The Battle of Chancellorsville
The Battle of Chancellorsville, one of the most famous battles of the Civil War, took place in Virginia in the spring of 1863. For months, the two armies had been staked out on opposite banks of a narrow river. The Confederate troops were led by perhaps the most revered military tactician in American history, General Robert E. Lee.
The Union soldiers were led by “Fighting” Joe Hooker. In appearance, personality, and lifestyle, these men were nearly perfect opposites. Lee, an older man in poor health with a gray beard, had a somber, measured demeanor. Hooker was a blond, strapping young man whose vanity over his appearance was but one aspect of his egotism. Whereas Lee was devout and principled, Hooker was known for his rollicking enjoyment of both women and whiskey. Despite the fact that the Confederacy had won the last four major battles and the Union soldiers were famished, exhausted, and demoralized, Hooker proclaimed, “My plans are perfect. And when I start to carry them out, may God have mercy on Bobby Lee, for I shall have none.” Why, aside from a propensity for narcissism, was Hooker so confident?
Hooker had used spies, analysts, and even hot air balloons to compile a vast amount of intelligence about Lee’s army. He had discerned, for example, that Lee had only 61,000 men to Hooker’s own 134,000. Buoyed by his superior numbers, Hooker covertly moved 70,000 of his men fifteen miles up and across the river, and then ordered them to sneak back down to position themselves behind Lee’s army. In effect, Hooker had cut off the Confederate soldiers in front and behind. They were trapped. Satisfied with his advantage, Hooker became convinced that Lee’s only option was to retreat to Richmond, thus assuring a Union victory.
Yet Lee, despite his disadvantages of both numbers and position, did not retreat. Instead, he moved his troops into position to attack. Union soldiers who tried to warn Hooker that Lee was on the offensive were dismissed as cowards. Having become convinced that Lee had no choice but to retreat, Hooker began to ignore reality. When Lee’s army attacked the Union soldiers at 5:00 p.m., they were eating supper, completely unprepared for battle. They abandoned their rifles and fled as Lee’s troops came shrieking out of the brush, bayonets drawn. Against all odds, Lee won the Battle of Chancellorsville, and Hooker’s forces withdrew in defeat.
A summary chooses the most important information.
Robert E. Lee’s small Confederate army took advantage of Joe Hooker’s large Union Army in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Having prepared in advance, Hooker knew that they outnumbered Lee’s troops. Hooker never prepared his troops for battle and Lee’s much smaller army over took the Union army by taking them by surprise. Hooker’s troops retreated and the Confederates won.
What information was left out? Why?
What information was kept? Why?