By : Sara Hale
In May and June of 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s armies converged on Vicksburg, investing the city and entrapping a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton. On July 4, Vicksburg surrendered after prolonged siege operations. This was the culmination of one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the war. With the loss of Pemberton’s army and this vital stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy was effectively split in half. Grant's successes in the West boosted his reputation, leading ultimately to his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.
Having concentrated his army around the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Gen. Robert E. Lee awaited the approach of Union Gen. George G. Meade’s forces. On July 1, early Union success faltered as Confederates pushed back against the Iron Brigade and exploited a weak Federal line at Barlow’s Knoll. The following day saw Lee strike the Union flanks, leading to heavy battle at Devil's Den, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill. On the final day, July 3rd, fighting raged at Culp’s Hill with the Union regaining its lost ground. After being cut down by a massive artillery bombardment in the afternoon, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge and was repulsed in what is now known as Pickett’s Charge. Lee's second invasion of the North had failed, and had resulted in heavy casualties; an estimated 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, captured, or listed as missing after Gettysburg.
Harried mercilessly by Federal troops and continually cut off from turning south, Lee headed west, eventually arriving in Appomattox County on April 8. Heading for the South Side Railroad at Appomattox Station, where food supplies awaited, the Confederates were cut off once again and nearly surrounded by Union troops near the small village of Appomattox Court House. Despite a final desperate attempt to escape, Lee’s army was trapped. General Lee surrendered his remaining troops to General Grant at the McLean House on the afternoon of April 9.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s well-executed crossing of the Rappahannock fords on April 30, 1863 placed his rejuvenated and reorganized Army of the Potomac on Lee’s vulnerable flank. Rather than retreat before this sizable Federal force, Lee opted to attack Hooker while he was still within the thick wilderness. Late on May 1, 1863, Lee and Jackson conceived one of the boldest plans of the war. The May 2, 1863 flank attack stunned the Union XI corps and threatened Hooker’s position, but the victorious Confederate attack ended with the mortal wounding of Stonewall Jackson. On May 3, 1863, the Confederates resumed their offensive and drove Hooker’s larger army back to a new defensive line nearer the fords. Swinging east, Lee then defeated a separate Federal force near Salem Church that had threatened his rear. Lee's victory at Chancellorsville is widely considered to be his greatest of the entire war.