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Subject: Lee at Chancellorsville: was a retreat before the battle his best move? rss

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Pete Belli
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Chancellorsville has been called “Lee’s Greatest Battle” and has rightfully earned a place in military history as one of the boldest maneuvers ever conducted in the face of a superior enemy force.

Here is a theory: Lee should have retreated instead of confronting Hooker in the tangle of the Wilderness.

During the early phase of the campaign Lee was uncertain of the Union commander’s actual objective. After the Confederate cavalry provided Lee with a reasonably accurate strategic picture the Rebel leader decided to meet Hooker’s skillful flank march with an aggressive response. Every schoolboy (and schoolgirl) knows what happened next.

Based on the information Lee possessed in 1863, this alternate plan might have been a better option.

By executing a slow withdrawal as the Federal army advanced Lee would have moved closer to the two First Corps divisions under Longstreet (Pickett and Hood) pushing up from Suffolk. As the Union army drove south, Hooker would be required to detach additional troops to guard his supply trains and his line of communications.

There certainly were advantages for Lee when the armies clashed in the Wilderness. The heavy undergrowth reduced the Union superiority in artillery. Scouts serving with the Confederate army were able to provide information about the terrain which the Federals could not easily obtain. However, the confusing landscape was a sword which could cut both ways… as “Stonewall” Jackson learned to the Confederacy’s eternal sorrow.

Had the Confederates retired to the edge of the Wilderness each advancing Union column might have been struck and defeated in detail as the Federals emerged from the narrow forest trails. Even if a battle had been fought a few days later in the relatively open terrain around Spotsylvania the Rebel army would have Jackson and the 10,000+ soldiers lost at Chancellorsville. In addition, the powerful one-two punch of Longstreet and John B. Hood would be available to execute any bold battlefield maneuver Lee conjured from his bag of tricks.

As we know from the 1864 campaign, Lee had another strong position at the North Anna River. A hypothetical struggle in 1863 would not necessarily be a static defense for Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. A carefully timed withdrawal could have seen the strength of the Union army dwindle. Thousands of Yankee soldiers left the ranks in May when their enlistments expired… and since Lee gathered useful intelligence from the Northern newspapers (particularly the Philadelphia editions) the Rebel commander should have been aware of Hooker’s manpower situation. Lee could have planned any number of aggressive counterblows as the Union army moved south along the line of the railroad.

OK, now I’m ready for comments and criticism.
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Steve Arthur
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Eagerly awaiting the results of this discussion...am reading Sears' book on the battle at this very moment..
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Robert Wesley
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FINE then! How about taking the "Blue & Gray" 'Battles' of "Fredericksburg" & "Chancellorsville" to combine them into the "GRANDER" version to try this with now?
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Pete Belli
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GROGnads wrote:
FINE then! How about taking the "Blue & Gray" 'Battles' of "Fredericksburg" & "Chancellorsville" to combine them into the "GRANDER" version to try this with now?


Right. It would take a much bigger map, though.

The entire area from Falmouth to the North Anna River would have to be included.
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In hindsight, yes, the strategy you propose would have been a better move for Lee. Despite winning the battle, Lee's casualties at Chancellorsville were over 13,000 killed, wounded and missing -- out of 60,000 men. The Union lost over 17,000 killed, wounded, missing and captured. With the Union's much greater population, the Confederacy couldn't afford to trade casualties. And the morale boost of winning while greatly outnumbered didn't last long, as Gettysburg was only two months away (not to mention, the confidence Lee gained at Chancellorsville may have influenced his possibly too-aggressive actions at Gettysburg.

Lee should have retreated before the battle as you described.
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OK, I'll bite...

I think that you're not far off in this analysis. I would not doubt that Lee had several back-up plans including including this manuever, and kept them in his pocket... waiting for Hooker to advance in force.

Lee really could not have held his right wing had Hooker made a full-out push south on 1 May, or 2 May. It seems unlikely that Hooker would have stuck his neck out too far as he progressed through the wilderness. Lee hit him where he knew he would be.

Lee's ability to evaluate the inclinations of his adversary, at the moment of attack, ranks with the best Generals of all time. That's why the third day at Gettysburg is such a head-scratcher...
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Robert Wesley
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You know, I had 'espied' a complete copy of that Seven Days Battles along with a few more for them somewhere this past weekend! cool
 
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Brian Morris
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I have to disagree Pete. I think Lee did the right thing and I think the results show that. Lee had the advantage in the woods negating the Union's strong artillery. He had a stronger knowledge of the terrain and road network. In short he had home field advantage. Moving out into open country would have only given Hooker room to maneuver and fully use his artillery.

