Abraham Lincoln, Aldie, Alfred Pleasonton, Alfred Waud, Army of the Potomac, Battlelines: Gettysburg, e, Edwin Forbes, George Meade, Gettysburg, J.E.B. Stuart, Joseph Hooker, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. Jackson, Upperville
Note: The annual anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg is approaching this weekend. To commemorate that, we are posting, with permission, excerpts from Battlelines: Gettysburg, that describe aspects of the battle. Battlelines: Gettysburg contains the battlefield drawings of Alfred Waud and Edwin Forbes, the only two artists who witnessed the battle.
The story of the battle of Gettysburg begins – if it begins anywhere – with the battle at Chancellorsville on May 1-3, 1863. The Union’s Army of the Potomac, with fresh troops and a new leader in General Joseph Hooker, ran into Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in what amounted to a surprise attack by Lee. In three days of fighting, Lee won an important and surprising victory against vastly superior force, further demoralizing the North and demonstrating, once again, the limits of Northern generals.
But, in his victory, Lee had suffered a devastating blow himself. His best general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, was wounded on the second day of the battle and died several days later after his arm was amputated. Jackson had proved himself on several occasions in the previous two years of fighting to be a creative and irreplaceable part of the Army of Northern Virginia. Few single casualties of the war were as important as the death of Stonewall Jackson.
Despite this loss, Lee had the advantage at least for the moment, and he decided to press that advantage with an invasion of the North.
An invasion would carry the war away from Virginia, allow the farms of the Shenandoah Valley to plant their crops without Union harassment, and open the possibility of further damage to Abraham Lincoln’s political standing. Lee’s purpose was not to conquer the North – something far beyond the ability of his 75,000 man army – but to get the North to stop fighting and leave the South alone.
Union generals and political leaders knew that Lee was on the move, but exactly where he was going, the route he was taking, and his overall purpose were unclear. A major fear in the north was that Lee would turn toward Washington, D.C., and sweep into the nation’s capital. The times for the North had become desperate. Lee had to be stopped, no matter what he was up to.
Lee used the cavalry under General J.E.B. Stuart to keep the Union Army at bay and in the dark while he moved north. This tactic was only partially successful because Union cavalry forces under General Alfred Pleasonton clashed with Stuart’s forces at Brandy Station, Virginia on June 9, resulting in the largest battle of cavalry forces in the war. Stuart managed to beat Pleasonton’s forces back, but the Union gained valuable information about the direction of Lee’s army.
A series of battles ensued during the next three weeks at Winchester, Stephanson’s Depot, Upperville, Middleburg, and Aldie, Virginia. Along the way, Stuart took his forces far to the east in an attempt to get behind the Army of the Potomac. In doing that, he lost touch with Lee’s army and thus was unable to provide either intelligence or protection to Lee as the Army of Northern Virginia moved across Maryland and then, fatefully, into Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the Army of the Potomac with 95,000 soldiers was moving north also, roughly on a parallel line to Lee’s forces. It had a new commander, George Gordon Meade. The Union cavalry general Pleasonton again met up with Stuart at Westminster, Maryland, and Hanover, Pennsylvania, delaying Stuart and reinforcing his separation from Lee. But these battles were small precursors to a much larger collision of the two armies that would happen some place in the narrow corridor between Lee and Stuart.
That place would be Gettysburg.
Battlelines: Gettysburg displays many never-before-published drawings of the professional artists who saw the war as eye-witnesses — the sketch artists known as Specials by publications of the time, such as Harper’s Weekly. Almost nowhere among the vast array of photographs related to the Civil War is a picture of a battle. That’s because, of course, photography at the time was limited to that which was stationary. Civil War sketch artists had no such limitation. They could move quickly, go to the scene of the action, draw and interpret of what they, and communicate that to their viewers. They provided an important and vital record of what happened on and off the battlefields of the conflict. Yet the work of these men — about 30 in all — has been largely ignored for the past century and a half. We are familiar with few of their names, and we rarely see their original work. This series, Battlelines, hopes to correct that. More importantly, we have produced this series with the hope of bringing the interested reader fresh insights into America’s defining conflict.