Stirrings (June 6, 1863)

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

June 1863 would prove to be a momentous month for George Gordon Meade and it would set the stage for the cataclysm at Gettysburg. In his letter of June 6, Meade explains to his wife what is going on in Virginia, as army commander Joe Hooker attempts to determine just what his adversary, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, were up to. Here’s what I say in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, about Lee’s actions after he routed Hooker at Chancellorsville:

 Robert E. Lee had not been idle in Chancellorsville’s aftermath. After [Stonewall] Jackson’s death he reorganized his army from two corps into three plus a cavalry division under Jeb Stuart. James Longstreet, Lee’s “old warhorse,” remained in command of the I Corps, with three divisions under Major Generals Lafayette McLaws, George E. Pickett, and John Bell Hood. The II Corps, previously Jackson’s, was now commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who had lost a leg at Second Bull Run. Like his predecessor, the high-strung Ewell had a reputation for strangeness. Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon described him as “the oddest, most eccentric genius in the Confederate army.” Ewell, too, had three divisions, under Major Generals Jubal A. Early, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes.

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress).

Lee selected A. P. Hill–McClellan’s old rival in love–to command the newly created III Corps. Hill had three divisions under Major Generals Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and William D. Pender.

(Lee would begin moving north soon—but not until after a clash of cavalries at Brandy Station on June 9.

My last letter told you that my corps had been moved up the river, charged with the duty of guarding the several crossing places, and preventing, if possible, the passage of the river by the enemy. General Hooker had received intelligence which induced him to believe Lee was about attempting a manoeuvre similar to the one we tried last month. I have consequently been actively employed riding about, superintending the posting of troops, giving instructions, etc. As yet everything has been very quiet on our part of the line. To-day, however, Hooker had reason to believe most of the enemy had left his immediate front on the heights back of Fredericksburg. He accordingly undertook to throw a bridge across, where Franklin crossed last December. About five o’clock yesterday evening we heard heavy firing, which lasted nearly two hours, which, I understand, was our batteries, endeavoring to drive the enemy from the rifle-pits they had dug to oppose the construction of the bridge. I do not know whether we succeeded or not, as, being some miles away, I have no means of ascertaining. It has been my opinion for some time that Lee would assume the offensive so soon as he was reinforced sufficiently to justify him in doing so; but whether he has yet commenced is, I think, not positively settled. Nor have I quite made up my mind what he will do when he moves. I should think it would be policy on his part to endeavor to overcome this army before he undertakes any invasion of the North. His experience of last summer should teach him the danger of leaving an army on his flank and rear, and if he can once destroy or cripple this army, he will have no opposition to his progress of invasion. It is this reasoning which makes me wonder at the supineness and apathy of the Government and people, leaving this army reduced as it has been by casualties of battle and expiration of service, and apparently making no effort to reinforce it.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 382-3. Available via Google Books.

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