The beginning combat of the Chancellorsville Campaign began on this ground on May 1st, 1863. The irony of Chancellorsville is that a battle renowned for a Confederate flank attack begins with a brilliant flanking movement executed by the Union Army. Federal Army of the Potomac commander “Fighting Joe” Hooker had stolen a march on Lee and arrived virtually unopposed behind the Confederate lines, with a force that eventually numbered over 80,000 men. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, minus most of James Longstreet’s First Corps (off foraging in southeastern Virginia) and without Jubal Early’s 10,000-man division (left in the defensive works facing Fredericksburg and another 30,000 Federal troops) – attacked the leading edge of the Federal advance in these fields with the diminished 42,000-man force available to them. The three Union columns approached this field through the surrounding tangle known as “The Wilderness”, which worked to Confederate advantage by hampering Hooker’s communications and offering little opportunity to deploy large forces or for clear fields of fire, negating the significant Federal advantage in manpower and artillery. Faced with a spirited Confederate response Hooker made the crucial decision to pull back into “The Wilderness” and his defensive works around Chancellorsville, surrendering the offensive initiative to his opponent. Relative quiet in these fields after May 1st allowed Lee to hold the line with a skeleton force of 15,000, sending Jackson and the bulk of the Confederate force south and west around the Union Army where on May 2nd, 1863, Jackson’s surprise attack crushed Hooker’s right flank.
As recently as 2004 none of the May 1st 1863 battlefield had been preserved, and preservationists were jolted into action by a proposed mixed-use development plan that would have obliterated all of it. A process of negotiation and public opposition ensued which went on for years. Ultimately a new development company took over the property and scaled back the project significantly, and most importantly partnered with CVBT and the Civil War Preservation Trust (now the Civil War Trust) to set aside 140 acres of the battlefield. In a subsequent transaction the CWT partnered with Spotsylvania County and another developer to add an adjacent 75 acres of protected battlefield along Lick Run – 315 acres in all.