Question of the Week: 4/30-5/6/18

The 155th Anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville is coming up, so what if…

What if General Hooker hadn’t stopped and waited in the Wilderness area near Chancellor House? What could have happened if he kept moving?

8 Responses to Question of the Week: 4/30-5/6/18

  1. Very good question. Many people forget that a large portion of his section of the Army of the Potomac was still in the process of just crossing the river when the forward elements ran into opposition. I always felt that the consolidation was prudent; had he pushed harder Lee would probably have just slipped slightly South as he did in 1864, and waited for Longstreet. As it was, Lee came barrelling in after him. It was Hooker’s collapse after the unexpected initial success of Jackson’s flank attack that doomed the campaign. His failure to use Reynolds or Meade, or take the opportunity that Lee’s march against Sedgwick gave him were more relevant than the initial pull back to its ultimate failure.

    1. Good points. Even after failing to push through he had a massive numerical advantage against a dangerously split opponent. Reynolds’ I Corps may as well have been in California for all the use Hooker got out of it. Jackson’s flank march should have been responded to (it was readily observed and slow enough), etc. etc. In hindsight Hooker achieved the impossible by losing this battle.

      1. Well put! Additionally, from a Union standpoint, it’s a shame that Hooker so misused the very cavalry he spent so much time reorganizing. His intelligence service was excellent, but like Meade a year later, he lacked good up close reconnaissance

      2. A good “what if” would be to assume that Stoneman had access to Preparation H. 🙂

  2. Assuming that you mean “moving east” when you write “kept moving:”

    We would have had an encounter battle in the vicinity of the Tabernacle or Zion Churches on 30 April, as two-three divisions of V and XII Corps would engage Anderson’s entrenched division, and gradually those entire Corps would engage McLaws and Jackson’s later-arriving forces. With Stuart and most of his cavalry on the battlefield, Lee could have still have attempted to turn the Federal southern (right) flank while Sedgewick and Gibbon were delayed by Early and Barksdale. Not a given that the turning movement would have been successful, but it might have knocked the Federals back into the woods.

    Otherwise, I would suspect a Confederate withdrawal to the next likely defensive position south while Hooker basks in the adulation of his “genius.” Once the jubilation dies down, the emboldened Hooker essays another brilliant move, and Lee pounces. June arrives with the Federals back in the Falmouth camps.

    1. Certainly possible but this reminds me of Grant’s statement to some of his hand-wringing subordinates at the Wilderness as they pondered Lee’s next move – “some of you think he’s going to turn a double somersault and end up in our rear”. Lee got away with a dangerous, and viewed objectively, foolish, move. The thing worked largely because while Stonewall moved ponderously to the flank arrogant idiots named Howard and Devens chose not to check out what several field officers at the front were seeing and reporting. Even after that, Chancellorsville still was not a done deal (“calling John Reynolds…”). Lee deserved to be severely punished but inexplicably wasn’t – possibly exacerbating his own arrogance two months later.

  3. Ah yes, the proverbial ‘what if’ situation laced with a question wrapped within “what COULD have happened?”. They can be fun, if kept in their proper perspective. So, the premise of ‘what if’ Hooker had not stopped and kept advancing? To me, all that MIGHT have portrayed was a prelude to what Grant did the next year. That is, IF Hooker was inclined to continue out of the Wilderness area altogether and keep marching towards Richmond to force Lee’s hand. From The Wilderness Grant kept going right down to Petersburg. Had Hooker kept going, no doubt a battle or battles would have been fought along that route, quite possibly mirroring Grant’s campaign in fighting at the very same places. Would Hooker have kept going even if confronted with casualties like those Grant would suffer? Who Knows? Would Lee see opportunities to split his army, and be successful with that? Who knows? I will not offer up any pronouncement that “this WOULD have happened”, or “That WOULD have transpired.”.

    I just do not know…

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