In your opinion which battle – Chancellorsville, Second Fredericksburg, Wilderness or Spotsylvania – was most important? Why?
Chancellorsville-Hooker could have pushed on had he the “walnuts” and shocked the General Lee. With that said, had Stonewall not been shot by his own men there’s no telling if he could have ever been stopped.
All ‘ordinary’ battles, without great victory or defeat of either side…only Wilderness had strategic consequences: Grant’s army crossed the Rappahannock and stayed south of the river.
One tactical item of interest for me from the battlefield of Wilderness: Lee’s last attempt at a multi-division sized battlefield counterattack failed upon Longstreet’s wounding and Hancock’s men standing to their fortifications (I discount Gordon’s attempt against Fort Stedman, barely a good sized division’s worth of soldiers actually attacked).
This question is an example of why the Army of the Potomac failed to defeat The Army of Northern Virginia until Grant took command. The mindset of the A.O.P. was focused on individual set piece battles. Grant thought in terms of theater wide campaigns where individual battles, win, loose, or draw, were were just incidents toward the ultimate goal of destroying his opponent. The pre-Grant battles in question were pieces of a stalemated campaign, one no more significant than the other. The others were cogs on the wheel of a victorious campaign, one no more significant than another.
Chancellorsville – IMHO it may have induced in Lee the arrogant overconfidence which led to Gettysburg. Otherwise, similar to Chickamauga, it was a significant Confederate tactical victory which led to no appreciable benefit.
Vicksburg was about to fall, so Chancellorsville did give Lee a desperate chance to save the Confederacy, with help from foreign powers, if Lee had a major victory. Chancellorsville ended with the Union forces of the Army of the Potomac with confidence and a solid “core” of generals who would defeat Lee at Gettysburg. Lee had basically created the sword the Potomac Army would use to defeat him. Even with a victory at Gettysburg I dont think foreign powers would have helped Lee. But Lincoln would have had a tough time being re elected.
The Wilderness. A clear Confederate tactical victory. Shattered a union assault, turned both flanks, manhandled the mishandled Union cavalry, inflicted much higher casualties. Any other commander but Grant would probably have regrouped, possibly giving McClellan the election. But Grant and Meade moved on. And Lee had insufficient resources to assault them.
Myself, I gotta go with The Wilderness. Until then, the Union experience in VA against Lee had been fight, lose, and retreat. The aftermath of this battle proved different. Grant kept on going south, and in the in process was able to keep the pressure on Lee’s army and keep on letting attrition take its toll. And we know how that all played out.
The Wilderness, Ulysses S. Grant led the Union forces in a combined effort with the naval forces, Thomas and Sherman to destroy the Confederacy. The Confederacy was already cut in half, thanks to the genius of General Grant and Scott. The end was only a matter of time, as Grant kept Lee, already ill and struggling to keep his forces together, in front of him while Sherman cut out the heart of the Confederate states.
I’m fascinated by all the answers to this question. I feel they are all excellent and very educated answers. Although, I answered Chancellorsville for the aforementioned reasons stated, the larger picture of the wilderness looking at it through strategic terms rather than Tactical is a very great answer and also General Grant pushing on despite even his own men thinking they were going on go back North. Great replies from everyone!!!
Chancellorsville – because it had a direct effect on Gettysburg (the pivotal failed last CSA invasion ) 2 months later in the following ways
– Lee lost his most trusted LT. Jackson at Chancellorsville. If Jackson stays in the field.. would the CSA have been able to keep pushing and trap Hooker’s army into surrendering before crossing the Rappahanock? If not.. would Jackson have taken Culp’s Hill on GBurg Day 1 in Ewell’s place? Losing Stonewall was a blow Lee never recovered from.
– Driving the Yankees back across the Rappahanock against the odds inspired Lee’s hubris and overconfidence in his army.. which ultimately led him to make the doomed Pickett’s Charge.
– Sickles experience in seeing the 11th Corps flanked at CVille was likely a main driver in him moving to the Peach Orchard on GBurg Day 2.
I will say..Grant’s determination in refusing to retreat in the Wilderness battles was impressive and impactful.. but it wasn’t really a fair fight. The Army of Northern Virginia was so weakened by 1864.. and Grant’s Army of the Potomac so strenghtened by that point it was an obvious game of numbers that Grant used to his advantage.
Chancellorsville. It was the ultimate illustration of Lee and Jackson’s perfect working partnership, Jackson’s mortal wounding notwithstanding. The South had little chance from the get go but w/out that partnership, their fate was sealed.
Chancellorsville cost Lee 10,000 casualties to inflict 15,000 on the 135,000 man A.O.P. The preponderance manpower was greater than before the battle. Jackson was merely emblematic of the wholesale loss of command talent in Lee’s army. Lee’s tactics were using up the army at an unsustainable rate.
Second Fredericksburg in my opinion. The excellent book, “Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front: the Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, May 3, 1863” details these lost, golden opportunities for the Army of the Potomac. Most people, then and now, concentrate on Stonewall Jackson’s famous flank attack. I believe the Union could have redeemed themselves, but suffered due to lack of boldness, lack of communication, and lack of reconnaissance. Thank you to authors Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White for opening my eyes to these significant, neglected battles.
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