Lee's Victory - History

Lee's Victory - History

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By Jefferson Davis

DURING the night I visited the several commands along the entrenchment on the south side of the Chickahominy. General Huger's was on the right, General McLaws's in the center, and General Magruder's on the left. The night was quite dark, especially so in the woods in front of our line, and, in expressing my opinion to the officers that the enemy would commence a retreat before morning, I gave special instructions as to the precautions necessary in order certainly to bear when the movement commenced. in the confusion of such a movement, with narrow roads and heavy trains, a favorable opportunity was offered for attack. It fell out, however, that the enemy did move before morning, and that the fact of the works' having been evacuated was first learned by an officer on the north side of the river, who, the next morning (the 29th), about sunrise, was examining their works by the aid of a field glass.

Generals Longstreet and A. P. Hill were promptly ordered to recross the Chickahominy at New Bridge, and move by the Darbytown and Long Bridge roads. General Lee, having sent his engineer, Captain Meade, to examine the condition of the abandoned works, came to the south side of the Chickahominy to unite his command and direct its movements.

Magruder and Huger found the whole line of works deserted, and large quantifies of military stores of every description abandoned or destroyed. They were immediately ordered in pursuit, the former by the Charles City Road, so as to take the enemy's any in flank; the latter by the Williamsburg Road, to attack his rear. Jackson was directed to cross the "Grapevine" Bridge, and move down the south side of the Chickahominy. Magruder reached the vicinity of Savage Station, where he came upon the rear guard of the retreating army. Being informed that it was advancing, he halted and sent for reinforcements. Two brigades of Huger's division were ordered to his support, but were subsequently withdrawn, it having been ascertained that the force in Magruder's front was merely covering the retreat of the main body.

Jackson's route led to the flank and rear of Savage Station, but he was delayed by the necessity of reconstructing the "Grapevine" Bridge.

Late in the afternoon Magruder attacked the enemy with one of his divisions and two regiments of another. A severe action ensued, and continued about two hours, when night put an end to the conflict. The troops displayed great gallantry, and inflicted heavy loss; owing to the lateness of the hour and the small force engaged, the result was not decisive, and the enemy continued his retreat under cover of night, leaving several hundred prisoners, with his dead and wounded, in our hands. Our loss was small in numbers but great in value. Among others who could ill be spared, here fell that gallant soldier, useful citizen, true friend and Christian gentleman, Brigadier General Richard Griffith. He had served with distinction in foreign war, and when the South was invaded, was among the first to take up arms in defense of our rights.

At Savage Station were found about twenty-five hundred men in hospital, and a large amount of property. Stores of much value had been destroyed, including the necessary medical supplies for the sick and wounded. The night was so dark that before the battle ended it was only by challenging that on several occasions it was determined whether the troops in front were friends or foes. It was therefore deemed inadvisable to attempt immediate pursuit.

Our troops slept upon their arms, and in the morning it was found that the enemy had retreated during the night; by the time thus gained, he was enabled to cross the White-Oak Creek, and destroy the bridge.

Early on the 30th Jackson reached Savage Station. He was directed to pursue the enemy on the road he had taken, and Magruder to follow Longstreet by the Darbytown Road. As Jackson advanced, he captured so many prisoners and collected so large a number of arms that two regiments had to be detached for their security. His progress at White-Oak Swamp was checked by the enemy, who occupied the opposite side, and obstinately resisted the rebuilding of the bridge.

Longstreet and A. Hill, continuing their advance, on the 30th came upon the foe strongly posted near the intersection of the Long Bridge and Charles City roads, at the place known in the military reports as Frazier's Farm.

Huger's route led to the right of this position, Jackson's to the rear and the arrival of their commands was awaited, to begin the attack.

On the 29th General Holmes had crossed from the south side of the James River, and on the 30th was reinforced by a detachment of General Wise's brigade. He moved down the River Road, with a view to gaining, near Malvern Hill, a position which would command the supposed route of the retreating army.

It is an extraordinary fact that, though the capital had been threatened by an attack from the seaboard on the right, though our army had retreated from Yorktown up to the Chickahominy, and after encamping there for a time had crossed the river and moved up to Richmond, yet, when at the close of the battles around Richmond McClellan retreated and was pursued toward the James River, we had no maps of the country in which we were operating; our generals were ignorant of the roads, and their guides knew little more than the way from their homes to Richmond. It was this fatal defect in preparation, and the erroneous answers of the guides, that caused General Lee first to post Holmes and Wise, when they came down the River Road, at New Market, where, he was told, was the route that McClellan must pursue in his retreat to the James. Learning subsequently that there was another road, by the Willis church, which would better serve the purpose of the retreating foe, Holmes's command was moved up to a position on that road where, at the foot of a hill which concealed from view the enemy's line, he remained under the fire of the enemy's gunboats, the huge, shrieking shells from which dispersed a portion of his cavalry and artillery, though the faithful old soldier remained with the rest of his command, waiting, according to his orders, for the enemy with his trains to pass; taking neither of the roads pointed out to General Lee, he retreated by the shorter and better route, which led by Dr. Poindexter's house to Harrisons Landing. It has been alleged that General Holmes was tardy in getting into position, and failed to use his artillery as he had been ordered. Both statements are incorrect. He first took position when and where he was directed, and, soon after, he moved to the last position to which he was assigned. The dust of his advancing column caused a heavy fire from the gunboats to be opened upon him, and, in men who had never before seen the huge shells then fired, they inspired a degree of terror not justified by their effectiveness. The enemy, instead of being a straggling mass moving toward the James River, as had been reported, was found halted between West's house and Malvern Hill on ground commanding Holmes's position, with an open field between them.

General Holmes ordered his chief of artillery to commence firing upon the enemy's infantry, which immediately gave way, but a heavy fire of twentyfive or thirty guns promptly replied to our battery, and formed, with the gunboats, a crossfire upon General Holmes's command. The numerical superiority of the opposing force, both in infantry and artillery, would have made it worse than useless to attempt an assault unless previously reinforced, and, as no reinforcements arrived, Holmes, about an hour after nightfall, withdrew to a point somewhat in advance of the one he had held in the morning. Though the enemy continued their cannonade until after dark, and most of the troops were new levies, General Holmes reported that they behaved well under the trying circumstances to which they were exposed, except a portion of his artillery and cavalry, which gave way in disorder, probably from the effect of the ten-inch shells, which were to them a novel implement of war; for when I met them, say half a mile from the point they had left, and succeeded in stopping them, another shell fell and exploded near us in the top of a wide spreading tree, giving a shower of metal and limbs, which Soon after caused them to resume their flight in a manner that plainly showed no moral power could stop them within the range of those shells. It was after a personal and hazardous reconnaissance that General Lee assigned General Holmes to his last position; when I remonstrated with General Lee, whom I met returning from his reconnaissance, on account of the exposure to which he had subjected himself, he said he could not get the required information otherwise, and therefore had gone himself.

After the close of the battle of Malvern Hill, General Holmes found that a deep ravine led up to the rear of the left flank of the enemy's line, and expressed his regret that it had not been known, and that he had not been ordered, when the attack was made in front, to move up that ravine and simultaneously assail in flank and reverse. It was not until after he had explained with regret the lost, because unknown, opportunity, that he was criticized as having failed to do his whole duty at the battle of Malvern Hill.

He has passed beyond the reach of censure or of praise, after serving his country on many fields wisely and well. I, who knew him from our schoolboy days, who served with him in garrison and in the field, and with pride watched him as he gallantly led a storming party up a rocky height at Monterey, and was intimately acquainted with his whole career during our sectional war, bear willing testimony to the purity, selfabnegation, generosity, fidelity, and gallantry which characterized him as a man and a soldier.

General Huger reported that his progress was delayed by trees which his opponent had felled across the Williamsburg Road. In the afternoon, after passing the obstructions and driving off the men who were still cutting down trees, they came upon an open field (P. Williams's), where they were assailed by a battery of rifled guns. The artillery was brought up, and replied to the fire. In the meantime a column of infantry was moved to the right, so as to turn the battery, and the combat was ended. The report of this firing was heard at Frazier's Farm, and erroneously supposed to indicate the near approach of Huger's column, and, it has been frequently stated, induced General Longstreet to open fire with some of his batteries as notice to General Huger where our troops were, and that thus the engagement was brought on. General A. Hill, who was in front and had made the dispositions of our troops while hopefully waiting for the arrival of Jackson and Huger, states that the fight commenced by fire from the enemy's artillery, which swept down the road. This not only concurs with my recollection of the event, but is more in keeping with the design to wait for the expected reinforcements.

The detention of Huger, as above stated, and the failure of Jackson to force a passage of the White-Oak Swamp, left Longstreet and Hill, without the expected support, to maintain the unequal conflict as best they might. The superiority of numbers and advantage of position were on the side of the enemy. The battle raged furiously until 9 P. M. By that time the enemy had been driven with great slaughter from every position but one, which he maintained until he was enabled to withdraw under cover of darkness. At the close of the struggle nearly the entire field remained in our possession, covered with the enemy's dead and wounded. Many prisoners, including a general of divisions, were captured, and several batteries with some thousands of small arms were taken.

After this engagement Magruder, who had been ordered h go to the support of Holmes, was recalled to relieve the troops of Longstreet and Hill. He arrived during the night, with the troops of his command much fatigued by the long, hot march.

In the battle of Frazier's Farm the troops of Longstreet and Hill, though disappointed in the expectation of support, and contending against superior numbers advantageously posted, made their attack successful by the most heroic courage and unfaltering determination.

Nothing could surpass the bearing of General Hill on that occasion and I often recur with admiration to the manner in which Longstreet, when Hill's command seemed about to be overborne, steadily led his reserve to the rescue, as he might have marched on a parade. The mutual confidence between himself and his men was manifested by the calm manner in which they went into the desperate struggle. The skill and courage which made that corps illustrious on former as well as future fields were never more needed or better exemplified than on this.

The current of the battle which was then setting against us was reversed, and the results which have been stated were gained. That more important consequences would have followed had Huger and Jackson, or either of them, arrived in time to take part in the conflict, is unquestionable; there is little hazard in saying that the army of McClellan would have been riven in twain, beaten in detail, and could never, as an organized body, have reached the James River.

Our troops slept on the battlefield they had that day won, and couriers were sent in the night with instructions to hasten the march of troops who had been expected during the day.

Valor less true or devofion to their cause less sincere than that which pervaded our army and sustained its commanders would, in this hour of thinned ranks and physical exhaustion, have thought of the expedient of retreat; so far as I remember, however, no such resort was contemplated. To bring up reinforcements and attack again was alike the expectation and the wish.

During the night, humanity, the crowning grace of the knightly

soldier, secured for the wounded such care as was possible, not only to those of our own army, but also to those of the enemy who had been left upon the field.

This battle was in many respects one of the most remarkable of the war. Here occurred On several occasions the capture of batteries by the impetuous charge of our infantry, defying the canister and grape which plowed through their ranks, and many hand-to hand conflicts, where bayonet wounds were freely given and received, and men fought with clubbed muskets in the life-and death encounter.

The estimated strength of the enemy was double our own, and he had the advantage of being in position. From both causes it necessarily resulted that our loss was very heavy. To the official reports and the minute accounts of others, the want of space compels me to refer the reader for a detailed statement of the deeds of those who in our day served their country so bravely and so well.

During the night those who fought us at Frazier's Farm fell back to the stronger position of Malvern Hill, and by a night march the force which had detained Jackson at White-Oak Swamp effected a junction with the other portion of the enemy. Early on July 1st Jackson reached the battlefield of the previous day, having forced the passage of White-Oak Swamp, where he captured some artillery and a number of prisoners. He was directed to follow the route of the enemy's retreat, but soon found him in position on a high ridge in front of Malvern Hill. Here, on a line of great natural strength, he had posted his powerful artillery, supported by his large force of infantry, covered by hastily constructed entrenchments. His left rested near Crew's house and his right near Binford's. Immediately in his front the ground was open, varying in width from a quarter to half a mile, and, sloping gradually from the crest, was completely swept by the fire of his infantry and artillery. To reach this open ground our troops had to advance through a broken and thickly wooded country, traversed nearly throughout its whole extent by a swamp passable at only a few places and difficult at these. The whole was within range of the batteries on the heights and the gunboats in the river under whose incessant fire our movements had to be executed.

Jackson formed his line with Whiting's division on his left and D. H. Hill's on his right, one of Ewell's brigades occupying the interval. The rest of Ewell's and Jackson's own division were held in reserve. Magruder was directed to take position on Jackson's right, but before his arrival two of Huger's brigades came up and were placed next to Hill. Magruder subsequently formed on the right of these brigades, which with a third of Huger's were placed under his command. Longstreet and A. Hill were held in reserve, and took no part in the engagement. Owing to ignorance of the country, the dense forests impeding necessary communications, and the extreme difficulty of the ground, the whole line was not formed until a late hour in the afternoon. The obstacles presented by the woods and swamp made it impracticable to bring up a sufficient amount of artillery to oppose successfully the extraordinary force of that arm employed by the enemy, while the field itself afforded us few positions favorable for its use, and none for its proper concentration.

General W. N. Pendleton, in whom were happily combined the highest characteristics of the soldier, the patriot, and the Christian, was in chief command of the artillery, and energetically strove to bring his long-range guns and reserve artillery into a position where they might be effectively used against the enemy, but the difficulties before mentioned were found insuperable.

Orders were issued for a general advance at a given signal, but the causes referred to prevented a proper concert of action among the troops. D. Hill pressed forward across the open field, and engaged the enemy gallantly, breaking and driving back his first line; a simultaneous advance of the other troops not taking place, he found himself unable to maintain the ground he had gained against the overwhelming numbers and numerous batteries opposed to him. Jackson sent to his support his own division and that part of Ewell's which was in reserve; owing to the increasing darkness and intricacy of the forest and swamp, however, they did not arrive in time to render the desired assistance. Hill was therefore compelled to abandon part of the ground he had gained, after suffering from severe loss and inflicting heavy damage.

On the right the attack was gallantly made by Huger's and Magruder's commands. Two brigades of the former commenced the action, the other two were subsequently sent to the support of Magruder and Hill. Several determined efforts were made to storm the hill at Crew's house. The brigade advanced bravely across the open field, raked by the fire of a hundred cannon and the musketry of large bodies of infantry. Some were broken and gave way; others approached close to the guns, driving back the infantry, compelling the advance batteries to retire to escape capture, and mingling their dead with those of the enemy. For want of cooperation by the attacking columns, their assaults were too weak to break the enemy's line; after struggling gallantly, sustaining and inflicting great loss, they were compelled successively to retire. Night was approaching when the attack began, and it soon became difficult to distinguish friend from foe. The firing continued until after 9 P. M., but no decided result was gained.

