May 3

This Day in History

Civil War

May 3, 1863:

Confederates take Hazel Grove at Chancellorsville

On this day, General Joseph Hooker and the Army of the Potomac abandon a key hill on the Chancellorsville battlefield in Virginia. The Union army was reeling after Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's troops swung around the Union right flank and stormed out of the woods on the evening of May 2, causing the Federals to retreat some two miles before stopping the Confederate advance. Nonetheless, Hooker's forces were still in a position to deal a serious defeat to Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia because they had a numerical advantage and a strategic position between Lee's divided forces. But Lee had Hooker psychologically beaten.

Union forces controlled the key geographical feature in the Chancellorsville area: Hazel Grove, a hill that provided a prime artillery location. General J.E.B. Stuart, the head of the Confederate cavalry, assumed temporary command of Stonewall Jackson's corps after Jackson was wounded the night before (a wound that proved fatal a week later) and planned to attack Hazel Grove the next morning. This move was made much easier when Hooker made the crucial mistake of ordering an evacuation of the hill.

Once Stuart's artillery occupied Hazel Grove, the Confederates proceeded to wreak havoc on the Union lines around Chancellorsville. Rebel cannons shelled the Union line, and the fighting resulted in more Union casualties than Jackson's attack the day before. Hooker himself was wounded when an artillery shell struck the column he was leaning against. Stunned, Hooker took a shot of brandy and ordered the retreat from the Chancellorsville area, which allowed Jackson's men to rejoin the bulk of Lee's troops. The daring flanking maneuver had worked. Hooker had failed to exploit the divided Army of Northern Virginia, and allowed the smaller Rebel force to defeat his numerically superior force.

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