As we transition from March into April, so do we enter a Virginia Battlefield series here on the blog. In February, we presented the battle of Chancellorsville, where “Fighting Joe” Hooker acted slightly contrary to his nickname and the Confederacy lost one of its most prized generals, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. After the Union army pulled back across the Rappahannock River in May of 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee devised a bold plan to take the fight to the Yankees.
By way of the Shenandoah Valley, the Army of Northern Virginia used the Blue Ridge Mountains to screen their movements to enter Maryland and then Pennsylvania with relative ease and swiftness. What happens two months after the victory at Chancellorsville is a battle almost everyone has at least heard of. We won’t touch on that momentous battle at Gettysburg just yet, seeing as we’re focusing on Virginia for the moment. Instead, we’ll pick up the army’s movements in the following months after that most costly battle.
So, Lee retreats back into Virginia, having been beaten back by Union General George Gordon Meade, the “Goggle-Eyed Snapping Turtle” from Pennsylvania. Meade isn’t the first general to beat Lee, but he will prove to be the longest lasting general in the eastern theatre as a result of his successes at Gettysburg. Historians can debate until their blue in the face whether Meade was the best Union general to command the Army of the Potomac thus far, but the posts over the next couple of months will focus mainly on his handling of the troops in what would become the Overland Campaign.
The first post in the series coming up next week will help give a little background to how the armies ended up where they did by May of 1864, back on the old campground they had left a beaten and battered army the previous year. The blue and gray will once again meet in The Wilderness, but they’ll be dealing with much more than deja vu once they step back into that “close dark wood”.