Converging armies

Despite having a landscape designed for battle, Gettysburg was not a site chosen ahead of time by either of the two armies that would take up arms there. Following his brilliant and bold victory at Chancellorsville in early May, Robert E. Lee was determined to take the war, once again, onto Northern territory.

With Union spirits low, Lee felt that, if he won battles on Northern soil, supporters of the Union might be driven to sue for peace and end the bloody war. To Lee and to President Davis, the march to the North was a gamble worth taking. Davis gave his blessing to the plan by mid-May, and Lee was ready to move northward by June 3. Through the following days, Lee's forces, numbering about 75,000 men, marched along the south bank of the Rappahannock to the Blue Ridge.

By late June, neither Union nor Confederate forces could pinpoint their enemy's location. Then, on June 28, Lee was surprised to learn not only that the new Union commander was Major General George G. Meade, but that his army of 95,000 men had already crossed the Potomac and might be within striking distance soon. (Meade himself had actually taken up positions at Pipe Creek over in Maryland.) Lee ordered his men to begin concentrating east of the hills in the Gettysburg-Cashtown region. This was not a cautious order, since Lee had spread his lines too far apart from their advance positions to their rear, a distance of almost 100 miles (160 km). Bringing his forces together would take a little time.

On July 1, Lee ordered General A.P. Hill to send two divisions into Gettysburg to test the strength of Union forces that had been spotted in the area. By midmorning, one of Hill's division commanders, Major General Henry Heth, and his men bumped into Union cavalry just west of Gettysburg. The Union forces were under the command of Brigadier General John Bu-ford. The Union horsemen were holding the local roads, even as they protected Gettysburg from Confederate advance. The Confederates formed together in a hurry on Herr Ridge and moved forward, attacking the Federals first on McPherson's Ridge.

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