The Reorganized Army of Northern Virginia

Soldiers of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia cheered General Robert E. Lee’s return from the Richmond military strategy conference. Lee settled back into his old Hamilton’s Crossing headquarters near Fredericksburg and began developing plans to invade the North.

The Army of Northern Virginia had 13,000 fewer men after the Battle of Chancellorsville. These heavy losses, including the death of Lieutenant-General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, compelled Lee to reorganize. The army had formerly operated in a two-corps structure, with Jackson and Lieutenant-General James Longstreet commanding the two. As Lee wrote to President Jefferson Davis, “I have for the past year felt that the corps of this army were too large for one commander.”

Lee explained that each corps commander had about 30,000 men under him, far too many to coordinate in combat. “They are always beyond the range of his vision, & frequently beyond his reach,” Lee wrote. He proposed giving command of Jackson’s Second Corps to Major-General Richard Ewell. Ewell had recently returned to the army after having 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. Despite having picked up some eccentricities since his wounding, Lee considered Ewell to be “an honest, brave soldier, who has always done his duty well.”

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit:

In addition to the First and Second corps, Lee proposed creating a new Third Corps, to be commanded by Major-General A.P. Hill. Hill was another top lieutenant under Jackson, having commanded the largest unit in Jackson’s corps, the famed Light Division. These troops had practically saved the Confederate army by hurrying from Harpers Ferry to join the Battle of Antietam. Lee wrote that Hill, “upon the whole is the best soldier of his grade with me.” With Ewell and Hill now commanding army corps, Lee recommended that they both be promoted to lieutenant-general. According to Longstreet:

“As the senior major-general of the army, and by reason of distinguished services and ability, General Ewell was entitled to the command of the Second Corps, but there were other major-generals of rank next below Ewell whose services were such as to give them claims next after Ewell’s, so that when they found themselves neglected there was no little discontent, and the fact that both the new lieutenant-generals were Virginians made the trouble more grievous.”

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 Davis approved Lee’s reorganization structure:

  • Lieutenant-General Longstreet commanded the First Corps
  • Lieutenant-General Ewell commanded the Second Corps
  • Lieutenant-General Hill commanded the Third Corps
  • Major-General Stuart commanded the cavalry corps

The two-corps, four-division structure was now replaced by three corps with three divisions in each. This revamped Army of Northern Virginia would be ready to conduct offensive operations by early June. An article appeared in the Richmond Examiner near the end of May: “Within the next fortnight the campaign of 1863 will be pretty well decided. The most important movement of the war will probably be made in that time.”


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