Today in Military History – May 2nd – The Whole StoryRich
May 2nd, 1863 Stonewall Jackson administers a devastating defeat to the Army of the Potomac. In one of the most stunning upsets of the war, a vastly outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia sent the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General Joseph Hooker, back to Washington in defeat. Hooker, who headed for Lee’s army confident and numerically superior, had sent part of his force to encounter Lee’s troops at Fredericksburg the day before, while the rest swung west to approach Lee from the rear. Meanwhile, Lee had left part of his army at Fredericksburg and had taken the rest of his troops to confront Hooker near Chancellorsville. When the armies collided on May 1, Hooker withdrew into a defensive posture. Sensing Hooker’s trepidation, Lee sent Jackson along with 28,000 troops on a swift, 14-mile march around the Union right flank. Splitting his army into three parts in the face of the mighty Army of the Potomac was a bold move, but it paid huge dividends for the Confederates. Although Union scouts detected the movement as Jackson swung southward, Hooker misinterpreted the maneuver as a retreat. When Jackson’s troops swung back north and into the thick woods west of Hooker’s army, Union pickets reported a possible buildup; but their warnings fell on deaf ears. In the evening of May 2, Union soldiers from General Oliver Otis Howard’s 11th Corps were casually cooking their supper and playing cards when waves of forest animals charged from the woods. Behind them were Jackson’s attacking troops. The Federal flank crumbled as Howard’s men were driven back some two miles before stopping the Rebel advance. Despite the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Union forces soon gained the upper hand in the war in the eastern theater. Scouting in front of the lines as they returned in the dark, Jackson and his aides were fired upon by their own troops. Jackson’s arm was amputated the next morning, and he never recovered. He died from complications a week later, leaving Lee without his most able lieutenant.
In 1842, Jackson was accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Because of his inadequate schooling, he had difficulty with the entrance examinations and began his studies at the bottom of his class.As a student, he had to work harder than most cadets to absorb lessons. Displaying a dogged determination that was to characterize his life, however, he became one of the hardest working cadets in the academy, and moved steadily up the academic rankings. Jackson graduated 17th out of 59 students in the Class of 1846. It was said by his peers that if he had stayed there another year, he would have graduated first.