The December 1862 Federal defeat at Fredericksburg and the infamous “Mud March” in January 1863 sat heavily on the shoulders of General Ambrose Burnside as he requested to be relieved of his post. President Abraham Lincoln agreed and replaced him with General Joseph Hooker who immediately set out to reorganize and refit his army. By spring the army was ready for the campaign season. The Southern army, on the other hand, passed a winter so harsh and so short of supplies that it became necessary to dispatch most of General James Longstreet’s corps to another locale, just to subsist.
With Lee firmly entrenched upon the high ground west of Fredericksburg, Hooker decided to circle around behind the Confederates with five of his corps, while the two-remaining attempted to hold Lee in place at Fredericksburg. Meanwhile, Hooker’s cavalry conducted a raid against the rail lines supplying Lee’s army. It was a bold plan. Hooker’s columns crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford and the Rapidan River at Germanna, Ely’s, and U.S. Fords and concentrated near Chancellorsville.
Lee sent General Thomas Jackson to oppose the Federal advance while a reinforced division under General Jubal Early remained to confront the Federal holding force in Fredericksburg. Lee’s rapid response, which included his dividing the Confederate army two more times, resulted in the early May Battles of Chancellorsville, Second Fredericksburg, and Salem Church. The Chancellorsville Campaign resulted in a dramatic Confederate victory but it cost some 30,000 soldiers, and ultimately, the life of Jackson, which proved an irreparable loss for Lee and the South. Hooker’s army escaped total defeat and re-crossed the river but Lee had gained the initiative and he used it to move into Pennsylvania the following month.