Chancellorsville, Virginia, to Gettysburg,
February 20–July 9, 1863
It must be very humiliating to the yankees to be whipped so often
by our army . . .
—William Cowan McClellan
Athens and Limestone County, Alabama, were occupied again by Union forces in 1863, and in this year the Confederacy reached its zenith before the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July. Very few of the original recruits from 1861 hadn’t “seen the elephant” by now. In January 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia (including the Valley District of the Shenandoah Valley) numbered 144,614 men and still faced the Army of the Potomac now commanded by Gen. Joseph Hooker.1 After the successful campaign at Fredericksburg, the Army of Northern Virginia was probably at its peak in terms of manpower, leadership, and effectiveness.
Lee still kept an eye on Hooker, who was threatening to turn Lee’s left flank near Chancellorsville, while he also maintained some pressure in the direction of Fredericksburg. The Army of Northern Virginia was spread out in a line between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and the Union commander opened the battle by trying to execute a turning movement on the Confederate left. The 134,000-man Union army held a two to one ratio over Lee’s army as Hooker crossed the Rappahannock River on April 29 and positioned his forces between the Wilderness and Chancellor crossroads. On May 1 he advanced his army with the goal of driving Lee southward toward the South Anna River. Lee was able to stop Hooker’s turning movement with one of his own, and on May 2 Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson’s flanking movement drove in Hooker’s right flank. Hooker retreated across the river, but Lee was unable to further punish the Union forces.
Also on May 2, Union general John Sedgwick drove Jubal Early’s Confederate defenders out of Fredericksburg and toward Chancellorsville, threatening Lee’s right flank. The next day Lee ordered a portion of his line to