Chancellorsville is often called Lee’s “perfect battle”… facing the longest odds, using the boldest tactics, and winning the ultimate triumph- but a closer examination of the battle’s casualty statistics reveal a very different picture. Far from perfect, Lee’s victory over Hooker was a costly, bloody gamble with marginal payoff.
Twice dividing his outnumbered force before a superior foe… and executing a bold flanking maneuver clouds the true cost of the battle. Hooker’s inaction is far more striking than Lee’s tactical decisions. By surrendering the initiative to Lee, Hooker allowed his opponent tactical discretion, thus making the flank attack possible. Union reinforcements nullified Confederate gains on May 2. Hooker’s refusal to counterattack with those additional troops only accentuated the modest Confederate gains.
Lee went into battle with just under 60,000 effectives… and suffered nearly 13,000 casualties- of which, over 10,000 were wounded or killed. Almost a quarter of his men were gone at a time when the Confederacy was increasingly unable to replace such loss. Comparatively, Hooker entered the battle with well over 130,000 troops, and suffered over 17,000 casualties. But, of this number, nearly 6,000 were captured(11th Corps victims of Jackson’s attack.) Factoring the captured, Hooker’s loss was a much smaller figure of just over 11,000. The statistics show that Lee’s army actually took the worst of the fighting- His action, and Hooker’s inaction have permanently altered the history of the battle. Far from the great army “cut to pieces” as remembered by Horace Greeley, Hooker’s men fought well and proved their mettle in battle.