After Southern success at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, Confederate General Robert E.
Lee expressed his desire to again take the fight to the north. Although their victories both impressed and inspired the
gray-clad soldiers and their citizen supports, the presence of two large armies in Virginia savaged the countryside. Perhaps
a victory on northern ground would allow for this long war's end. It would at least provide Virginia with a respite from the
constant foraging of tens of thousands of soldiers and their animals.
Nearly one year earlier, after forcing Major General George B. McClellan's Army from the Virginia peninsula, Lee's newly christened
Army of Northern Virginia defeated Major General John Pope's Union Army of Virginia at the Battle of Second Manassas
then fended off
General McClellan's series of attacks at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg Maryland. General Lee's exhausted men, pushed to the limits of
their endurance by their still somewhat new commander, had fallen out of the ranks by the thousands before Antietam, a battle
fought with less than 40,000 men against northern numbers more than twice their size. This time, Lee could move north leading a much
larger, better rested army with a higher morale than that which fought at Antietam. Despite the much lamented loss of
Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, Lee retained a high confidence in his generals and his men.
His soldiers held the same confidence in Lee.
The Army of the Potomac could not boast the same tremendous faith in their new commander. In April of 1863, after the December
1862 disaster of Fredericksburg, Major General Joseph Hooker lead a brilliant flanking movement against his Confederate foes who were,
at the time, still positioned just west of Fredericksburg. But with the first hard fighting of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hooker
lost the confidence of his Corps commanders when he withdrew to a defensive position while victory still hung in the
balance. Some of his Corps and Division commanders expressed their plummeting opinions of "Fighting Joe's"
capabilities in person to President Lincoln. When, in an ongoing quarrel with General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, Joseph
Hooker tendered his resignation, President Lincoln immediately accepted. Very early in the morning on June 28, 1863, three
days before the Battle of Gettysburg would begin, President Lincoln ordered Major General George Gordon Meade to take
command of the Army of the Potomac. Meade would follow in the footsteps of McClellan, Pope, Burnside, and Hooker, all of
whom had commanded an Eastern Theater Army within the last year. Although General Meade's subordinates viewed him as capable,
he did not inspire the same loyalty, confidence, and enthusiasm as did General Lee. Many of the men however, had no doubt
in their own abilities to defend northern soil.
Told by President Lincoln that he must bring the Army of Northern Virginia to battle while keeping his forces between Lee's army and
Washington, General Meade moved forward searching for his elusive quarry. Confederate General Richard Stoddert Ewell, now in command
of Jackson's old 2nd Corps, led the movement north. As he crossed in Pennsylvania and approached its capitol, General Lee stated,
"If Harrisburg comes within your means, capture it."
Ewell also had orders to burn the railroad bridge spanning the Susquehanna River to sever Union supply lines.
Major General Jubal Early, one of Ewell's Division commanders, headed farther east towards York, Pennsylvania.
In command of the newly created 3rd Corps, Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill followed Ewell with Longstreet's Corps
behind him. Lee's consistently victorious Army of over 80,000 moved unopposed into the lush farmlands and thriving towns of
south central Pennsylvania. While relishing this apparent ease of movement, like a cold, wet blanket, a spy's report would
soon temper the optimism of this early success. Henry Harrison, a spy employed by General Longstreet, informed the Army of Northern Virginia
that the Union Army was actually much closer than originally thought. With that, General Lee ordered his widely scattered forces
to converge west of Gettysburg near Cashtown. They needed to position themselves for the signal victory General Lee so desperately
wanted and his country needed.