Part of our troops were withdrawn to their original positions; others remained in the open field; some rested within a hundred yards of batteries that had been so bravely but vainly assailed. The lateness of the hour at which the attack necessarily began gave the foe the full advantage of his superior position, and augmented the natural difficulties of our own.

At the cessation of firing, several fragments of different commands were lying down and holding their ground within a short distance of the enemy's line, and as soon as the fighting ceased an informal truce was established by common consent. Numerous parties from both armies, with lanterns and litters, wandered over the field seeking for the wounded, whose groans and calls on all sides could not fail to move with pity the hearts of friend and foe.

The morning dawned with heavy rain, and the enemy's position was

seen to have been entirely deserted. The ground was covered with his dead and wounded, and his route exhibited evidence of a precipitate retreat. To the fatigue of hard marches and successive battles, enough to have disqualified our troops for rapid pursuit, was added the discomfort of being thoroughly wet and chilled by rain. I sent out to the neighboring houses to buy, if it could be had at any price, enough whiskey to give to each of the men a single gill, but it could not be found.

The foe had silently withdrawn in the night by a route which had been unknown to us, but which was the most direct road to Harrison's Landing, and he had so many hours the start, that, among the general officers who expressed to me their opinion, there was but one who thought it was possible to pursue effectively. That was General T. j. Jackson, who quietly said, 'They have not all got away if we go immediately after them."

During the pursuit, just described, the cavalry of our army had been absent, having been detached on a service which was reported as follows: After seizing the York River Railroad, on June 28th, and driving the enemy across the Chickahominy, the force under General Stuart proceeded down the railroad to ascertain if there was any movement of the enemy in that direction. He encountered but little opposition, and reached the vicinity of the White House on the 29th. On his approach the enemy destroyed the greater part of the immense stores accumulated at that depot, and retreated toward Fortress Monroe. With one gun and some dismounted men General Stuart drove off a gunboat which lay near the White House, and rescued a large amount of property, including more than ten thousand stand of small arms, partially burned. General Stuart describes his march down the enemy's line of communication with the York River as one in which he was but feebly resisted. He says:

We advanced until, coming in view of the White House (a former plantation residence of General George Washington), at a distance of a quarter of a mile, a large gunboat was discovered lying at the landing. .. I was convinced that a few bold sharpshooters could compel the gunboat to leave. I accordingly ordered down about seventy-five, partly of the First and Fourth Virginia Cavalry, and partly of the Jeff Davis Legion, armed with the rifled carbines. They advanced on this monster so terrible to our fancy, and a body of sharpshooters was sent ashore from the boat to meet them. To save time I ordered up the howitzer, a few shells from which, fired with great accuracy, and bursting directly over her decks, caused an instantaneous withdrawal of the sharpshooters, and a pre. cipitous flight under headway of steam down the river. An opportunity was here offered for observing the deceitfulness of the enemy's pretended reverence for everything associated with the name of Washington for the dwelling-house was burned to the ground, not a vestige left except what told of desolation and vandalism.


Nine large barges, laden with stores, were on fire as we approached; immense numbers of tents, wagons, and cars in long trains, loaded, and five locomotives; a number of forges; quantities of every species of quartermaster 5 stores and property, making a total of many millions of dollars all more or less destroyed.

I replied (to a note from the commanding General) that there was no evidence of a retreat of the main body down the Williamsburg road, and I had no doubt that the enemy, since his defeat, was endeavoring to reach the lames as a new base, being compelled to surrender his connection with the York. If the Federal people can be convinced that this was a part of McClellan's plan, that it was in his original design for Jackson to turn his right flank, and our generals to force him from his strongholds, they certainly never can forgive him for the millions of public treasure that his superb strategy cost.

Leaving one squadron at the White House, he returned to guard the lower bridges of the Chickahominy. On the 30th he was directed to recross and cooperate with Jackson. After a long march, he reached the rear of the enemy at Malvern Hill, on the night of July 1st, at the close of the engagement.

On July 2d the pursuit was commenced, the cavalry under General Stuart in advance. The knowledge acquired since the event renders it more than probable that, could our infantry, with a fair amount of artillery, during that day and the following night, have been in position on the ridge which overlooked the plain where the retreating enemy was encamped on the bank of the James River, a large part of his army must have dispersed, and the residue would have been captured. It appears, from the testimony taken before the United States Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, that it was not until July 3d that the heights which overlooked the encampment of the retreating army were occupied, and from the manuscript notes on the war by General J. E. B. Stuart, we learn that he easily gained and took possession of the heights, and with his light howitzer opened fire upon the enemy's camp, producing great commotion. This was described by the veteran soldier, General Casey of the United States Army, thus:

The enemy had come down with some artillery upon our army massed together on the river, the heights commanding the position not being in our possession. Had the enemy come down and taken possession of those heights with a force of twenty or thirty thousand men, they would, in my opinion, have taken the whole of our army except that small portion of it that might have got off on the transports.

General Lee was not a man of hesitation, and they have mistaken his character who suppose caution was his vice. He was prone to attack, and not slow to press an advantage when he gained it. Longstreet and Jackson were ordered to advance, but a violent storm which prevailed throughout the day greatly retarded their progress. The enemy, harassed

and closely followed by the cavalry, succeeded in gaining Westover on the James River, and the protection of his gunboats. His position was one of great natural and artificial strength, after the heights were occupied and entrenched. It was flanked on each side by a creek, and the approach in front was commanded by the heavy guns of his shipping, as well as by those mounted in his entrenchments. Under these circumstances it was deemed inexpedient to attack him; in view of the condition of our troops, which had been marching and fighting almost incessantly for seven days under the most trying circumstances, it was determined to withdraw, in order to afford to them the repose of which they stood so much in need.

Several days were spent in collecting arms and other property abandoned by the enemy, and in the meantime some artillery and cavalry were sent below Westover to annoy his transports. On July 8th our army returned to the vicinity of Richmond.

Under ordinary circumstances the army of the enemy should have been destroyed. Its escape was due to the cause already stated. Prominent among these was the want of correct and timely information. This fact, together with the character of the country, enabled General McClellan skillfully to conceal his retreat, and to add much to the obstructions with which nature had beset the way of our pursuing columns. We had, however, effected our main purpose. The siege of Richmond was raised, and the object of a campaign which had been prosecuted after months of preparation, at an enormous expenditure of men and money, was completely frustrated. 1

More than ten thousand prisoners, including officers of rank, fifty-two pieces of artillery, and upward of thirty-five thousand stand of small arms were captured. The stores and supplies of every description which fell into our hands were great in amount and value, but small in comparison with those destroyed by the enemy. His losses in battle exceeded our own, as attested by the thousands of dead and wounded left on every field, while his subsequent inaction shows in what condition the survivors reached the protection of the gunboats.

To Conquer a Peace: Lee’s Goals in the Gettysburg Campaign

Battlefield victory may not have officially been part of the Confederate plan in Pennsylvania, but Robert E. Lee saw opportunity—and for him strategic and tactical initiative were always part of the plan.

General Robert E. Lee wrote two official reports on the Gettysburg Campaign: a preliminary after-action account on July 31, 1863, and a final report on January 20, 1864. In these documents he summarized the five main objectives of his invasion of Pennsylvania:

  1. To draw the Union Army of the Potomac away from the Rappahannock River line.
  2. To take the initiative away from the enemy and disrupt any defensive plan General Joseph Hooker might have had for the rest of the summer.
  3. To drive Union occupation forces out of Winchester and the lower Shenandoah Valley.
  4. To draw Union forces away from other theaters to reinforce Hooker.
  5. To take the armies out of war-ravaged Virginia and to provide the Army of Northern Virginia with food, forage, horses, and other supplies from the rich agricultural countryside of Pennsylvania.

If Lee’s goals were indeed limited to these five objectives, the Gettysburg campaign was a Confederate success. Lee did seize the initiative from Hooker he did draw him away from the Rappahannock and disrupt any possible Union offensive in Virginia for the rest of the summer. The campaign did clear the lower Shenandoah Valley of enemy troops under General Robert Milroy and in fact captured 4,000 of them. During the three to four weeks the Army of Northern Virginia was in Pennsylvania it lived very well off the enemy’s country. And according to Kent Masterson Brown’s book Retreat from Gettysburg, the Confederates seized enough food, forage and animals in Pennsylvania to keep the army supplied for months to come. The fifth objective Lee mentioned was achieved with qualified success. The only Union forces drawn from elsewhere during the campaign were five brigades from the Washington defenses—although after the battle some Northern units were shifted from the southern Atlantic coast to reinforce the Army of the Potomac.

The implication in Lee’s reports that his goals in the Gettysburg campaign were limited, and largely achieved, is at least partly consistent with some modern studies of the campaign. They challenge the traditional view that Gettysburg was a disastrous Confederate defeat that shattered Lee’s hopes for a war-winning victory on Northern soil. They also reject the notion that Gettysburg was a crucial turning point toward ultimate Union victory in the war. According to historians who question these traditional interpretations, Lee’s incursion into Pennsylvania was a raid, not an invasion. A smashing victory over the Army of the Potomac would have been a nice bonus, but it was not the main goal of the raid. The Union victory at Gettysburg was merely defensive, and the Army of Northern Virginia got away with its spoils and lived to fight another day— indeed, many other days, as the war continued for almost two more years. It was only in retrospect and in memory that Gettysburg became the climactic battle and turning point of the war.

Some of these arguments are self-evidently correct. The war did go on for almost two more years, and the Confederacy still had a chance to win it as late as August 1864 by wearing out the Northern will to continue fighting. Rebel foraging parties did scour hundreds of square miles of south-central Pennsylvania for whatever they could find and take—including many African Americans carried back to Virginia into slavery.

But we might ask whether all these spoils were worth the 28,000 or more casualties suffered by Confederates in the campaign as a whole, including the nightmare retreat. Of this number at least 18,000 men were gone for good from the Army of Northern Virginia—dead, imprisoned, or so badly wounded that they could never fight again. And we might also ask whether, even though Gettysburg was not a decisive turning point toward imminent Union victory, it might have been a decisive turning point away from a Confederate victory that could have demoralized the Army of the Potomac and the Northern people and might also have neutralized the loss of Vicksburg.

But what about Lee’s official reports that set forth no such ambitious purpose for his invasion—or raid? To disagree with Lee is not to question his integrity. He told the truth in his reports. But he appears not to have told the whole truth. There is a considerable amount of evidence that he had more sweeping goals for his invasion of Pennsylvania than he described.

We need first to provide a context for this evidence. A fundamental assumption underlay Lee’s military strategy, not only in the Gettysburg campaign but also in the war as a whole. Lee believed that the North’s greater population and resources would make Union victory inevitable in a prolonged war of attrition, so long as the Northern people had the will to employ those superior resources. The only way the Confederacy could achieve its independence, Lee thought, was to win battlefield victories while the South had the strength to do so, victories that would if possible cripple the enemy’s main army and demoralize the Northern people to the point they became convinced that continuing to fight was not worth the cost in lives and resources. Lee believed that these battlefield victories could not be won by sitting back and waiting for the enemy to take the initiative. The only time he did that, before 1864 at least, was at Fredericksburg in December 1862, a defensive Confederate victory that Lee found frustrating because the defeated enemy was able to pull back over the Rappahannock without further harm. Even at Antietam, where the Confederates fought a tactically defensive battle except for localized counterattacks, the battle itself was the culmination of Lee’s strategic offensive. During the battle—indeed, the day after it as well—Lee looked for ways to take the tactical offensive even with his exhausted and depleted army. And following his retreat across the Potomac after Antietam, Lee still wanted to recross into Maryland farther upriver to continue his offensive, and expressed frustration over the army’s inability to do so.

From the moment he took command of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee had sought openings for a knockout blow. After driving McClellan back to the James River at the cost of 20,000 Confederate casualties in the Seven Days battles, Lee did not bask in his victory but instead lamented that “our success has not been as great or as complete as I could have desired….Under ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed.”

Destroyed!! This Napoleonic vision continued to be Lee’s guiding star for the next year. Just as Napoleon had destroyed enemy armies at Austerlitz and Jena-Auerstadt, forcing Austria, Russia, and Prussia to sue for peace on his terms, Lee hoped for similar if perhaps less spectacular results from the Seven Days, from the invasion of Maryland in 1862— and from the invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863.

In the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns Lee linked his military initiatives to proposals for parallel political initiatives to achieve the goal of Confederate independence. After his victory at Second Manassas, Lee believed the enemy army was “much weakened and demoralized,” he wrote to Jefferson Davis. Now was the time to give them the knockout blow. Braxton Bragg’s and Edmund Kirby Smith’s armies were invading Kentucky at the same time that Lee’s men crossed the Potomac into Maryland. In a Napoleonic proclamation to his troops on September 6, 1862, Lee declared: “Soldiers, press onward! Let the armies of the East and West vie with each other in discipline, bravery, and activity, and our brethren of our sister States Maryland and Kentucky will soon be released from tyranny, and our independence be established on a sure and abiding basis.”

Lee was an avid reader of Northern newspapers smuggled across the lines. From them he gleaned not only bits of military intelligence but also—and more important in this case—information about Northern politics and the growing disillusionment with the war among Democrats and despair among Republicans. One of Lee’s purposes in the Maryland invasion was to intensify this Northern demoralization in advance of the congressional elections in the fall of 1862. He hoped that Confederate military success would encourage antiwar candidates. If Democrats could gain control of the House, it might cripple the Lincoln administration’s ability to carry on the war. On September 8 Lee outlined his ideas on this matter in a letter to Davis. “The present posture of affairs,” Lee wrote, “places it in our power…to propose to the Union government…the recognition of our independence.” Such a proposal, coming when “it is in our power to inflict injury on our adversary…would enable the people of the United States to determine at their coming elections whether they will support those who favor a prolongation of the war, or those who wish to bring it to a termination.”

This desire to influence the Northern elections was one reason Lee gave serious thought to resuming the campaign in Maryland even after Antietam. That was not to be. Democrats did make significant gains in the 1862 congressional elections, although Republicans managed to retain control of Congress. But morale in the Army of the Potomac and among the Northern public plunged to rock bottom in the early months of 1863 after the disaster at Fredericksburg, the fiasco of the Mud March, and the failure of Grant’s initial efforts to accomplish anything at Vicksburg. Antiwar Democrats in the North—self-described as Peace Democrats but branded by Republicans as treasonable Copperheads—became more outspoken and politically powerful than ever. Lee followed these developments closely. In February he secretly ordered Stonewall Jackson’s skilled topographical engineer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, to draw detailed maps of south-central Pennsylvania from the Cumberland Valley to Harrisburg and all the way east to Philadelphia. Lee did not give Hotchkiss such an assignment just because he liked to read maps.

