The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage The Battle of Chancellorsville

Although Stephen Crane never specifically denotes what battle the events of his most famous novel, The Red Badge of Courage take place in, it is commonly assumed that it is the Battle of Chancellorsville. The Battle of Chancellorsville was fought between April 30th and May 6th 1863 in the Spotsylvania area of Virginia. It is considered General Lee's greatest victory.

The Union army under Joseph Hooker planned to strike at Lee's army in the Suffolk woods. Hooker sent some of his forces to engage Lee at Fredericksburg near where Burnside was defeated, and sent more of them to the west to swing back at Lee. The newly organized cavalry would attack Lee's line of communications connecting him to the Confederate capital of Richmond. Hooker assumed Lee would retreat and then the forces under his command would destroy the Confederate army. The Union cavalry and three army corps moved into the dense forest known as the "Wilderness of Spotsylvania," taking fords and amassing in Chancellorsville on April 29th. Lee sent a division to investigate, and, discovering what the Union army was doing, ordered an earthworks constructed at Zoan Church. Reinforcements were sent and arrived on May 1st. Lee had no intention of retreating.

Hooker and his forces assumed that their daring march across Lee's front was the most difficult part of the war, but they would be proven wrong. The cavalry raid planned did not succeed and Hooker's force was now stuck in the Wilderness with no cavalry left to warn them of Lee's imminent approach. Lee may have had less troops - 60,000 to Hooker's 115,000 – but he was not planning on retreating and divided his army between half sent to guard Fredericksburg and the other half sent to meet Hooker's advance.

The Union and Confederate armies clashed on May 1st, forcing Hooker to pull back to Chancellorsville, which at that time was only a solitary tavern in a heavily wooded area in the Wilderness. Hooker set up a defensive line and thought that Lee would find it difficult to coordinate an attack through the densely wooded area. Lee, however, made the risky decision to divide his army again, sending two divisions directly at Hooker and directing Stonewall Jackson to take the rest of the army to the Union's exposed right flank. Jackson conducted this order with dispatch and panache, arriving on May 2nd and attacking at dusk. The Confederates became disorganized, unfortunately, and in the chaos Jackson was accidentally shot by his own troops. His left arm was amputated that evening.

Jackson's successor, General J.E.B. Stuart, reunited his troops with Lee's and ordered them to withdraw north of the Chancellor House. The Union troops offered a stubborn defense, and Stuart was even more dismayed when news came that the Union troops had broken through at Fredericksburg. Lee decided to try and strangle the Union troops there and force them to retreat across the Rappahannock River. When he made it to Chancellorsville he was disappointed to discover Hooker had retreated. However, this retreat made it possible for Lee to conduct his second invasion of the North and set the stage for Gettysburg.

The battle was savagely fought and the casualties were high: 14,000 for the Confederates and 17,000 for the Union troops. General Jackson was perhaps the most terrible casualty of the battle; he died from pneumonia on May 10th due to complications from his wounds sustained in the battle.