Confidence and Concussions

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.

Lee and Jackson deciding Hooker’s fate

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.

Mr. Lincoln’s Army endures another defeat

  • 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
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Confidence and Concussions

  1. In my opinion, Howard bears a large measure of the blame, both in the inadequate training and the fighting of his corps. However it cannot be denied that by that time Hooker had lost his nerve, I’ve always suspected that part of it was that he was simply overawed by R.E. Lee, a problem that was endemic in the Army of the Potomac.

    This was the saddest campaign because Hooker started off so good that he had a chance to end the war, at least in the east.

  2. I have to ask: what do you think about the tactical ability of the Union during the Civil War? In all my debates on the subject, the prevailing opinion seems to be that while the Union had the numerical, technological, and industrial superiority, it was strategically incompetent compared to the Soouth. Is this a fair asessment? I’m not sure what to think given that I’ve read many different things.

    • There were fine tacticians who were not aggressive enough to meet the demands of the Lincoln administration, Rosecrans is the obvious example. Grant and Sherman weren’t really good tacticians, but understood the strategic realities.

      • Although in general I agree, I would take exception on Grant and Sherman. Grant’s campaign below Vickburg is hard to beat in sheer audacity, and although more operational than tactical Sherman’s campaign down to Atlanta was beyond compare. Part of how we see this is affected by the opposition, Lee and Jackson may have been the best tactical commanders to speak English, ever.

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