By Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D., University of Virginia
In June 1863, the Confederates, following Robert Lee’s plans, staged an invasion of the North. Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln named George Gordon Meade, the chief of the Army of the Potomac. All was going well for the Confederates till June 28. What happened? And, how did things change?
The northern campaign had begun well for the Confederates. They marched rapidly north. The Confederates crossed the Potomac River, and, as the third week in June passed, Robert Lee’s army was spread out in a big fan-shaped pattern across much of southern Pennsylvania, a part of it at Chambersburg, another part of it under Ewell all the way to the Susquehanna River, not far from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
This is a transcript from the video series The American Civil War. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Appointment of George Meade
Meanwhile, on the Union side, Joseph Hooker approached Abraham Lincoln with a plan to go capture Richmond. However, Lincoln refused, as, for them, the biggest rebel army was marching toward Union territory and he wanted all their energies focused on that. There was a little quibbling back and forth about just what the best Union response to Lee’s movement would be. Thus, Hooker submitted his resignation in a quarrel with Henry W. Halleck, and Lincoln accepted it.
On June 27, Lincoln named George Gordon Meade, who was commanding the Fifth Corps in the Army of the Potomac, to be the army’s chief. Meade had a good enough record from the Mexican War. During the Civil War, he commanded different levels: brigade commander, division commander, and corps commander. He had led at each level with skill, if not brilliance.
As a soldier, Meade had several strengths. He was a master of logistics, and had a very well-developed ability to grasp how many troops were engaged on a battlefield. He really did have a grasp of topography.
On personal front, George Meade was very touchy and given to outbursts of anger. That temper, together with his glasses and the bags under his eyes, caused some people to give him a very unusual nickname—“damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle”.
Learn more about why young men joined the colors of the North or the South.
Civil War: Did Robert Lee’s Plans Flounder?
Meanwhile, Lee continued his march toward North. In the beginning, he had thought that the anti-war faction in the North would benefit from his presence in Pennsylvania and would work against the Lincoln administration. But it really didn’t work out that way—the North grew closer together for the most part in the face of an invading enemy.
The only state that really didn’t do well was Pennsylvania itself, which did not forge a really praiseworthy record with Lee and his army inside the borders of the commonwealth. Pittsburgh said it would contribute more troops if Philadelphia would, and Philadelphia said it would if Harrisburg would, and Harrisburg said it would if Pittsburgh would. There wasn’t a rush to the colors in Pennsylvania, and there was a good deal of antipathy toward Pennsylvania on the part of other northern states, which argued, that they were doing their bit to save Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvanians themselves weren’t doing what they should.
Learn more about the War in Virginia, Winter and Spring 1862-63.
March toward Gettysburg
It wasn’t until June 28 that Lee found out that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac River and that George Meade was now in command.
Once Lee found out that the Army of the Potomac was in pursuit, he ordered his army to come together. He wanted it to come back together so that he could face the Federals as a powerful body. The place he selected was an area between Gettysburg and the South Mountain range, just a few miles to the west of Gettysburg. A number of roads led in there, so Lee gave orders for his army to reconcentrate, and the army began to march, the pieces of it, toward that concentration.
But the battle took place before all of the army was back together. The armies made a brief contact on June 30. The real battle started on July 1, when one of Lee’s divisions under Henry Heath, part of A. P. Hill’s Third Corps, sort of wandered toward Gettysburg to see what was there and ran into two brigades of cavalry under John Buford.
Thus, what began as a clash between a much stronger Confederate infantry unit and Federal cavalry escalated very rapidly into a full-scale battle as both sides poured reinforcements in. And, the battle that ensued came to be known as one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War—Battle of Gettysburg.
Common Questions about the Invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863
During the American Civil War, George Gordon Meade was made the chief of the Army of the Potomac in 1863.
In 1863, during the American Civil War, Robert Lee had planned to march toward the North. He thought the anti-war faction in the North would work against the Lincoln administration. But it really didn’t work out that way, as the North grew closer together.
In 1863, during the American Civil War, when Lee found out that the Army of the Potomac was in pursuit, he ordered his army to come together. He wanted it to come back together so that he could face the Federals as a powerful body.