1995 32¢ Battle of Chancellorsville
· Issued for the 130th anniversary of the Civil War
· From the second pane in the Classic Collections Series
· Declared the most popular stamps of 1995 by the USPS
Stamp Category: Commemorative
Set: Civil War 130th Anniversary
Value: 32¢, rate for first-class mail
First Day of Issue: June 29, 1995
First Day City: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Quantity Issued: 15,000,000
Printed by: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Photogravure
Format: Panes of 20 in sheets of 120
Why the stamp was issued: To mark the 130th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
About the stamp design: The Civil War stamps featured artwork by Mark Hess, who had previously produced the artwork for the Legends of the West sheet. The USPS explained that they liked his painting style because of its “folksy stiffness,” that “emulates people standing uncomfortably in front of daguerreotype cameras.”
Hess’ depiction of the Battle of Chancellorsville is from behind the Union line, which is being rushed by Confederate infantry.
First Day City: The official first day ceremony was held at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, the site of one of the war’s most famous battles. Because they received a large number of requests, the USPS made the stamps available for sale across the country the same day.
Unusual facts about the Civil War stamps: The Civil War sheet was available by mail order in uncut press sheets of six panes. Of these, 20,000 were signed by stamp artist Mark Hess. The USPS also produced a set of postcards featuring the same images as the stamps (US #UX200-19). Imperforate and partially imperforate error panes have also been found.
About the Civil War Stamps: The Civil War stamp sheet featured 16 individuals – eight from the Union and eight from the Confederacy. The four battles in the corners included one victory for each side and two that are considered draws.
This was the second sheet in the Classic Collections Series following the famed Legends of the West sheet. Stamps in this series follow a similar format – 20 stamps, a decorative header, and information about each stamp printed on its back under the gum.
Plans for the Civil War sheet began while the 1994 Legends of the West sheet was still in its planning stage. The USPS believed that the Civil War was a natural addition to the new series and would be informational for the public. Initially the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee rejected the idea, saying they should wait 20 years for the 50th anniversary of the war. But they were eventually swayed and the Civil War stamps were created. A group of historians were tasked with making a list of protentional subjects and Shelby Foote was hired to make the final selections. Foote was an expert in the Civil War, having written a three-volume history of the war and been featured in Ken Burns’ PBS documentary series on the war.
The USPS wanted the Civil War stamps to have more action to them – so only the two presidents were depicted in traditional portraits. The rest of the individuals were placed in the field or amidst an activity. After the Legends of the West mix-up, in which the Bill Pickett stamp mistakenly pictured his brother Ben, the USPS completely revamped their research process. The release of the 20 Civil War stamps marked the most extensive effort in the history of the USPS to review and verify the historical accuracy of stamp subjects. As Hess completed each version of his paintings, they were sent to a panel of experts who commented on the historical accuracy of everything from the weather to belt buckles.
Some of the people and battles featured in the Civil War sheet had appeared on US stamps before. This was also the second time the Civil War was honored – a set of five stamps (US #1178-82) was issued for the centennial in the 1960s. And from 2011-15, the USPS issued a series of stamps for the war’s 150th anniversary (US #4522/4981).
History the stamp represents: On May 6, 1863, the Battle of Chancellorsville ended in a Confederate victory.
Robert E. Lee delivered the Union a stunning defeat at Fredericksburg in December 1862. But Joseph Hooker used the months that followed to reorganize and reinvigorate his troops. Proclaiming he had created “the finest Army on the Planet,” Hooker devised an elaborate plan to turn the left flank of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The rebel troops, who were outnumbered and starving, were camped near Fredericksburg in the spring of 1863 as Hooker prepared to spring his trap.
Stinging from the heavy losses at Marye’s Heights, Hooker reshaped his troops into a disciplined force with incentives such as better food and a furlough lottery. He centralized his cavalry and beefed up military intelligence under Colonel George H. Sharpe, making him the first in the Potomac army’s history to know what lay ahead of him in a battle.
What he faced was Robert E. Lee and his army of 61,000 – half the number of Hooker’s force. Lee was fortified behind the Rappahannock, but not in an ideal position. Two divisions under James Longstreet were a distance away, encircling Suffolk in search of supplies, and too far to help once the battle began.
Hooker’s plan was to send all but a few cavalry brigades in a wide circle to the west and south under George Stoneman’s command, moving them to the rear of Lee’s army and cutting his supply lines. While that was happening, two Union corps – nearly equal in size to Lee’s entire army – would pretend an attack in Fredericksburg while the rest of the Army of the Potomac quietly crossed the Rapidan River and into Lee’s left flank. “My plans are perfect. May God have mercy on General Lee for I will have none,” said Hooker.
As the campaign began, communication with Stoneman ended on April 30 but everything else seemed to be going well. As night fell, three Union corps under Henry W. Slocum camped in the region known as the Wilderness, near a tavern called Chancellorsville, resting for the morning’s push eastward.
Hooker had intelligence about Lee’s order of battle, but no cavalry to locate the Confederates. As they fumbled in the darkness of the Wilderness’ forest and brambles, the Union troops crashed into Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps. The day of fighting that followed saw Hooker lose any advantage he had possessed as his men fell back.
Perched on fallen logs, Lee and Jackson plotted strategy late into the night. Facing superior numbers, Lee decided to gamble. Jackson was ordered to march his entire corps twelve miles through the darkness and turn into Hooker’s right, which was vulnerable. Lee would be left with a skeleton force.
Jackson’s troops were spotted the next morning from a Union reconnaissance balloon, but poor communication mangled the message to Hooker. The Union commander decided Lee must have been retreating. Instead, Jackson’s men stormed from the woods late in the afternoon of May 2 to attack the Eleventh Corps. Comprised mostly of German immigrants, the corps earned the nickname the “Flying Dutchmen” for the speed of their retreat.
As night fell, Jackson and A. P. Hill scouted for a prime location for a second night attack. Both men were hit by friendly fire. Command of the Confederate troops now fell to cavalryman J.E.B. Stuart, who didn’t have orders to work with. Stuart threw his entire force at the Union troops the next morning, resulting in fighting that was as brutal as any in the war.
Multiple attacks were launched throughout the day, causing heavy losses on both sides. As the Second Battle of Fredericksburg was raging nearby, Union General John Sedgwick advanced across the Rappahannock River to defeat the small Confederate force at Marye’s Heights. To counter him, Lee marched a small force east to prevent Sedgwick from reuniting with the rest of the Union Army.
By May 4, the bloody fighting at Chancellorsville ceased, as Fredericksburg became the focus of the most intense battles. The following day, Sedgwick’s troops retreated north because of a miscommunication compounded by frayed nerves and sheer exhaustion. When he learned the Sixth Corps had retreated, Hooker realized the battle was over and he followed Sedgwick on May 6. The Battle of Chancellorsville is known as Lee’s “perfect battle” because of his risky decision to divide his army in the face of a vastly superior force and then the Confederate victory he achieved. However, this victory was hampered by the death of Stonewall Jackson.