About this time Lee also read in Northern newspapers of General George B. McClellan’s testimony to the congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War about the finding of Lee’s Special Orders No. 191 in the Antietam campaign. This solved the mystery of why McClellan had moved more quickly and aggressively than Lee had anticipated. Stephen Sears suggests that this eye-opening revelation may have convinced Lee that only an unlucky accident had frustrated his ambitious goals for the first invasion of the North. With better luck and tighter security he might succeed on a second try.

By April 1863 Lee was beginning to plan that second invasion. Not only would it sweep Milroy out of the Shenandoah Valley and force Hooker out of Virginia, Lee informed Davis it would also compel the Federals threatening the coast of the Carolinas and General William S. Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland to divert reinforcements to Hooker. The Army of the Potomac would soon become weaker as the terms of 30,000 of its two-year men who had enlisted in 1861 and nine-month men who had enlisted in 1862 began to expire. Now was the time, said Lee, to strike again with an invasion to force Hooker’s reduced army into the open for another blow to discourage Northern opinion. “If successful this year,” Lee wrote his wife on April 19, “Next fall there will be a great change in public opinion at the North. The Republicans will be destroyed & I think the friends of peace will become so strong that the next administration will go in on that basis.” Here indeed was a bold strategic vision. It was not limited to a mere raid to take the armies out of Virginia and obtain supplies.

Before Lee could begin to implement this vision, however, Hooker struck first on the Rappahannock. Lee countered, sent Jackson on his famous flank march, mesmerized Hooker, and forced him to hunker down in his entrenchments north of Chancellorsville by May 5. Intending to throw his knockout punch right there before Hooker could get back over the river, as Burnside had done the previous December, Lee was bitterly disappointed when Hooker slipped away on the night of May 5-6.

Even as they mourned Stonewall Jackson’s death, Southerners nevertheless celebrated Chancellorsville as a great victory. But to Lee it was another empty triumph that left the enemy to fight another day and also left the two armies once again confronting each other across the Rappahannock as the sand in the Confederacy’s hourglass dropped inexorably grain by grain. If the war was ever to be won, Lee believed 1863 was the year the South would only get weaker and the North stronger if the conflict went on much longer. The men and horses of the Army of Northern Virginia were on half rations as the Confederacy’s economy and rail network continued to deteriorate. Food and forage as well as the opportunity to maneuver the enemy into a position where Lee could fight him to advantage beckoned from Pennsylvania.

But by the time General James Longstreet and his two divisions under Generals John Bell Hood and George Pickett rejoined the Army of Northern Virginia after their sojourn south of the James gathering supplies and threatening the Union lines at Suffolk, Lee had to overcome competing visions of what Confederate strategy should be. Grant was closing in on Vicksburg Rosecrans threatened General Braxton Bragg’s position in middle Tennessee a Union army/navy task force threatened General P.G.T. Beauregard at Charleston. Longstreet suggested that he take Hood’s and Pickett’s divisions to reinforce Bragg for an offensive against Rosecrans, which might also force Grant to release his tightening grip on Vicksburg. Secretary of War James Seddon and Postmaster-General John Reagan gained a hearing from Jefferson Davis for their proposal that Longstreet’s two divisions go directly to General John C. Pemberton’s support at Vicksburg.

In conversations and correspondence during the second and third weeks of May, however, Lee strongly opposed these proposals. It would take too long for Longstreet’s men to get to Vicksburg for them to do any good, he said, and it was not clear that Pemberton and Joseph Johnston would know what to do with them if they did get there. Besides, the heat and diseases of a Deep South summer would loosen Grant’s grip. Even if Vicksburg fell, a successful invasion of Pennsylvania would more than compensate for that loss. If Longstreet’s two divisions went west, Lee warned, he might have to retreat into the Richmond defenses.

Lee won over Davis and Seddon. Most interesting of all he won over Longstreet, who now agreed with Lee that an invasion of Pennsylvania offered the best opportunity “either to destroy the Yankees or bring them to terms,” as Longstreet wrote to Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas on May 13. If the defensive-minded Longstreet could talk like this, it seems even more likely that the offensive-minded Lee went north looking for that Confederate Austerlitz or Jena-Auerstadt. Longstreet later claimed he had extracted a promise from Lee that he would maneuver in such a way as to fight only on the tactical defensive in Pennsylvania. As Stephen Sears comments, however, “that of course was nonsense.” Lee might have been willing to fight on the tactical defensive if he could do so on ground or under conditions that gave him the opportunity to win the kind of victory he felt had eluded him at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville—but he certainly could not have made such a binding promise to Longstreet. And almost everything Lee said or did in Pennsylvania indicated that he had always meant to keep the initiative by attacking.

In any event, plans for the invasion went forward. Davis scraped up some reinforcements for the Army of Northern Virginia, though not as many as Lee had hoped for. Nevertheless, he was confident as his army started north. His reading of Northern newspapers and other intelligence reports convinced him that the Northern people were demoralized. Regiment after regiment of two-year and nine-month men in the Army of the Potomac was being demobilized. On June 23 Confederate division commander Dorsey Pender wrote to his wife: “It is stated on all sides that Hooker has a small army and that it is very much demoralized. General Lee says he wants to meet him as soon as possible.” Lee had taken Hooker’s measure at Chancellorsville and now spoke of him with thinly veiled contempt as “Mr. F. J. Hooker” in a sarcastic reference to Hooker’s “Fighting Joe” nickname in the Northern press.

Lee believed his own army to be “invincible,” he told General Hood. “They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led.” Proper leadership after Jackson’s death and other Chancellorsville casualties was a problem, to be sure. Lee reorganized the army into three corps with Generals Richard Ewell and A.P. Hill as new corps commanders. Their record as division commanders under Jackson gave promise of vigorous, hard-hitting leadership in their new role. And that is precisely what Lee expected of them. Lee went into Pennsylvania as he had gone into Maryland the year before, not merely on a raid for supplies but looking for a fight—perhaps even a war-winning fight. In a conversation with General Isaac Trimble on June 27, when most of the Army of Northern Virginia was at Chambersburg, Pa., and when Lee believed the enemy was still south of the Potomac, he told Trimble: “When they hear where we are, they will make forced marches…probably through Frederick, broken down with hunger and hard marching, strung out on a long line and much demoralized, when they come into Pennsylvania. I shall throw an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, drive one corps back on another, and by successive repulses and surprises, before they can concentrate, create a panic and virtually destroy the army.” Then “the war will be over and we shall achieve the recognition of our independence.”

Trimble wrote these words 20 years later, and one might question their literal accuracy—even though Trimble said the conversation was vivid in his memory and he was confident that he quoted Lee almost verbatim. In any case, Trimble surely did not make up Lee’s words out of whole cloth. They were consistent with Lee’s tactical decisions at Gettysburg even though many of the assumptions underlying his conversation with Trimble turned out to have been wrong. The Army of the Potomac was north of the river, it was not strung out or demoralized, and it was no longer commanded by Mr. F.J. Hooker. Even so, at Gettysburg Lee ordered an attack—again an attack—and again attacks, almost as if to make his predictions to Trimble come true.

As he had done during the invasion of Maryland the previous September, Lee offered some political advice to Jefferson Davis. This advice also was consistent with his prediction to Trimble that a crushing military victory would enable Davis to extract a peace agreement from the United States government that would recognize Confederate independence. Lee’s reading of Northern newspapers had convinced him that “the rising peace party in the North,” as he described the Copperheads, offered the South a “means of dividing and weakening our enemies.” It was true, Lee acknowledged in a letter to Davis on June 10, that the Copperheads professed to favor reunion as the object of the peace negotiations they were clamoring for, while of course the Confederate goal in any such negotiations would be independence. But it would do no harm, Lee advised Davis, to play along with this reunion sentiment to weaken Northern support for the war, which “after all is what we are interested in bringing about. When peace is proposed to us it will be time enough to discuss its terms, and it is not the part of prudence to spurn the proposition in advance, merely because those who made it believe, or affect to believe, that it will result in bringing us back to the Union.”

Lee concluded his letter with a broad hint that Davis “will best know how to give effect” to Lee’s views. Davis did indeed think he knew a way to offer the olive branch of a victorious peace at the same time that Lee’s sword won that victory in the field. About the time he received Lee’s letter, Davis also opened one from Vice President Alexander H. Stephens suggesting a mission to Washington under flag of truce. The ostensible purpose would be a negotiation to renew the cartel for prisoner of war exchanges, which had broken down because of the Confederate threat to execute or reenslave captured officers and men of black regiments. But the real purpose would be negotiations of a peace on the basis of Confederate independence. Davis immediately summoned Stephens from Georgia to Richmond with the intention of sending him into Pennsylvania with the army as a sort of minister plenipotentiary to start negotiations after Lee won a military victory.

Stephens arrived too late to catch up with the troops, and he protested that the enemy would never receive him anyway if he accompanied the army. So Davis sent him under flag of truce to Fortress Monroe, where he arrived on July 2 and had word sent to Lincoln asking permission to come to Washington. The press in Richmond may have gotten wind of this affair. In any case the initial news from Lee’s invasion that filtered back from Pennsylvania was highly encouraging. An editorial in the Richmond Examiner reflected a widespread sentiment in the South in early July. “The present movement of General Lee will be of infinite value as disclosing the easy susceptibility of the North to invasion. Not even the Chinese are less prepared by previous habits of life and education for martial resistance than the Yankees. We can carry our armies far into the enemy’s country, exacting peace by blows leveled at his vitals.”

That was precisely what Lee hoped to do. But first, on June 28, he ordered Ewell with two divisions, supported by Longstreet, to move north against Harrisburg. Having already cut the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Lee intended to destroy the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge and tracks at Harrisburg in order to cut all the links between the Midwest and Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Believing that the Army of the Potomac was still south of its namesake river, Lee thought he had time to carry out this demolition before concentrating to carry out a similar demolition of Hooker’s army.

But that very evening of June 28 Lee received word from Longstreet’s spy James (or Henry—his first name is uncertain) Harrison that the enemy was near the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, much closer and more concentrated than Lee— in the absence of any word from Jeb Stuart—had realized. Recall orders went off to Ewell’s divisions, including Jubal Early’s on the Susquehanna River east of York, to concentrate at Gettysburg or Cashtown, and Lee headed that way himself on June 29. Two days later the battle of Gettysburg began.

It began without Lee’s presence, and in a sense against his wishes and his orders to subordinates not to bring on a battle until the army was concentrated. But once he made the decision to go in with everything he had, about 3 o’clock on the afternoon of July 1, he did not deviate from his intention to seize and hold the initiative by repeatedly attacking in an attempt to win the kind of victory that would destroy the enemy that had eluded him since the Seven Days battles a year earlier. “The enemy is there,” Lee told Longstreet on the morning of July 2 and again the next morning, pointing to Cemetery Ridge, “and I am going to attack him there.”

As late as the morning of July 3—perhaps even as late as 3:30 that afternoon— Lee still hoped and planned for a Cannae victory. His orders for July 3 included not only the attack we now call Pickett’s Charge—or the Pickett-Pettigrew assault— but also an attack on Culp’s Hill and a coup-de-grace strike by Stuart’s 6,000 cavalry swooping down on the Union rear while Pickett and Ewell punched through the center and rolled up the right.

By 4 p.m. on July 3 these hopes had been shattered. A day later a telegram arrived in Washington from the Union naval commander at Hampton Roads (ironically named Samuel Phillips Lee) notifying President Lincoln of Alexander H. Stephens’ desire to meet with him. Having already heard the news from Gettysburg, Lincoln sent back a brusque refusal. And the war continued.

This essay is an exclusive excerpt from James M. McPherson’s upcoming book This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, to be published by Oxford University Press, ©2007 by James M. McPherson.

Originally published in the April 2007 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.

Total Victory Lost – Why the South Lost Civil War at Chancellorsville not Gettysburg

While Chancellorsville is often regarded as General Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory, many would be surprised to know that after the battle he remarked “We had really accomplished nothing we had not gained a foot of ground, and I knew the enemy could easily replace the men he had lost. At Chancellorsville we gained another victory our people were wild with delight—I, on the contrary, was more depressed.” He even went so far as to yell as his own generals and subordinates, accusing them of not obeying his orders and costing the South a true victory.

What could have led the general to such a conclusion? After all, the victory was widely celebrated in the South, and the North was sent into a panic at every level of leadership up to President Lincoln.

Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

The loss of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is widely known, but Lee’s concerns went much deeper than the loss of his best general and friend – Lee realized that he had lost an opportunity to permanently cripple the Union army and potentially end the war.

Ever the perfectionist, this lost opportunity would haunt him for some time, and he made his frustrations known to his subordinates, some of whom had not acted in accordance with Lee’s orders. Did the Confederates have a realistic chance of ending the war, or at least dealing a much greater blow to the Union, at the Battle of Chancellorsville?

Throughout this conversation it is important recognize the manpower advantage the North had, and in particular their ability to replace their losses. Although the Union suffered around 17,000 casualties to the South’s 13,000, the Army of Northern Virginia lost over 20% of its soldiers in the battle, including nearly a third of its officers, while the Army of the Potomac only lost about 15% of its men. This is why Lee was not satisfied with merely driving the Union back – it was simply not sustainable.

Photograph of Robert E. Lee in March 1864

The weapons the North lost could likewise be replaced with relative ease. Lincoln himself had made this observation after the similarly “disastrous” Union defeat at Fredericksburg, saying that if “the same battle were to be fought over again, every day, through a week of days, with the same relative results, the army under Lee would be wiped out to its last man.”

24-pounder Howitzer of Austrian manufacture imported by the Confederacy. Its tube was shorter and lighter than Federal 24-pounder Howitzers.

The only way the South could win would be with either such a great victory that the North would not be able to recover its numbers in time to stop a Confederate advance into the North, or by inflicting such losses that the Northern public would turn strongly against the war, thus making it politically unfeasible for Lincoln to continue fighting.

Lee recognized this, and decided that the political impacts of a greater victory would be worth the risks of an aggressive effort to rout and destroy the Army of the Potomac. The North would have to choose to give up due to the loss of blood and treasure the war extracted, rather than being defeated traditionally. In some ways Lee was already succeeding, as the Democratic platform by 1863 was already calling for an end to the war, even if it meant Southern independence.

