Monday, May 6, 2013
One hundred and fifty years ago, Union and Confederate soldiers clashed at Chancellorsville, a remote country crossroads west of Fredericksburg, Virginia. To commemorate that event, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County National Military Park is sponsoring a multitude of events over a ten-day period that began on May 1st and will conclude on May 10th.
The programs ranging from “real time” walking tours of the battlefield to children’s programs to artillery demonstrations. Turnout for the events was high and visitors were enthusiastic. The opening ceremony drew 280 spectators, one walking tour had 400 participants, and a nighttime program commemorating General “Stonewall” Jackson’s wounding attracted more than 500 visitors.
Underscoring the intense interest in the battle, 250 hearty (and sleep-deprived) souls gathered at 6 a.m. for a two-and-a-half hour, real-time tour of the May 3rd fighting. Daily attendance at the visitor center at the height of the event approached 2,000 people.
Chancellorsville is widely regarded by historians as General Robert E. Lee’s greatest battle. Outnumbered more than two to one and outmaneuvered in the early stages of the battle, Lee fought back with boldness and decision, ultimately forcing the 135,000-man Union army back across the Rappahannock River in defeat.
Most visitors, however, come to hear about Jackson. On May 2, 1863, the Confederate general led 28,000 men – two-thirds of Lee’s available force – on a 12-mile daylight march to a point opposite the Union army’s right flank. Striking just two hours before dark, Jackson had put one enemy corps to flight and threatened to cut off the retreat of the others when he was mistakenly and fatally shot in the arm by his own soldiers during a nighttime reconnaissance.
Without Jackson to carry out his designs, Lee would never again win a major offensive victory. The Confederate chieftain appreciated the severity of Jackson’s loss, telling his dying subordinate, “You have lost your left arm, but I have lost my right arm.”