to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.
In the early weeks
of eighteen sixty-three, the American Civil War took a new political direction.
President Abraham Lincoln had announced the Emancipation Proclamation. That
measure freed the slaves in the rebel states of the South, though Lincoln's
words fell on deaf ears.
Yet no longer was
the Civil War a struggle just to save the Union. It had become a struggle for
There was a change
on the military side of the war, too. President Lincoln named a new commander
for the Union's Army of the Potomac. This was the force that would try
again to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia.
week in our series, Harry Monroe and Kay Gallant describe events during the
spring of eighteen sixty-three.
General Joe Hooker
was the new commander of the Army of the Potomac. He replaced General Ambrose
Burnside, when Burnside suffered a terrible defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia,
at the end of eighteen sixty-two. Burnside had replaced General George
McClellan, when McClellan kept refusing to obey President Lincoln's orders.
Hooker had one
hundred thirty thousand men. They were well-trained and well-supplied.
force opposing Hooker's was under the command of General Robert E. Lee. Lee had
only about sixty thousand men. They did not have good equipment. And their
supplies were low. But their fighting spirit was high. They had defeated the
Union army before. They were sure they could do it again.
Lee's army still
held strong defensive positions along high ground south of Fredericksburg. This
was almost halfway between the capitals of the opposing sides: Washington and
General Hooker did
not plan to make the same mistake which General Burnside made at
Fredericksburg. Burnside had thrown his army against Lee's defensive positions
six times. Each time, the Confederates pushed them back easily. In one day of
fighting, more than twelve thousand Union soldiers were killed or wounded.
General Hooker had
rebuilt the Army of the Potomac. Now he was ready to carry out his plan
against General Lee.
Hooker left half
his men at Fredericksburg, in front of Lee's army. He would move the other half
into position behind Lee's army. If Lee turned to meet him, the troops at
Fredericksburg would attack. The Confederate army would be caught between two
powerful forces. Lee would have to withdraw, or lose his army.
Hooker moved around
past the end of Lee's line. Then he turned and started marching back behind it.
It was a hard march
through thick woods, and across rough hills and valleys. The country was so
wild that it was called the wilderness.
On the last day of
April, eighteen sixty-three, the Union force reached Chancellorsville.
Chancellorsville was a crossroads near the edge of the wilderness. The next
day, the soldiers would be in open country. There, General Hooker could make
the best use of his men.
extremely pleased. Everything was going as he had planned. He told his
officers: "I have Lee in one hand and Richmond in the other."
The next day, Union
soldiers began moving out of Chancellorsville and the wilderness. They did not
get far. They ran into several thousand Confederate soldiers. Lee had sent them
to slow the Union force.
force was weak. General Hooker's officers believed they could smash through it
without difficulty. They did not get a chance to try.
Hooker sent new
orders: break off the fight. Return to Chancellorsville. Put up defensive
were shocked. They protested. Hooker stood firm. He said, "Lee must fight
me on my own ground."
Robert E. Lee could
not understand why the Union force had returned to Chancellorsville. But he was
happy it did. Now he had time to prepare his men for battle.
Lee met that night
with his top general, Stonewall Jackson. They discussed the best way to attack
the Union force.
The center of the
Union line was strong. The right side was not. Jackson was sure he could get
around behind it. Lee asked Jackson how many men he would take. "All of
them," Jackson answered. "Twenty-eight thousand."
This meant Lee
would have only fourteen thousand men to face General Hooker. If the Union
force attacked before Stonewall Jackson got into position, Lee could not
possibly hold it back.
Lee was taking a
huge chance. He thought about it for a moment. Then he told Jackson to get
Jackson's men began
to leave the next morning. Union soldiers watched as they marched away. General
Hooker thought Lee was withdrawing.
It took Jackson
only half a day to get behind the Union force. He spent a few more hours
putting his troops into position. Then he attacked. It was six o'clock in the
The right end of
the Union force was not prepared for an attack. The soldiers could not believe
their eyes when they saw Confederate troops running out of the woods behind
them. Many Union soldiers were killed or wounded. Thousands fled.
The sun went down.
The fighting continued under a bright moon. The Confederate troops kept moving
forward. The Union troops kept falling back. One northern soldier wrote later:
"Darkness was upon us. Jackson was upon us. And fear was upon us."
Jackson seemed to
be everywhere. He rode his horse among his men, urging them forward. He would
not let the Union force escape.
As Jackson and some
of his officers rode into a cleared area of the woods, shots rang out. The
bullets came from Confederate guns. The Confederate soldiers thought they were
firing on Union officers.
Jackson fell from
his horse. Two bullets had smashed his left arm. Another bullet had hit his
right hand. He was hurried to the back of the line. A doctor quickly cut off
his left arm and stopped the heavy bleeding.
Jackson seemed to
get better. Then he developed pneumonia. He was unconscious most of the time.
He seemed to dream of battle, and shouted commands to his officers. Then he
grew quiet. He opened his eyes and said, "Let us pass over the river and
rest in the shade of the trees."
Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson, was dead.
While Jackson lay
dying, the battle of Chancellorsville continued.
Robert E. Lee's
Confederate army was much smaller than Joe Hooker's Union army. But for five
days, Lee kept part of his army moving between Chancellorsville and
Fredericksburg. Wherever the Union army attacked, Lee quickly added more men to
lines. The Union army could not break through.
The fighting was
taking place on the south side of the Rappahannock River. The Union army's
supply lines were on the north side.
Spring rains were
beginning to make the Rappahannock rise. General Hooker did not want to get
trapped without food and ammunition. So he ordered his men back across the
The South had won
the battle of Chancellorsville. Robert E. Lee was sure of that. Once again, he
had forced back the Army of the Potomac. But the Union army was not hurt
seriously. New soldiers would soon take the place of those lost in battle.
Lee, however, would
find it more difficult to replace his soldiers. The South was running out of
manpower. Every Confederate army needed men -- more and more men. Yet fewer and
fewer southern boys were willing to become soldiers.
were, in fact, active in both the North and South. There were a number of
protests against the military draft. Some turned violent.
In the North, a
political party was created to oppose the Civil War. Leaders of this peace
party were called Copperheads. They got the name because they wore a copper
penny showing the head of an Indian.
be our story in our next program on the Civil War.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Harry
Monroe and Kay Gallant. Our series can be found online with transcripts,
podcasts and historical images at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also follow our
weekly programs on Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for
THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.
This is program
#106 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION