Lee Moves North (June 16, 1863)

Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy waited unti it was too late to retreat from Winchester, Virginia (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy waited unti it was too late to retreat from Winchester, Virginia (Library of Congress).

On June 16 Meade wrote to his wife from near Manassas. At long last the Army of the Potomac was on the move. That meant Robert E. Lee’s army was as well. The Army of Northern Virginia was moving north down the Shenandoah Valley, in hot and steamy weather that would not break until June 18. Lee’s first target was Winchester, Virginia, held by a Union garrison under Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy. Henry Halleck in Washington sent Milroy messages suggesting he abandon Winchester before it was too late but Milroy disregarded them until it was too late. On June 15 Winchester fell to Richard Ewell’s corps, with Union losses of 3,400 captured and 1,000 killed or wounded. Soon the remnants of Milroy’s shattered campaign were streaming north across the border into Pennsylvania. For the North it was an inauspicious beginning of a campaign that would climax at Gettysburg.

George wrote to you yesterday and informed you the army had been withdrawn from the Rappahannock. We are now collecting in the vicinity of this place and Centreville, awaiting orders; I presume, also, the development of the enemy’s movements. He has not as yet followed us from the Rappahannock, and it is reported that he is in heavy force up the Valley of the Shenandoah, having taken Harper’s Ferry and advanced to Chambersburg. I think Lee has made a mistake in going into Maryland before meeting our army. I hope his movement will arouse the North, and that now men enough will be turned out, not only to drive him back, but to follow and crush him. If his course does not awake the North from the lethargy it has been in, nothing will ever save us. We have had the usual hard service of active operations for the last few days, loss of rest and hard riding, but both George and I stand it very well.

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. 385-6. Available via Google Books.

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