Hooker, however, had seen enough. Despite the objections of most of his corps commanders, he ordered a withdrawal across the river. The Federals conducted their retreat under cover of darkness and arrived back in Stafford County on May 6. Ironically, this decision may have been Hooker's most serious blunder of the campaign. Lee's impending assault on May 6 might have failed and completely reversed the outcome of the battle.
Confederate leadership during the Chancellorsville Campaign may represent the finest generalship of the Civil War, but the luster of "Lee's greatest victory" tarnishes upon examination of the battle's tangible results. In truth, the Army of the Potomac had not been so thoroughly defeated - some 40,000 Federals had done no fighting whatsoever. Although Hooker suffered more than 17,000 casualties, those losses accounted for only 13% of his total strength. Lee's 13,000 casualties amounted to 22% of his army, men difficult to replace. Of course, Jackson's death on May 10 created a vacancy that could never be filled. Finally, Lee's triumph at Chancellorsville imbued him with the belief that his army was invincible. He convinced the Richmond government to endorse his proposed offensive into Pennsylvania. Within six weeks, the Army of Northern Virginia confidently embarked on a journey northward to keep an appointment with destiny at a place called Gettysburg.
The text for this section was written by A. Wilson Green, former staff historian for Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. It is derived from a National Park Service training booklet.