What: Decisive Confederate victory
Where: Spotsylvania County, Virginia
Why: Widely regarded as Lee’s ‘perfect battle’.
When: April 30 – May 6 1863
“Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees” – Last words of Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson
On April 27 1863, the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock River, as Major General George Stoneman’s Union cavalry began a raid against the Army of Northern Virginia’s supply lines. The operation failed, but the Union had more than double the number of troops, and Major General Joseph Hooker planned to envelop Lee and attack him from all sides. Seeing Hooker coming, Lee decided on one of the boldest moves of the war: he divided his already small force, leaving Jubal Early to cover a smaller Union force at Fredericksburg, moving most of his men to stop the Federal advance. Then, Lee divided his army yet again. Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps, around 28,000 men, detached from the main army and, guided by a civilian who knew the thick wilderness, marched around Hooker’s lines to attack him from the rear. Until Jackson had completed the manoeuver, Lee was left facing 70,000 Union troops with just 13,000 men and 24 guns. Lee was counting on Hooker’s timidity preventing an attack, Jackson’s assault achieving surprise and Early holding out against the Union army four times the size of his at Fredericksburg. Jackson’s attack was a success, destroying half of Hooker’s line, with only impending nightfall preventing complete victory. However, disaster struck the Confederates on the night of the 2nd, as the irreplaceable Jackson was mortally wounded by his own pickets. Lee attacked again on the 3rd, Hooker eventually retreating back over the Rappahannock, giving Lee the strategic initiative that would take him as far north as Gettysburg.