Commanders of the Army of the Potomac at Culpeper, Virginia, 1863

The Union retreat from Chancellorsville took place over several days, and involved two separate forces that needed to cross the Rappahannock River back to the North. Beginning late on May 3, 1863, Union forces began to withdraw in the face of Lee’s bold and successful decision to split his own forces repeatedly in the face of an opponent with superior numbers.

The Union forces had been split in two, with one section under the command of General Sedgwick, and the other under General Hooker directly. Lee wanted an attack on the morning of May 4 in order to press his advantage, but indecisive and slow actions by his subordinates led to the failure of this plan.

General Sedgwick (seated right) with Colonels Albert V. Colburn and Delos B. Sackett in Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862.

In particular, Confederate efforts against Sedgwick’s section of the army failed when General McLaws failed to join in an attack by General Early when ordered to because he felt his forces were not strong enough. Instead, McLaws delayed for hours while Early’s significantly outnumbered divisions were repulsed by Union men.

Lee later ordered reinforcements from General Anderson’s division to aid in the McLaws/Early assault. Even then, McLaws delayed the attack, and eventually when the assault commenced they too were repulsed. Lee and Early made their frustrations with McLaws clear after the battle, and McLaws would be court-martialed several months later for gross inefficiency in another campaign, although the court martial was later overturned on procedural grounds.

Battle of Chancellorsville, depicting the wounding of Confederate Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson on May 2, 1863)

Late on May 6, when Lee was able to finally organize his army to attack the other Union position – under Hooker in Chancellorsville – they found only empty trenches. Hooker had escaped without the Confederates even having a chance for a final battle to crush his forces, and Sedgwick had done well enough to escape with his men. Lee’s plan for a conclusive victory had failed.

One key caveat to the argument that the South could have crushed the Union forces with a more aggressive pursuit in the closing days of the Chancellorsville campaign is that it relies entirely on the idea that Lee’s pursuit would have been successful, and beyond that, successful enough to have the desired result.

If Lee’s disappointment with Chancellorsville was that he lost so many men without destroying the Union army entirely, then surely it would have been even worse to launch a costly attack on the retreating Federal forces if he did not achieve total success in that attack. Instead of losing 20% of his men his losses would have been even more severe.

How would those men be replaced? If this theoretical greater victory was still not enough to lead to an immediate surrender, Lee would have had even greater difficulty in whatever the next major battle would have been, due to the loss of those men.

Major General Lafayette McLaws

Even if he continued to inflict more casualties on the Union, barring an utter collapse, the Union would have still been able to replace men that the South simply did not have. If Lee’s aggressive plans for a follow-up attack failed, or led to a Pyrrhic victory, the war may have well been almost ended, but not in the way Lee wanted.

The failure of Lee’s aggressive pursuit is often blamed on numerous failures of his subordinates, and this assessment has a fair amount of evidence to back it up, but even better performance by generals like McLaws could not have guaranteed success.

A group of Confederate soldiers-possibly an artillery unit captured at Island No. 10 and taken at POW Camp Douglas (Chicago)

With this important caveat in mind, the most reasonable conclusion is that Lee’s strategy was worth the risk. Lee was correct in his assessment that the North could only be defeated by a crushing victory – one that would psychologically devastate the Union and deflate their will to fight.

Ultimately a risk like Lee’s goal of an aggressive final assault at Chancellorsville would have been necessary for the South to win. Whether this one victory could have been enough by itself to convince the Union to negotiate for peace can never truly be known, but total destruction of the Army of the Potomac would have certainly increased Lee’s chances of success in his following campaign into the North.

Scouts and guides, Army of the Potomac

Ultimately, Lee’s desire to entirely crush the Union army at Chancellorsville reflected an accurate assessment of the greater political factors governing the war. If successful, it had a good chance of leading directly, or indirectly after a successful follow-up campaign, to a Southern victory. Chancellorsville was truly a turning point in the war, but perhaps not in the way that many assume.

After Chancellorsville, Lee realized that he still needed a victory on Northern soil in order to convince the Northern public that the war was no longer worth fighting. He followed up his victory at Chancellorsville with a march that would end at a small Pennsylvania town named Gettysburg, where he encountered a replenished Army of the Potomac.

Grant and Lee’s Differing Civil War Strategy

While Robert E. Lee was strictly a Virginia-focused, one-theater commander who constantly sought reinforcements for his theater and resisted transfers to other theaters, Grant had a broad, national perspective, rarely requested additional troops from elsewhere, and uncomplainingly provided reinforcements to locations, not under his command. Contrasting examples of their approaches are Lee’s retention of Longstreet for his Gettysburg campaign, Lee’s delay of Longstreet’s transfer to Chickamauga, Lee’s maneuvering to get Longstreet back to Virginia from Chattanooga, Grant’s cooperation in sending reinforcements to Buell in Kentucky to oppose Bragg in late 1862, Grant’s numerous proposals for campaigns against Mobile, and his war-winning, multi-theater strategic plan for operations beginning in May 1864. J. F. C. Fuller concluded, “Unlike Grant, [Lee] did not create a strategy in spite of his Government instead, by his restless audacity, he ruined such strategy as his Government created.”

Critical to Grant’s success and Union victory in the war was that Grant early in the war recognized the need to focus, and thereafter stayed focused, on defeating, capturing, or destroying opposing armies. He di not simply occupy Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, and Richmond. Instead, he maneuvered his troops in such a way that he captured enemy armies in addition to occupying important locations. Unlike McClellan, Hooker, and Meade, who ignored Lincoln’s admonitions to pursue and destroy enemy armies, and Halleck, who was satisfied with his hollow capture of Corinth, Grant believed in and practiced that approach, which was so critical to Union victory.

Grant’s armies incurred the bulk of their casualties in the Overland Campaign of 1864. In Gordon C. Rhea’s words, “[t]he very nature of Grant’s [offensive] assignment guaranteed severe casualties.” Although Meade’s Army of the Potomac, under the personal direction of Grant, did suffer high casualties that year during its drive to Petersburg and Richmond, it imposed an even higher percentage of casualties on Lee’s army. In addition, that federal army compelled Lee to retreat to a nearly besieged position at Richmond and Petersburg, which Lee had previously said would be the death knell of his own army. Rhea concluded, “A review of Grant’s Overland Campaign reveals not the butcher of lore, but a thoughtful warrior every bit as talented as his Confederate opponent.” At the same time as he advanced on Lee’s army and Richmond, Grant was overseeing and facilitating a coordinated attack against Confederate forces all over the nation, particularly Sherman’s campaign from the Tennessee border to Atlanta.

As he had hoped, Grant succeeded in keeping Lee from sending reinforcements to Georgia, Sherman’s capture of Atlanta virtually ensured the crucial reelection of Lincoln, and Sherman ultimately broke loose on a barely contested sweep through Georgia and the Carolinas that doomed the Confederacy. Grant’s 1864–65 nationwide coordinated offensive against the Rebel armies, as stated before, not only won the war but demonstrated that he was a national general with a broad vision.

Nevertheless, all too often Grant has been regarded as a “hammerer and a butcher who was often drunk, an unimaginative and ungifted clod who eventually triumphed because he had such overwhelming superiority in numbers that he could hardly avoid winning.” Although the Overland Campaign proved costly to the Army of the Potomac, it was fatal for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant took advantage of the fact that Lee had gravely weakened his outnumbered army in 1862 and 1863 and successfully conducted a campaign of adhesion against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. As Rhea concluded, Grant provided the backbone and leadership that the Army of the Potomac had been lacking:

. . . it was a very good thing for the country that Grant came east. Had Meade exercised unfettered command over the Army of the Potomac, I doubt that he would have passed beyond the Wilderness. Lee would likely have stymied or even defeated the Potomac army, and Lincoln would have faced a severe political crisis. It took someone like Grant to force the Army of the Potomac out of its defensive mode and aggressively focus it on the task of destroying Lee’s army.

Historian Jeffry Wert described how Grant’s Civil War strategy vision and perseverance (see above) combined to reinforce each other: “On May 4, 1864, more than a quarter of a million Union troops marched forth on three fronts. There would be no turning back this time. This time, a strategic vision guided the movements, girded by an iron determination—the measure of Ulysses S. Grant’s greatness as a general.” Williamson Murray saw the same traits: “Ulysses Simpson Grant was successful where other union generals failed because he took the greatest risks and followed his own vision of how the war needed to be won, despite numerous setbacks.”

According to historian T. Harry Williams, Lee, unlike Grant, had little interest in a global Civil War strategy for winning the war, and:

What few suggestions [Lee] did make to his government about operations in other theaters than his own indicate that he had little aptitude for grand planning… Fundamentally Grant was superior to Lee because in a modern total war he had a modern mind, and Lee did not… The modernity of Grant’s mind was most apparent in his grasp of the concept that war was becoming total and that the destruction of the enemy’s economic resources was as effective and legitimate a form of warfare as the destruction of his armies.

Lee’s Civil War strategy concentrated all the resources he could obtain and retain almost exclusively in the eastern theater of operations, while fatal events were occurring in the Mississippi Valley and middle theaters (primarily in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and the Carolinas). His approach overlooked the strength of the Confederacy in its size and lack of communications, which required the Union to conquer and occupy it.

Historian Archer Jones provided an analysis tying together Lee’s two strategic weaknesses (aggressiveness and Virginia myopia): “More convincing is the contention that if the Virginia armies were strong enough for an offensive they were too strong for the good of the Confederacy. They would have done better to spare some of their strength to bolster the sagging West where the war was being lost.”

Lee’s solitary focus on Virginia should not have been surprising. After declining command of the Union’s armies at the start of the war, Lee immediately resigned his U.S. military commission and assumed command of the Virginia militia. When he did so, he stated, “I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.” His “Virginia parochialism” hampered the South during the entire war. To the detriment of the

Confederacy, Lee was a Virginian first and a Confederate second. This trait was harmful, even though he was not the commander-in-chief, due to his crucial role as Davis’ primary military advisor throughout the war.

Even more significantly, Lee’s actions played a role in major Confederate western defeats at Vicksburg, Tullahoma, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. He refused to send reinforcements before or during Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg contributed to the gross undermanning of the Confederate forces during the Tullahoma Campaign and at Chattanooga and played a critical role in the disastrous ascension of Hood to command in the West that led to the fall of Atlanta and the destruction of the Army of Tennessee.

Throughout the war, Lee was obsessed with operations in Virginia and urged that additional reinforcements be brought to the Old Dominion from the West, where Confederates defended ten times the area in which Lee operated. Thomas L. Connelly and Archer Jones concluded that “Lee actually supplied little general strategic guidance for the South. He either had no unified view of grand Civil War strategy or else chose to remain silent on the subject.” Often Lee prevailed upon President Jefferson Davis to refuse or only partially comply with requests to send critical reinforcements to the West.

In April 1863, for example, Lee opposed sending any of his troops to Tennessee even though the Union had sent Burnside’s 9 th Corps there. Using arguments that one of his supporters called bizarre, Lee opposed concentration against the enemy and favored concurrent offensives by all Confederate commands against their superior foes. Lee used similar arguments the next month when he declined to involve his soldiers in an effort to save Vicksburg (and a

Confederate army of 30,000) and thereby prevent Union control of the Mississippi River. In addition, the lack of eastern reinforcements caused Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee to retreat in the mid-1863 Tullahoma Campaign from middle Tennessee through Chattanooga into Georgia, thereby losing Tennessee and the vital rail connection between northern Alabama and southern Tennessee in the “West” and Richmond and other eastern points.

Only once, in late 1863, did Lee consent to a portion of his army being sent west. On that occasion, Lee delayed those troops’ departure from Virginia for over two weeks and caused many of them to arrive only after the Battle of Chickamauga—and without their artillery. Despite Lee’s non-support, the barely reinforced Rebels won at Chickamauga and drove the Yankees back into Chattanooga. Lee’s delays, however, had deprived the Rebels of perhaps an additional 10,000 troops and the artillery that might have destroyed, rather than merely repelled, Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland. Nevertheless, that army was besieged and threatened by starvation in Chattanooga. Almost immediately, however, Lee undercut his grudging assistance by promoting the prompt return to him of his Virginia troops. His promotion of Longstreet’s return led to movement of Longstreet’s 15,000 troops away from Chattanooga just before the Union forces broke out of Chattanooga against Bragg’s vastly outnumbered army.

Lee compounded his erroneous Civil War strategy to the West by acquiescing in the disastrous elevation of his protégé, the obsessively aggressive John Bell Hood, to full general and command of the Army of Tennessee at the very moment Sherman reached Atlanta in July 1864. Within seven weeks Hood lost Atlanta, and within six months he destroyed that army. During that significant summer, Lee squandered Jubal Early’s 18,000-man corps on a demonstration against Washington instead of sending those troops to Atlanta, where they could have played a vital role defending that city under the command of either Johnston or Hood. These events enabled Sherman to march unmolested through Georgia and the Carolinas and ultimately to pose a fatal backdoor threat to Lee’s own Army of Northern Virginia.

Some may question whether Lee’s Civil War strategy, that he should have sent troops to the “West,” where allegedly incompetent generals would have simply squandered them. There are several problems with that position. First, many of those western generals were so outnumbered (more than Lee was) that they were simply outflanked by their Union opponents (e.g., Bragg in mid-1863 and Johnston in mid-1864) in vast areas that afforded greater maneuverability than did Virginia. Second, Lee declined several opportunities to take command in the West, where he could have commanded troops moved from the East but where he had little interest and probably had an inkling things were more difficult than he knew or wanted to know. Third, the success of the few troops that Lee finally provided for Chickamauga demonstrated what might have been if Lee had sent more of Longstreet’s troops and done so in a timely manner. Fourth, Jubal Early’s corps could have provided invaluable assistance in preventing the fall of Atlanta prior to the crucial 1864 presidential election. Finally, Lee himself squandered troops in the East (particularly at Seven Days’, Chancellorsville, Antietam, and Gettysburg), lost the war doing what he did, and could hardly have done worse sending some troops to the undermanned “West.”

In summary, through his own Civil War strategy, Grant won the Mississippi theater, saved the Union Army in the middle theater, and then won the eastern theater and the war. Lee lost the eastern theater and adversely affected Confederate prospects in the other theaters. How important were those other theaters (often referred to collectively as “the West”)? Richard McMurry, after arguing that Lee was justified in his actions, conceded: “Finally, it seems that, as the Civil War evolved, the really decisive area—the theater where the outcome of the war was decided —was the West. The great Virginia battles and campaigns on which historians have lavished so much time and attention had, in fact, almost no influence on the outcome of the war. They led, at most, to a stalemate while the western armies fought the war of secession to an issue.” Weigley criticized Lee’s failure to appreciate the significance of Tennessee as the South’s primary granary and meat source, as well as the importance of the mines, munitions plants, manufacturing, and transportation facilities in Georgia and Alabama. Grant’s national perspective prevailed while Lee’s myopic views badly hurt the Confederacy.

