Hours after the Battle of Culpeper Court House, Lee Escapes Again
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This decisive field order enabled Robert E. Lee to elude Union General George Meade, just as he had done in July after the Battle of Gettysburg. “…go with the Artl [Artillery] tomorrow and at daylight towards the Rapidan river & see to its being placed in position to defend the fords” ROBERT E. LEE.
Autograph Letter Signed, to William N. Pendleton [Chief of Artillery]. [Virginia], September 13, 1863. 8 x 5 in., 1 p.
9 P.M. 13 Sept ‘63
I wish you to go with the Artl tomorrow and at daylight towards the Rapidan river & see to its being placed in position to defend the fords-- Ewells Corps will move towards Raccoon ford & Hills towards Rapidan
Very respt &c
R E Lee / Genl
In September 1863, Lee dispatched James Longstreet’s corps to fight in Georgia, leaving his army especially vulnerable to any bold federal moves. Despite Meade’s victory over Lee at Gettysburg, he had been criticized by Lincoln for failing to pursue and destroy the retreating Confederate army. So Meade now took the offensive, moving across the Rappahannock River and towards the critical Rapidan River fords.
Earlier in the day of September 13, the Union cavalry, with a gallant charge by George A. Custer, routed J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry corps in the Battle of Culpeper Court House. At 9 p.m., Lee responded to the growing crisis with this order, instructing his chief of artillery to move at daybreak to establish fieldworks at the Rapidan crossings.
Pendleton followed Lee’s orders. After two days of reconnaissance, Meade concluded that the rebels’ positions were too strong to break.
In the context of the war, this order had an important effect. Lee’s maneuvers gave the Army of Northern Virginia sufficient strength to discourage Meade’s army from advancing further into Virginia, and broke Meade’s momentum.
Meade tested Lee’s defenses again in the unsuccessful Mine Run campaign in November. His failure to destroy Lee’s army during these months convinced Lincoln to appoint Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Union Army. Grant personally accompanied Meade and the Army of the Potomac during the final two years of the war, taking away his autonomy.
A rare field order penned by Robert E. Lee, while his army was in motion and under the threat of a general attack.
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870). Knowing in 1860 that Civil War was inevitable, President Lincoln had offered Lee command of the Union army. Lee declined and submitted his resignation out of loyalty to his home state of Virginia. In 1861 he served as senior military advisor to Jefferson Davis, and he was later appointed commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. By February 1865, he was named commander-in-chief of the entire Confederate army. Overcome by the North’s superior numbers and resources, he surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.
William Nelson Pendleton (1809-1883) graduated from West Point in 1830, a native Virginian who resigned from the U.S. Army in 1833 to teach and become a minister. He served in the Confederate Army as an artillery captain in 1861 and was promoted to brigadier general in March 1862. For most of the war he was the chief of artillery for the Army of Northern Virginia, and later in command of the reserve ordnance. After the war he returned to the ministry.