June 3 marks the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign. In your opinion – aside from the three day battle at Gettysburg – what was the most significant battle, skirmish, or event in the campaign?
I think the battle of Brandy Station was significant. It was a showing of the Union Cavalry coming to be a major player in the Army of the Potomac.
The scrap outside Harrisburg where the Pennsylvania militia successfully prevented Ewell’s corps from crossing the Susquehanna.
The Battle of Winchester. Ewell’s excellence in independent command blinded Lee to how reticent Ewell became when fighting in the presence of his commander.
The dispute between Halleck and Hooker over the Harpers Ferry garrison. Fighting Joe out and Meade in.
When Jeb Stuart discovered that the Union army was blocking his planned crossing of the Potomac and decided to go around it rather than following Longstreet’s corps. Took himself out of the campaign and left his commander in the dark with no intelligence information.
My original answer was Brandy Station, but the notion that the fight over the garrison at Harpers Ferry might count has merit.
An interesting “counterfactual” might be how things would have gone if Halleck had released the garrison. Since Hooker left only 3 days before the battle a lot was already in place. I’ve never seen this one, as opposed to scenarios such as the vastly over-worked “Jackson instead of Ewell” at Cemetery Hill on July 1 – which requires a lot more assumptions (e.g., two ANV corps rather than three, etc.)
Well, my first instinct was to reply ‘Chancellorsville’, but that doesn’t meet the designated time frame.
That said, there were several cavalry clashes that were part of the overall campaign. I’ll choose the the Battle of Aldie on June 17. it appeared to set the pattern for Stuart’s efforts to screen the Confederate main body as it made its way through the Shenandoah Valley on its way north. There would be more, similar such clashes.
The most significant event of the Gettysburg Campaign was the profoundly flawed premise for sending Lee’s army north into Pennsylvania. Unlike Rosecrans’ Campaign that took Chattanooga, Lee was leading a huge raid. From the moment the first cavalryman pricked his mount’s ribs, Lee’s army was facing a date certain when starvation, loss of horses & running out of ammunition would occur. Whatever the tactical situation, win or loose, starvation would force him to withdraw back to his base.
Like every other advance into enemy territory by Confederate generals (Bragg, Hood, etc), Lee sought that one great Napoleonic victory that would win the war. That fantasy was the other half of the false premise that sent the AoNV into Pennsylvania on a fool’s errand.
The decision to send Lee’s Army into Pennsylvania without any logistical support in pursuit of a mythical goal reduces all other events to footnotes.
On July 2, 1863 at Hunterstown, PA, Wade Hampton’s Division (approximately 1750) held off a large part of the Federal cavalry (approximately 4000) led by Judson Kilpatrick from attacking the left flank of the Confederate infantry at Gettysburg, but they missed out an excellent opportunity to capture, wound or kill Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer after his horse was shot out from under him during a daring charge he led against Hampton’s troops. I wonder what the outcome of the larger cavalry battle on July 3rd would have been if Custer had not been able to escape? Also, five companies of Cobb’s Legion Cavalry Battalion did most of the fighting for Hampton at Hunterstown, where they lost 9 killed, 5 wounded and 7 missing. Four company commanders were among the dead and the second in command of the Legion was severely wounded. This prevented the Legion cavalry, which was already not at full force, from participating in the larger battle at the East Cavalry Battlefield the next day. At least 168 of the Legion’s troopers were in Georgia procuring remounts, 70 were part of a detachment near Winchester, VA, 33 more were part of another detachment traveling through various parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania and I believe at least some of the Legion cavalrymen had probably stayed behind at Brandy Station during the campaign. The outcome of this small, but very important, battle probably helped ensure victory for the Federal cavalry on July 3rd.
The fact that Lee had been very ill since his heart attack and chronic diarrhea that interferred with his judgement in planning of.the Gettysburg campaign
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