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Civil War Series

The Battle of Gettysburg

   

THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG

In the spring of 1863 the peoples of the North and the South were discouraged with the progress of the war. It had been two years since hostilities had begun at Fort Sumter, there had been thousands of casualties, and many men had died of disease, yet the end of the conflict was not in sight. Although the forces of the Confederacy had been victorious on several battlefields in the East, the Confederacy had experienced many setbacks. The United States Navy was strangling the South's commerce and creating privation by sweeping its ships from the sea and tightening the blockade of its ports. The Confederacy's hopes for foreign recognition and aid had proven to be an illusive dream that had all but faded with President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation following the Union victory at Antietam. In the West Union victories had given Union forces control of much of the border states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, the port of New Orleans, and much of the Mississippi Rivet. The South's principal hope seemed to rest in a decisive military victory in the East by General Robert F. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.

Such a victory seemed possible. In 1862 Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson had conducted a masterful campaign against Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley. General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia had turned back General George B. McClellan's ambitious campaign against Richmond from the east and had shattered Union forces under General John Pope in the battle of Second Manassas. Although the battle of Antietam had been something of a Union victory, its military gains had been frittered away, and General Lee had ended 1862 with an encouraging victory over the hard-fighting Union Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg. Yet, these Confederate victories had been costly, and more fighting lay ahead.

GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE, COMMANDER, ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA (LC)

The campaign season of 1863 in the East opened with an attempt by Major General Joseph Hooker to march on Richmond from the Army of the Potomac's camps near Fredericksburg. Lee sought to block Hooker's move, and the result was the battle of Chancellorsville, fought on May 1-4, which had been described as Lee's most "brilliant" victory. The Army of Northern Virginia had halted the advance of the Army of the Potomac and had forced it back to its camps. Lee had intimidated General Hooker and had gained valuable time for the Confederacy, but at a price that the South could ill afford to pay. In this great battle the Army of Northern Virginia sustained over 12,000 casualties, many of whom would not return to duty and could not be replaced. They included "Stonewall" Jackson, who had been mortally wounded on May 2.

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