A Review of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville reenactment.
By: Charles Cummings – Editor of American Civil War Today
May 9, 2013
I had the pleasure of attending some of the 150 events for Chancellorsville this past weekend. The entire event schedule started May 1st and continues through May 12th. As with many of the 150 events, the largest events are held on the weekend closest to the actual battle. I attended the events on Saturday May 4th.
The center of the reenactment and living history events was at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Spotsylvania is just south of Chancellorsville and would be the location of the battle after that name in 1864. It was a pretty good location to do a reenactment as it had large open space and was very easy for people to get in and out of. It was also very well attended; I would say there were around 4,000 reenactors and a similar number of spectators. The reenactment and associated living history events started at 10 AM and ended late in the evening with a Military Ball. In the morning, I attended several talks on the battle by living historians portraying the Union command. A particular highlight for me though was not the Union generals, but a brilliant presentation on Stonewall Jackson’s topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss. The presenter was either a topographer himself, or had thoroughly studied Jedediah Hotchkiss, or possibly both. Jedediah was actually a northerner that had moved to Virginia as a young adult. He was initially a teamster before being hired as a topographer. The map he made of the Shenandoah Valley, which I saw at the Library of Congress a few months ago, is partially credited with giving Stonewall Jackson the ability to move quickly and surprise 3 separate Union commands in the Valley campaign of 1862.
The actual reenactment started just after the sun came out. Due to the rolling of the hills, it was actually hard to see part of the battle from where I initially stood. I walked down to the other end of the field to see the action. The reenactment was meant to represent Jackson’s flank attack. For those that have seen Gods and Generals, it certainly didn’t have that feel. Mainly, I suspect due to safety concerns and a lack of space. Jackson’s actual flank attack pushed back Howard’s corps several miles, some of which was in a confused retreat. For me personally, I tend to view the reenactment as just part of the event and consider the day in its entirety. After the reenactment, I drove to the actual Chancellorsville battlefield and attended a talk on the history of the Chancellor House and family. The 150 events often give additional opportunities for tours or talks that are not normally part of the schedule. This was a great talk on a different aspect of the battle. A family that had been part of the war from the beginning, albeit indirectly, had a major battle at the doorstep. Confederate shells would eventually burn down the house. Also, General Hooker himself suffered a concussion from a shell at the house. Since Gettysburg 150 is less than 2 months away, I feel that this was a great way to get ready for such an historical occasion. I will be attending 5 days of the Gettysburg 150 events and look forward to reporting on what will be a very special occasion.
Cost: $25 for 2 days of the reenactment (NPS events were free)