Hooker At Chancellorsville: A Failure To Adapt

2769 words - 11 pages

Just two months before the tide-turning 1863 Battle of Gettysburg of the American Civil War, the southern Confederacy was riding high. After a string of previous victories, including the Battle of Fredericksburg, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had decisively beaten the Union Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville. The Northern forces, therefore, needed some assessment and introspection to turn the tide in their favor. Almost immediately, the demoralized army turned its introspection toward its leader, Major General Joseph Hooker and his command during the Battle of Chancellorsville. Accordingly, this paper intends to demonstrate that the mission command carried out by MG Hooker failed in several respects, including his assessment of the situation during the battle, direction of his forces, and his visualization of his area of operations.
As this paper will analyze further, the Battle of Chancellorsville was a tactical defeat for the Army of the Potomac, and Union forces. The battle began with the refreshed Union soldiers of about 134,000 attempting a double envelopment of Lee's forces (of about 60,000) in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, Virginia. After a successful crossing of the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers between 27 and 30 April, 1863, Hooker's army essentially divided into three elements. A corps of Union troops, led by a Major General Sedgwick, was staged as a diversion to the east of Lee's army. The remainder of Hooker's army, except the cavalry corps, executed a wide flanking maneuver about ten miles west of Fredericksburg, near Chancellorsville. Meanwhile, the cavalry proceeded west in a wider flanking movement, and then southeast toward the Confederates' lines of communication south of Fredericksburg.
When the Union and Confederates troops finally met on 1 May, Hooker was surprised at the resistance his front line experienced; he had expected the Confederates to withdraw, given their inferior strength.i In a move that disappointed and baffled his subordinates, he subsequently ordered his forces to defensive positions. Hooker's intent was to force Lee to attack the larger Union forces.
Lee then split his army: part to hold the line at Chancellorsville, and part to execute a flank attack on the disorganized Union Eleventh Corps on Hooker's right flank.
The Confederate attack was successful, but the battle was far from over. From 2 to 4 May, Hooker's army engaged on multiple fronts with Lee's army, notably at Chancellorsville proper and at Fredericksburg. Furthermore, the cavalry mission to sever the southern supply lines failed. MG Sedgwick's forces took Fredericksburg in order to reinforce Hooker through the enemy's rear. However, once Lee's forces re-united, they not only held the line at Chancellorsville, but also surrounded Sedgwick as he tried to advance west. Sedgwick held the line for a short time, but eventually withdraw across the Rappahannock. With the Union effort derailed, Hooker ordered the remainder of the...

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