Discussion How long could the Union have held Jackson's flank attack at Chancellorsville if they knew he was coming?

Cdoug96

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How long could the Union have held Jackson's flank attack at Chancellorsville if they knew he was coming instead of being caught by surprise? Also, how would this have effected the rest of the battle?
 

Quaama

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I suspect the Union could have held indefinitely as the CSA was outnumbered two to one when the battle began.
I think it would have dramatically effected the battle because had Jackson walked into a trap (i.e. Union forces were dug-in and waiting for him) his Corps would have been decimated and then Hooker could have resumed his original intention and attacked Lee (a Lee now missing more than half his force (he would now be outnumbered by four to one).
 

Rhea Cole

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The fact of the matter is that they did know he was coming. There were any number of reports of troop movements that were ignored because it didn't fit the preconceived mental image of the situation held by superior officers. To directly answer your question, had they acted on the intel that they received, an attack on Jackson's flank would have been devastating. All strung out in marching order, any coordinated attack by even inferior numbers of Union soldiers on a section of Jackson's column would have been a hammer blow. As is obvious, someone other than Hooker & the deadwood that cluttered the AoP's command & control would have to been magically replaced by Harry Potter.

Actually, you don't have to make this a theoretical discussion in a class at Hogwarts. All you have to do is look what happened at Chancellorsville when, under Lee's personal command, the AoNV attempted to destroy the 5th Corps. It was isolated on Lee's side of the river. It was surrounded on 3 sides. The 5th Corps was significantly outnumbered. Through adroit generalship & very hard fighting, the 5th Corps fought off every attempt to overwhelm it & successfully withdrew across the river in the face of the enemy.

The 5th Corps stand shows that it was possible to withstand a concentrated attack by the AoP. As evidenced by Howard's record in the Army of the Tennessee, with competent generalship at the top, his corps could have stood up to Jackson's attack.
 
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Quaama

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The fact of the matter is that they did know he was coming. There were any number of reports of troop movements that were ignored because it didn't fit the preconceived mental image of the situation held by superior officers. To directly answer your question, had they acted on the intel that they received, an attack on Jackson's flank would have been devastating. All strung out in marching order, any coordinated attack by even inferior numbers of Union soldiers on a section of Jackson's column would have been a hammer blow. As is obvious, someone other than Hooker & the deadwood that cluttered the AoP's command & control would have to been magically replaced by Harry Potter.

Actually, you don't have to make this a theoretical discussion in a class at Hogwarts. All you have to do is look what happened at Chancellorsville when, under Lee's personal command, the AoNV attempted to destroy the 5th Corps. It was isolated on Lee's side of the river. It was surrounded on 3 sides. The 5th Corps was significantly outnumbered. Through adroit generalship & very hard fighting, the 5th Corps fought off every attempt to overwhelm it & successfully withdrew across the river in the face of the enemy.

The 5th Corps stand shows that it was possible to withstand a concentrated attack by the AoP. As evidenced by Howard's record in the Army of the Tennessee, with competent generalship at the top, his corps could have stood up to Jackson's attack.

My understanding is that although there had been sightings of Jackson's troops the Union generally considered this movement a diversion to enable Lee to withdraw his army.
On 4 May most of the Union army was still on Lee's side of the river. This was the day when Lee said the well-known words about missing Jackson "He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right". That afternoon Lee went to Salem church to supervise matters there.
On 5 May it began to rain as the Union army began it's withdrawal. Rain turned into a storm and the River was rapidly rising. V Corps was the rearguard.
On 6 May Lee received news that the Union army had crossed the River. Lee was furious and said to the messenger who bought the news "You allow those people to get away. I tell you what to do, but you won't do it! Go after them and damage them all you can." [Too late to do the Union any damage by then though as they were safely over the River.]
 
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Belfoured

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The fact of the matter is that they did know he was coming. There were any number of reports of troop movements that were ignored because it didn't fit the preconceived mental image of the situation held by superior officers. To directly answer your question, had they acted on the intel that they received, an attack on Jackson's flank would have been devastating. All strung out in marching order, any coordinated attack by even inferior numbers of Union soldiers on a section of Jackson's column would have been a hammer blow. As is obvious, someone other than Hooker & the deadwood that cluttered the AoP's command & control would have to been magically replaced by Harry Potter.