Civil War Strategy: Political Common Sense

Unlike McClellan, Beauregard, Joseph Johnston, and many other Civil War generals, Grant made it his business to get along with his president. In the words of Thomas Goss, “Unlike many of his fellow commanders, Grant was willing to support the political goals of the administration as they were presented to him.” That cooperation included tolerating political generals, such as McClernand, Sigel, Banks, and Butler until Grant had given them enough rope to hang themselves. Michael C. C. Adams explained Grant’s willingness to work with Lincoln: “Grant’s freedom from acute awareness of class may also partially explain his excellent working relationship with Lincoln. Grant was one of the few top generals who managed to avoid looking down on the common-man president. He took his suggestions seriously and benefited accordingly.” Grant’s loyalty was rewarded when Lincoln allowed him to designate colonels and generals for promotion and to remove the remaining unsuccessful political generals—especially after Lincoln’s 1864 reelection.

Grant extended his cooperative attitude to Stanton, who reciprocated by directing his staff officers to comply with Grant’s wishes. Grant’s political antennae also kept him from “retreating” back up the Mississippi River to begin a fresh campaign against Vicksburg in the spring of 1863 or moving back toward Washington after 1864 Overland Campaign “setbacks” because of the negative public reaction and morale impact such regressive movements would provoke among his soldiers and the public.

Lee was similar to Grant in his cultivating an excellent working relationship with his president. Lee’s war-long correspondence with Davis virtually drips with deference—a deference that the ultrasensitive Davis appreciated and reciprocated. It was partially Lee’s circumspect politeness to Davis that resulted in the sharp contrast between the DavisLee relationship and those between Davis and Joseph Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard. Lee had great influence on Davis they had none.

ACW Book Review: General Lee’s Army

Joseph T. Glatthaar’s highly anticipated new book General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse explains how the Army of Northern Virginia almost won the Civil War for the Confederacy, as well as why it ultimately lost.

The book uses top-down analysis to examine the army’s command structure and General Robert E. Lee himself, but it also employs bottom-up analysis of the common soldiers’ experience. Glatthaar mostly concentrates on the troops’ viewpoint, incorporating excerpts from letters and accounts that build a vivid picture of life in the Confederate army.

Glatthaar relied on a carefully chosen representative sample of 600 soldiers, including 150 cavalrymen, 150 artillerymen and 300 foot soldiers. His wide-ranging sample allows for a legitimate statistical analysis while also permitting the reader to follow individual soldiers as their stories develop.

The book’s primary theme is perseverance. In the course of explaining Lee’s deficits of men and materiel, Glatthaar highlights how most of his soldiers somehow managed to continue fighting de – spite their increasing tribulations.

Glatthaar’s depiction of army life is far from glorious. Having thousands of people live, camp and march together for months on end created a variety of nearly insuperable problems. Disease and malnutrition, for example, were constant weakening scourges of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Supply problems also resulted in innumerable difficulties for Lee’s men. One of the book’s predominant themes is that the Army of Northern Virginia’s soldiers managed to win battles using inferior equipment, especially weapons. Unreliable Southern railroads and muddy, poorly maintained roads, Glatthaar notes, added great strain to Confederate supply lines. Later in the war, when Union Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan were wreaking havoc throughout the South, Confederates had to survive despite even greater privations. Glatthaar ably depicts the horrors and frustrations of trench warfare, where Rebel soldiers could not even resort to fleecing the bodies of Union corpses for supplies because the Southerners were stuck in their defenses, hungry, bored and under constant enemy fire.

Glatthaar also embroiders on the theme of Southern exceptionalism. He believes that Confederate successes came largely out of the Rebels’ élan, and he also points out that the soldiers in Lee’s army thought they were better warriors than the Union invaders. The soldiers fought for Southern honor, believing their cause was right and that God was on their side. Some men in gray also claimed they fought for liberty, just as the Patriots of 1776 had done. In fact, Glatthaar’s chapter on the soldiers’ motivations is one of the strongest in the book, displaying a nuanced understanding of their belief system.

The author also argues that the home front and the army were “reflexive.” In his chapter on the home front, Glatthaar accurately notes the influence that the two had on one another. This was an army of volunteer soldiers, whose men had willingly chosen to leave behind their wives, children, mothers and fathers at home. Their letters to and from home showed reciprocal worry between the soldiers and their families. While their families had sometimes persuaded soldiers to go and fight in the first place, they also had a significant influence on some soldiers who chose to desert.

It seems as though the Battle of Seven Pines would have served as a better starting point for Glatthaar’s study rather than the Battle of First Manassas, where the army was still under command of General P.G.T. Beauregard. Although the background information Glaathaar provides here is helpful, it was at Seven Pines that Confederate President Jef ferson Davis placed General Robert E. Lee in command—that’s the true beginning of the near-mythical story of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Nonetheless, Glatthaar’s contribution to Civil War historiography is significant. Not only does he help historians better understand the Army of Northern Virginia, but he does it in a comprehensive format that is conducive to understanding the entire war as well. General Lee’s Army is essential to understanding those persevering Confederates who proudly served in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Originally published in the July 2008 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.

4) The final draft of the surrender document was written by an American Indian.

Lt. Colonel Ely Parker, a Seneca man on General Grant’s staff, wrote the final draft. Parker, an engineer for the U.S. Treasury Department, had moved to Galena, Illinois before the Civil War to oversee the construction of the customhouse there. Grant was clerking at his brother’s store at the time, and the two became friends. Parker had been trained as a lawyer as well as an engineer (although he could not pass the bar because, as an American Indian, he was not a citizen), and Grant asked him to draft the final copy of the surrender terms.

Seven Days in History

Confederate infantry attacking Union artillery during the Battle of Malvern Hill Library of Congress

Proving his skeptics wrong, Robert E. Lee took command of the Confederate Army at Richmond and after the Seven Days Battles pushed back Union forces and ensured his reputation as a brilliant commander.

On June 1, 1862, Robert E. Lee replaced a wounded Joseph E. Johnston as the commander of the Confederate army defending Richmond. This change of leadership occurred as George B. McClellan and his Army of the Potomac, which numbered more than 100,000 men, approached the climax of their grand offensive against the Southern capital. Although Lee later achieved a towering reputation, news of his appointment provoked widespread concern across the Confederacy. A North Carolina woman gave voice to a common evaluation of Lee: "I do not much like him, he 'falls back' too much . His nick name last summer was 'old-stick-in-the-mud' . There is mud enough now in and about our lines, but pray God he may not fulfill the whole of his name."

Robert E. Lee Library of Congress

The next five weeks proved Lee's doubters wrong. No general exhibited more daring than the new Southern commander, who believed the Confederacy could counter Northern numbers only by seizing and holding the initiative. He spent June preparing for a supreme effort against McClellan. When "Stonewall" Jackson's command from the Shenandoah Valley and other reinforcements arrived, Lee's army, at nearly 90,000 strong, would be the largest Confederate force even placed in the field. By the last week of June, the Army of the Potomac lay astride the Chickahominy River, two-thirds of its strength south of the river and one-third north of it. Lee hoped to crush the portion north of the river then turn against the rest. Confederates repulsed a strong Union reconnaissance against their left on June 25, opening what became known as the Seven Days Battles and setting the stage for Lee's offensive.

Heavy fighting began on June 26 at the Battle of Mechanicsville and continued for the next five days. Lee consistently acted as the aggressor but never managed to land a decisive blow. At Mechanicsville, he expected Jackson to strike Union General Fitz John Porter's right flank. The hero of the Valley failed to appear in time, however, and A. P. Hill's Confederate division launched a futile frontal assault about mid-afternoon. Porter retreated to a strong position at Gaines's Mill, where Lee renewed his offensive on the 27th. Once again Jackson stumbled, as more than 50,000 Confederates mounted savage attacks along a wide front. Late in the day, Porter's lines gave way, and he withdrew across the Chickahominy to join the rest of McClellan's army. Jackson's poor performance, usually attributed to exhaustion verging on numbness, joined poor staff work and other factors in allowing Porter's exposed portion of McClellan's army to escape.

In the wake of Gaines's Mill, McClellan changed his base from the Pamunkey River to the James River, where Northern naval power could support the Army of the Potomac. Lee followed the retreating McClellan, who insisted the Rebels badly outnumbered his army, seeking to inflict a crippling blow as the Federals retreated southward across the Peninsula. After heavy skirmishing on June 28, the Confederates mounted ineffectual attacks on the 29th at Savage's Station and far heavier ones at Glendale (also known as Frayser's Farm) on the 30th. Stonewall Jackson played virtually no role in these actions, as time and again the Confederates failed to act in concert. By July 1, McClellan stood at Malvern Hill, a splendid defensive position overlooking the James. Lee resorted to unimaginative frontal assaults that afternoon. Whether driven by vexation at lost opportunities or his natural combativeness, he had made one of his poorest tactical decisions. Southern division commander Daniel Harvey Hill famously said of the action on July 1, "It was not war, it was murder." As evening fell, more than 5,000 Confederate casualties littered the slopes of Malvern Hill. Some of McClellan's officers urged a counterattack against the obviously battered enemy however, "Little Mac" retreated down the James to Harrison's Landing, where he awaited Lee's next move and issued endless requests for more men and supplies.

Casualties for the Seven Days were enormous. Lee's losses exceeded 20,000 killed, wounded, and missing, while McClellan's surpassed 16,000. Gaines's Mill, where combined losses exceeded 15,000, marked the point of greatest slaughter. Thousands of dead and maimed soldiers brought the reality of war to Richmond's residents. One woman wrote, "death held a carnival in our city. The weather was excessively hot. It was midsummer, gangrene and erysipelas attacked the wounded, and those who might have been cured of their wounds were cut down by these diseases."

Hand-to-hand fighting erupted as the Reserves rushed to reclaim captured cannons on the front line. Courtesy Don Troiani, Historical Art Prints

The campaign's importance extended far beyond setting a new standard of carnage in Virginia. Lee had seized the initiative, dramatically altering the strategic picture by dictating the action to a compliant McClellan. Lee's first effort in field command lacked tactical polish but nevertheless generated immense dividends. The Seven Days Battles saved Richmond and inspirited a Confederate people buffeted by dismal military news from other theaters. The victory also caused Lee's reputation to shoot upward, beginning the process by which he and his army would emerge, by the late spring of 1863 at the latest, as the principal national rallying point for the Confederate people. One of the Richmond newspapers captured this element of the campaign's aftermath when it commented that "the brilliancy of Lee's genius" manifested at the Seven Days had "established his reputation forever, and . entitled himself to the lasting gratitude of his country."

On the Union side, the campaign dampened expectations of victory that had mounted steadily as United States armies in Tennessee and along the Mississippi River won a string of successes. McClellan's failure also exacerbated political divisions in the United States, clearing the way for Republicans to implement policies that would strike at slavery and other Rebel property. The end of the rebellion had seemed to be in sight when McClellan prepared to march up the Peninsula after Malvern Hill, only the most obtuse observers failed to see that the war would continue in a more comprehensive manner. "We have been and are in a depressed, dismal, . state of anxiety and irritability" wrote a perceptive New Yorker after McClellan's retreat. "The cause of the country does not seem to be thriving just now."

Confederate infantry attacking Union artillery during the Battle of Malvern Hill Library of Congress

The campaign also underscored the degree to which events in the Virginia theater dominated perceptions about the war's progress. Despite enormous Northern achievement in the western campaigns, most people North and South, as well as observers in Britain and France, interpreted the Seven Days as evidence that the Confederacy was winning the war. Lincoln wrote about this phenomenon in early August, complaining that "it seems unreasonable that a series of successes, extending through half-a-year, and clearing more than a hundred thousand square miles of country, should help us so little, while a single half-defeat should hurt us so much." Lincoln did not exaggerate the impact of McClellan's failure. Taken overall, the ramifications were such that the Richmond campaign must be reckoned one of the turning points of the war.

April 30-May 6, 1863

Considered by many to be Lee's greatest victory, the general marched his troops to meet the federal troops trying to advance on the Confederate position. The Union force, led by Major General Joseph Hooker, decided to form a defense at Chancellorsville. "Stonewall" Jackson led his troops against the exposed Federal left flank, decisively crushing the enemy. In the end, the Union line broke and they retreated. Lee lost one of his most able generals when Jackson was killed by friendly fire, but this was ultimately a Confederate victory.

The South Wins a Victory, but at a Great Cost

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

In the early weeks of 1863, the American Civil War took a new political direction. President Abraham Lincoln had announced the Emancipation Proclamation. That measure freed the slaves in the rebel states of the South, though Lincoln's words fell on deaf ears.

Yet no longer was the Civil War a struggle just to save the Union. It had become a struggle for human freedom.

There was a change on the military side of the war, too. President Lincoln named a new commander for the Union's Army of the Potomac. This was the force that would try again to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia.

This week in our series, Harry Monroe and Kay Gallant describe events during the spring of 1863.

General Joe Hooker was the new commander of the Army of the Potomac. He replaced General Ambrose Burnside, when Burnside suffered a terrible defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia, at the end of 1862. Burnside had replaced General George McClellan, when McClellan kept refusing to obey President Lincoln's orders.

Hooker had one hundred thirty thousand men. They were well-trained and well-supplied.

The Confederate force opposing Hooker's was under the command of General Robert E. Lee. Lee had only about sixty thousand men. They did not have good equipment. And their supplies were low. But their fighting spirit was high. They had defeated the Union army before. They were sure they could do it again.

Lee's army still held strong defensive positions along high ground south of Fredericksburg. This was almost halfway between the capitals of the opposing sides: Washington and Richmond.

General Hooker did not plan to make the same mistake which General Burnside made at Fredericksburg. Burnside had thrown his army against Lee's defensive positions six times. Each time, the Confederates pushed them back easily. In one day of fighting, more than twelve thousand Union soldiers were killed or wounded.

General Hooker had rebuilt the Army of the Potomac. Now he was ready to carry out his plan against General Lee.

Hooker left half his men at Fredericksburg, in front of Lee's army. He would move the other half into position behind Lee's army. If Lee turned to meet him, the troops at Fredericksburg would attack. The Confederate army would be caught between two powerful forces. Lee would have to withdraw, or lose his army.

Hooker moved around past the end of Lee's line. Then he turned and started marching back behind it.

It was a hard march through thick woods, and across rough hills and valleys. The country was so wild that it was called the wilderness.

