The 61st OVI at the Battle of Chancellorsville

On April 27, 1863, the 61st OVI left their winter camp and crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford moving to the rear of the Confederate position at Fredericksburg.  Here they connected with the rest of the Union army that  had crossed the Rappahannock at United States Ford.  The 61st, part of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps, took a position on the right preparatory to the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Major General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker was now in command of the Union Army in Virginia.  By crossing the Rappahannock River above Fredericksburg, his plan was to fall on the rear of the Confederate Army.  The Union Army outnumbered the Confederate Army 130,000 men to 60,000 men.   Confederate General Robert E. Lee responded to the Union Army threat by dividing his army sending the bulk of his army west toward the small hamlet of Chancellorsville and leaving a small rear guard at Fredericksburg.

The Battle of Chancellorsville began on May 1 when Confederate forces attacked the Union Army west of Fredericksburg driving it back toward Chancellorsville.  The day ended with the Union Army digging in around and west of the crossroads at Chancellorsville.  Howard’s XI Corps, and the 61st OVI, were located west of Chancellorsville on the extreme right of the Union Army.

Late in afternoon of May 2, Lee divided his army further by detaching Jackson’s corps of 30,000 men and sending them on a flanking movement of 12 miles around the Union armies right.  The Confederates eventually took up positions directly behind Howard’s unsuspecting XI Corps, and the 61st OVI.  At 6 o’clock in the evening, Jackson’s forces, screaming their Rebel yell, came out of the forest easily rolling over and destroying Howard’s corps inflicting heavy Union losses.

The 61st OVI was engaged in the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 3, 4, and 5.  The regiment suffered a total of 33 men killed and 27 wounded, including four officers.  One of those officer casualties was Robert Patterson, who was severely wounded during the battle.  Overall, the Union Army suffered approximately 18,000 casualties and the Confederate Army 12,800.

Chancellorsville was a Confederate victory, and is considered by many to be General Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory.  It also gave the Confederate Army momentum that eventually led to the invasion of Pennsylvania and the Battle of Gettysburg.  However, it was also a costly victory.  General “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men on May 2 while searching for a new route to attack the Union Army.  He died eight days later.

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