Every Detail Fit for a Campaign – Lee Starts North

June 3, 1863 (Wednesday)

General McLaws could certainly claim "firsties."
General McLaws could certainly claim “firsties.”

Having three corps rather than two was something General Lee had wanted to do for a long time now. His infantry, coming in at 67,600 was too unwieldy to be wrangled by only two generals, each commanding nearly 35,000 men. With three corps commanders, each would have a much more manageable 22,500 troops (on average). This also allowed him to leave an entire corps behind at Fredericksburg while he began shifting the other two corps west to Culpeper Court House.

And on this date, that’s exactly what he did. It had to be done so subtly that General Joe Hooker might not take notice until the bulk of Lee’s Army was behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. No easy task, to be sure, but Lee was fairly certain Hooker had no big plans to move one way or the other.

They would move by divisions. Each corps had three. The first to move from Fredericksburg would be General Lafayette McLaws Division of Longstreet’s Corps. Their only official destination was Culpeper, but the boys knew that General Lee had something big in the works. They trusted him implicitly.

But Fredericksburg wasn’t the only place Lee had troops. John Bell Hood’s Division, also of Longstreet’s Corps had been near Verdiersville, just south of the Rapidan River. They too were ordered to Culpeper. Longstreet’s remaining division, under George Pickett, was left to remain near Hanover Junction, guarding the northeasterly approaches to Richmond.

Two of General Richard Ewell’s divisions, under Jubal Early and Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, were downstream from Fredericksburg, closer to Port Royal. Between them and the rest of Lee’s Army was Robert Rodes Division, also of Ewell’s Corps. They would move out the following day.

“I recall the morning vividly,” wrote Lee’s Chief of Artillery, Edwin Porter Alexander. “A beautiful bright June day, and about 11am, a courier from Longstreet’s headquarters brought the order. Although it was only a march to Culpeper Court House, we knew that it meant another great battle with the enemy’s army, which still confronted ours at Fredericksburg.”

Here's a much less approximate map than you're probably used to seeing round these parts.
Here’s a much less approximate map than you’re probably used to seeing round these parts.

In Alexander’s camp, all was hurried preparations. He recalled “the pride and confidence I felt in my splendid battalion, as it filed out on the fields in the road, with every chest and ammunition wagon filled, and every horse in fair order, and every detail fit for a campaign.”

Having been at Culpeper for the past several weeks, Jeb Stuart’s cavalry waited. They numbered 12,400 – though many of their number were scouting well outside of Culpeper.

As for General Hooker’s Army of the Potomac, they were still in the camps, spread out between Aquia Landing and Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg and Lee’s Army on the Rappahannock. Rumors had been circulating that Lee was about to move, and Hooker was taking them seriously.

E. Porter Alexander is off again to war.
E. Porter Alexander is off again to war.

First, he heard from Alfred Pleasonton, commanding the Cavalry Corps. Pleasonton sent a letter from Mr. G.S. Smith, a spy known to Hooker. “There is one thing that looks very apparent to me,” began Smith, “and that is that this movement of General Lee’s is not intended to menace Washington, but to try his hand again toward Maryland, or to call off your attention while General Stuart goes there.” He also believed that Stuart, as of June 1, when the message was originally written, was already on his way.

Pleasonton forwarded Smith’s message on this date, adding: “It is my impression the rebel army has been weakened by troops sent west and south, and that any performance of Stuart’s will be a flutter to keep us from seeing their weakness.” Pleasonton was incredibly wrong. This was no mere “flutter,” and soon Hooker would know it.

That evening, a few Confederate deserters had made their way into Union lines and told tales of how Lee was going to cross the Rappahannock the very next morning. George Meade, commanding the V Corps, had been guarding the fords upstream from Fredericksburg for the better part of a week, allowing the cavalry to lengthen the Union right. Hooker now ordered Meade to ready his entire corps. He was to strengthen Banks Ford and place the rest of his troops within easy supporting distance. Hooker even offered Meade more artillery, should he want it.

Hooker also ordered the rest of his entire army, from the left, held by John Sedgwick’s VI Corps between White Oak Church and the Rappahannock, to Henry Slocum’s XII Corps near Aquia Landing, to be at arms with their batteries limbered so they may be able to move out on a moment’s notice.

Lee was on the move, and though there was yet no solid proof, Hooker expected to learn for certain the following day.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 3, p3-4; Fighting for the Confederacy by Edward Porter Alexander; Gettysburg by Stephen Sears; A Glorious Army by Jeffry D. Wert; The Gettysburg Campaign by Edwin Coddington; Here Come the Rebels! by Wilbur Sturtevant Nye. []
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Every Detail Fit for a Campaign – Lee Starts North by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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