The Reorganized Army of Northern Virginia

May 20, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee submitted a request to the Davis administration to reorganize his Confederate army before launching his second northern invasion.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Confederate soldiers cheered as Lee returned to the army on the Rappahannock River on the 18th. From his old Hamilton’s Crossing headquarters, Lee began developing plans to invade the North. Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Lee’s most trusted corps commander, argued that the invasion should be offensive in strategy but defensive in tactics. When Lee did not directly object, Longstreet began preparing his corps as if Lee had agreed.

The Army of Northern Virginia had 13,000 fewer men after the Battle of Chancellorsville. These heavy losses, especially that of Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, compelled Lee to reorganize almost the entire army. Longstreet’s First Corps remained intact, but Major General Richard Ewell took Jackson’s place at the head of the Second Corps.

Ewell had recently returned to the army since last August, when he lost a leg at the Battle of Second Bull Run. He had served under Jackson during the famed Shenandoah Valley campaign, and Jackson had once recommended Ewell to succeed him. Ewell had picked up some eccentricities since his wounding, but Lee honored Jackson’s recommendation nonetheless. Major General A.P. Hill, Jackson’s other top lieutenant, took command of a new Third Corps. Hill had commanded the largest unit in Jackson’s corps, the famed Light Division.

Lee had considered giving Major General Jeb Stuart, the army cavalry commander, an infantry corps command due to his “great energy, promptness, and intelligence” at Chancellorsville, having “conducted the operations on the left with distinguished capacity and vigor.” However, if the army was going to invade Pennsylvania, Lee needed Stuart to continue leading the cavalry in skillfully providing intelligence and reconnaissance.

By the end of May, President Jefferson Davis approved Lee’s reorganization structure:

  • Longstreet commanded the First Corps
  • Ewell commanded the Second Corps
  • Hill commanded the Third Corps
  • Stuart commanded the cavalry corps, consisting of four brigades

The previous structure had consisted of two corps with four divisions each. This new structure consisted of three corps with three divisions each. Both Ewell and Hill received promotions to lieutenant general. This new Army of Northern Virginia would be ready to conduct offensive operations by early June.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 388; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17857-65; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 289; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 433-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 303; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5606-18, 5660-72; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 360; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 648; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169

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