The Battle of Chancellorsville, from April 30 to May 6, 1863, was a perfect example of the military leadership of General Robert E. Lee, but also of the costs that can come with his risky strategic style. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was facing an enemy more than twice its size, that of General Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac. Despite this size differential, Lee was familiar with Hooker’s poor leadership style. Throughout 1863, the Union army underwent significant changes in leadership; President Lincoln himself recalled and replaced several generals before ultimately giving the reigns to Hooker. Though Hooker was responsible for a considerable improvement in troop morale and analysis of military intelligence, he took far too long in making decisions and developing plans of attack. Lee, knowing of this reputation, used it to his advantage.
Lee formulated a strategy wherein he would divide his forces, allowing his men to flank the Union army. While conducting reconnaissance, Stonewall Jackson was hit by friendly fire, causing the amputation of his left arm. Just over a week later, he would be dead from pneumonia, exemplifying the great toll that Lee’s risky maneuvers could play. The day after Jackson’s injury, May 3, 1863, was the second-bloodiest day of battle throughout the entire Civil War. Wave after wave of Confederate soldiers accosted Union troops from all sides, forcing an eventual retreat back over the Rappahannock River. Despite this battle being a victory for the Confederates, it marked a trend that would continue with the forthcoming Battle of Gettysburg: the Confederates would walk away with the win, but it would come at a much higher cost than the Union had to pay. At Chancellorsville, for example, Union forces endured just over 17,000 casualties; the Confederates, despite being less than half the size of their enemy, endured nearly 13,000. While Lee would have the advantage in the coming months, resulting in his one-battle invasion of the North, the cost would simply become too great for the Confederacy to bear for much longer.