Actually, you don't have to make this a theoretical discussion in a class at Hogwarts. All you have to do is look what happened at Chancellorsville when, under Lee's personal command, the AoNV attempted to destroy the 5th Corps. It was isolated on Lee's side of the river. It was surrounded on 3 sides. The 5th Corps was significantly outnumbered. Through adroit generalship & very hard fighting, the 5th Corps fought off every attempt to overwhelm it & successfully withdrew across the river in the face of the enemy.

The 5th Corps stand shows that it was possible to withstand a concentrated attack by the AoP. As evidenced by Howard's record in the Army of the Tennessee, with competent generalship at the top, his corps could have stood up to Jackson's attack.
Seconded. They had overwhelming evidence that it was coming, aided partly by Stonewall's cavalier pace. Had Howard and Devens properly evaluated the consistent reports coming from the XI Corps front (and had Hooker stuck to his original concern), instead of dismissing the information because it came from the "Dutch", the Corps would have changed front and - even with the screwup involving the support message to Reynolds - Jackson would not have had the major advantage of a flank attack.
 

Belfoured

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My understanding is that although there had been sightings of Jackson's troops the Union generally considered this movement a diversion to enable Lee to withdraw his army.
On 4 May most of the Union army was still on Lee's side of the river. This was the day when Lee said the well-known words about missing Jackson "He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right". That afternoon Lee went to Salem church to supervise matters there.
On 5 May it began to rain as the Union army began it's withdrawal. Rain turned into a storm and the River was rapidly rising. V Corps was the rearguard.
On 6 May Lee received news that the Union army had crossed the River. Lee was furious and said to the messenger who bought the news "You allow those people to get away. I tell you what to do, but you won't do it! Go after them and damage them all you can." [Too late to do the Union any damage by then though as they were safely over the River.]
Regarding the flank attack even "diversion" may be giving the Federal leadership too much credit. Howard, Devens, et al received enough information over a long enough period to know that a flank attack was being set up but simply dismissed it - in part because of who was doing the reporting. For all the storied legend of Stonewall and his brilliant flank attack, the actual march was not that well-executed, both as to starting time and efficiency of the march. Ultimately the poor execution led to Jackson doing a reconnaissance in the dark. We know how that worked out.
 

A. Roy

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How long could the Union have held Jackson's flank attack at Chancellorsville if they knew he was coming instead of being caught by surprise? Also, how would this have effected the rest of the battle?

Yes, from the reading I've done about this battle, I agree that Hooker's forces had information that could have been used to feed reinforcements to the right flank in time. I think the wilderness terrain might have complicated things, but the main problem was poor command and control, and maybe poor presence-of-mind on Hooker's part. Hooker did well at sneaking a large force across the river and into Lee's rear, but it seems like he executed poorly on the ground once he got there. Poor communications and lack of a cooperative spirit led command to disregard the warnings from the right.

Roy B.
 

Rhea Cole

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My understanding is that although there had been sightings of Jackson's troops the Union generally considered this movement a diversion to enable Lee to withdraw his army.
On 4 May most of the Union army was still on Lee's side of the river. This was the day when Lee said the well-known words about missing Jackson "He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right". That afternoon Lee went to Salem church to supervise matters there.
On 5 May it began to rain as the Union army began it's withdrawal. Rain turned into a storm and the River was rapidly rising. V Corps was the rearguard.
On 6 May Lee received news that the Union army had crossed the River. Lee was furious and said to the messenger who bought the news "You allow those people to get away. I tell you what to do, but you won't do it! Go after them and damage them all you can." [Too late to do the Union any damage by then though as they were safely over the River.]
The 6th Corps had crossed the river near Fredericksburg. For whatever reason, Hooker tasked them with holding fords beyond the flank of the main body. Completely detached from the AoP, the 5th was subject to an attack commanded by Lee in person. The failure to destroy the 6th infuriated Lee.

The position of the 6th Corps & the sequence of events are eerily similar to Gettysburg a few weeks later. The same personality conflicts & verbal order miscues plagued Lee’s command & control during both battles.
 
