“May God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none.”…proclaimed Fighting Joe Hooker in March of 1863. Such bold talk was a welcomed change following the disasters of the Seven Days battles, Second Bull Run, and Fredericksburg. Hooker took command and reorganized and reinvigorated the Army of the Potomac. His strategy was far bolder than any of his predecessors and Hooker was supremely confident. A third of his army would demonstrate against Lee’s forces at Fredericksburg while the remaining troops would cross the Rapidan river north of Lee and threaten his rear. The Confederates would be forced out of their entrenchments and Hooker would have the initiative. Hooker boasted to Lincoln, “My plans are perfect.” Lincoln responded, “The hen is the wisest of all the animal creation, because she never cackles until the egg is laid.”
Lee was take entirely by surprise…for one of the few times in the war when he learned Union forces were concentrated in his rear near the tiny hamlet of Chancellorsville. Hooker’s strategy had been carried out to the letter and his maneuvers placed Lee exactly in the anticipated position. On May 1, Lee rushed west to meet the threat and to give Hooker battle. Here lies the great mystery of Chancellorsville; why did Hooker flinch? Lee seized the initiative on May 1 and never let it go.