1863: THE HIGH TIDE OF THE CONFEDERACY
*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 cross the Rappahannock well upstream of the town and began to move through Virginia. 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 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.
*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. With Jackson gone, the Southern generals remaining would be too cautious, and Lee would also make a terrible error in ordering Pickett’s Charge, and a battle the South might have won becomes instead the last great Southern effort—the mystical moment when the war could have been won. Instead, it is lost. After the terrible casualties of Pickett’s Charge on 3 July, 1863, the Confederate Army will, on the 4th of July, retreat to Virginia and never leave it again.
*Also on the 4th, Vicksburg, which Grant had been besieging for over a year, finally surrendered. Despite many calls for his resignation or removal from politicians disgusted by the casualties at Shiloh, Lincoln had kept Grant on, and he, in turn, had worked to take control of the Mississippi for the Union. After eating horses, rats and dogs, and living in holes in the ground like prairie dogs, the people of Vicksburg finally gave in, and the entire Mississippi River again belonged to the United States of America.
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This page last updated 30 September, 2003.