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wausaubob

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The 5th Corps had crossed the river near Fredericksburg. For whatever reason, Hooker tasked them with holding fords beyond the flank of the main body. Completely detached from the AoP, the 5th was subject to an attack commanded by Lee in person.

The position of the 5th Corps & the sequence of events are eerily similar to Gettysburg a few weeks later. The same personality conflicts & verbal order miscues plagued Lee’s command & control during both battles.
And their record contained other instances in which once they attained a defensive position, they could not be driven from it.
 

wausaubob

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As for Jackson's flank attack, if artillery batteries had been deployed earlier to cover a fall back line for US infantry, Jackson's attack would have halted earlier.
By that time of the war, properly deployed US artillery was seldom or never defeated.
 

Belfoured

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As for Jackson's flank attack, if artillery batteries had been deployed earlier to cover a fall back line for US infantry, Jackson's attack would have halted earlier.
By that time of the war, properly deployed US artillery was seldom or never defeated.
Agree. Dilger and his Napoleons of I, 1st Ohio Light, did their best but 6 guns wasn't going to get it done.
 

RobertP

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Seconded. They had overwhelming evidence that it was coming, aided partly by Stonewall's cavalier pace. Had Howard and Devens properly evaluated the consistent reports coming from the XI Corps front (and had Hooker stuck to his original concern), instead of dismissing the information because it came from the "Dutch", the Corps would have changed front and - even with the screwup involving the support message to Reynolds - Jackson would not have had the major advantage of a flank attack.
The flank march was interpreted as a retreat. The AoP had no evidence of an impending flank attack until the rabbits started running toward them. Yes, the Feds should have tried to attack the ANV in their line of march but chose not to.

Armchair generals describing Jackson’s flanking march at Chancellorsville as ineffective are going against the opinions of virtually all historians, military and civilian, for the past 150+ years. It was at the time and has been since considered the top tactical achievement of the entire war.
 

Belfoured

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The 5th Corps had crossed the river near Fredericksburg. For whatever reason, Hooker tasked them with holding fords beyond the flank of the main body. Completely detached from the AoP, the 5th was subject to an attack commanded by Lee in person. The failure to destroy the 5th infuriated Lee.

The position of the 5th Corps & the sequence of events are eerily similar to Gettysburg a few weeks later. The same personality conflicts & verbal order miscues plagued Lee’s command & control during both battles.
Hooker's use of the V and I Corps overall during the first week of May is baffling.
 

Belfoured

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The flank march was interpreted as a retreat. The AoP had no evidence of an impending flank attack until the rabbits started running toward them. Yes, the Feds should have tried to attack the ANV in their line of march but chose not to.

Armchair generals describing Jackson’s flanking march at Chancellorsville as ineffective are going against the opinions of virtually all historians, military and civilian, for the past 150+ years. It was at the time and has been since considered the top tactical achievement of the entire war.
Labels are not an especially persuasive way of discussing an issue. "Armchair generals" might also apply to some who have blindly clung to the reputation that Jackson died with on May 10. Some who have looked at the attack closely and objectively have found things that could have been done better. And there were some on the Union side at the time who knew that a flank attack was in the offing well before they had bunnies streaming through their position. In some cases they resorted to self-help which was ineffective in the end because a more uniform response was necessary The direction of Jackson's "retreat" became more implausible as the day went on. The problem was that those in command refused to credit any of the information that was flowing to them from the front.
 

jackt62

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The irony of the whole question about withstanding Jackson's flank attack is that Hooker's original planning conceived various offensive alternatives, which envisioned dealing a devastating blow to the ANV:
1. Get in the rear of the ANV and cutoff communications with Richmond along the line of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac RR and force the ANV to retreat.
2. Or envelop the ANV between Fredericksburg and the Wilderness and destroy that army in open terrain.

Once Hooker abandoned his offensive movement and withdrew corps back towards the Wilderness, the game was already lost, and the opportunity for a strong "offensive/defense" by Lee was presented, leading to the famous flank attack by Jackson. At that stage of the operation, with Hooker going on the defensive, responsibility for protecting his flanks was of supreme importance. Had the XI Corps taken steps to deploy its pickets, skirmishers, and artillery, and put the Corps on full alert, the flank attack would not have accomplished what it set out to do.
 