On the last day of April, 1863, the Union force reached Chancellorsville. Chancellorsville was a crossroads near the edge of the wilderness. The next day, the soldiers would be in open country. There, General Hooker could make the best use of his men.

Hooker was extremely pleased. Everything was going as he had planned. He told his officers: "I have Lee in one hand and Richmond in the other."

The next day, Union soldiers began moving out of Chancellorsville and the wilderness. They did not get far. They ran into several thousand Confederate soldiers. Lee had sent them to slow the Union force.

The Confederate force was weak. General Hooker's officers believed they could smash through it without difficulty. They did not get a chance to try.

Hooker sent new orders: break off the fight. Return to Chancellorsville. Put up defensive positions.

Hooker's officers were shocked. They protested. Hooker stood firm. He said, "Lee must fight me on my own ground."

Robert E. Lee could not understand why the Union force had returned to Chancellorsville. But he was happy it did. Now he had time to prepare his men for battle.

Lee met that night with his top general, Stonewall Jackson. They discussed the best way to attack the Union force.

The center of the Union line was strong. The right side was not. Jackson was sure he could get around behind it. Lee asked Jackson how many men he would take. "All of them," Jackson answered. "28,000."

This meant Lee would have only 14,000 men to face General Hooker. If the Union force attacked before Stonewall Jackson got into position, Lee could not possibly hold it back.

Lee was taking a huge chance. He thought about it for a moment. Then he told Jackson to get started.

Jackson's men began to leave the next morning. Union soldiers watched as they marched away. General Hooker thought Lee was withdrawing.

It took Jackson only half a day to get behind the Union force. He spent a few more hours putting his troops into position. Then he attacked. It was six o'clock in the evening.

The right end of the Union force was not prepared for an attack. The soldiers could not believe their eyes when they saw Confederate troops running out of the woods behind them. Many Union soldiers were killed or wounded. Thousands fled.

The sun went down. The fighting continued under a bright moon. The Confederate troops kept moving forward. The Union troops kept falling back. One northern soldier wrote later: "Darkness was upon us. Jackson was upon us. And fear was upon us."

Jackson seemed to be everywhere. He rode his horse among his men, urging them forward. He would not let the Union force escape.

As Jackson and some of his officers rode into a cleared area of the woods, shots rang out. The bullets came from Confederate guns. The Confederate soldiers thought they were firing on Union officers.

Jackson fell from his horse. Two bullets had smashed his left arm. Another bullet had hit his right hand. He was hurried to the back of the line. A doctor quickly cut off his left arm and stopped the heavy bleeding.

Jackson seemed to get better. Then he developed pneumonia. He was unconscious most of the time. He seemed to dream of battle, and shouted commands to his officers. Then he grew quiet. He opened his eyes and said, "Let us pass over the river and rest in the shade of the trees."

The great Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson, was dead.

While Jackson lay dying, the battle of Chancellorsville continued.

Robert E. Lee's Confederate army was much smaller than Joe Hooker's Union army. But for five days, Lee kept part of his army moving between Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Wherever the Union army attacked, Lee quickly added more men to his lines. The Union army could not break through.

The fighting was taking place on the south side of the Rappahannock River. The Union army's supply lines were on the north side.

Spring rains were beginning to make the Rappahannock rise. General Hooker did not want to get trapped without food and ammunition. So he ordered his men back across the river.

The South had won the battle of Chancellorsville. Robert E. Lee was sure of that. Once again, he had forced back the Army of the Potomac. But the Union army was not hurt seriously. New soldiers would soon take the place of those lost in battle.

Lee, however, would find it more difficult to replace his soldiers. The South was running out of manpower. Every Confederate army needed men -- more and more men. Yet fewer and fewer southern boys were willing to become soldiers.

Anti-war movements were, in fact, active in both the North and South. There were a number of protests against the military draft. Some turned violent.

In the North, a political party was created to oppose the Civil War. Leaders of this peace party were called Copperheads. They got the name because they wore a copper penny showing the head of an Indian.


Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia—about 55,000 men [11] [12] [13] —entered the state of Maryland on September 3, following their victory at Second Bull Run on August 30. Emboldened by success, the Confederate leadership intended to take the war into enemy territory. Lee's invasion of Maryland was intended to run simultaneously with an invasion of Kentucky by the armies of Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith. It was also necessary for logistical reasons, as northern Virginia's farms had been stripped bare of food. Based on events such as the Baltimore riots in the spring of 1861 and the fact that President Lincoln had to pass through the city in disguise en route to his inauguration, Confederate leaders assumed that Maryland would welcome the Confederate forces warmly. They sang the tune "Maryland, My Maryland!" as they marched, but by the fall of 1862 pro-Union sentiment was winning out, especially in the western parts of the state. Civilians generally hid inside their houses as Lee's army passed through their towns, or watched in cold silence, while the Army of the Potomac was cheered and encouraged. Some Confederate politicians, including President Jefferson Davis, believed that the prospect of foreign recognition would increase if the Confederacy won a military victory on Union soil such a victory might gain recognition and financial support from the United Kingdom and France, although there is no evidence that Lee thought the Confederacy should base its military plans on this possibility. [14] [15]

While McClellan's 87,000-man [4] Army of the Potomac was moving to intercept Lee, two Union soldiers (Cpl. Barton W. Mitchell and First Sergeant John M. Bloss [16] [17] of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry) discovered a mislaid copy of Lee's detailed battle plans—Special Order 191—wrapped around three cigars. The order indicated that Lee had divided his army and dispersed portions geographically (to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland), thus making each subject to isolation and defeat if McClellan could move quickly enough. McClellan waited about 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence and reposition his forces, thus squandering an opportunity to defeat Lee decisively. [18]

There were two significant engagements in the Maryland campaign prior to the major battle of Antietam: Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's capture of Harpers Ferry and McClellan's assault through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Battle of South Mountain. The former was significant because a large portion of Lee's army was absent from the start of the battle of Antietam, attending to the surrender of the Union garrison the latter because stout Confederate defenses at two passes through the mountains delayed McClellan's advance enough for Lee to concentrate the remainder of his army at Sharpsburg. [19]


Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac, bolstered by units absorbed from John Pope's Army of Virginia, included six infantry corps. [20] [21]

The I Corps, under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, consisted of the divisions of:

  • Brig. Gen. Abner Doubleday (brigades of Col. Walter Phelps, Brig. Gens. Marsena R. Patrick and John Gibbon, and Lt. Col. J. William Hofmann).
  • Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts (brigades of Brig. Gen. Abram Duryée, Col. William H. Christian, and Brig. Gen. George L. Hartsuff).
  • Brig. Gen. George G. Meade (brigades of Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour, Col. Albert Magilton and Lt. Col. Robert Anderson).

The II Corps, under Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner, consisted of the divisions of:

  • Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson (brigades of Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell, Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher, and Col. John R. Brooke).
  • Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick (brigades of Brig. Gens. Willis A. Gorman, Oliver O. Howard, and Napoleon J.T. Dana).
  • Brig. Gen. William H. French (brigades of Brig. Gen. Nathan Kimball, Col. Dwight Morris, and Brig. Gen. Max Weber).

The V Corps, under Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter, consisted of the divisions of:

  • Maj. Gen. George W. Morell (brigades of Col. James Barnes, Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin, and Col. T.B.W. Stockton).
  • Brig. Gen. George Sykes (brigades of Lt. Col. Robert C. Buchanan, Maj.Charles S. Lovell, and Col. Gouverneur K. Warren).
  • Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys (brigades of Brig. Gen. Erastus B. Tyler and Col. Peter H. Allabach).

The VI Corps, under Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, consisted of the divisions of:

  • Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum (brigades of Col. Alfred T.A. Torbert, Col. Joseph J. Bartlett, and Brig. Gen. John Newton).
  • Maj. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith (brigades of Brig. Gens. Winfield S. Hancock and William T. H. Brooks and Col. William H. Irwin).
  • A division from the IV Corps under Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch (brigades of Brig. Gens. Charles Devens, Jr., Albion P. Howe, and John Cochran).

The IX Corps, under Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside (Brig. Gen. Jacob D. Cox exercised operational command during the battle), consisted of the divisions of:

  • Brig. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox (brigades of Cols. Benjamin C. Christ and Thomas Welsh).
  • Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis (brigades of Brig. Gens. James Nagle and Edward Ferrero).
  • Brig. Gen. Isaac P. Rodman (brigades of Cols. Harrison S. Fairchild and Edward Harland). , under Col. Eliakim P. Scammon (brigades of Cols. Hugh Ewing and George Crook).

The XII Corps, under Maj. Gen. Joseph K. Mansfield, consisted of the divisions of:


General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was organized into two large infantry corps. [12] [22]

The First Corps, under Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, consisted of the divisions of:

  • Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws (brigades of Brig. Gens. Joseph B. Kershaw, Howell Cobb, Paul J. Semmes, and William Barksdale).
  • Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson (brigades of Cols. Alfred Cumming, W.A. Parham, and Carnot Posey, and Brig. Gens. Lewis Armistead, Roger A. Pryor, and Ambrose R. Wright).
  • Brig. Gen. David R. Jones (brigades of Brig. Gens. Robert A. Toombs, Thomas F. Drayton, Richard B. Garnett, James L. Kemper, and Cols. Joseph T. Walker and George T. Anderson).
  • Brig. Gen. John G. Walker (brigades of Col. Van H. Manning and Brig. Gen. Robert Ransom, Jr.).
  • Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood (brigades of Cols. William T. Wofford and Evander M. Law).
  • Independent brigade under Brig. Gen. Nathan G. "Shanks" Evans.

The Second Corps, under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, consisted of the divisions of:

  • Brig. Gen. Alexander R. Lawton (brigades of Col. Marcellus Douglass, Brig. Gen. Jubal A. Early, Col. James A. Walker, and Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays).
  • Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill (the Light Division — brigades of Brig. Gens. Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, Maxcy Gregg, James J. Archer, and William Dorsey Pender, and Cols. John M. Brockenbrough and Edward L. Thomas).
  • Brig. Gen. John R. Jones (brigades of Cols. A.J. Grigsby, E. T. H. Warren, Bradley T. Johnson, and Brig. Gen. William E. Starke).
  • Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill (brigades of Brig. Gens. Roswell S. Ripley, Robert E. Rodes, Samuel Garland, Jr., George B. Anderson, and Col. Alfred H. Colquitt).

The remaining units were the Cavalry Division, under Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, and the reserve artillery, commanded by Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton. The Second Corps was organized with artillery attached to each division, in contrast to the First Corps, which reserved its artillery at the corps level.

Disposition of armies

Near the town of Sharpsburg, Lee deployed his available forces behind Antietam Creek along a low ridge, starting on September 15. While it was an effective defensive position, it was not an impregnable one. The terrain provided excellent cover for infantrymen, with rail and stone fences, outcroppings of limestone, little hollows and swales. The creek to their front was only a minor barrier, ranging from 60 to 100 feet (18–30 m) in width, and was fordable in places and crossed by three stone bridges each a mile (1.5 km) apart. It was also a precarious position because the Confederate rear was blocked by the Potomac River and only a single crossing point, Boteler's Ford at Shepherdstown, was nearby should retreat be necessary. (The ford at Williamsport, Maryland, was 10 miles (16 km) northwest from Sharpsburg and had been used by Jackson in his march to Harpers Ferry. The disposition of Union forces during the battle made it impractical to consider retreating in that direction.) And on September 15, the force under Lee's immediate command consisted of no more than 18,000 men, only a third the size of the Federal army. [23]

The first two Union divisions arrived on the afternoon of September 15 and the bulk of the remainder of the army late that evening. Although an immediate Union attack on the morning of September 16 would have had an overwhelming advantage in numbers, McClellan's trademark caution and his belief that Lee had as many as 100,000 men at Sharpsburg caused him to delay his attack for a day. [24] This gave the Confederates more time to prepare defensive positions and allowed Longstreet's corps to arrive from Hagerstown and Jackson's corps, minus A.P. Hill's division, to arrive from Harpers Ferry. Jackson defended the left (northern) flank, anchored on the Potomac, Longstreet the right (southern) flank, anchored on the Antietam, a line that was about 4 miles (6 km) long. (As the battle progressed and Lee shifted units, these corps boundaries overlapped considerably.) [25]

On the evening of September 16, McClellan ordered Hooker's I Corps to cross Antietam Creek and probe the enemy positions. Meade's division cautiously attacked Hood's troops near the East Woods. After darkness fell, artillery fire continued as McClellan positioned his troops for the next day's fighting. McClellan's plan was to overwhelm the enemy's left flank. He arrived at this decision because of the configuration of bridges over the Antietam. The lower bridge (which would soon be named Burnside Bridge) was dominated by Confederate positions on the bluffs overlooking it. The middle bridge, on the road from Boonsboro, was subject to artillery fire from the heights near Sharpsburg. But the upper bridge was 2 miles (3 km) east of the Confederate guns and could be crossed safely. McClellan planned to commit more than half his army to the assault, starting with two corps, supported by a third, and if necessary a fourth. He intended to launch a simultaneous diversionary attack against the Confederate right with a fifth corps, and he was prepared to strike the center with his reserves if either attack succeeded. [26] The skirmish in the East Woods served to signal McClellan's intentions to Lee, who prepared his defenses accordingly. He shifted men to his left flank and sent urgent messages to his two commanders who had not yet arrived on the battlefield: Lafayette McLaws with two divisions and A.P. Hill with one division. [27] [24]

Terrain and its consequences

McClellan's plans were ill-coordinated and were executed poorly. He issued to each of his subordinate commanders only the orders for his own corps, not general orders describing the entire battle plan. The terrain of the battlefield made it difficult for those commanders to monitor events outside of their sectors. Moreover, McClellan's headquarters were more than a mile in the rear (at the Philip Pry house, east of the creek). This made it difficult for him to control the separate corps. This is why the battle progressed the next day as essentially three separate, mostly uncoordinated battles: morning in the northern end of the battlefield, midday in the center, and afternoon in the south. This lack of coordination and concentration of McClellan's forces almost completely nullified the two-to-one advantage the Union enjoyed. It also allowed Lee to shift his defensive forces to meet each offensive. [24]

Morning phase

Location: Northern end of the battlefield


The battle opened at dawn (about 5:30 a.m.) on September 17 with an attack down the Hagerstown Turnpike by the Union I Corps under Joseph Hooker. Hooker's objective was the plateau on which sat the Dunker Church, a modest whitewashed building belonging to a local sect of German Baptists. Hooker had approximately 8,600 men, little more than the 7,700 defenders under Stonewall Jackson, and this slight disparity was more than offset by the Confederates' strong defensive positions. [28] Abner Doubleday's division moved on Hooker's right, James Ricketts's moved on the left into the East Woods, and George Meade's Pennsylvania Reserves division deployed in the center and slightly to the rear. Jackson's defense consisted of the divisions under Alexander Lawton and John R. Jones in line from the West Woods, across the Turnpike, and along the southern end of Miller's Cornfield. Four brigades were held in reserve inside the West Woods. [29]

