by John Paul Strain
Generals Robert E. Lee & Stonewall Jackson
Chancellorsville, Virginia - May 1, 1863
A distant crack of a Federal sharp-shooter’s rifle was instantly heard, as the bullet whistled past Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, barely missing them. The two commanders made a dash to some nearby woods. It had been a close call, one that easily could have changed the whole course of the war. But this was the risk these brave leaders often faced leading their armies in battle.
Lee and Jackson had been scouting the ground southeast of the Plank road on a small pathway leading to Catherine’s Furnace.
In the early morning of April 27, the Army of the Potomac under the command of General Joseph Hooker had begun an offensive towards the Confederate left, by crossing the Rappahannock river on pontoons. On the 29th, General Stuart dispatched a telegram to Lee reporting that his men had engaged the enemy at Maddens , nine miles from Culpeper. They had captured Federal troops from the V, XI, and XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The dispatch also informed Lee that large columns of federal troops were headed for Germanna and Ely’s Ford on the Rapidan River. With this vital information Lee was able to determine General Hooker’s plan was to turn the Confederate left flank. General Lee ordered Stuart to rejoin the main body of the army post haste.
On the 30th, a courier arrived from General Anderson at Chancellorsville, informing Lee the federal force had crossed the Rapidan and was heading his way. Anderson requested reinforcements, and Lee ordered Anderson and his four brigades to dig in.
Hooker’s advance was tentative. When confronted by southern brigades the Federals would stop, retreat and regroup before advancing again. General Lee felt there was something suspicious about the situation, as numerically, General Hooker’s army was far superior than his. In the late evening of May 1st he met up with Jackson near the Plank road to get a better feel of things.
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