Part of Hooker's plan was to get Lee out in the open and one key to any battle is not letting your enemy dictate the initiative. By initiating the combat in the manner that he did Lee took the initiative away from Hooker and when he did so it shook Hooker's confidence in his own plan.

One big difference between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg was intelligence. At Chancellorsville Lee had good intelligence throughout the battle. He knew the landscape, road networks and the general locations of Hookers army. At Gettysburg it was the opposite with Lee on July 3rd not believing that Meade had his full army on the field (the reason why he made Pickett's Charge).

So while I understand your point I think Lee would have made a mistake by withdrawing. He would have surrendered the initiative, terrain advantage and intelligence advantage by withdrawing. The advantages you sight for doing so in my mind don't outweigh what he would have lost.

In the end however it was still an empty victory. While the Union lost more men Lee still lost heavy and gained nothing from the victory.

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oldbrownsfan wrote:


Lee's ability to evaluate the inclinations of his adversary, at the moment of attack, ranks with the best Generals of all time. That's why the third day at Gettysburg is such a head-scratcher...


Lee was operating blind at Gettysburg which was not something he was use to doing. He was use to having the advantage in intelligence because of Stuart and most of the battles taking place in Virginia. Stuart however was off trying to erase his personal embarrassment at Brandy Station and what cavalry Lee had he used poorly in part because he was so dependent on Stuart.

So Lee had very little information on the locations of the Union Corps as he moved north. He thought they had begun moving north much later than they actually had. The result was Lee didn't believe that Meade's full army had arrived. He believed that several of the Union Corps were still moving north. So when he did the math in his head he concluded that the Union had less than 5,000 men in it's center and that is why he ordered Pickett's Charge. The truth was the Union had 8,000 within 500 yards of the Copse of Trees.

It's very similar to what happened the year prior with his invasion of Maryland. His lack of intelligence on McClellan almost led to disaster. The difference between then and Gettysburg was Lee wasn't facing McClellan, Burnside, Mansfield and Franklin. He was facing Meade, Hancock, Sedgwick and Hunt. Men who had risen to their command positions through their battlefield experience not through political connections.
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I think you couldn't have said it better...

LACK OF INTELLIGENCE

I for one still think there never should have been a Gettysburg.

If you don't know what is in front of you, it is not the most brilliant thing to do, to just stumble ahead on assumptions.

'the enemy is here so I will fight him here' quoting some movies and not sure if the man ever said it, doesn't sound like a well considered plan of action to me.
If the enemy is not here, it's probably difficult to fight him anyway.

I've read books and seen documentaries etc. on the battle but I never understood what the hurry was.
Somewhere I even saw/read as an explanation that it would have been bad for the armies moral to not fight the enemy.
Hm, I may be wrong here, but I think having the army destroyed might not do moral much good either.

I personally can not see any sane reason for making men charge a mile accros open ground to attack a fortified enemy on high ground.


But than again.... what do I know...
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mrbeankc wrote:
I have to disagree Pete. I think Lee did the right thing and I think the results show that. Lee had the advantage in the woods negating the Union's strong artillery. He had a stronger knowledge of the terrain and road network. In short he had home field advantage. Moving out into open country would have only given Hooker room to maneuver and fully use his artillery.

Part of Hooker's plan was to get Lee out in the open and one key to any battle is not letting your enemy dictate the initiative. By initiating the combat in the manner that he did Lee took the initiative away from Hooker and when he did so it shook Hooker's confidence in his own plan.

One big difference between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg was intelligence. At Chancellorsville Lee had good intelligence throughout the battle. He knew the landscape, road networks and the general locations of Hookers army. At Gettysburg it was the opposite with Lee on July 3rd not believing that Meade had his full army on the field (the reason why he made Pickett's Charge).

So while I understand your point I think Lee would have made a mistake by withdrawing. He would have surrendered the initiative, terrain advantage and intelligence advantage by withdrawing. The advantages you sight for doing so in my mind don't outweigh what he would have lost.

