After the Battle of Antietam, Lee's forces retreated into Virginia's Shenandoah Valley with almost no interference. Frustrated by McClellan's lack of aggressiveness, Lincoln replaced him with General Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881). In December 1862, Burnside attacked 73,000 Confederate troops at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Six times Burnside launched frontal assaults on Confederate positions. The Union army suffered nearly 13,000 casualties, twice the number suffered by Lee's men, severely damaging northern morale.
After the defeat at Fredericksburg, Lincoln removed Burnside and replaced him with Joseph Hooker (1814-1879). In May 1863, Hooker tried to attack Lee's forces from a side or flanking position. In just ten minutes, Confederate forces routed the Union army at the Battle of Chancellorsville. But the Confederate victory came at a high cost. Lee's ablest lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson, was accidentally shot by a Confederate sentry and died of a blood clot.
Despite Confederate victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the Union showed no signs of giving up. In a bid to shatter northern morale and win European recognition, Lee's army launched a daring invasion of Pennsylvania.
When his forces drove northward into Pennsylvania, Lee assumed, mistakenly, that Union forces were still in Virginia. When he suddenly realized that Union forces were in close pursuit, he ordered his forces, which were strung out from Maryland to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to converge at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a central location where a number of roads met. Lee, who did not want to risk a battle until he had gathered all his troops together, ordered his men not to engage the enemy. But on July 1, 1863, a Confederate brigade ran into Union cavalry near Gettysburg and the largest battle ever fought in the West Hemisphere broke out before anyone realized what was happening.
Copyright 2016 Digital History