THE NIGHT CONFERENCE
Virginia, May 1, 1863
It was the eve of General Robert E. Lee's greatest victory. Near the rural crossroads community of Chancellorsville, in a grove of trees lit by campfires, Lee plotted strategy with his most valuable commander, General Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson and the "eyes" of his army, General J.E.B. Stuart, who commanded Lee's cavalry. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was outnumbered and threatened by the Federal Army of the Potomac, commanded by General Joseph ("Fighting Joe") Hooker. Certain that he would destroy Lee's army, Hooker had proclaimed, "The rebel army is now the legitimate property of the Army of the Potomac."
General Stuart, however, had discovered a weakness in Hooker's lines, and on the night of May 1, 1863, Lee met with Jackson and Stuart to determine how to exploit the Federal vulnerability. At this nighttime conference, Lee decided to make a risky gamble: he would divide his army and attack the enemy's weak point.
At daylight, Jackson would lead his corps on a dramatic forced march around the enemy flank and shatter Hooker's line in a powerful surprise attack. It would be Lee's most magnificent victory, but it would be won at a terrible cost to the South: "Stonewall" Jackson would be mortally wounded. A year later, Stuart would also fall. Never again would Lee, Jackson and Stuart confer together; the night council at Chancellorsville was their last meeting.
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