Gettysburg Seminar Papers

The Army of the Potomac in the Gettysburg Campaign


When the Army of the Potomac marched north toward Pennsylvania in June 1863 an uncertainty hung over the nation. The war was not going well for the north. The army whose mission it was to help suppress the rebellion of Southern States had not faired well in the first two years of the war, and now they were marching north to defend a northern state against invasion by Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Upon their shoulders these Union soldiers carried the burden of many bloody defeats; The Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville. Only at Antietam had they nearly tasted victory, but that near victory had come at an exorbitant cost in men. There had been a veritable parade of army commanders. First, was George B. McClellan, whom nearly every man still revered. McClellan was superseded temporarily by John Pope, who failed, and then McClellan returned. When "Little Mac" departed for the last time in the fall of 1862 Ambrose E. Burnside replaced him, and then led the army to its most dismal defeat at Fredericksburg. Burnside departed and Joseph Hooker, a boisterous, hard fighting general took his place. Hooker restored the shaken morale of the army, but he too proved unable to deliver victory, suffering defeat at Chancellorsville. On June 28, 1863 Hooker was relieved of command at his own request, and General George G. Meade was appointed commander; the fifth man to command the Army of the Potomac in eleven months.

The question mark that hung over the Army of the Potomac on the eve of Gettysburg was whether they could win the momentous clash that all knew was imminent. Judging from their history in battle against the Army of Northern Virginia, the odds were stacked against them. Yet, in three days of battle at Gettysburg they emerged with a victory that helped changed the tide of the war.

The papers of this Sixth Annual Gettysburg Seminar tell the story of this great American army and how it overcame the adversity of its past performance to achieve its greatest victory of the war.

This publication was produced through the hard work of many people. Among them I would like to thank Mike Strong, for his work in coordinating the seminar, Barbara Finfrock, of the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, for donating her time to editing the papers, Eric Campbell, of the park staff, for his tireless work in reviewing texts, scanning graphics and writing captions for images, and finally to Nancy Heverly, for her fine layout work. I would also like to thank the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg for their support in making the seminar and this publication a reality.

Dr. John A. Latschar
Gettysburg National Military Park

December 1997

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