In the end however it was still an empty victory. While the Union lost more men Lee still lost heavy and gained nothing from the victory.



I have to agree. If Lee had retreated in front of Hooker it would have been a mistake. As pointed out Hooker's plan was to either trap Lee or force him to retreat. Hooker had outflanked Lee, a retreat would've given Hooker even more confidence than he already possessed and it would've given Hooker the chance to bring his army together (remember that part of it was still sitting across the river facing the ANV to keep them in place). By attacking, Lee was able to cause some doubt to Hooker about whether he really had achieved his goal to have Lee in a bad position. Jackson's march and attack on Hooker's own flank just made it worse and Hooker completely lost his ability to carry out his plan. He no longer knew what to do. Lee had reacted in a way he couldn't understand and as a result instead of the ANV being the army facing defeat it became the AoP that was threatened. Jackson may not have been able to pull off his planned night attack that he was wounded while scouting for, but if he had managed it Hooker was no longer capable of preventing his army's destruction. It would've been left to individual Union commanders to save what they could despite the fact that they were facing an army that not only did not have all it's units (as noted Longstreet was not present), but what was left had already been divided twice.

I'm not sure that nothing was gained from the victory. The wounding and subsequent death of Jackson was certainly a disaster to the Confederacy, and a loss that Lee himself certainly felt was an extremely high price to pay, but the victory did open the possibility for a 2nd invasion of the North, and Lee was well aware that the South was not going to win the war sitting in Virginia waiting for the North to give up the fight. The only way that the South was going to win was to take the fight into the Northern States and prove to the citizens of the North that the South could not only defend itself in it's own territory but it was strong enough to take the war to the North and win up there as well. That in the end the 2nd invasion of the North was not a success doesn't mean that nothing was gained from Chancellorsville.
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sagitar wrote:
I think you couldn't have said it better...

LACK OF INTELLIGENCE

I for one still think there never should have been a Gettysburg.

If you don't know what is in front of you, it is not the most brilliant thing to do, to just stumble ahead on assumptions.


Well it isn't as if either army really wanted to fight there. The battle grew out of a few commanders, on both sides, bringing their troops to the same place, at the same time and deciding to fight. Faced with that both armies had little real alternative but to both concentrate there.

sagitar wrote:
'the enemy is here so I will fight him here' quoting some movies and not sure if the man ever said it, doesn't sound like a well considered plan of action to me.
If the enemy is not here, it's probably difficult to fight him anyway.


It is however very consistant with Lee's personality. Despite his early derogatrive nickname of 'King of Spades' that Lee got from his insistence on Richmond being fortified he was an aggressive commander who never really seemed content to wait on the enemy. You also have to remember that officers in the old U.S. Army were trained in fighting Napoleonic battles. They were looking for decisive victories destroying the enemy's army on the field of battle. If you find the enemy, you fight him and destroy him.

sagitar wrote:
I've read books and seen documentaries etc. on the battle but I never understood what the hurry was.
Somewhere I even saw/read as an explanation that it would have been bad for the armies moral to not fight the enemy.
Hm, I may be wrong here, but I think having the army destroyed might not do moral much good either.

I personally can not see any sane reason for making men charge a mile accros open ground to attack a fortified enemy on high ground.


But than again.... what do I know...


Well often times if you are attacking an enemy that is pretty much what you have to do. Again, remember the most recent wars that they studied were those of Napoleon. And Gettysburg does fit into those tactics. First was the attack on the right flank on the first day. On the 2nd day the attack was on the Union's left flank. The classic Napoleonic finishing move after attacking on the flanks to drag troops away from the centre was the frontal attack on the centre to sweep it away. Lee believed that the Union's centre had been weakened enough that Pickett would sweep the Union centre away. If he was correct then Pickett's Charge wouldn't be known for it's defeat but rather as Lee's Austerlitz, and maybe as the blow that destroyed the Union Army.
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Thanks for the comments.

Quote:
Part of Hooker's plan was to get Lee out in the open and one key to any battle is not letting your enemy dictate the initiative. By initiating the combat in the manner that he did Lee took the initiative away from Hooker and when he did so it shook Hooker's confidence in his own plan.


Ecellent analysis.

Hooker expected Lee to retreat when the Rebel flank was turned.

