The Road to Gettysburg Started Here
The Gettysburg Campaign & Central Virginia
157 years ago, Union and Confederate armies converged on a small town in southern Pennsylvania and one of the largest battles of the war—Gettysburg—was fought on July 1-3, 1863.
But did you know that the Gettysburg Campaign started from Central Virginia and several previous battles had laid the groundwork for the Gettysburg generals' decisions? Today, we invite you to explore some of the campaign history and other Central Virginia ties to Gettysburg...
Lee at Chancellorsville
When General Robert E. Lee rode into the Chancellorsville clearing on May 3, 1863:
"One long, unbroken cheer, in which the feeble cry of those who lay helpless on the earth blended with the strong voices of those who still fought, rose high above the roar of battle ... [Lee] sat in the full realisation of all that soldiers dream of-triumph; and as I looked upon him in the complete fruition of the success which his genius, courage and confidence in his army had won, I thought it must have been from some such a scene that men in ancient days ascended to the dignity of the gods.” (Charles Marshall)
The Battle of Chancellorsville was Lee's finest victory, but it was not complete, and the general pressed forward with planning another invasion of the north in an effort to secure the final, elusive victory. Did Lee leave Chancellorsville with the impression that his army was invincible? Did his victory at Chancellorsville influence his battle plans at Gettysburg?
Meade's Testing Ground
General George G. Meade found himself in command of the Union's Army of the Potomac on June 28, following General Joe Hooker's resignation just days before the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville in Central Virginia had improved Meade's leadership. In December 1862, he lead the division that broke through "Stonewall" Jackson's lines south of Fredericksburg. Promoted to command the Fifth Corps, Meade waited in reserve for most of Chancellorsville, though he urged General Hooker to use the corps and counter-attack.
Like Lee, Meade's experiences at these Central Virginia battles would shape his plans and tactics in the Pennsylvania fight.
Preservation at Brandy Station
Brandy Station, fought on June 9, 1863, opened the Army of Northern Virginia’s Gettysburg campaign and sent Union forces north in pursuit of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his forces. It was the largest cavalry battle ever fought on American soil, with nearly 20,000 troopers engaged and more than 1,000 casualties. In 2013, CVBT teamed with the entire battlefield preservation community to help secure a grant to aid in the acquisition of 56 acres of Fleetwood Heights at Brandy Station Battlefield. Learn more...
Marching Through Central Virginia
June 3rd. This morning we are marching towards Tappahannock... [As we rest at the roadside] a courier rides by, and a little dog belonging to one of the soldiers flies at the horse's heels, all the while barking furiously. The courier, indignant at this unmannerly interruption, loses all patience, checks his horse's speed, and drawing his cavalry sword makes a gallant charge. The whole Division sets up deafening huzzas as they witness the act of bravery, and the unfortunate courier rides off completely crestfallen and the subject of numberless sarcasms from the laughing troops. June 15th. Resume our march, passing through Culpeper C.H. The heat is frightful, and the road in many places is strewn with the sunstruck. I stand the sun between than some of the stoutest of my men; and perceiving one of my poor fellows in great distress on account of his gun and accoutrements, I give him my sword for his rifle and it helps him along very much. June 24th, 1863. We are moving in the direction of Martinsburg and learn for the first time that Pennsylvania is our objective point. Excerpts from Lieutenant John Dooley's Diary, 1st Virginia Infantry Regiment
"Give Them Fredericksburg"
“The moment I saw them, I knew we should give them Fredericksburg,” declared Captain Henry Abbott, recalling when he spotted the Confederate infantry advancing to attack the Union center on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg.
The battle in Central Virginia six months earlier had left a deep impression on soldiers of the 20th Massachusetts. Their urban attack, assault on Marye’s Heights, and horrifying night on the battlefield had left the name of that town as the place where they had fought against terrible odds with a foe that most probably never got close enough to see. On a ridge in Pennsylvania, they had their moment of payback, and they knew it. They gave them “Fredericksburg” and all the tragedy, carnage, and horror that word had come to symbolize for those survivors from Massachusetts.
Henry Abbott was killed the following year at Battle of the Wilderness.
Fleetwood Hill, Brandy Station Battlefield
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.