*1863 is sometimes called the high-water mark of the Confederacy.  Coming off the great victory at Fredericksburg, the Army of Northern Virginia won a strategically brilliant battle at Chancellorsville and made a bold move into the North once more.  However, from 1863 it was also all downhill for the South; at Chancellorsville the victory came at the cost of one of the South’s greatest generals, and the invasion of Pennsylvania would see the fatal Battle of Gettysburg, which would end one day before the fall of Vicksburg.

*Following his crushing defeat at Fredericksburg, Burnside, who had never wanted the job, asked to be allowed to resign from command of the Army of the Potomac and return to the IX Corps.  Lincoln allowed him to do so, and appointed in his place Fighting Joe Hooker.  Hooker almost immediately moved against Lee.

*Leaving a third of his army at Fredericksburg as a diversion, Hooker crosses the Rappahannock well upstream of the town and began to move through Virginia with over 97,000 troops.  Stuart, of course, informed Lee where Hooker was at all times, and Lee and Jackson chose to meet him at a place called Chancellorsville, although in truth it was simply a house with a few outbuildings owned by the Chancellor family.

*Already vastly outnumbered, Lee split his army again, and again, leaving some to defend Fredericksburg and taking the rest (about 57,000) to Chancellorsville.  There, on 2 May, 1863, he sent over half of those with him to march all the way around the Union Army under the leadership of Stonewall Jackson, while Lee attacked Hooker on the other side.  Distracted by Lee, Hooker’s men were taken completely by surprise by Jackson’s men when they appeared out of the dense trees.  Hooker was stunned, and made few command decisions, leaving his army in confusion.  The battle lasted until halted by darkness.

*Hoping to scout out the enemy defences, Jackson and some of his staff rode out into the night.  When they returned, a North Carolina unit in their own corps did not recognise them, and fired upon them.  Jackson was wounded three times, and had to have his arm amputated.  Lee said ‘he has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.’  Jackson’s arm was buried on the battlefield.

*Jackson was sent home, and died a week later, on 10 May, 1863.

*Hooker remained off balance, and in further fighting, was forced to retreat on the 3rd, moving back across the Rappahannock River.  He would soon be replaced by general George Meade.

*Although saddened and concerned by the loss of Jackson, Lee was very confident after the glorious victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  He decided one again to invade the North, threaten Washington, D.C., and force Lincoln into a peace treaty.

*Before Jackson’s death, the Army of Northern Virginia was composed of two corps, I Corps under Longstreet and II Corps under Jackson.  After Jackson’s death, II Corps was given to Baldy Ewell, and III Corps was created under A P Hill.  JEB Stuart commanded the cavalry.  He was brilliant and he was talented, but he was also young and vain and eager to see his name in the newspapers.

*Lee moved into Pennsylvania, but Stuart got too far away from him on one of his self-glorifying scouting missions, so that Lee did not have good information on his enemy.

*The Confederate Army collided with the Union Army accidentally at Gettysburg on 1 July, 1863, where they would fight possibly the most important battle of the war.

*Forces Engaged: 158,000+ total (US 83,000; CS 75,000)

*Initially a few units under General Harry Heth of Hill’s Corps moved into Gettysburg, where they encountered Union Cavalry under John Buford.  Buford was eventually forced to withdraw, but he held Cemetery Hill outside of town long enough for reinforcements to arrive.  Lee had ordered that his men avoid battle if at all possible until the time was right for a major engagement, but now he was stuck.  He ordered Ewell to take the high ground if practicable, but Ewell, new to command and lacking nerve after losing a leg at 2nd Manassas, did not do so.  Stonewall Jackson might well have, and might have thus won the battle.  By not pushing the Federal troops off the high ground south of town, the Confederates allowed the entire army to arrive and set up positions.

*On the 2nd of July, Lee planned a two-pronged attack.  Ewell would make a diversionary attack at the north end of the long Union line (with permission to turn it into a real attack if it seemed to go well), and Longstreet would attack at the south end.  Neither attacked when he was supposed to.  Longstreet had held the wall at Marye’s Heights, and did not think it was wise to attack the Union position on Little Round Top.  He also saw some semaphore signals on the hill and assumed the US Army was watching him.  He began a series of countermarches, moving his army back and forth to confuse the enemy.  In fact, this just wore his own men out, and gave the Union time to move more men to Little Round Top.  Eventually, Longstreet attacked, but he was not co-ordinated with Ewell, who should have attacked already, but had not, in fact, done so yet.  Longstreets men met Daniel Sickles’ III Corps in Devil’s Den and the Peach Orchard, and defeated them.  Sickles had his leg shot off by a cannon, so he donated it to the Army Medical Museum and visited it every year on the anniversary.  After this, Longstreet’s men made it to the top of Little Round Top, where the far end of the line was held by the 20th Maine under Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  After running out of ammunition, he made a desperate but successful bayonet charge down the hill against the Confederates, driving them off.  In this battle General Hood, a brigade commander, lost the use of his left arm.  Finally, late in the evening Ewell would attack, but not gain much ground.  These poorly co-ordinated attacks were yet another lost opportunity for the South.

*On the 3rd, Lee planned to again attack at two points.  Ewell would again strike Cemetery Hill, and Longstreet would again attack Little Round Top, but this time better organized.  However, Ewell’s men were attacked by Federals in the morning, thus ruining the possibility of a concerted attack.  Lee instead told Longstreet to attack the centre of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge.  It took him a long time to get ready, in part because he thought it was a bad plan, perhaps correctly.  Eventually he marshaled one and a half divisions from Hill’s III Corps and one from his own I Corps, the division of George Pickett.  Although Pickett’s men accounted for only about 5,000 of the 12,000 men involved in the attack, his was the lead unit and his was most successful in talking about himself after the War, so this became known as Pickett’s charge.  It was preceded by a tremendous artillery barrage, the loudest sound ever heard on the continent, audible over 100 miles away in Philadelphia.

*Describe shot, shell, grapeshot, and canister.

*The Confederate goal was a clump of trees over a mile away.  They marched across the open field, under heavy fire from Union artillery.  As they approached the Union line, they were decimated by rifle fire from Yankee troops protected by a long stone wall.  Only a very few units actually made it to the top, and this is called the high-water mark of the Confederacy.  Most were badly depleted and all were forced to retreat.  60% of the attacking force was killed or wounded.  In Pickett’s division, all three brigade commanders were killed or wounded as were all 15 regimental commanders.

*With Jackson gone, the Southern generals remaining were be too cautious, and Lee also made a terrible error in ordering Pickett’s Charge, and a battle the South might have won became instead the last great Southern effort—the mystical moment when the war could have been won.  Instead, it was lost.

*Lee told his troops it was all his fault, and tried to apologise, but no-one would allow him to do so.  Nonetheless, after the terrible casualties of Pickett’s Charge on 3 July, 1863, the Confederate Army will, on the 4th of July, retreat to Virginia trailed by a 17-mile long wagon train loaded with supplies and wounded men.  They will never leave Virginia again.

*Estimated Casualties: 51,000 total (US 23,000; CS 28,000)

*The end of the battle was not the end of the story.  With thousands of dead soldiers left behind, the army and the residents of Gettysburg began to bury the corpses, and in November, Abraham Lincoln would come to Gettysburg to address the attendees of the dedication of the new national cemetery.  As he dedicated the cemetery, he also told his audience to dedicate themselves to the cause for which the brave men, living and dead, had struggled there:  that government of the people, by the people, for the people might not perish from the earth.


This page last updated 2 December, 2003.