How does this scenario work for the purposes of our discussion:

Lee withdraws, fighting a minor delaying action. Hooker decides to launch a bold pursuit and pushes forward with all three wings of his army. (Remember, Hooker had divided his force, too.) Lee, with an undepleted army and Jackson still around, is joined by Longstreet and his other two divisions. BOOM! The united Confederate force strikes Hooker with one of the trademark Lee-Jackson-Longstreet punches to the solar plexus as the Yankees exit the Wilderness.

Frankly speaking, I'd hate to be Hooker in that scenario.

One more thing. Hooker flunked out at Chancellorsville. Who can say he wouldn't have flunked out at Todd's Tavern, Spotsylvania, or wherever this hypothetical battle was fought?
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When evaluating the cost of the two strategies the loss of Jackson should not really be held against the historical strategy. That was not a predictable outcome of Lee's historical strategy and Jackson could just as easily have been killed in the fighting during any alternate history battle.
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Quote:
JeffryW wrote:
sagitar wrote:
I think you couldn't have said it better...

LACK OF INTELLIGENCE

I for one still think there never should have been a Gettysburg.

If you don't know what is in front of you, it is not the most brilliant thing to do, to just stumble ahead on assumptions.


Well it isn't as if either army really wanted to fight there. The battle grew out of a few commanders, on both sides, bringing their troops to the same place, at the same time and deciding to fight. Faced with that both armies had little real alternative but to both concentrate there.


So what you are actually saying is that it was some kind of domino effect that could not be stopped?
Retreating the army towards better terrain, drawing the enemy army into a position that favored you was not an option?

That in fact it was the army leading it's commanders?



Quote:


sagitar wrote:
'the enemy is here so I will fight him here' quoting some movies and not sure if the man ever said it, doesn't sound like a well considered plan of action to me.
If the enemy is not here, it's probably difficult to fight him anyway.


It is however very consistant with Lee's personality. Despite his early derogatrive nickname of 'King of Spades' that Lee got from his insistence on Richmond being fortified he was an aggressive commander who never really seemed content to wait on the enemy. You also have to remember that officers in the old U.S. Army were trained in fighting Napoleonic battles. They were looking for decisive victories destroying the enemy's army on the field of battle. If you find the enemy, you fight him and destroy him.


It is a bit surprising they never really changed those tactics taking into account the more modern weapons they had.
But if you've learned napoleonic tactics, I reckon it is not easy to forget the tested approach and go for something new.


Quote:


sagitar wrote:
I've read books and seen documentaries etc. on the battle but I never understood what the hurry was.
Somewhere I even saw/read as an explanation that it would have been bad for the armies moral to not fight the enemy.
Hm, I may be wrong here, but I think having the army destroyed might not do moral much good either.

I personally can not see any sane reason for making men charge a mile accros open ground to attack a fortified enemy on high ground.


But than again.... what do I know...


Well often times if you are attacking an enemy that is pretty much what you have to do. Again, remember the most recent wars that they studied were those of Napoleon. And Gettysburg does fit into those tactics. First was the attack on the right flank on the first day. On the 2nd day the attack was on the Union's left flank. The classic Napoleonic finishing move after attacking on the flanks to drag troops away from the centre was the frontal attack on the centre to sweep it away. Lee believed that the Union's centre had been weakened enough that Pickett would sweep the Union centre away. If he was correct then Pickett's Charge wouldn't be known for it's defeat but rather as Lee's Austerlitz, and maybe as the blow that destroyed the Union Army.


Taking that into account it would mean that the centre attack never-the-less would have been very predictable.


Thanks for your explanation.
It's allways very easy to critisise decissions in hind sight...
But I'm just trying to understand the why of the battle.

You can only really judge if it was wrong and if you - as a general - would have done it differently, if you have all the info on the situation on said day.
And there are allways many factors of influence and often more than we as modern table top soldiers can see.


Of course we are lucky in that we can sit behind our game and try things differently, that is what makes historical games fun.
Sofar not found a game that lets me try my - fight somewhere else - option though..








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Randy C
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Thanks for the thread Pete.

Based on my experience in For the People, and that Hooker only had 2-1 odds, Lee should stand.

For the "fight somewhere else" option try "Across the Potomac" from an old Command Magazine. The scale is union corps, reb divisions.
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If Hooker maybe doesn't get brained, keeps his cool, listens to his corps commanders, and counterattacks, maybe Lee gets his ass handed to him and his brilliant gamble looks like a colossal blunder.

