Longstreet’s Tidewater Operations (March-April 1863)
In mid-February, 1863 most of Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps was moved south by rail. Confederate President made three purposes clear to General Longstreet –1) Longstreet was to keep himself able to cover Richmond in case the Union landed troops at Fort Monroe and moved up the James-York Peninsula again. 2) Be able to move back to Fredericksburg in case Hooker moved. 3) Push the Union troops back to their bases, capture any of those ports if possible, gather all the provisions and volunteers possible in the area, which had been under Union occupation for almost a year. Longstreet had to be careful not to get drawn into pointlessly bloody battles in this little campaign. This may be why Lee chose Longstreet over Jackson, who had more experience in independent operations.
Norfleet House/Suffolk (April 13-15, 1863) – In cooperation with Confederate General Daniel H. Hill’s advance on Washington, North Carolina, Lieutenant General James Longstreet with Generals John Hood’s and George Pickett’s divisions besieged the Union garrison at Suffolk commanded by Brigadier General John Peck. The Union works were formidable and manned by 25,000 men, as opposed to Longstreet’s 20,000. On April 13th, the Confederate troops pushed their left flank to the Nansemond River and constructed a battery on Hill’s Point, which closed off the garrison to Union shipping. On April 14th, Union gunboats attempted to run the Norfleet House batteries slightly upstream, but Mount Washington was crippled. The Federals, at the same time, constructed batteries to command the Confederate works at Norfleet House. On April 15th, these batteries were unmasked and opened fire, driving the Confederates out of this important position.
Hill’s Point/Suffolk (April 11-May 4, 1863) – Also known as the Battle of Hill’s Point, this engagement took place in Suffolk, Virginia. On April 19th, a Union infantry force landed on Hill’s Point at the confluence of the Nansemond River’s forks. This amphibious force assaulted Fort Huger from the rear, quickly capturing its garrison, thus reopening the river to Union shipping. On April 24th, Brigadier General Michael Corcoran’s Union division mounted a reconnaissance-in-force from Fort Dix against Major General George E. Pickett’s extreme right flank. The Federals approached cautiously and were easily repulsed. On April 29th, General Robert E. Lee directed Longstreet to disengage from Suffolk and rejoin the Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg. By May 4th, the last of Longstreet’s command had crossed the Blackwater River en route to Richmond. Longstreet’s Tidewater Operations battles were inconclusive and resulted in total estimated casualties of 1,160 for the entire siege.
Cavalry Operations along the Rappahannock (March 1863)
When Major General Ambrose Burnside was relieved of command of the Union’s Army of the Potomac (following the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 and the fiasco of his Mud March in January 1863), his replacement, Major General Joseph Hooker, immediately began reorganizing and training his army, in winter quarters outside of Fredericksburg.
Kelly’s Ford (March 17, 1863) – Occurring in Culpeper County, this battle was one of the early larger scale cavalry fights in Virginia that set the stage for Brandy Station and cavalry actions of the Gettysburg campaign. Twenty-one hundred troopers of Averell’s cavalry division crossed the Rappahannock River to attack the Confederate cavalry. Confederate General Fitzhugh Lee counterattacked with a brigade of about 800 men. Confederate Major John Pelham, known as the “Gallant,” Pelham was killed. After achieving a localized success, Union forces withdrew in mid-afternoon. The inconclusive battle resulted in an estimated 200 total casualties.
Chancellorsville Campaign (April-May 1863)
This campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Chancellorsville, produced one of the most stunning and ambivalent Confederate victories of the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had trounced the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg the previous December, but since then, Joseph Hooker had thoroughly reorganized and revitalized his dispirited Union troops. Declaring that he had created “the finest Army on the Planet,” he set into motion an elaborate plan designed to quietly turn the left flank of the outnumbered and underfed Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, which was camped not far from Fredericksburg.
Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863) – Taking place in Spotsylvania County over a period of a week, this large battle engaged more than 150,000 combined troops. On April 27, Union Major General Joseph Hooker led the V, XI, and XII Corps to turn the Confederate left flank by crossing the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers above Fredericksburg. Passing the Rapidan River via Germanna and Ely’s Fords, the Federals concentrated near Chancellorsville on April 30th and May 1st. The III Corps was ordered to join the army via United States Ford. Major General Sedgwick’s VI Corps and Major General John Gibbon’s division remained to demonstrate against Fredericksburg’s Confederates. In the meantime, Confederate General Robert E. Lee left a covering force under Major General Jubal A. Early in Fredericksburg, and marched with the rest of the army to confront the Federals. As Union Major General Joseph Hooker’s army moved toward Fredericksburg on the Orange Turnpike, they encountered increasing Confederate resistance.
Hearing reports of an overwhelming Confederate force, Hooker ordered his army to suspend the advance and concentrate again at Chancellorsville. Pressed closely by Lee’s advance, Hooker adopted a defensive posture, thus giving Lee the initiative. On the morning of May 2nd, Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson directed his corps on a march against the Federal left flank, which was reported to be “hanging in the air.”
Fighting was sporadic on other portions of the field throughout the day, as Jackson’s column reached its jump-off point. At 5:20 pm, Jackson’s line surged forward in an overwhelming attack that crushed the Union XI Corps. Federal troops rallied, resisted the advance, and counterattacked. Disorganization on both sides and darkness ended the fighting. While making a night reconnaissance, Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men and carried from the field. Confederate Brigadier General J.E.B Stuart took temporary command of Jackson’s Corps. On May 3rd, the Confederates attacked the army’s wings and massed their artillery at Hazel Grove. This finally broke the Federal line at Chancellorsville. General Hooker withdrew a mile and entrenched in a defensive “U” with his back to the river at United States Ford. Union Major Generals Hiram Berry and Amiel Whipple and Confederate Major General Elisha Paxton were killed, and General Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded. On the night of May 5-6, after Union reverses at Salem Church, General Hooker re-crossed to the Rappahannock River’s north bank. Many historians considered this battle to be General Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory. The battle resulted in an estimated 14,000 Union casualties and 10,000 Confederate casualties.