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Chancellorsville (Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park)

Confederate Trenches

Confederate trenches, Jackson's Corps (47K)

Image 1: Confederate trenches, Jackson's Corps. These are all that remain of the trenches dug by Jackson's men on the night of 2 May 1863, in an area north of the Visitor's Center. The men moved out from these trenches the next morning and assaulted Hooker's men. The density of the woods known as the Wilderness is obvious from this picture. It is perhaps not that surprising that Howard thought his men were safe from attack through these woods.

It should be noted that the Battle of Antietam was essentially the last major battle in the east that didn't involve significant earthworks. By the time of Chancellorsville, the officers on both sides realized the lethality of what was then modern weapons. Their tactics early in the war were not much different than those used by Napoleon. Napoleonic muskets, however, fired round balls through a smooth barrel to an effective range of about 30 to 50 yards. The rifled musket of the Civil War worked on a different principle. A conical bullet, called the minie ball, was rammed into the gun on top of the powder. When the powder ignited, the bottom of the cone expanded as the bullet shot forward. The bullet caught the rifled grooves in the barrel and started spinning. The result was a "ball" that could be thrown with accuracy up to about 200 yards, with specialist sharpshooter (sniper) rifled muskets accurate to 800 yards. Put another way, the difference was almost that between throwing a shotput and throwing a football. Add to this the better powder used in the Civil War and a corresponding increase in lethality between Civil War cannons and Napoleonic cannons, and you had a much more dangerous environment.

As such, the men eventually learned to "dig in" almost as soon as they stopped moving. When Jackson first came upon McLaws' forces outside of Chancellorsville, they were automatically digging in, and he had to order them to stop and prepare for an assault. The Civil War eventually saw the beginnings of trench warfare that would typify the First World War. The trenches in this picture, however, were probably just narrow, shallow slits cut into the earth.

These photographs were taken with a Nikon F-601 autofocus SLR, using a Nikkor 24mm - 50mm f2.8 wide angle zoom lens. The image was captured on Kodak Gold 200 film.