ON TO GETTYSBURG
June 30, 1863
After crossing the Potomac River at Williamsport, General Robert E. Lee continued moving his army northward. By June 27th they had camped near the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Lee's headquarters were set up in a grove of trees known as "Messersmith's Woods" on a road leading to another sleepy Pennsylvania town named Gettysburg. "A Confederate flag marks the whereabouts," wrote a visitor. "There are about half a dozen tents and many baggage wagons and ambulances. The horses and mules from these, besides those of a small escort, are tied up to the trees or grazing about the place."
Lee had the First and Third Corps with him at Chambersburg, and the Second Corps was located somewhat to the north, but within supporting distance. All was well with the disposition of the army with the sole exception of the cavalry. General Stuart had taken the bilk of the cavalry corps and was in the process of again riding around the Army of the Potomac. This had resulted in Lee losing communication with Stuart, who was the "eyes" of his army. Now deep in enemy territory where little information could be gleaned form the inhabitants, General Lee found himself at a severe disadvantage. The southern leader had no knowledge as to where the Federal Army was or even its strength.
On the night of the 28th, an independent scout, Henry T. Harrison, who had been employed by General Longstreet, brought word that the Federal Army had a new commander, George G. Meade, and was north of the Potomac, much closer than they had thought. Both pieces of information were vital to Lee's plans. The great superiority of the Federal Army in men and equipment made the prospects for a southern victory doubtful. Lee could only hope that the new Federal commander would make the same kind of mistakes that other northern leaders had made before. If General Lee and his army could win a victory in the North, the South might ultimately be able to gain its independence.
The plan had called for the Confederate Army to drive north and take up a defensive position that would threaten Baltimore and Philadelphia. The Federal Army would be forced to follow and attack Lee on a field of his choice. Lee wrote, "We shall probably meet the Federal Army and fight a great battle, and if God gives us the victory, the war will be over and we shall achieve the recognition of our independence."
On the morning of June 30, Lee met with General Longstreet and key members of his staff and announced quietly a change of orders. "Tomorrow, gentlemen, we will not move to Harrisburg, as we expected, but will go over to Gettysburg and see what General Meade is after." He "will commit no blunder in my front, and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it." At Gettysburg General Lee would find the Federals holding the high ground in defensive positions and the course of the war would soon be changed.
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