Mapping Out Chancellorsville 149 Years Later

Map by Steven Stanley for Civil War Trust, 2002; courtesy Civil War Trust

Today marks the 149th anniversary of the opening of the battle of Chancellorsville. Supremely confident “Fighting Joe” Hooker rocked back on his heels after an unexpected punch on the nose by Stonewall Jackson, withdrawing into a defensive position around the Chancellorsville intersection. Giving up the high ground to the east of the intersection was the first major mistake in a multi-day battle that would see Hooker make many.

That land is today preserved by the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and the Civil War Trust. It was a crucial acquisition that opened up important terrain for understanding the overall battle (and I, for one, am thankful to CVBT and CWT for their preservation efforts).

I’ve been doing some work lately on the evolution of the Chancellorsville battlefield. To commemorate the anniversary of the start of the battle, I thought I’d share a little.

This first map was done in 1892 by the Chancellorsville Battlefield Association:

The CBA consisted of a number of veterans interested in preserving the battlefield by, ironically enough, developing it. They sought

to improve and embellish it with parks, avenues, museums and hotel; the mark with permanent memorials the lines held by the contending forces; to erect monuments to the conspicuous soldiers whose valor and skill were displayed in that great battle, and to make it an attractive rendezvous where the veterans of the Gray and the Blue may meet in cordial fraternity, and the visitors for all coming ages may find convenient access to all the memorable historic spots in Spotsylvania….

For only $10, veterans could buy a 10×25-foot plot. The effort eventually failed due to lack of support, and the 900 acres the CBA bought around the Chancellorsville intersection reverted back to private hands.

The next map, from circa 1940, comes from the National Park Service:

If the battlefield looks scant, that’s because it is. Congressional approval in 1928 authorized land acquisition in accordance with what’s become known as “The Antietam Plan” (because it was first implemented for the creation of Antietam National Battlefield). The Antietam Plan called for

the placing of markers and tablets at the sites of the important points, events, and actions, by the construction of roads where necessary to make important points reasonably accessible, and by acquiring the sites where trenched on the main battle line are sufficiently well preserved to warrant retaining in their present condition.

“An ‘Antietam system,’ involving ownership of little or no land other than roads, would be adequate it an area continued to exist in a static Nineteenth Century rural culture,” NPS Historian Ralph Happel lamented in the mid-Fifties.

The next NPS map, from the 1970s, shows the Park Service’s efforts to fill in some of the gaps:

The contact station has been replaced by a visitor center. More green appears in the triangle between Bullock Road, Ely’s Ford Road, and Route Three. More green appears elsewhere–but some green has disappeared, too, part of a land swap that finally secured the ruins of the Chancellorsville mansion.

In the sixty-plus years since Happel’s lament, we’ve all seen first-hand the ravages of development on the battlefields. Because the NPS is legally prohibited from acquiring land beyond its assessed value, and because development pressures have pushed market values through the roof, the government has been hard-pressed to keep it. That makes the work of preservation groups all the more invaluable because they can acquire land that the government otherwise could not. Preserving the land where fighting opened on May 1, 1863, is one of the best examples.

Take a look at the battlefield today:

Notice how much more green there is, representing lands owned by the NPS or preserved in some other way. (You’ll see a little of the Wilderness poking in from the left side of the map, too!)

I have close to a dozen maps I’ve been working with for my project, and I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun looking at different iterations of the battlefield as it’s grown.

The soldiers who fought over this ground in 1863 wanted people in the postwar years to remember what happened there. They wanted people to remember their efforts, their bravery, their sacrifices.

As you study the maps and ponder the story they tell about the battle and the battlefield: remember.

2 Responses to Mapping Out Chancellorsville 149 Years Later

  1. Reynolds is wing commander by srtioeiny (see response above) and Meade knows him well. They served together for a long time. Meade was under Reynolds as a brigade and division commander. Meade felt they had a good relationship. Some of Reynolds reports and personal writings are harsh on Meade post Fredericksburg, though I do not know if or when Meade truly found this fact out. Kearney is much like Reynolds as a the alpha male. Great guy to get to know. Reynolds was brave, Kearney was fearless. This was a guy who looked for battles and wars. He rode into battle with a pistol in one hand and sword in the other and the horse’s reins in his teeth that is until he lost an arm. Still charged in, but this time with one arm. You are right he was never fully culpable for his actions. The difference between Reynolds and Kearney’s death is that Reynolds was not being reckless he was doing what he thought was necessary and Meade gave him a great deal of leeway. Kearny at times (like 2nd Manassas) was reckless. With the very public fall of Fitz-John Porter post 2nd Manassas it is tough to say what would have happened to Kearney’ career. To give Reynolds his fair due with sleeping there is no doubt he was out at the Chancellorsville high command meeting. On the Peninsula there are varying accounts. According to Reynolds he lost his horse in battle and was cut off from his men then was captured, awake. The other account has him asleep under a tree again cut off from his men. I personally do not believe Reynolds account, nor do a number of historians I know. The reason being he was taken to Confederate Daniel Harvey Hill an old friend from West Point. So he told Hill he was exhausted. Do you really want to admit to him you were asleep, also he was writing home about the incident, it is embarrassing enough for him that he was captured, now he has to write home and tell of his plight. Not a great day for Reynolds.

  2. Reynolds was one of those well respected guys. I think that he had that chsraima to lead men. One of those guys that everyone wanted to be around.Ironically Burnside was that guy as well. He was a guy that almost everyone loved to know as a person. As a commander a different story. Comparing Jackson and Death’s with the wounding of Longstreet is an interesting case. Longstreet too was struck down at the height of a daring maneuver, unlike Jackson and Reynolds, Longstreet survived. His post war writings and enemies shaped a negative image of a man who had flashes of brilliance and like Reynolds was a guy that most wanted to know. Lee’s command style vs those of the AOP’s commanders is interesting. Lee allowed his commanders to work off the leash and it worked well with Jackson and Longstreet, not so much with Hill and Ewell. Meade was doing the same thing with Reynolds July 1 allowing him to work off the leash. Reynolds therefore did the same for Buford. Meade more than any other AOP commander allowed his trusted corps commanders to work off the leash.Something else to consider is that from the time Lee assumes command of the ANV to the end of the war the ANV had one commander, therefore a working bond of sorts was formed. With the turnover rate of commanders in the AOP there was a more difficult time forming those bonds between commander and subordinate and seeing how each corps commander work as well as the army commander. Though Meade was in command from June ’63 to the end he too had the issue of how to work under a new commander when Grant stepped in. This is a drawn out way of saying it seemed easier to be a corps commander in the ANV because you had a solid foundation of a commander to work from. With the AOP the micromanagement stemmed from the lack of the commanders experience coupled with the Committee on the Conduct of the War. (Great point bringing that fact up as well Frank) Where as Lee had nearly a blank check to work with on every battlefield, since he was the best they had. The description Reynolds as the Alpha male is spot on. Great response.

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