History will never know why Joe Hooker… surrendered the initiative to Lee at Chancellorsville. Popular history records Hooker as saying “I just lost faith in Joe Hooker.” Further speculation centers on the projectile which nearly killed Hooker on the porch of the Chancellor house, leaving him with a concussion. Historian Stephen Sears’ extensive research has uncovered no evidence that Hooker ever publicly claimed he lost faith in himself. The famous quote came from elderly veterans exchanging stories years after Hooker’s death. The shell struck the pillar on the Chancellor porch on May 3. Hooker was obviously affected by the blow, refusing to relinquish command after being prompted by subordinates. Trouble is the battle had been decided by this point. Hooker chose to go on the defensive on May 1, long before his bell was rung.
What we know about the Chancellorsville campaign… is the Union high command was plagued by poor tactical decisions and a lack of leadership from Hooker.
- Hooker surrendered the initiative to Lee on May 1
- Lee seized the initiative and decided to take the battle to Hooker
- Maj. General Oliver Otis Howard ignored Hooker’s orders to fortify his position on the Union right flank
- Jackson’s flank attack crushed Howard’s men but gained no real strategic advantage
- Jackson’s wounding left a serious hole in the Confederate command structure
- Hooker missed several key opportunities to counterattack on May 3
- Hooker should have stepped aside after suffering a concussion
- Nearly 40,000 Union troops failed to fire a shot during the battle….they were never put into fight
- Of the 17,200 Union casualties, nearly 6,000 of them were captured members of the XI corps
- Lee’s army sustained more actual battle casualties (13,300) than Hooker’s