. Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a seasoned war veteran and known military genius, squared off against Union Army Major General James Hooker, a newly appointed and untested commander in the Virginia theatre.
III. The setting
Strategically, the Union wanted to seize Richmond, the capital of the Confederate States of America. With Richmond in Union Control, the United States Army would have cut the remaining Confederate armies from their capital in hopes it would end the Civil War. Operationally, the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville sought to outflank and destroy General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. For the North, General Lee’s defeat was critical, since the Confederate Army gained the initiative in the Virginia theatre. By eliminating General Lee’s fighting force at Chancellorsville, the Union would have removed the principle fighting force protecting the path to the Confederate capital.
General Lee was adamant about marching into Union territory. General Lee understood the element of momentum and wanted to leverage his successes against the Union at Fredericksburg. Lee’s fierce militia would need to score a victory in Chancellorsville to drive the Army of the Potomac from the Virginia theatre and begin conquest into northern territory.
The operational environment
Chancellorsville is located in the plains of northeast Virginia. The open fields of Chancellorsville offer favorable observation and fields of fire for defensive positions. Thickets were present throughout the battlefield. Dense forest in the east, known as “the Wilderness,”...