Confederates Invade Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians were beginning to realize that a full-scale Confederate invasion was imminent. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin and Major-General Darius N. Couch, commanding the Department of the Susquehanna, frantically called for 30-day militia volunteers. However, Curtin could not accept blacks because, under Federal law, they could only be inducted in the Federal army, not the state militia, and only for three years’ service, not 30 days.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton initially directed Couch “to receive into service any volunteer troops that may be offered, without regard to color,” but then he realized the political trouble with recruiting blacks and told Couch that in case of “any dispute about the matter, it will be better to send no more. It is well to avoid all controversy in the present juncture, as the troops can be well used elsewhere.”

In northern Virginia, the Federal Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, led by Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton, continued challenging the Confederate horsemen of the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Major-General Jeb Stuart, east of the Blue Ridge. Stuart had no infantry support, as the rest of the Confederate army had gone west into the Shenandoah Valley en route to Pennsylvania. After a day’s delay due to rain, the Federals again pressed their counterparts, driving Stuart back eight miles to Upperville. The Confederates withdrew through Ashby’s Gap in the Blue Ridge around 6 p.m.

Fighting between the cavalries continued on June 21, when the Federals attacked at Upperville. Pleasonton countered Stuart’s dismounted troopers and sharpshooters with infantry for the first time, pushing the Confederates back into Ashby’s Gap. When the Federals could advance no further, Pleasonton pulled them back to Aldie. The opposing cavalries had fought intermittently since the 16th, during which time the Federals lost 883 men while inflicting 510 casualties on the enemy. These engagements boosted Federal confidence and made Stuart’s horsemen seem less invincible.

Pleasonton still had not gotten a clear look at where the Confederates were going, but deserters informed him that Lieutenant-General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps was now in Maryland, Lieutenant-General James Longstreet’s First Corps was moving through the Blue Ridge behind Ewell, and “another corps (A.P. Hill’s, I think) is to move with Longstreet into Maryland. Such is the information given by the negroes here.” Pleasonton passed this on to Major-General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Potomac army.

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit:

For his part, Hooker continued his pursuit of Lee’s army, but he was also in the process of developing a long-term strategy. Working with Colonel George Sharpe and the Bureau of Military Information, Hooker would not directly confront Lee until they were in open ground in Pennsylvania, where he could force the Confederates to attack him. But Hooker was well aware that his superiors at Washington would most likely reject a plan that allowed the enemy to march freely into the North before trying to stop him, so he did not share this plan at this time.

As the Confederates moved through the narrow section of western Maryland, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army, issued General Order Number 72. This outlined how the troops were to behave in enemy territory. The order was politically motivated, as Lee hoped to demonstrate his men’s high morality to foreign nations that were still considering whether to recognize Confederate independence.

Lee directed that “no private property shall be injured or destroyed by any person belonging to or connected with the army, or taken, excepting by officers hereinafter designated,” namely, members of the “commissary, quartermaster’s, ordnance, and medical departments.” Property owners deprived of their goods must “be paid the market price for the articles furnished.” If property owners refused to accept Confederate money (which was nearly worthless), they were to be given receipts noting the property taken and its current market value.

Lee then declared, “If any person shall remove or conceal property necessary for the use of the army, or attempt to do so, the officers hereinbefore mentioned will cause such property, and all other property belonging to such person that may be required by the army, to be seized…”

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit:

On the 22nd, Lee directed Ewell to advance his three divisions toward Pennsylvania. Ewell’s men were to forage for supplies while Lee diverted Hooker’s attention. Ewell’s vanguard crossed the Pennsylvania border around 10 a.m. and advanced through Greencastle. Lee instructed Ewell:

“I think your best course will be toward the Susquehanna (River), taking the route by Emmitsburg, Chambersburg, and McConnellsburg… It will depend upon the quantity of supplies obtained in that country whether the rest of the army can follow. There may be enough for your command, but none for the others. If Harrisburg comes within your means, capture it.”

The “progress and directions” of Ewell’s advance were to be determined by the “development of circumstances.” Lee then sent discretionary orders to Stuart: “I fear he (Hooker) will steal a march on us, and get across the Potomac before we are aware. If you find he is moving northward, and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland, and take position on General Ewell’s right.”

Stuart was to protect Ewell’s right flank “and collect all the supplies you can for the use of the army.” These orders went through Longstreet, whom Stuart was screening, and Longstreet added a suggestion that instead of joining Ewell, which could expose Lee’s entire movement, Stuart should “pass by the enemy’s rear if he thinks that he may get through.” Lee approved, with the stipulation that once Hooker crossed the Potomac, Stuart “must immediately cross himself and take his place on our right flank.”

Meanwhile, Hooker had his Federal army strategically placed between the Confederates and Washington, ready to cross the Potomac when ordered. Late on the 22nd, Hooker received word from Pleasonton that Longstreet’s corps was at Winchester, with Hill’s following.


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