Three Days at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership

By Gary W. Gallagher | Go to book overview

R. E. Lee and July I
at Gettysburg

Alan T. Nolan

ALTHOUGH PRESIDENT JEFFERSON DAVIS APPROVED OF THE Army of Northern Virginia's moving into Maryland and Pennsylvania in I863, the Gettysburg campaign was Gen. Robert E. Lee's idea. In 1914, Douglas Southall Freeman wrote that Lee's "army ... had been wrecked at Gettysburg." 1 This catastrophic consequence was the result of leadership failures on the part of the army commander. The first of these was strategic; the second involved a series of errors in the execution of the campaign.

In regard to strategy, it is apparent that the drama of Gettysburg and the celebrated controversies associated with the battle have obscured the primary question about the campaign: Should it have been undertaken; should Lee have been in Pennsylvania in 1863? When questioning Lee's campaigns and battles, one is frequently confronted with the assertion that he had no alternative. Accordingly, before addressing the question of the wisdom of Lee's raid into Pennsylvania, one must consider whether he had an alternative.

On the eve of the campaign, during the period following Chancellorsville, Lee's army remained near Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock facing Joseph Hooker's Army of the Potomac, located on the north side of that river. In this situation, Lee had at least three possible options: to attack

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