01
May
09

On This Day, May 1: Battle of Chancellorsville

May 1, 1863

Battle of Chancellorsville begins

On this day in 1863, the Battle of Chancellorsville begins in Virginia. Earlier in the year, General Joseph Hooker led the Army of the Potomac into Virginia to confront Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker had recently replaced Ambrose Burnside, who presided over the Army of the Potomac for one calamitous campaign the previous December: The Battle of Fredericksburg, in which the Yankees amassed over 14,000 casualties to the Rebels’ 5,000.

After spending the spring retooling and uplifting the sinking morale of his army, Hooker advanced toward the Confederate army, possessing perhaps the greatest advantage over Lee that any Union commander had during the war. His force numbered some 115,000 men, while Lee had just 60,000 present for service. Absent from the Confederate army were two divisions under General James Longstreet, which were performing detached service in southern Virginia.

Hooker had a strategically sound plan. He intended to avoid the Confederate trenches that protected a long stretch of the Rappahannock River around Fredericksburg. Placing two-thirds of his forces in front of Fredericksburg to feign a frontal assault and keep the Confederates occupied, he marched the rest of his army up the river, crossed the Rappahannock, and began to move behind Lee’s army. The well-executed plan placed the Army of Northern Virginia in grave danger.

But Lee’s tactical brilliance and gambler’s intuition saved him. He split his force, leaving 10,000 troops under Jubal Early to hold the Federals at bay in Fredericksburg, and then marched the rest of his army west to meet the bulk of Hooker’s force. Conflict erupted on May 1 when the two armies met in an open area beyond the Wilderness, the tangled forest just west of the tiny burgh of Chancellorsville. Surprisingly, Hooker ordered his forces to fall back into defensive positions after only limited combat, effectively giving the initiative to Lee. Despite the fact that his army far outnumbered Lee’s, and had the Confederates clamped between two substantial forces, Hooker went on the defensive. In the following days, Lee executed his most daring battle plan. He split his army again, sending Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson further west around the Union’s right flank. The crushing attack snapped the Union army and sent Hooker in retreat to Washington and, perhaps more than any other event during the war, cemented Lee’s invincibility in the eyes of both sides.

“Battle of Chancellorsville begins,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2001 [accessed May 1, 2009]

On This Day

1707 – England, Wales and Scotland were united to form Great Britain.

1877 – U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew all Federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction.

1898 – The U.S. Navy under Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay in the Philippines.

1931 – The Empire State Building in New York was dedicated and opened. It was 102 stories tall and was the tallest building in the world at the time.

1934 – The Philippine legislature accepted a U.S. proposal for independence.

1944 – The Messerschmitt Me 262, the first combat jet, made its first flight.

1945 – Martin Bormann, private secretary to Adolf Hitler, escaped from the Fuehrerbunker as the Red Army advanced on Berlin.

1945 – Admiral Karl Doenitz succeeded Hitler as leader of the Third Reich. This was one day after Hitler committed suicide.

1950 – Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry called Annie Allen.

1958 – James Van Allen reported that two radiation belts encircled Earth.

1970 – Students at Kent State University riot in downtown Kent, OH, in protest of the American invasion of Cambodia.

1992 – On the third day of the Los Angeles riots resulting from the Rodney King beating trial. King appeared in public to appeal for calm, he asked, “Can we all get along?”

May 1, 1960

American U-2 spy plane shot down

An American U-2 spy plane is shot down while conducting espionage over the Soviet Union. The incident derailed an important summit meeting between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that was scheduled for later that month.

The U-2 spy plane was the brainchild of the Central Intelligence Agency, and it was a sophisticated technological marvel. Traveling at altitudes of up to 70,000 feet, the aircraft was equipped with state-of-the-art photography equipment that could, the CIA boasted, take high-resolution pictures of headlines in Russian newspapers as it flew overhead. Flights over the Soviet Union began in mid-1956. The CIA assured President Eisenhower that the Soviets did not possess anti-aircraft weapons sophisticated enough to shoot down the high-altitude planes.

On May 1, 1960, a U-2 flight piloted by Francis Gary Powers disappeared while on a flight over Russia. The CIA reassured the president that, even if the plane had been shot down, it was equipped with self-destruct mechanisms that would render any wreckage unrecognizable and the pilot was instructed to kill himself in such a situation. Based on this information, the U.S. government issued a cover statement indicating that a weather plane had veered off course and supposedly crashed somewhere in the Soviet Union. With no small degree of pleasure, Khrushchev pulled off one of the most dramatic moments of the Cold War by producing not only the mostly-intact wreckage of the U-2, but also the captured pilot-very much alive. A chagrined Eisenhower had to publicly admit that it was indeed a U.S. spy plane.

On May 16, a major summit between the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France began in Paris. Issues to be discussed included the status of Berlin and nuclear arms control. As the meeting opened, Khrushchev launched into a tirade against the United States and Eisenhower and then stormed out of the summit. The meeting collapsed immediately and the summit was called off. Eisenhower considered the “stupid U-2 mess” one of the worst debacles of his presidency. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was released in 1962 in exchange for a captured Soviet spy.

“American U-2 spy plane shot down,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2654 [accessed May 1, 2009]

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2 Responses to “On This Day, May 1: Battle of Chancellorsville”


  1. 1 cnnchicks
    May 1, 2009 at 4:37 am

    This is a great blog

  2. May 1, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Cool blog, great pics! Fellow historian here, will bookmark this blog……


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