May 6, 1863: What Will the Country Say!

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One hundred and fifty-six years ago Robert E. Lee had inflicted on the Union its most stunning defeat of the War, and brought the Union to its lowest point in that conflict.

Lee had won an incredible victory against an army that outnumbered his forces more than two to one, but at a terrible cost.  His casualties were almost 13,000, only some 4,000 less than the Union casualties.   Lee had cemented his reputation as one of the great Captains of history, but he had been unable to destroy the Army of the Potomac.

Hooker would be dismissed from command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863 in the midst of the Gettysburg campaign.  He would regain some of his professional prestige by serving as a competent corps commander in the Chattanooga and Atlanta campaigns.  He would remain bitter about his loss at Chancellorsville for the remainder of his life, blaming all and sundry, especially Generals Sedgwick and Howard.  It is possible that Hooker did state the truth about what happened at Chancellorsville once.  According to a staff officer almost five decades after the event, General Abner Doubleday asked Hooker during the Gettysburg campaign what went wrong with him at Chancellorsville.  Hooker supposedly said that he had simply lost faith in Joe Hooker.

Union morale plummeted in the wake of Chancellorsville with many commenters wondering that if the Army of the Potomac could not beat Lee with a two to one advantage, when could it beat him.  Lincoln summed up the popular despair:   ‘My God!  My God!  What will the country say!  What will the country say!’

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Hattip to commenter Nate Winchester.

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3 Comments

  1. Hooker had a legitimate gripe about Howard, who ignored his warning about the 11th Corps’ flank being “in the air.”

    But the main problem was that by this point, Bobby Lee was living rent-free in the heads of all of the AoP’s commanders. Once Lee attacked, the initiative was ceded for the rest of the battle. The notion of throwing a counter-blow never entered into their heads.

    The Union was exceptionally fortunate that Jackson was wounded at dusk. Stuart’s attacks the next day were just stupid. A hale Jackson probably would have found another flank in the air.

  2. I agree with this priest on Jackson Dale:

    “And Thou knowest O Lord, when Thou didst decide that the Confederacy should not succeed, Thou hadst first to remove thy servant, Stonewall Jackson.”

    Father D. Hubert, Chaplain, Hay’s Louisiana Brigade, upon the dedication of the statue of Stonewall Jackson on May 10, 1881 in New Orleans.

  3. I recall reading in a biography of Jackson that his death planted the seeds of doubt in the minds of the Southern citizenry. One woman, a teenager when he died, said that his passing caused her for the first time to fear that the South would lose.

    And all because a stupid and easily repulsed Union cavalry attack spooked the 18th North Carolina into thinking Jackson’s party was the idiot Yankees trying again.

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