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Chapter 1 Before the Battle The Army of Northern Virginia Goes North In 1863 General Robert E. Lee was faced with a major decision as to what would be his course of action for the campaign season. Essentially, he had four options. He could remain on the defense in Virginia, conduct tactical offensive operations against the Army of the Potomac in Virginia, send part of his army to the West to assist at Vicksburg or some other point, or take his army into Northern territory. Remaining on the defense in Virginia might result in additional local victories for Lee with a high casualty rate for the Army of the Potomac, but it would surrender the initiative to the Army of the Potomac’s commander . Conducting tactical offensive operations in Virginia would be one step above remaining on the defense. Lee might be able to gain the initiative and force the Union army to respond to his maneuvering in order to protect Washington, but, at the end of the campaign season, other than inflicting casualties on each other, that would have probably been the only gain. Sending part of his army to assist in the West would have had the effect of forcing Lee to assume the defense in Virginia. These options may have resulted in high Union casualties that could have had an effect on the Northern home front and given strength to the rising sentiment that the price for preserving the Union was becoming too expensive. Over time this sentiment might have produced a positive benefit for the Confederacy. 6 Before the Battle Lee realized that remaining on the defense would probably lead to defeat as the Union’s superiority in manpower and manufacturing continued to be mobilized. As all three of these options gave the strategic initiative to the Union army in the East, Lee rejected them. The greatest disadvantage for all three options was that none had the potential to develop an immediate political situation that could lead to a negotiated peace. In 1863 there was continued rising opposition to the war by some Northern politicians and segments of the population. One of the first manifestations of this had been the congressional election of 1862, when Lincoln’s party lost seats to the Democrats. As the war progressed into 1863, the opposition continued to gain strength. Many factors accounted for this. In 1861 few could see the war continuing for as long as it did, and by 1863 there was no end in sight. The total Union and Confederate dead would eventually reach six hundred thousand, of which many had been killed, mortally wounded, or died of disease by 1863. In addition, the monetary cost of the war was increasing, an unpopular conscription act had gone into effect, and there was considerable disagreement over the Emancipation Proclamation. Lee concluded that to take advantage of this Northern war weariness and discontent, he must, as he had in 1862, again take his army into Northern territory in 1863.1 By late December 1862 or January 1863, Lee had been considering what he would do during the upcoming campaign season. He probably talked about his developing concepts with Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and by early February 1863 he had formulated the framework of his campaign into the North. On or about February 23, 1863, instructions were issued to Jackson’s mapmaker, Jedediah Hotchkiss, to make a map of the Shenandoah Valley and its extension in Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Cumberland Valley, all the way to Harrisburg.2 Lee expected to accomplish three objectives by taking his army into the North. First, such a move would place him in an area that had been barely touched by the war. In this fertile area he would not only be able to sustain his army, but he could gather and send supplies back to Virginia for future use. A secondary benefit would be to relieve, temporarily, the Virginia countryside and the inefficient supply system from having to sustain Lee’s army. Second, if the Army of Northern Virginia moved north from the line of the Rappahannock River, then the Union army would be forced to follow . The Army of the Potomac would have to maneuver so as to keep itself between Lee and Washington, D.C., and at the same time attempt to force a battle to destroy Lee’s army or to drive it from Northern soil. Such a move would give Lee the operational initiative and preempt any Union...


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