As the first Union men emerged from the North Woods and into the Cornfield, an artillery duel erupted. Confederate fire was from the horse artillery batteries under Jeb Stuart to the west and four batteries under Col. Stephen D. Lee on the high ground across the pike from the Dunker Church to the south. Union return fire was from nine batteries on the ridge behind the North Woods and twenty 20-pounder Parrott rifles, 2 miles (3 km) east of Antietam Creek. The conflagration caused heavy casualties on both sides and was described by Col. Lee as "artillery Hell." [30]

Seeing the glint of Confederate bayonets concealed in the Cornfield, Hooker halted his infantry and brought up four batteries of artillery, which fired shell and canister over the heads of the Federal infantry into the field. A savage battle began, with considerable melee action with rifle butts and bayonets due to short visibility in the corn. Officers rode about cursing and yelling orders no one could hear in the noise. Rifles became hot and fouled from too much firing the air was filled with a hail of bullets and shells. [31]

Meade's 1st Brigade of Pennsylvanians, under Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour, began advancing through the East Woods and exchanged fire with Col. James Walker's brigade of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina troops. As Walker's men forced Seymour's back, aided by Lee's artillery fire, Ricketts's division entered the Cornfield, also to be torn up by artillery. Brig. Gen. Abram Duryée's brigade marched directly into volleys from Col. Marcellus Douglass's Georgia brigade. Enduring heavy fire from a range of 250 yards (230 m) and gaining no advantage because of a lack of reinforcements, Duryée ordered a withdrawal. [29]

The reinforcements that Duryée had expected—brigades under Brig. Gen. George L. Hartsuff and Col. William A. Christian—had difficulties reaching the scene. Hartsuff was wounded by a shell, and Christian dismounted and fled to the rear in terror. When the men were rallied and advanced into the Cornfield, they met the same artillery and infantry fire as their predecessors. As the superior Union numbers began to tell, the Louisiana "Tiger" Brigade under Harry Hays entered the fray and forced the Union men back to the East Woods. The casualties received by the 12th Massachusetts Infantry, 67%, were the highest of any unit that day. [32] The Tigers were beaten back eventually when the Federals brought up a battery of 3-inch ordnance rifles and rolled them directly into the Cornfield, point-blank fire that slaughtered the Tigers, who lost 323 of their 500 men. [33]

Capt. Benjamin F. Cook of the 12th Massachusetts Infantry, on the attack by the Louisiana Tigers at the Cornfield [34]

While the Cornfield remained a bloody stalemate, Federal advances a few hundred yards to the west were more successful. Brig. Gen. John Gibbon's 4th Brigade of Doubleday's division (recently named the Iron Brigade) began advancing down and astride the turnpike, into the cornfield, and in the West Woods, pushing aside Jackson's men. [35] They were halted by a charge of 1,150 men from Starke's brigade, leveling heavy fire from 30 yards (30 m) away. The Confederate brigade withdrew after being exposed to fierce return fire from the Iron Brigade, and Starke was mortally wounded. [36] The Union advance on the Dunker Church resumed and cut a large gap in Jackson's defensive line, which teetered near collapse. Although the cost was steep, Hooker's corps was making steady progress.

Confederate reinforcements arrived just after 7 a.m. The divisions under McLaws and Richard H. Anderson arrived following a night march from Harpers Ferry. Around 7:15, General Lee moved George T. Anderson's Georgia brigade from the right flank of the army to aid Jackson. At 7 a.m., Hood's division of 2,300 men advanced through the West Woods and pushed the Union troops back through the Cornfield again. The Texans attacked with particular ferocity because as they were called from their reserve position they were forced to interrupt the first hot breakfast they had had in days. They were aided by three brigades of D.H. Hill's division arriving from the Mumma Farm, southeast of the Cornfield, and by Jubal Early's brigade, pushing through the West Woods from the Nicodemus Farm, where they had been supporting Jeb Stuart's horse artillery. Some officers of the Iron Brigade rallied men around the artillery pieces of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, and Gibbon himself saw to it that his previous unit did not lose a single caisson. [37] Hood's men bore the brunt of the fighting, however, and paid a heavy price—60% casualties—but they were able to prevent the defensive line from crumbling and held off the I Corps. When asked by a fellow officer where his division was, Hood replied, "Dead on the field." [38]

Hooker's men had also paid heavily but without achieving their objectives. After two hours and 2,500 casualties, they were back where they started. The Cornfield, an area about 250 yards (230 m) deep and 400 yards (400 m) wide, was a scene of indescribable destruction. It was estimated that the Cornfield changed hands no fewer than 15 times in the course of the morning. [39] Maj. Rufus Dawes, who assumed command of Iron Brigade's 6th Wisconsin Regiment during the battle, later compared the fighting around the Hagerstown Turnpike with the stone wall at Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania's "Bloody Angle", and the slaughter pen of Cold Harbor, insisting that "the Antietam Turnpike surpassed them all in manifest evidence of slaughter." [40] Hooker called for support from the 7,200 men of Mansfield's XII Corps.

Half of Mansfield's men were raw recruits, and Mansfield was also inexperienced, having taken command only two days before. Although he was a veteran of 40 years' service, he had never led large numbers of soldiers in combat. Concerned that his men would bolt under fire, he marched them in a formation that was known as "column of companies, closed in mass," a bunched-up formation in which a regiment was arrayed ten ranks deep instead of the normal two. As his men entered the East Woods, they presented an excellent artillery target, "almost as good a target as a barn." Mansfield himself was shot in the chest and died the next day. Alpheus Williams assumed temporary command of the XII Corps. [41] [42]

The new recruits of Mansfield's 1st Division made no progress against Hood's line, which was reinforced by brigades of D. H. Hill's division under Colquitt and McRae. The 2nd Division of the XII Corps, under George Sears Greene, however, broke through McRae's men, who fled under the mistaken belief that they were about to be trapped by a flanking attack. This breach of the line forced Hood and his men, outnumbered, to regroup in the West Woods, where they had started the day. [32] Greene was able to reach the Dunker Church, Hooker's original objective, and drove off Stephen Lee's batteries. Federal forces held most of the ground to the east of the turnpike.

Hooker attempted to gather the scattered remnants of his I Corps to continue the assault, but a Confederate sharpshooter spotted the general's conspicuous white horse and shot Hooker through the foot. Command of his I Corps fell to General Meade, since Hooker's senior subordinate, James B. Ricketts, had also been wounded. But with Hooker removed from the field, there was no general left with the authority to rally the men of the I and XII Corps. Greene's men came under heavy fire from the West Woods and withdrew from the Dunker Church.

In an effort to turn the Confederate left flank and relieve the pressure on Mansfield's men, Sumner's II Corps was ordered at 7:20 a.m. to send two divisions into battle. Sedgwick's division of 5,400 men was the first to ford the Antietam, and they entered the East Woods with the intention of turning left and forcing the Confederates south into the assault of Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps. But the plan went awry. They became separated from William H. French's division, and at 9 a.m. Sumner, who was accompanying the division, launched the attack with an unusual battle formation—the three brigades in three long lines, men side-by-side, with only 50 to 70 yards (60 m) separating the lines. They were assaulted first by Confederate artillery and then from three sides by the divisions of Early, Walker, and McLaws, and in less than half an hour Sedgwick's men were forced to retreat in great disorder to their starting point with over 2,200 casualties, including Sedgwick himself, who was taken out of action for several months by a wound. [43] [44] [45] [46] Sumner has been condemned by most historians for his "reckless" attack, his lack of coordination with the I and XII Corps headquarters, losing control of French's division when he accompanied Sedgwick's, failing to perform adequate reconnaissance prior to launching his attack, and selecting the unusual battle formation that was so effectively flanked by the Confederate counterattack. Historian M. V. Armstrong's recent scholarship, however, has determined that Sumner did perform appropriate reconnaissance and his decision to attack where he did was justified by the information available to him. [47]

The final actions in the morning phase of the battle were around 10 a.m., when two regiments of the XII Corps advanced, only to be confronted by the division of John G. Walker, newly arrived from the Confederate right. They fought in the area between the Cornfield in the West Woods, but soon Walker's men were forced back by two brigades of Greene's division, and the Federal troops seized some ground in the West Woods.

The morning phase ended with casualties on both sides of almost 13,000, including two Union corps commanders. [48]

Midday phase

Location: Center of the Confederate line

Sunken Road: "Bloody Lane"

By midday, the action had shifted to the center of the Confederate line. Sumner had accompanied the morning attack of Sedgwick's division, but another of his divisions, under French, lost contact with Sumner and Sedgwick and inexplicably headed south. Eager for an opportunity to see combat, French found skirmishers in his path and ordered his men forward. By this time, Sumner's aide (and son) located French, described the terrible fighting in the West Woods and relayed an order for him to divert Confederate attention by attacking their center. [49]

French confronted D.H. Hill's division. Hill commanded about 2,500 men, less than half the number under French, and three of his five brigades had been torn up during the morning combat. This sector of Longstreet's line was theoretically the weakest. But Hill's men were in a strong defensive position, atop a gradual ridge, in a sunken road worn down by years of wagon traffic, which formed a natural trench. [50]

French launched a series of brigade-sized assaults against Hill's improvised breastworks at around 9:30 a.m.. The first brigade to attack, mostly inexperienced troops commanded by Brig. Gen. Max Weber, was quickly cut down by heavy rifle fire neither side deployed artillery at this point. The second attack, more raw recruits under Col. Dwight Morris, was also subjected to heavy fire but managed to beat back a counterattack by the Alabama Brigade of Robert Rodes. The third, under Brig. Gen. Nathan Kimball, included three veteran regiments, but they also fell to fire from the sunken road. French's division suffered 1,750 casualties (of his 5,700 men) in under an hour. [51]

Reinforcements were arriving on both sides, and by 10:30 a.m. Robert E. Lee sent his final reserve division—some 3,400 men under Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson—to bolster Hill's line and extend it to the right, preparing an attack that would envelop French's left flank. But at the same time, the 4,000 men of Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson's division arrived on French's left. This was the last of Sumner's three divisions, which had been held up in the rear by McClellan as he organized his reserve forces. [52] Richardson's fresh troops struck the first blow.

Leading off the fourth attack of the day against the sunken road was the Irish Brigade of Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher. As they advanced with emerald green flags snapping in the breeze, a regimental chaplain, Father William Corby, rode back and forth across the front of the formation shouting words of conditional absolution prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church for those who were about to die. (Corby would later perform a similar service at Gettysburg in 1863.) The mostly Irish immigrants lost 540 men to heavy volleys before they were ordered to withdraw. [53]

Gen. Richardson personally dispatched the brigade of Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell into battle around noon (after being told that Caldwell was in the rear, behind a haystack), and finally the tide turned. Anderson's Confederate division had been little help to the defenders after Gen. Anderson was wounded early in the fighting. Other key leaders were lost as well, including George B. Anderson (no relation Anderson's successor, Col. Charles C. Tew of the 2nd North Carolina, was killed minutes after assuming command) [54] and Col. John B. Gordon of the 6th Alabama. (Gordon received 5 serious wounds in the fight, twice in his right leg, twice in the left arm, and once in the face. He lay unconscious, face down in his cap, and later told colleagues that he should have smothered in his own blood, except for the act of an unidentified Yankee, who had earlier shot a hole in his cap, which allowed the blood to drain.) [55] Rodes was wounded in the thigh but was still on the field. These losses contributed directly to the confusion of the following events.

Sergeant of the 61st New York [56]

As Caldwell's brigade advanced around the right flank of the Confederates, Col. Francis C. Barlow and 350 men of the 61st and 64th New York saw a weak point in the line and seized a knoll commanding the sunken road. This allowed them to get enfilade fire into the Confederate line, turning it into a deadly trap. In attempting to wheel around to meet this threat, a command from Rodes was misunderstood by Lt. Col. James N. Lightfoot, who had succeeded the unconscious John Gordon. Lightfoot ordered his men to about-face and march away, an order that all five regiments of the brigade thought applied to them as well. Confederate troops streamed toward Sharpsburg, their line lost.

Richardson's men were in hot pursuit when massed artillery hastily assembled by Gen. Longstreet drove them back. A counterattack with 200 men led by D.H. Hill got around the Federal left flank near the sunken road, and although they were driven back by a fierce charge of the 5th New Hampshire, this stemmed the collapse of the center. Reluctantly, Richardson ordered his division to fall back to north of the ridge facing the sunken road. His division lost about 1,000 men. Col. Barlow was severely wounded, and Richardson mortally wounded. [57] Winfield S. Hancock assumed division command. Although Hancock would have an excellent future reputation as an aggressive division and corps commander, the unexpected change of command sapped the momentum of the Federal advance. [58]

The carnage from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on the sunken road gave it the name Bloody Lane, leaving about 5,600 casualties (Union 3,000, Confederate 2,600) along the 800-yard (700 m) road. And yet, a great opportunity presented itself. If this broken sector of the Confederate line were exploited, Lee's army would be divided in half and possibly defeated. There were ample forces available to do so. There was a reserve of 3,500 cavalry and the 10,300 infantrymen of Gen. Porter's V Corps, waiting near the middle bridge, a mile away. The VI Corps, under Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, had just arrived with 12,000 men. Franklin was ready to exploit this breakthrough, but Sumner, the senior corps commander, ordered him not to advance. Franklin appealed to McClellan, who left his headquarters in the rear to hear both arguments but backed Sumner's decision, ordering Franklin and Hancock to hold their positions. [59]

Later in the day, the commander of the other reserve unit near the center, the V Corps, Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter, heard recommendations from Maj. Gen. George Sykes, commanding his 2nd Division, that another attack be made in the center, an idea that intrigued McClellan. However, Porter is said to have told McClellan, "Remember, General, I command the last reserve of the last Army of the Republic." McClellan demurred and another opportunity was lost. [60]

Afternoon phase

Location: Southern end of the battlefield

"Burnside's Bridge"

The action moved to the southern end of the battlefield. McClellan's plan called for Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside and the IX Corps to conduct a diversionary attack in support of Hooker's I Corps, hoping to draw Confederate attention away from the intended main attack in the north. However, Burnside was instructed to wait for explicit orders before launching his attack, and those orders did not reach him until 10 a.m. [61] Burnside was strangely passive during preparations for the battle. He was disgruntled that McClellan had abandoned the previous arrangement of "wing" commanders reporting to him. Previously, Burnside had commanded a wing that included both the I and IX Corps and now he was responsible only for the IX Corps. Implicitly refusing to give up his higher authority, Burnside treated first Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno (killed at South Mountain) and then Brig. Gen. Jacob D. Cox of the Kanawha Division as the corps commander, funneling orders to the corps through him.

