Burnside committed a tragic error of judgment in attacking Lee's strong position at Fredericksburg. It was compounded by a failed attempt to march around Lee's left and cross the Rappahannock in January, a good move spoiled by unexpected weather that turned the flanking movement into the infamous Mud March. Burnside was replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker on January 26, 1863, and the Army of the Potomac was rejuvenated by improved living conditions, more frequent furloughs, the introduction of corps badges, and Hooker's infectious optimism. When the spring brought good campaigning weather to Virginia, the Federals were ready for another try at Lee. Considering the digging that followed the battle of Fredericksburg, this next campaign was sure to involve field fortifications.
Hooker devised a plan very similar to Burnside's flanking movement. Lee had too many earthworks guarding possible crossing sites downstream from Fredericksburg, so Hooker attempted to cross well upstream of the town. He left the First and Sixth Corps at Falmouth to keep Lee occupied and took the rest of his army on a long flanking march. Hooker conceived of his campaign as one of maneuver, not one involving head-on assaults on entrenched positions. If he succeeded in flanking Lee, he hoped the Rebel commander would evacuate the heights at Fredericksburg and retreat southward. Yankee hopes for victory were bolstered by the knowledge that Longstreet had taken two divisions to southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina to gather supplies and possibly recapture some occupied towns. Hooker outnumbered Lee with 134,000 men, compared with 40,000 Confederates.
The flanking column started out on April 27 and made its way upstream. Meanwhile, the First and Sixth Corps, under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, crossed the river and established a bridgehead on the open bottomland opposite Hamilton's Crossing to divert Rebel attention. That same day, April 29, Hooker's flanking column began to cross the Rapidan River above its junction with the Rappahannock. The several crossings here, including Germanna Ford and United States Ford, had been fortified by the Confederates with artillery emplacements and infantry works, but these defenses were lightly held. The next day, Hooker advanced four corps from the fords to