The Campaign Begins (April 30, 1863)

The ruins of the Chancellorsville house as they appeared in 1865 (Library of Congress).

The ruins of the Chancellorsville house as they appeared in 1865 (Library of Congress).

Meade’s letter to his wife is just a short note, but it has big ramifications. Joe Hooker has finally put his army into motion and the Chancellorsville campaign has begun. On April 30 Meade’s V Corps pushed on from Ely’s Ford on the Rapidan; Meade reached the Chancellorsville house  around 11:00. It was at a crossroads in the tangle called the Wilderness and would give its name to the battle fought in the woods and small fields around it. ““It was a large, commodious, two-story brick building, with peaked roof and a wing, and pillared porches on both stories in the centre of the main building,” wrote a member of the 118th Pennsylvania. “Upon the upper porch was quite a bevy of ladies in light, dressy, attractive spring costumes. They were not at all abashed or intimidated, scolded audibly and reviled bitterly.” Before long the young ladies would be fleeing for the lives across a landscape that had been transformed into something that looked like hell.

The papers will of course tell you the army has moved. I write to tell you that there is as yet but a little skirmishing; we are across the river and have out-manceuvered the enemy, but are not yet out of the woods.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 370. Available via Google Books.

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