Presentation on theme: "The fate of the nation hung in the balance in the summer of 1863."— Presentation transcript:
The fate of the nation hung in the balance in the summer of 1863.
The war had not been going well for the Union cause, especially in the eastern theater. The Confederacy's most victorious army, the Army of Northern Virginia under the guidance of General Robert E. Lee, had duped and thwarted Union attempts to drive on the Confederate capitol of Richmond and though outnumbered and often out gunned, Lee's army had won strategically important victories.
Disturbed at the constant reverses and exorbitant Union casualties, President Lincoln had one bright spot for the cause- the Union army in the West had closed around Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last great Confederate stronghold on the important Mississippi River. Yet, Lincoln and his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, knew all too well that events in Virginia were going to decide the outcome of the conflict.
With two recent victories to his credit, Robert E. Lee was not ready to sit idle and wait for the next Union thrust. Instead he took the initiative to set out in early June on an invasion of the North.Robert E. Lee
Lee's objectives were quite simple; taking the war across the Potomac River would hopefully draw Union troops away from the ongoing siege of Vicksburg. It was also a necessary measure to provide relief to a war- torn Virginia and to gather supplies for his hungry army.
Politically, Lee reasoned a conclusive victory on northern soil would add weight to the growing Northern peace movement, apply pressure to the Lincoln administration to end the war and sue for peace, and provide sufficient reason for official recognition of the Confederacy by European powers. Only the political diplomacy of the Lincoln administration had kept England and France from recognizing the southern government as an independent nation.
While Lee's army made preparations to march, the commander of the Army of the Potomac was in a quandary. Major General Joseph Hooker took command of this demoralized force soon after the disastrous "Mud March" in the winter of 1863. Hooker rebuilt morale and discipline, and that spring he led a rejuvenated Union army into a position behind Lee's forces concentrated at Fredericksburg, Virginia. The result was the Battle of Chancellorsville. Despite the Union advantage, Lee and his top general, "Stonewall" Jackson, countered the Union move and soundly defeated Hooker. The miserable Union failure at Chancellorsville made officials in the U.S. War Department lose confidence in Hooker's abilities. Uncertain of Lee's intentions, Hooker cautiously moved the Army of the Potomac through northern Virginia, keeping his army between Washington and the suspected Confederate advance. By this time, Lee's troops had already defeated a Union force at Winchester, Virginia and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland.
Despite the loss of "Stonewall" Jackson, the Army of Northern Virginia was riding high on a tide of exultation as it moved northward that summer. Lee's soldiers entered a rich land barely touched by the war, and they marched without any harassment by Union forces except for some persistent cavalry troops. Militia units retreated from their path, leaving the land to the mercy of the Confederates. For the Confederates, who had been living for months on reduced rations, Maryland and Pennsylvania were bursting with plenty. "I can hardly believe that a rebel army has actually left poor Virginia for a season," wrote Major Eugene Blackford of the 5th Alabama Infantry. "Of course there is no end of milk and butter which our soldiers enjoy hugely."
There's hardly any sickness or straggling in the army," added Private Eli Landers, 16th Georgia Infantry. "We have a large army now in Pennsylvania and it is good and in fine spirits. We intend to let the Yankey Nation feel the sting of the War as our borders has ever since the war began." The weather was fine and Confederate quartermasters made best use of their authority by seizing Federal stores and purchasing needed supplies from merchants and storehouses. Soldiers begged for food from civilians and were often rewarded by frightened farmers, too scared to refuse the Confederate money handed them in payment. On June 21, Lee issued Order No. 72 which forbade the seizure or theft of private property. Apart from some minor infractions, the Confederates obeyed the order and respected civilian property.
Captured Federal property was another matter- anything found in government warehouses, post offices, and railroad depots that was of use to the southern army was quickly inventoried and carried away, much to the dismay of Federal authorities. The slow pursuit of Lee by the Army of the Potomac not only alarmed War Department officials, but shocked governors of northern states who clamored for something to be done to stop the rebel invasion. Political pressure on the Lincoln administration added to the tug of war between General Hooker and the US War Department, which finally ended on June 28 as the Army of the Potomac concentrated at Frederick, Maryland. Hooker, completely frustrated by the mistrust and lack of support from War Department officials, requested to be relieved of command.
Hooker's request was quickly granted and followed by the immediate appointment of Major General George Gordon Meade as his replacement. "I have been tried and condemned", a surprised Meade remarked when receiving word of his appointment. Using a trace of information known on Lee's whereabouts and objectives, Meade decided to immediately send the army north to feel for the enemy and draw Lee into battle on a defensive line to be established at Pipe Creek, Maryland. The very next day, the Army of the Potomac left their camps to find the Confederates marching through Pennsylvania.Major General George Gordon Meade
Only three days before, Confederate forces under Jubal Early had entered the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, demanding supplies and money. The encounter was not without mishap- a small squad from the 21st Pennsylvania Emergency Cavalry was chased out of town and Private George Sandoe was shot and killed, the first official casualty of the coming battle. Early did not tarry, but moved on toward York and Columbia, where he was stopped by Pennsylvania militia that burned the bridge over the Susquehanna River. Meanwhile other Confederate forces had occupied a large area of south central Pennsylvania and closed on Harrisburg, threatening the state capitol.
Approach on Gettysburg ConfederatesUnion Gettysburg North West
The Dreadful Aftermath The Battle of Gettysburg was an extremely important victory for the Army of the Potomac and ended Lee's invasion of the north. Yet the agony of the battle was felt in Pennsylvania for many months after. Approximately 22,000 wounded Union and Confederate soldiers filled churches, barns, and private homes. Civilians pitched in to help the injured and dying, while the US Army Medical Department treated wounded at "Camp Letterman" east of Gettysburg before transportation to permanent hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Gettysburg National Military Park Virtual Tour, the Aftermath of the Battle