The Civil War remains the deadliest war in American history with an estimated death toll of more than 700,000. The ratio of Confederate deaths to Union deaths was three to one. Though the South had limited numbers of men throughout the entire war, its commanding general, Robert E. Lee, won many great victories at long odds. His greatest victory came in Chancellorsville, Virginia in 1863.
Leading Up to Chancellorsville
In the final days of April 1863 the Union Army, under General Joesph Hooker, advanced towards Confederate lines after crossing the Rappahannock River in northern Virginia. The Union had more than twice the troops than the Confederates, with roughly 113,000 against just 60,000, according to estimates in "The Chancellorsville Campaign," by Darius N. Couch. The Union was looking to envelope the Confederates with its superior numbers. The North was eager for a victory after its defeat five months earlier at Fredericksburg, a small town in Virginia.
Hooker Against Lee
General Hooker was known for his veracious fighting style and was given the nickname Fightin' Joe Hooker. However, once his troops faced resistance from Lee's men, Hooker withdrew and went on the defensive. Had he continued with his original attack, Hooker's men would have been able overwhelm the Confederates because Lee divided his army, making his numbers even smaller.
Robert E. Lee was a daring commander who was willing to take significant risks to win battles. At Chancellorsville, Lee divided his army to fight off two wings of the Union forces. This left his men even more vulnerable to attack. However, he was able to use his opponent's lack of initiative against him. Hooker retreated, which allowed Lee to attack simultaneously on two fronts. Lee ordered General Stonewall Jackson to attack the Union Army's flank, while the rest of the Confederates held their position on the western line.
Success at Chancellorsville
General Jackson was able to rout the Confederates when he caught them unaware, continuing the fight into the night. The Union was stunned and forced to retreat and abandon their positions. Though they were outnumbered, the Confederates had 13,000 casualties to the Union's 17,000. Stonewall Jackson would be accidentally killed by his own troops at the end of the battle. Lee's maneuvering secured the South a much needed victory that allowed his army to go on the offensive against the Union. The next major battle during the Civil War would be fought on Union ground at Gettysburg, where the Confederates would be forced to retreat, ending hopes of another Northern invasion and a Southern victory.
- Alexander Gardner/Hulton Archive/Getty Images