Burnside had four divisions (12,500 troops) and 50 guns east of Antietam Creek. Facing him was a force that had been greatly depleted by Lee's movement of units to bolster the Confederate left flank. At dawn, the divisions of Brig. Gens. David R. Jones and John G. Walker stood in defense, but by 10 a.m. all of Walker's men and Col. George T. Anderson's Georgia brigade had been removed. Jones had only about 3,000 men and 12 guns available to meet Burnside. Four thin brigades guarded the ridges near Sharpsburg, primarily a low plateau known as Cemetery Hill. The remaining 400 men—the 2nd and 20th Georgia regiments, under the command of Brig. Gen. Robert Toombs, with two artillery batteries—defended Rohrbach's Bridge, a three-span, 125-foot (38 m) stone structure that was the southernmost crossing of the Antietam. [62] It would become known to history as Burnside's Bridge because of the notoriety of the coming battle. The bridge was a difficult objective. The road leading to it ran parallel to the creek and was exposed to enemy fire. The bridge was dominated by a 100-foot (30 m) high wooded bluff on the west bank, strewn with boulders from an old quarry, making infantry and sharpshooter fire from good covered positions a dangerous impediment to crossing.

Confederate staff officer Henry Kyd Douglas [63]

Antietam Creek in this sector was seldom more than 50 feet (15 m) wide, and several stretches were only waist deep and out of Confederate range. Burnside has been widely criticized for ignoring this fact. [63] However, the commanding terrain across the sometimes shallow creek made crossing the water a comparatively easy part of a difficult problem. Burnside concentrated his plan instead on storming the bridge while simultaneously crossing a ford McClellan's engineers had identified a half mile (1 km) downstream, but when Burnside's men reached it, they found the banks too high to negotiate. While Col. George Crook's Ohio brigade prepared to attack the bridge with the support of Brig. Gen. Samuel Sturgis's division, the rest of the Kanawha Division and Brig. Gen. Isaac Rodman's division struggled through thick brush trying to locate Snavely's Ford, 2 miles (3 km) downstream, intending to flank the Confederates. [64] [62] [65]

Crook's assault on the bridge was led by skirmishers from the 11th Connecticut, who were ordered to clear the bridge for the Ohioans to cross and assault the bluff. After receiving punishing fire for 15 minutes, the Connecticut men withdrew with 139 casualties, one-third of their strength, including their commander, Col. Henry W. Kingsbury, who was fatally wounded. [66] Crook's main assault went awry when his unfamiliarity with the terrain caused his men to reach the creek a quarter mile (400 m) upstream from the bridge, where they exchanged volleys with Confederate skirmishers for the next few hours. [67]

While Rodman's division was out of touch, slogging toward Snavely's Ford, Burnside and Cox directed a second assault at the bridge by one of Sturgis's brigades, led by the 2nd Maryland and 6th New Hampshire. They also fell prey to the Confederate sharpshooters and artillery, and their attack fell apart. [68] By this time it was noon, and McClellan was losing patience. He sent a succession of couriers to motivate Burnside to move forward. He ordered one aide, "Tell him if it costs 10,000 men he must go now." He increased the pressure by sending his inspector general, Col. Delos B. Sackett, to confront Burnside, who reacted indignantly: "McClellan appears to think I am not trying my best to carry this bridge you are the third or fourth one who has been to me this morning with similar orders." [69]

The third attempt to take the bridge was at 12:30 p.m. by Sturgis's other brigade, commanded by Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero. It was led by the 51st New York and the 51st Pennsylvania, who, with adequate artillery support and a promise that a recently canceled whiskey ration would be restored if they were successful, charged downhill and took up positions on the east bank. Maneuvering a captured light howitzer into position, they fired double canister down the bridge and got within 25 yards (23 m) of the enemy. By 1 p.m., Confederate ammunition was running low, and word reached Toombs that Rodman's men were crossing Snavely's Ford on their flank. He ordered a withdrawal. His Georgians had cost the Federals more than 500 casualties, giving up fewer than 160 themselves. And they had stalled Burnside's assault on the southern flank for more than three hours. [70] [71]

Union positions below the Confederates at Burnside Bridge

Burnside's assault stalled again on its own. His officers had neglected to transport ammunition across the bridge, which was itself becoming a bottleneck for soldiers, artillery, and wagons. This represented another two-hour delay. Gen. Lee used this time to bolster his right flank. He ordered up every available artillery unit, although he made no attempt to strengthen D.R. Jones's badly outnumbered force with infantry units from the left. Instead, he counted on the arrival of A.P. Hill's Light Division, currently embarked on an exhausting 17 mile (27 km) march from Harpers Ferry. By 2 p.m., Hill's men had reached Boteler's Ford, and Hill was able to confer with the relieved Lee at 2:30, who ordered him to bring up his men to the right of Jones. [72]

The Federals were completely unaware that 3,000 new men would be facing them. Burnside's plan was to move around the weakened Confederate right flank, converge on Sharpsburg, and cut Lee's army off from Boteler's Ford, their only escape route across the Potomac. At 3 p.m., Burnside left Sturgis's division in reserve on the west bank and moved west with over 8,000 troops (most of them fresh) and 22 guns for close support. [73]

An initial assault led by the 79th New York "Cameron Highlanders" succeeded against Jones's outnumbered division, which was pushed back past Cemetery Hill and to within 200 yards (200 m) of Sharpsburg. Farther to the Union left, Rodman's division advanced toward Harpers Ferry Road. Its lead brigade, under Col. Harrison Fairchild, containing several colorful Zouaves of the 9th New York, commanded by Col. Rush Hawkins, came under heavy shellfire from a dozen enemy guns mounted on a ridge to their front, but they kept pushing forward. There was panic in the streets of Sharpsburg, clogged with retreating Confederates. Of the five brigades in Jones's division, only Toombs's brigade was still intact, but he had only 700 men. [74]

A. P. Hill's division arrived at 3:30 p.m. Hill divided his column, with two brigades moving southeast to guard his flank and the other three, about 2,000 men, moving to the right of Toombs's brigade and preparing for a counterattack. At 3:40 p.m., Brig. Gen. Maxcy Gregg's brigade of South Carolinians attacked the 16th Connecticut on Rodman's left flank in the cornfield of farmer John Otto. The Connecticut men had been in service for only three weeks, and their line disintegrated with 185 casualties. The 4th Rhode Island came up on the right, but they had poor visibility amid the high stalks of corn, and they were disoriented because many of the Confederates were wearing Union uniforms captured at Harpers Ferry. They also broke and ran, leaving the 8th Connecticut far out in advance and isolated. They were enveloped and driven down the hills toward Antietam Creek. A counterattack by regiments from the Kanawha Division fell short. [75]

The IX Corps had suffered casualties of about 20% but still possessed twice the number of Confederates confronting them. Unnerved by the collapse of his flank, Burnside ordered his men all the way back to the west bank of the Antietam, where he urgently requested more men and guns. McClellan was able to provide just one battery. He said, "I can do nothing more. I have no infantry." In fact, however, McClellan had two fresh corps in reserve, Porter's V and Franklin's VI, but he was too cautious, concerned he was greatly outnumbered and that a massive counterstrike by Lee was imminent. Burnside's men spent the rest of the day guarding the bridge they had suffered so much to capture. [76]

The battle was over by 5:30 p.m. On the morning of September 18, Lee's army prepared to defend against a Federal assault that never came. After an improvised truce for both sides to recover and exchange their wounded, Lee's forces began withdrawing across the Potomac that evening to return to Virginia. [78] Losses from the battle were heavy on both sides. The Union had 12,410 casualties with 2,108 dead. [6] Confederate casualties were 10,316 with 1,546 dead. [7] [79] This represented 25% of the Federal force and 31% of the Confederates. Overall, both sides lost a combined total of 22,720 casualties in a single day, almost the same amount as the number of losses that had shocked the nation at the 2-day Battle of Shiloh five months earlier. [80] Of the other casualties, 1,910 Union and 1,550 Confederate troops died of their wounds soon after the battle, while 225 Union and 306 Confederate troops listed as missing were later confirmed as dead. Several generals died as a result of the battle, including Maj. Gens. Joseph K. Mansfield and Israel B. Richardson and Brig. Gen. Isaac P. Rodman on the Union side, and Brig. Gens. Lawrence O. Branch and William E. Starke on the Confederate side. [81] Confederate Brig. Gen. George B. Anderson was shot in the ankle during the defense of the Bloody Lane. He survived the battle but died later in October after an amputation. [55] The fighting on September 17, 1862, killed 7,650 American soldiers. [82] More Americans died in battle on September 17, 1862, than on any other day in the nation's history. Antietam is sometimes cited as the bloodiest day in all of American history. The bloodiest battle in American history was Gettysburg, but its more than 46,000 casualties occurred over three days. Antietam ranks fifth in terms of total casualties in Civil War battles, falling behind Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Chancellorsville, and Spotsylvania Court House.

President Lincoln was disappointed in McClellan's performance. He believed that McClellan's overly cautious and poorly coordinated actions in the field had forced the battle to a draw rather than a crippling Confederate defeat. [83] The president was even more astonished that from September 17 to October 26, despite repeated entreaties from the War Department and the president himself, McClellan declined to pursue Lee across the Potomac, citing shortages of equipment and the fear of overextending his forces. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote in his official report, "The long inactivity of so large an army in the face of a defeated foe, and during the most favorable season for rapid movements and a vigorous campaign, was a matter of great disappointment and regret." [84] Lincoln relieved McClellan of his command of the Army of the Potomac on November 5, effectively ending the general's military career. He was replaced on November 9 by General Burnside. [85]

Some students of history question the designation of "strategic victory" for the Union. After all, it can be argued that McClellan performed poorly in the campaign and the battle itself, and Lee displayed great generalship in holding his own in battle against an army that greatly outnumbered his. Casualties were comparable on both sides, although Lee lost a higher percentage of his army. Lee withdrew from the battlefield first, the technical definition of the tactical loser in a Civil War battle. However, in a strategic sense, despite being a tactical draw, Antietam is considered a turning point of the war and a victory for the Union because it ended Lee's strategic campaign (his first invasion of Union territory). American historian James M. McPherson summed up the importance of the Battle of Antietam in his book, Crossroads of Freedom:

No other campaign and battle in the war had such momentous, multiple consequences as Antietam. In July 1863 the dual Union triumphs at Gettysburg and Vicksburg struck another blow that blunted a renewed Confederate offensive in the East and cut off the western third of the Confederacy from the rest. In September 1864 Sherman's capture of Atlanta electrified the North and set the stage for the final drive to Union victory. These also were pivotal moments. But they would never have happened if the triple Confederate offensives in Mississippi, Kentucky, and most of all Maryland had not been defeated in the fall of 1862. [86]

The results of Antietam also allowed President Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, which gave Confederate states until January 1, 1863, to return or else lose their slaves. Although Lincoln had intended to do so earlier, at a cabinet meeting, Secretary of State William H. Seward advised him to make this announcement after a significant Union victory to avoid the perception that it was issued out of desperation.

The Union victory and Lincoln's proclamation played a considerable role in dissuading the governments of France and Britain from recognizing the Confederacy some suspected they were planning to do so in the aftermath of another Union defeat. When the issue of emancipation was linked to the progress of the war, neither government had the political will to oppose the United States, since it linked support of the Confederacy to support for slavery. Both countries had already abolished slavery, and the public would not have tolerated the government militarily supporting a sovereignty upholding the ideals of slavery. [87]

The battle is commemorated at Antietam National Battlefield. Conservation work undertaken by Antietam National Battlefield and private groups, has earned Antietam a reputation as one of the nation's best preserved Civil War battlefields. Few visual intrusions mar the landscape, letting visitors experience the site nearly as it was in 1862. [88]

Antietam was one of the first five Civil War battlefields preserved federally, receiving that distinction on August 30, 1890. The U.S. War Department also placed over 300 tablets at that time to mark the spots of individual regiments and of significant phases in the battle. The battlefield was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1933. The Antietam National Battlefield now consists of 2,743 acres.

The Civil War Trust (a division of the American Battlefield Trust) and its partners have acquired and preserved 316 acres of the Antietam Battlefield. [89] In 2015, the Trust saved 44.4 acres in the heart of the battlefield, between the Cornfield and the Dunker Church, when it purchased the Wilson farm for about $1 million. [90] The preservation organization has since removed the postwar house and barn that stood on the property along Hagerstown Pike and returned the land to its wartime appearance. [91]

Mathew Brady's gallery, "The Dead of Antietam" (1862)

On September 19, 1862, two days after the Battle of Antietam, Mathew Brady sent photographer Alexander Gardner and his assistant James Gibson [92] to photograph the carnage. In October 1862 Brady displayed the photos by Gardner in an exhibition entitled "The Dead of Antietam" at Brady's New York gallery. Many images in this presentation were graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This was the first time that many Americans saw the realities of war in photographs as distinct from previous "artists' impressions". [93] The New York Times published a review on October 20, 1862, describing how, "Of all objects of horror one would think the battle-field should stand preeminent, that it should bear away the palm of repulsiveness." But crowds came to the gallery drawn by a "terrible fascination" to the images of mangled corpses which brought the reality of remote battle fields to New Yorkers. Viewers examined details using a magnifying glass. "We would scarce choose to be in the gallery, when one of the women bending over them should recognize a husband, a son, or a brother in the still, lifeless lines of bodies, that lie ready for the gaping trenches." [94]

James Hope murals

Capt. James Hope of the 2nd Vermont Infantry, a professional artist, painted five large murals based on battlefield scenes he had sketched during the Battle of Antietam. He had been assigned to sideline duties as a scout and mapmaker due to his injuries. The canvasses were exhibited in his gallery in Watkins Glen, New York, until his death in 1892. He had prints made of these larger paintings and sold the reproductions. In the 1930s, his work was damaged in a flood. The original murals were shown in a church for many years. In 1979, the National Park Service purchased and restored them. [95] [96] They were featured in a 1984 Time-Life book entitled The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam. [97]


The images below include photographs by Alexander Gardner, who was employed by Mathew Brady and whose photographs were exhibited in Brady's New York gallery in October 1862, and the murals by James Hope restored by the National Park Service.