On this date of June 3, 1863 begins what is essentially the Gettysburg Campaign. On this Wednesday of that year, Lafayette McLaw’s Division of Longstreet’s Corps departed the Fredericksburg area in a westerly direction, with the ultimate aim of crossing into Pennsylvania north of Harpers Ferry.
It is not that General Lee decided at this time that he was going to begin a large-scale movement with a target of Gettysburg, PA as the ultimate site for a decisive battle. Rather, it was Lee’s strong belief that fighting a defensive war in the South was a losing proposition. He believed the only way to ultimately win against such superior resources was to break the will of the Northern people to sustain the effort at retaining the Union.
Just four days before this breaking of camp, Robert E. Lee had reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia into three corps under his three ranking officers: James Longstreet, A.P. Hill, and Richard Ewell. Previously, it had consisted of Jackson and Longstreet. But with the loss of Stonewall, along with a force now in excess of 75,000 men, Lee did some reshuffling of veterans and additions of new troops into a three-corps structure. Longstreet would be retained, but choosing the other two was a less-clear, more-complicated matter.
Though A.P. Hill had the sufficient fighting credentials, Allen Guelzo (in his recently released book, “Gettysburg: The Final Invasion”) describes him as “a nervous, wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation on his shoulder and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress <and who> had managed to antagonize nearly everyone else in Jackson’s corps, including Jackson himself, whom Hill denounced as ‘that crazy old Presbyterian fool.’”
The third command would go to Richard Ewell – himself a less than stellar candidate, being more than a bit lacking in confidence after having his leg previously amputated from the 2nd Battle of Manassas. Similarly, Guelzo writes of him, “a queer character, very eccentric, with a peculiar pop-eyed look and a bald, domelike head which gave him something of the appearance of a nervous pigeon.”
But apart from a few dapper fellows like JEB Stuart, George Custer, and George Pickett, Confederate officers were not much selected for their fine appearance – including Lee himself, who never dressed in a manner befitting his rank. But they could fight and lead men into a fight, and such a movement toward such a result was now underway.