The Gettysburg Campaign marked Lee's second invasion of the North. It was risky in that it stretched the limited offensive capability of the Army of Northern Virginia and the already thinly distributed resources of the Confederacy, but it offered Lee the tantalizing possibility of a decisive victory.
P erhaps the most well-known battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought between General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Major General George Meade's Army of the Potomac. Gettysburg was Lee's second invasion of the North and another effort to gain the decisive victory that would perhaps lead to European intervention or a negotiated peace. Instead, Meade defeated Lee in a three-day battle that forced Lee back into Virginia and eliminated the Army of Northern Virginia as a future offensive threat.
Joseph Hooker was in command of the Army of the Potomac at the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign.
The Battle of Gettysburg was part of a larger campaign that began shortly after the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863). Campaigns are "a series of related major operations aimed at achieving strategic and operational objectives within a given time and space." Battles are "a set of related engagements that lasts longer and involves larger forces than an engagement." Engagements are "a tactical conflict, usually between opposing, lower echelon maneuver forces."
The Battle of Chancellorsville left the Federal Army of the Potomac in a command crisis and the momentum with the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Gettysburg Campaign began when Lee initiated his move north on June 3. It ended on July 14 when the Army of Northern Virginia returned to Virginia. Within that campaign, the three days from July 1 to July 3 comprise the Battle of Gettysburg. Within that battle, a host of engagements occurred at places like Culp's Hill, Devil's Den, and Little Round Top.
At the same time Lee was contemplating his invasion of Pennsylvania, Confederate forces at Vicksburg were hard pressed. Ultimately John Pemberton (right) surrendered to Ulysses Grant (left) there.
The Campaign Takes Shape
On May 1, 1863 Lee launched an attack on Chancellorsville that dealt a devastating blow to Major General Joseph Hooker and the Army of the Potomac. Although the battle was a great victory for the Confederates, it proved to be a costly one with the loss of Lieutenant General Stonewall Jackson. Previously Lee had had two corps commanders with Jackson leading one corps and Lieutenant General James Longstreet leading the other. Each corps had some 30,000 men, and Lee felt that with Jackson gone there was no one commander who could replace him and manage a unit that large. Instead, Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia into three corps. Longstreet would command one, Lieutenant General Dick Ewell would take Jackson's old Second Corps, and Lieutenant General A. P. Hill would command the new Third Corps. Ewell and Hill had both served ably as division commanders, but it remained to be seen if they were up to the challenge of corps command.
Chancellorsville had left the Federal army of the Potomac reeling, and Lee proposed a second invasion of Northern territory to build on this momentum. Complicating such a move, however, was the fact that at the beginning of 1863, the Confederacy was faced with two completely different situations in the eastern and western theaters. The Confederate success in the east was reversed in the western theater where Major General Ulysses S. Grant posed a mounting threat to Lieutenant General John Pemberton's beleaguered command at Vicksburg and the Confederacy's ability to maintain some control over the strategically important Mississippi River.
On May 19, Secretary of War James Seddon, encouraged by the likes of Longstreet, General Pierre Goust