Despite the accelerating demise of slavery and the decline of morale in the South, the war’s outcome remained very much in doubt for much of its third and fourth years. In April 1863, “Fighting Joe” Hooker, who had succeeded Ambrose E. Burnside as the Union commander in the East, brought the Army of the Potomac into central Virginia to confront Lee. Outnumbered two to one, Lee repelled Hooker’s attack at Chancellorsville, although he lost his ablest lieutenant, “Stonewall” Jackson, mistakenly killed by fire from his own soldiers.

Lee now gambled on another invasion of the North, although his strategic objective remains unclear. Perhaps he believed a defeat on its own territory would destroy the morale of the northern army and public. In any event, the two armies, with Union soldiers now under the command of General George G. Meade, met at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the first three days of July 1863. With 165,000 troops involved, Gettysburg remains the largest battle ever fought on the North American continent. Lee found himself in the unusual position of confronting entrenched Union forces. After two days of failing to dislodge them, he decided to attack the center of the Union line. On July 3, Confederate forces, led by Major General George E. Pickett’s crack division, marched across an open field toward Union forces. Withering artillery and rifle fire met the charge, and most of Pickett’s soldiers never reached Union lines. Of the 14,000 men who made the advance—the flower of Lee’s army—fewer than half returned. Later remembered as “the high tide of the Confederacy,” Pickett’s Charge was also Lee’s greatest blunder. His army retreated to Virginia, never again to set foot on northern soil.

In July 1863, the Union won major victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

On the same day that Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg, the Union achieved a significant victory in the West. Late in 1862, Grant had moved into Mississippi toward the city of Vicksburg. From its heights, defended by miles of trenches and earthworks, the Confederacy commanded the central Mississippi River. When direct attacks failed, as did an attempt to divert the river by digging a canal, Grant launched a siege. On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered, and with it John C. Pemberton’s army of 30,000 men, a loss the Confederacy could ill afford. The entire Mississippi Valley now lay in Union hands. The simultaneous defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg dealt a heavy blow to southern morale. “Today absolute ruin seems our portion,” one official wrote in his diary. “The Confederacy totters to its destruction.”

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.net. Thank you!