A discouraged Army
of the Potomac set up camp on the heights on the bank of the Rappahannock River
opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia after its defeat in December 1862.
After a promising start, the Federal campaign to Richmond stalled there. General Ambrose Burnside had moved his army quickly to Falmouth opposite Fredericksburg, but the lack of promised pontoon bridges delayed his movement across the Rappahannock River to attack General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This pause gave Lee time to concentrate his army. When Burnside finally crossed the river, Lee inflicted a decisive defeat on the Army of the Potomac that devastated the morale of the Federals.
The Federal debacle at Fredericksburg was followed by the infamous “Mud March” that occurred when Burnside made another attempt to cross the Rappahannock. Men and animals struggled in a quagmire as a two-day rain storm turned roads into a sea of mud. The operation was abandoned and Burnside was relieved of command.
Political maneuvering among the generals led to even more discontent. President Lincoln called on General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker to lead the Federal army. Morale soared as Hooker dramatically improved commissary and quartermaster services, tightened discipline, and devised a plan to trap Lee.
Hooker left a portion of what he called “the finest army on the planet” in front of Lee at Fredericksburg in May 1863. He then moved his major force across the fords of the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, successfully placing his confident troops around the flank of Lee’s army and behind it. To meet this threat, Lee split his heavily outnumbered army and rushed the largest portion to Chancellorsville where Hooker had established his headquarters. Encountering Confederate advance units, Hooker lost his nerve, formed a defensive position, and waited.
Seizing the initiative, Lee divided his army again. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s 28,000 men marched in a loop to the right flank of the Federal XI Corps. The surprise attack rolled up the Federal line for two miles before it reformed under cover of darkness.
Jackson, scouting the situation for himself, rode between the lines. Mistaken for Federal cavalry, Confederates fired on Jackson and his party and wounded the general. Lee went on to win what is called his greatest victory forcing the Federals to retreat across the Rappahannock but it came at great cost. Jackson died a few days later of pneumonia and Lee remarked he had lost what he called his right arm.
Lee, anxious to follow up on his victory, planned his second invasion of the North. As his army moved toward Pennsylvania, Federal cavalry crossed the Rappahannock to penetrate Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry screen. The confrontation that followed, known as the Battle of Brandy Station, developed into the largest battle of horsemen on North America. The Federal cavalry fought well against Stuart’s battle-hardened troopers but the Confederates, though bloodied, held the field. They also had a new respect for Federal cavalry.
Participants joined the staff of the Civil War Institute and our outstanding guides as we walked the ground of these dramatic encounters that were a prelude to Gettysburg.
Furgurson on the Battle of Chancellorsville
John Heatwole on Lincoln’s search for a general
the ground of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, led by
Frank O’Reilly, author of “’Stonewall’ Jackson at Fredericksburg”
Tour Brandy Station with Eric Wittenberg and Winston Wine
12:00-1:00 Check In at Ashby Hall
1:00-1:15 Welcome and Orientation to the Institute- Staff
1:30-2:30 “Lincoln’s Search for a General”-
2:30-3:30 Cavalry Combats
Eric J. Wittenberg
3:30-4:15 Overview of the Battle of Fredericksburg
4:30-5:00 Book Signing at the JMU Book Store
5:00-6:00 Personal time.
6:15-7:00 Reception- Madison Grill
7:00-9:00 Banquet. Address by Ernest Furgurson, “Souls of the Brave.”
8:15 Depart –travel to Fredericksburg. Battlefield Visitor’s Center.
10:30 Tour Fredericksburg Battlefield. Middle pontoon crossing, Northern crossing,
12:00-12:45 Box lunch at Chatham
12:45-1:00 Visit Chatham Mansion
1:00-5:00 Continuation of tour of Fredericksburg Battlefield. Pelham position, Prospect Hill.
5:30 Check-In Fredericksburg Colonial Inn
5:30-6:45 Personal time
7:00-8:30 Dinner (Restaurant undetermined)
8:30-9:15 Overview of Chancellorsville by John Heatwole
7:00-8:00 Breakfast at the Colonial Inn
8:00 Depart Inn
8:30 Tour Chancellorsville Battlefield- Chancellorsville Inn, first day’s battles, Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson site, McLaws Drive,
Jackson’s flank march, Jackson’s flank attack, Elwood Plantation,
12:00-1:00 Box lunch on the battlefield -Visitor’s Center
1:10-1:45 Jackson’s wounding
2:00-4:45 May 3rd action, Hazel Grove, Jackson’s ambulance ride, Guinea Station.
5:00-6:45 Personal time
7:00-9:00 Dinner- Smythe’s Cottage and Tavern. Overview of Brandy Station by Eric Wittenberg and Winston Wine. Remain overnight at the Colonial Inn.
8:00 Depart Colonial Inn for Brandy Station.
8:30-12:00 Tour Brandy Station Battlefield.
Eric Wittenberg and Winston Wine
12:00-1:00 Box lunch on battlefield
1:00-4:00 Continuation of battlefield tour.
4:00-6:00 Travel to Harrisonburg
7:00 Buffet dinner and swim at the home of Ben and Betty Anne Fordney
9:00-11:30 Roundtable discussion by presenters and participants
12:00-1:30 Farewell luncheon at the Madison Grill
Back to top