April Meeting – Frank O’Reilly

Join us on April 9, as our Sesquicentennial-timed presentations turn to the battle of Chancellorsville.  Historian Frank O’Reilly returns as our guest.

Meeting time:  7:30 PM, April 9, 2013.

Location:   Thomas Balch Library, 208 West Market Street, Leesburg, Virginia.

Topic:  Robert E. Lee and the Battle of Chancellorsville

Throughout its long 4 year struggle for independence, the Confederacy faced many serious military threats from the North.  None were as serious as that posed by the Chancellorsville Campaign which the newly appointed Union General “Fighting Joe Hooker” had carefully planned and initiated in the early spring of 1863.  Quickly seizing the initiative in the opening moves of this campaign, Hooker had clearly outmaneuvered his Confederate counterpart and had placed his newly reorganized and rejuvenated Army of the Potomac seemingly in an unassailable position from which it could deliver a knockout blow in the east, a blow from which the fledgling Confederacy would not be able to recover.  This is the same Union army which had suffered one of its greatest defeats on the banks of the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg barely 5 months earlier.  And for the first time in more than 2 grueling years of hard fighting in the eastern theatre, it looked as though Hooker would be the first of a long line of successive Union commanders to bring Lincoln the victory he so earnestly desired.  “May God have mercy on General Lee (and his Army of Northern Virginia) for I will have none” was Hooker’s boast prior to the campaign.

But unfortunately for Hooker and his Army of the Potomac, they were in for a rather rude awakening in the wilderness that surrounds Chancellorsville.  Soon, they found themselves hotly engaged in a deadly struggle against an opponent whose name has come to be synonymous with sheer audacity and cunning on the battlefield.   For Hooker’s opponent was none other than General Robert E. Lee.  For almost a year, Lee and his famed Army of Northern Virginia had managed to keep the ponderous and powerful Union Army of the Potomac at bay north of the Rappahannock River.  But the threat now posed by Hooker at Chancellorsville seemed to break the stalemate on the banks of the Rappahannock and opened the road to Richmond.  Outnumbered by more than two to one at the beginning of the campaign and, at first, brilliantly outmaneuvered by his opponent, RE Lee overcame impossible odds and achieved one of the greatest and most improbable victories in the history of armed conflict.  Through a series of adroit maneuvers, Lee was able to quickly regain the initiative and eventually turn the tide of battle in his favor in this remarkable campaign.  How Lee personally conducted himself under extreme pressure on the battlefield in the face of a seemingly invincible enemy and overwhelming odds is the focus of this evening’s presentation.

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About our speaker:
Frank A. O’Reilly graduated from Washington & Lee University in 1987 and joined the National Park Service.   Aside from a brief tour at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Frank’s assignments were at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park.  He served as a historical consultant for the City of Fredericksburg.  He has authored many articles and appeared in numerous documentaries.  In addition he has presented military history topics to audiences around the world.  Recently he presented in Oxford, United Kingdom on the bicentennial of Robert E. Lee’s Birth and the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  His published books include Stonewall Jackson at Fredericksburg (1993) and The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock (2003).  The last mentioned work won the 2002 Capital District (Albany, NY) Book Award; the 2003 James I. Robinson, Jr. Book Award; the 2004 Daniel Laney Book Award; and the 2004 Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award.  Currently Frank’s is researching for a future title on the Seven Day’s Campaign and the Battle of Malvern Hill.

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About Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.
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