Belfoured

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Yes, from the reading I've done about this battle, I agree that Hooker's forces had information that could have been used to feed reinforcements to the right flank in time. I think the wilderness terrain might have complicated things, but the main problem was poor command and control, and maybe poor presence-of-mind on Hooker's part. Hooker did well at sneaking a large force across the river and into Lee's rear, but it seems like he executed poorly on the ground once he got there. Poor communications and lack of a cooperative spirit led command to disregard the warnings from the right.

Roy B.
The oddity is that Hooker initially suspected that a flanking operation was underway but then convinced himself of the opposite. He did send an order for Reynolds to come up in support of the XI line but that message got delayed/lost.
 

Belfoured

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The irony of the whole question about withstanding Jackson's flank attack is that Hooker's original planning conceived various offensive alternatives, which envisioned dealing a devastating blow to the ANV:
1. Get in the rear of the ANV and cutoff communications with Richmond along the line of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac RR and force the ANV to retreat.
2. Or envelop the ANV between Fredericksburg and the Wilderness and destroy that army in open terrain.

Once Hooker abandoned his offensive movement and withdrew corps back towards the Wilderness, the game was already lost, and the opportunity for a strong "offensive/defense" by Lee was presented, leading to the famous flank attack by Jackson. At that stage of the operation, with Hooker going on the defensive, responsibility for protecting his flanks was of supreme importance. Had the XI Corps taken steps to deploy its pickets, skirmishers, and artillery, and put the Corps on full alert, the flank attack would not have accomplished what it set out to do.
These are good points. He surrendered the initiative on April 30 for some reason. A further irony is that he originally suspected a flank attack on his right and actually ordered Reynolds to move up but then apparently allowed hope to overcome analysis - and the message got substantially delayed until it was too late.
 

wausaubob

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Agree. Dilger and his Napoleons of I, 1st Ohio Light, did their best but 6 guns wasn't going to get it done.
My recollection is that US massed batteries halted the Confederate advance late in the day. Amateur soldiers on both sides did not like getting shelled at a range in which they could not shoot back.
 

Rhea Cole

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Chancellorsville was a case study in my ROTC class. At that time, I often saw a man whittling a cedar stick on the square who had witnessed Confederate cavalry pass by his family’s farmhouse. A lot has happened in CW scholarship since then.

At both Chancellorsville & Gettysburg the AoNV lost almost the same number of casualties as as the AoP. However spectacular the maneuvers, Lee was suffering unsustainable casualties without fatally damaging his opponents. He sustained almost 250,000 casualties that the South could not afford. Seen through that lens, Jackson’s aggressive tactics take on a very different complexion.
 

wausaubob

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Chancellorsville was a case study in my ROTC class. At that time, I often saw a man whittling a cedar stick on the square who had witnessed Confederate cavalry pass by his family’s farmhouse. A lot has happened in CW scholarship since then.

At both Chancellorsville & Gettysburg the AoNV lost almost the same number of casualties as as the AoP. However spectacular the maneuvers, Lee was suffering unsustainable casualties without fatally damaging his opponents. He sustained almost 250,000 casualties that the South could not afford. Seen through that lens, Jackson’s aggressive tactics take on a very different complexion.
The odd thing was that the greater the casualties in these land battles, the less was accomplished. High casualties usually signaled a very even fight in which both sides saw chances for victory.
Three campaigns which affected and then ended the war, did not involve high casualties.
Farragut and Butler captured New Orleans as an intact city, with all its wharves, warehouses and banks ready to operate.
At Chattanooga, most of the Confederates knew that as soon as the US flags were displayed on the peak of Lookout Mountain, the siege had been broken and they retreated or surrendered rather than die in what might have been the last battle of the war.
The Civil War did not end with a final slaughter of the Confederate 30,000 at Appomattox. Instead the US infantry had gotten ahead of the Confederates, and it was pretty clear, without much fighting, that the battle would have been pure murder.
None of these three campaigns involved the gruesome slaughter seen at battles like Gettysburg.
 
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