This Day (The Beam on Thine Head Edition)

Published:May 3, 2013 by Brendan Wolfe

Union soldiers by the  Rappahannock River, April 29 or 30, 1863, by Andrew J. Russell

On this day 150 years ago, the drama at Chancellorsville continued. To bring you up to date, Union general Joseph Hooker snuck across the Rappahannock on May 1, thinking he was going to sneak around Robert E. Lee‘s right flank. Instead, he ran smack into the Army of Northern Virginia, and he did it in the worst possible place—amongst the close and tangled undergrowth of the Wilderness.


Then, at the end of May 2, after a daylong, semi-secret march, Stonewall Jackson‘s men came screaming out of the woods, sending Union troops fleeing. As night fell, however, Jackson was accidentally shot down by his own troops.

Our entry picks it up from there:

The Second Corps transferred to the ranking general in the field, the cavalryman J. E. B. Stuart, who, without any other plan to work from, threw his troops at Hooker the next morning [May 3]. The fighting was as hot and close as any in the war—the vast majority of the battle’s casualties occurred on this day—and Hooker himself suffered a concussion when a wooden beam from the Chancellor family house fell on him. Rumors immediately circulated that he was drunk, and historians have argued for years about the extent to which the stalemate that followed was a symptom of Hooker’s decision not to remove himself from command. (Or was it that he lost his nerve again? A 1910 history of the battle has Hooker telling a subordinate that “I was not hurt by a shell and I was not drunk. For once I lost confidence in Hooker, and that is all there is to it.” The historian [Stephen W.] Sears has thoroughly dismissed this account, however.)

And if all that wasn’t enough, another battle of sorts was beginning to unfold down the road at Fredericksburg. The idea was for Union troops to attack there and pull Confederates out of the fight to the west. And the day’s actions began with the movements of a Union division commanded by a Virginian—John Newton, of Norfolk.

You can read what happened next here.

RE: THE POST’S TITLE: Matthew 7:5 KJV.

IMAGE: This remarkable photograph has often been wrongly described as Union soldiers outside Petersburg in 1864; in fact, they are waiting to cross the Rappahannock River, near Fredericksburg. They will be part of the fight there on May 3–4.