On that alternative timeline, a fighting retreat looks like the better option.
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JeffryW wrote:
but the victory did open the possibility for a 2nd invasion of the North,


Lee had been planning his invasion of Pennsylvania since February. Chancellorsville had no effect on that plan. Lee's army had had a terrible winter due to lack of provisions. He couldn't feed his horses and northern Virginia had been basically stripped and ravaged after the fighting of 1862. It's the reason why Longstreet was not at Chancellorsville. He was down south trying to gather provisions in preparation for the invasion of Pennsylvania.

Lee's plan was to move north, supply his army from the rich farmland of Pennsylvania and give the farmers of Virginia a chance to recover and get a good summer's harvest in. If he had an opportunity to engage the Army of the Potomac on favorable terms he would do so but his main aim was one of getting the war out of Virginia.

So Chancellorsville was not a catalyst for Lee's invasion of the north. It was simply a costly victory. The kind of victory the south could not continue to have.

By the way Lee committed perhaps one of the greatest blunders of the war in his invasion of Pennsylvania. A blunder often not talked about. The fleet that blockaded the Confederate ports needed coal. In fact the Union had difficulty in supplying the entire fleet with the massive about of coal that was required. That coal came from Pennsylvania and was fed to the ports on the coast via a railroad that ran west to east right across Lee's path. If Lee had concentrated on destroying that railroad he could crippled the Union blockade. If he had destroyed all the bridges, miles of track and generally tried to stop the flow of coal from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to the blockade fleet he could have effectively lifted the blockade for months. It was a missed opportunity that could have paid massive dividends.
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Dieroll Honker wrote:
If Hooker maybe doesn't get brained, keeps his cool, listens to his corps commanders, and counterattacks, maybe Lee gets his ass handed to him and his brilliant gamble looks like a colossal blunder.

On that alternative timeline, a fighting retreat looks like the better option.


I just recently finished reading George Meade's letters from the war. He and a number of other Corps commanders wanted to keep fighting at Chancellorsville and not retreat as Hooker did.

After the battle it comes out that the commanders voted to stay and fight. They still had a lot of fresh troops who had yet to be engaged in the battle. So when all this comes out Hooker starts taking a lot of heat in Washington and the press about retreating against the wishes of his commanders. He tells Washington that Reynolds and especially Meade advocated in favor of retreat. Meade just about hit the roof.

Hooker knew that his Corps commanders were not happy with him and some were in favor of Meade being appointed to replace Hooker. Hooker figured this was a chance to deflect blame and throw Meade under the bus at the same time. Didn't work. Both Reynolds and Sedgwick met with Lincoln separately where they told him that they were all in favor of continuing the attack and Hooker overruled them.
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Calxx55 wrote:

Thanks for the thread Pete.

Based on my experience in For the People, and that Hooker only had 2-1 odds, Lee should stand.

For the "fight somewhere else" option try "Across the Potomac" from an old Command Magazine. The scale is union corps, reb divisions.

Second the Across the Potomac option. I may have to pull this out and see if I can wargame a solution.cool

Great Thread!thumbsup
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mrbeankc wrote:
JeffryW wrote:
but the victory did open the possibility for a 2nd invasion of the North,


Lee had been planning his invasion of Pennsylvania since February. Chancellorsville had no effect on that plan. Lee's army had had a terrible winter due to lack of provisions. He couldn't feed his horses and northern Virginia had been basically stripped and ravaged after the fighting of 1862. It's the reason why Longstreet was not at Chancellorsville. He was down south trying to gather provisions in preparation for the invasion of Pennsylvania.

Lee's plan was to move north, supply his army from the rich farmland of Pennsylvania and give the farmers of Virginia a chance to recover and get a good summer's harvest in. If he had an opportunity to engage the Army of the Potomac on favorable terms he would do so but his main aim was one of getting the war out of Virginia.

So Chancellorsville was not a catalyst for Lee's invasion of the north. It was simply a costly victory. The kind of victory the south could not continue to have.


Certainly true, but seeing as Hooker attacked first Lee had to deal with that before he could move North. In that way the victory at Chancellorsville opened the path to the North. So perhaps not a catalyst, but a necessary precondition perhaps. Again, I agree that it was the type of victory they couldn't afford to continue to have, but truthfully, they couldn't win the war without destroying the Union army and that wasn't going to happen without a lot of Confederate casualties.

mrbeankc wrote:
By the way Lee committed perhaps one of the greatest blunders of the war in his invasion of Pennsylvania. A blunder often not talked about. The fleet that blockaded the Confederate ports needed coal. In fact the Union had difficulty in supplying the entire fleet with the massive about of coal that was required. That coal came from Pennsylvania and was fed to the ports on the coast via a railroad that ran west to east right across Lee's path. If Lee had concentrated on destroying that railroad he could crippled the Union blockade. If he had destroyed all the bridges, miles of track and generally tried to stop the flow of coal from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to the blockade fleet he could have effectively lifted the blockade for months. It was a missed opportunity that could have paid massive dividends.


Did not know this, thank you for making me aware of it. I guess however that Lee was hardly the first general, and definately not the last to not quite grasp the impact his actions well inland could have on the sea. Indeed was Meade aware of the threat that Lee's army posed to the blockade?
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thelivekennedy wrote:
When evaluating the cost of the two strategies the loss of Jackson should not really be held against the historical strategy. That was not a predictable outcome of Lee's historical strategy and Jackson could just as easily have been killed in the fighting during any alternate history battle.


You are right of course that when considering the best strategy to take you can't put Jackson's death against the historical strategy, but when evaluating the cost of the battle that occured you have to.

Jackson's wounding and subsequent death was in my opinion the most significant downside to the battle on the Confederate side, well perhaps excepting not completely destroying the Union army. It took away from Lee one of his two Corp commanders who could not simply be replaced. If memory serves the ANV went to a 3 Corp structure after this, and that wasn't because the army suddenly got larger. The commanders who took over did their best, but they were not Jackson.
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JeffryW wrote:


Did not know this, thank you for making me aware of it. I guess however that Lee was hardly the first general, and definately not the last to not quite grasp the impact his actions well inland could have on the sea. Indeed was Meade aware of the threat that Lee's army posed to the blockade?


I think the better question was Lincoln because Meade didn't take command of the Army of the Potomac until 3 days before Gettysburg. At that point the army was closing in on Lee and of course the best way to stop Lee from doing any logistical damage was to engage him in battle.

Now Lincoln and Welles certainly were. Gideon Welles (Sect of the Navy) was very concerned about the supply of coal and the effect Lee would have on it. As it was Lee damaged a few bridges but overall had no effect on the flow of coal to the blockade fleet.

On the flip side strategic warfare wasn't exactly Lee's forte. You look at Sherman down south and he ripped the Confederate railroads to shreds in Georgia as a general plan to effect the south's transportation infrastructure. While Lee definitely did some damage to railroads, bridges and canals he never gave that kind of thing a high priority except at 2nd Bull Run where Jackson did a serious number on the facilities at Manassas.
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Dieroll Honker wrote:
If Hooker maybe doesn't get brained, keeps his cool, listens to his corps commanders, and counterattacks, maybe Lee gets his ass handed to him and his brilliant gamble looks like a colossal blunder.

On that alternative timeline, a fighting retreat looks like the better option.



I recognize how facially idiotic it is to describe how something that actually happened shouldn't have happened. 

Chancellorsville is one of the best historical for occurrences for wargaming. There are a lot of small decisions and events that went one way that could well have (or should have) happened differently. What if:

1. Hooker have not ordered any pulling back on May 1?
2. Reynolds had moved I Corps to the right of XI Corps more quickly after the 1:55 AM order to do so and had been in position when Jackson  struck?
3. Sedgwick or Sickles had acted more quickly and more aggressively in response to Jackson's corps moving across their front?
4. Howard had pushed his pickets out further and/or strengthened his defenses in accordance with Hooker's warning the morning of the attack?
5. Hooker committed to holding Hazel Grove and/ or Fairview Hill?
6. Hooker had been wounded enough by the infamous cannon shot to lose command and leave decisions to one of his more assertive subordinates?
7. Hooker had moved to support Sedgwick on May 3rd?
8. The Army of the Potomac had not recrossed the Rapahannock and Lee had attacked those positions on May 6th?

Ultimately, I think that Lee was lucky. He certainly created some of his own luck, and it's hard to argue with success. But there were a large number of factors far from Lee's control that the Union command screwed up in Lee's favor. In this case, Lee gambled and won.

My two cents.
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