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The Army of Northern Virginia in May 1864: A Crisis of High Command Gary W. Gallagher R. E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia anticipated a third season of campaigning as they kept a watchful eye along the RapidanRappahannock River frontier in late April 1864. Morale was generally high. One brigadier captured this sentiment when he observed: "I feel so hopeful about the coming campaign. I have never felt so encouraged before."1 Despite such thinking, three factors promised great difficulty for the Confederates—two of which were familiar leitmotifs in the saga of the Army of Northern Virginia. The chronic problem of supply continued to plague Lee. Indeed, the winter had been such a logistical nightmare that Lee confessed to Jefferson Davis on April 12, "I cannot see how we can operate with our present supplies. . . .There is nothing to be had in this section for man or animals." Shortages of food, fodder, clothing, medicine, and other necessary goods almost certainly would 1 Stephen Dodson Ramseur to Ellen Richmond Ramseur, Apr. 15, 1864, Folder 9, Stephen Dodson Ramseur Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (collection hereafter cited as SHC.) Captain Charles Minor Blackford of Longstreet's First Corps, who did not share fully Ramseur's bright outlook, commented on the optimism in the army in a letter of May 3, 1864: "Grant is certainly concentrating a large army against ours. If we defeat him the military strength of the enemy will be broken, and we must have peace___ Officers and men are confident of success. I am so also, but sometimes find my fears giving away to the force of numbers." Susan Leigh Blackford, comp., Letters from Lee's Army: Memoirs of Life in and Out of the Army in Virginia During the War Between the States (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947), 242. A Georgian in A.P. Hill's corps informed his wife on April 14, 1864, that he believed "the campaign will not open in several weeks yet, and then Lee will attack Grant and go on to Pennsylvania." Henry M. Hammock, ed., Letters to Amanda, from Sergeant Major Marion Hill Fitzpatrick, Company K, 45th Georgia Regiment, Thomas' Brigade, Wilcox Division, Hills Corps, CSA to his wife Amanda Olive Elizabeth White Fitzpatrick 18621865 (Nashville, Tenn.: Champion Resources, 1982), 127. Civil War History, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, c 1990 by the Kent State University Press 102CIVIL WAR HISTORY continue once active campaigning resumed.2 Northern numbers constituted a second problem. Despite rumors of roughly equal strengths in the contending armies, Lee knew that his soldiers would be at a greater disadvantage than ever before. The enemy across the river mustered at least one hundred thousand men, nearly twice Lee's number.3 Leadership represented the third—and potentially the most decisive— factor. The impact of Ulysses S. Grant remained to be seen, but only the most optimistic Southern soldier believed Grant would prove inferior to the Federal officers who blunted Lee's offensive into Pennsylvania the previous summer and held their own during the maneuvering and fighting of late 1863. On the Confederate side, leadership posed very serious problems to Lee. At the corps and divisional levels lurked questions of competency, attitude, and physical stamina that would be answered only in the unforgiving crucible of battlefield performance. Should these officers prove unequal to the challenge, their deficiencies, together with the shortage of qualified replacements, might compel Lee to adopt drastic measures to maintain the efficiency of his army. Lee himself was the most important component of the army's leadership . In his twenty-three months in command of the army, Lee had won victories that drew the attention and admiration of the world. His penchant for the strategic and tactical offensive dominated his campaigns from the Seven Days through Gettysburg and the inconclusive maneuvering in late fall 1863. When his plans to strike George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac at Mine Run failed in November 1863, Lee complained that he was "too old to command this army. We should never have permitted those people to get away." Unable to act comfortably on the defensive (the perceptive E. P. Alexander...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 101-118
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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