Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Professor Robert Valentine
Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863 was a grave mistake, on a variety of levels, which ultimately culminated in a crippling defeat at Gettysburg. After the Army of Northern Virginia successfully defended southern territory against northern attacks, the transition to an offensive strategy, advancing north in to Pennsylvania was a vast miscalculation. Lee’s army now traversed enemy territory, leaving behind the advantages of a campaign on southern territory and abandoning a defensive posture. This transition to fighting on enemy territory brought several difficulties that Lee seemingly overlooked, and presented challenges for which Lee was unprepared. Lee sought to bring the fighting, which was primarily on Southern soil, in to Northern territory, in hopes of breaking the will of Northerners and forcing the Federal government in to suing for peace. However, while in Pennsylvania, Lee continuously miscalculated enemy positions, all the while compromising his own while moving among a hostile populace. While amongst that populace, which Lee hoped would help push for capitulation upon seeing the Army of Northern Virginia in Pennsylvania, Lee’s men found themselves at a significant intelligence and psychological disadvantage. Lee’s push north in pursuit of one decisive victory over the Army of the Potomac ultimately failed to achieve its ultimate goal. This illusive triumph very likely could have been successfully achieved through other means, and should not have been sought after at the expense of a crushing defeat such as that the Army of Northern Virginia experienced at Gettysburg. Lee’s move into Pennsylvania proved foolhardy, as he failed to appropriately supervise his commanders, calling in to question his own capabilities as a General. These questions about Lee’s competency and capabilities litter the historical record when examining the Pennsylvania campaign, and functionally reshape the legacy of the General Lee. Ultimately, Lee sought recognition through success on Northern soil, but misjudged how attainable a decisive victory up North would be. As the Federal 3 government considered relenting to a peace agreement, the push north into Pennsylvania by the Lee’ army, riding high on victorious engagements in Virginia, forced the North’s hand, all the while Robert E. Lee was overplaying his own.
Gallagher, Michael J., "The 1863 Invasion of Pennsylvania" (2022). CUNY Academic Works.