The Army of Northern Virginia Regroups

General Robert E. Lee took the time of inactivity since the Battle of Antietam to issue General Orders Number 116 to his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia:

“In reviewing the achievements of the army during the present campaign, the commanding general cannot withhold the expression of his admiration of the indomitable courage it has displayed in battle, and its cheerful endurance of privation and hardship on the march…

“History records few examples of greater fortitude and endurance than this army has exhibited; and I am commissioned by the President to thank you, in the name of the Confederate States, for the undying fame you have won for their arms. Much as you have done, much more remains to be accomplished. The enemy again threatens us with invasion, and to your tried valor and patriotism the country looks with confidence for deliverance and safety. Your past exploits give assurance that this confidence is not misplaced.”

Later that month, the Confederate Congress approved a measure authorizing the new rank of lieutenant general to serve under army commanders. When President Jefferson Davis asked for recommendations on who should receive this new rank, Lee quickly proposed James Longstreet and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee wrote of Jackson, “My opinion of the merits of General Jackson has been greatly enhanced during his expedition. He is true, honest and brave; has a single eye to the good of the service, and spares no exertion to accomplish his object.”

These promotions were approved, as was Lee’s request to officially create a corps structure within the army. Since taking command in June, Lee had unofficially assigned certain commanders to lead multiple divisions, or “wings” of the army. Under the new structure, the Army of Northern Virginia’s nine divisions were assigned to two corps commanded by Longstreet and Jackson.

On October 16, Lee was informed that forces from the Federal Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac River and were moving southwest toward his army. The Federals probed from both Sharpsburg and Harpers Ferry. Fearing that Major General George B. McClellan would try to outflank him and block access to the Virginia Central Railroad, Lee stalled until he could reorganize his army.

While most of the battered army rested and regrouped around Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, Lee directed Jackson to destroy sections of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which was being used to supply the Federal army. Colonel James Lane led a brigade from Major General A.P. Hill’s division (of Jackson’s corps) in tearing up track in a 40-mile radius around Martinsburg. The Confederates roasted the iron rails until they could bend and wrapped them around trees. The men then destroyed anything of military significance in Martinsburg itself, including all railroad manufactories, workshops, engine houses, and telegraph offices.

A revival spirit began spreading among the ranks, leading to a substantial increase in the number of prayer meetings and church services this month. Lee approved of this movement as he continued his struggle to feed and equip his men. He had just over half the number of troops as the Army of the Potomac, but he counted on McClellan’s lack of aggression to offset his numerical superiority.


  • Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. New York: Vintage Books, 1987.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee. Scribner, (Kindle Edition), 2008.
  • Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
  • Kallmann, John D. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (facsimile of the 1866 edition). New York: Fairfax Press, 1990.

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