Chancellorsville was Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory and the South’s most damaging loss. The battle was won against enormous odds by Lee’s bold strokes, but the Confederacy’s cause was irreparably damaged by the death of Lee’s greatest lieutenant, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Chancellorsville was a pivotal battle, and Furgurson’s study is worthy of it.
He sets the stage well, explaining the strategic and tactical situations in the spring of 1863 that caused the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, “Fighting Joe” Hooker, to devise an ambitious flanking maneuver around Lee which threatened to place the huge Federal army between the Confederates and their capital in Richmond. Furgurson notes what many historians slight, the skills and abilities of Union commanders and troops which made such a move possible.
He also examines the special qualities of the Confederate forces which allowed Lee to mount an amazing riposte, nearly driving his hapless foe into the Rapidan River. As Furgurson notes, Hooker had a meticulous diagram for success, but it failed when tested against chance and genius.
That perspective is probably the book’s greatest strength. Rather than merely noting where and when the confused armies clashed, Furgurson explains how the characters of their commanders decisively influenced the battle’s outcome. CHANCELLORSVILLE 1863 is more than a military history; it is a consideration of what war is, and what happens to the men who fight it.