Return to

National Military Park

The Plan of Campaign

Lee's plan of campaign was undoubtedly similar to that of his invasion which ended in the battle of Antietam in September 1862. He then called attention to the need of destroying the bridge over the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg and of disabling the Pennsylvania Railroad in order to sever communication with the west. "After that," he added, "I can turn my attention to Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington as may seem best for our interest."

Lee had suffered an irreparable loss at Chancellorsville when "Stonewall" Jackson was mortally wounded. Now reorganized into three infantry corps under Longstreet, A. P. Hill, and R. S. Ewell, and a cavalry division under J. E. B. Stuart, a changed Army of Northern Virginia faced the great test that lay ahead. "Stonewall" Jackson, the right hand of Lee, and in the words of the latter "the finest executive officer the sun ever shone on," was no longer present to lead his corps in battle.

The long lines of gray started moving on June 3 from Fredericksburg, Va., first northwestward across the Blue Ridge, then northward in the Shenandoah Valley. On June 9, one of the greatest cavalry engagements of the war occurred at Brandy Station. Union horsemen, for the first time, held Stuart's men on even terms. The Confederates then continued their march northward, with the right flank constantly protected by Stuart's cavalry, which occupied the passes of the Blue Ridge. Stuart was ordered to hold these mountain gaps until the advance into Pennsylvania had drawn the Union Army north of the Potomac. On June 28, Hill and Longstreet reached Chambersburg, 16 miles north of the Pennsylvania boundary. Rodes' division of Ewell's corps reached Carlisle on June 27. Early's command of 8,000 men had passed through Gettysburg on June 26 and on the 28th had reached York. Early planned to take possession of the bridge over the Susquehanna at Columbia, and to move on Harrisburg from the east. Lee's converging movement on Harrisburg seemed to be on the eve of success.

An unforeseen shift of events between June 25 and 28, however, threatened to deprive Lee of every advantage he had thus far gained in his daring march up the Shenandoah and Cumberland Valleys. The cavalry engagement between Stuart and Pleasonton at Brandy Station convinced Gen. Joseph Hooker, then in command of the Union Army, that the Confederate Army was moving northward. President Lincoln and General in Chief Halleck, informed of this movement, ordered Hooker to proceed northward and to keep his command between the Confederate Army and Washington. When he was refused permission to abandon Harpers Ferry, and to add the garrison of 10,000 men to his army, Hooker asked to be relieved of command. Gen. George G. Meade received orders to assume command of the army at Frederick, Md., on June 28, and he at once continued the march northward.

General Stuart, in command of the Confederate cavalry, had obtained conditional approval from Lee to operate against the rear of the Union Army as it marched northward and then to join Lee north of the Potomac. As he passed between Hooker's army and Washington, the unexpected speed of the Union Army forced Stuart into detours and delays, so that on June 28 he was in eastern Maryland, wholly out of touch with the Confederate force. The eyes and ears of Lee were thus closed at a time when their efficient functioning was badly needed.

In this state of affairs, a Confederate agent reported to Lee at Chambersburg, Pa., on the night of June 28, that the Union forces had crossed the Potomac and were in the vicinity of Frederick. With the entire Union Army close at hand and with many miles between him and his base, Lee decided to abandon his original plan and to concentrate for battle. He moved his army at once across the mountains to Cashtown, 8 miles from Gettysburg. Here, near Cashtown, he planned to establish his battle position. Rodes, then at Carlisle, and Early, at York, were at once ordered to this point.

<-- Previous Table of Contents Next -->

Return to