This is a compilation of the major battles and campaigns in which Confederate general Robert Edward Lee fought in. Robert E. Lee, the Virginian who had declined Lincoln’s offer to command the Union army at the beginning of the American Civil War, took command of the army he then named the Army of Northern Virginia. His first campaign involved driving McClellan’s army from its dangerously close position to Richmond. The Seven Day’s Battles, from June 25 to July 1, 1862, in which he forced McClellan’s retreat are below:
Mechanicsville, June 26, 1862
Gaines Mill, June 27, 1862
Savage’s Station, June 29, 1862
Frayser’s Farm (Glendale), June 30, 1862
Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862
McClellan is “saved” in this battle. Masses concentrations of Federal artillery hold off Lee and give McClellan time to retreat.
After his costly victory in this campaign, he embarked on the Northern Virginia Campaign, of which there was only one major battle:
Second Manassas, August 29-30, 1862
Pope’s men are defeated, and retreat all the way to Washington D. C.
Lee’s victory at this battle made him decide to embark upon an invasion of the North. After skirmishes in various mountain passes, the two armies met:
Antietam (Sharpsburg), September 17, 1862
This was the single most bloody day of the war.
Even though McClellan achieved a slight victory at Antietam (Lee retreated back into Virginia), he refused to pursue Lee’s weary men. Lincoln declared that McClellan had “the slows.” He also derisively referred to the Federal Army as “McClellan’s Bodyguard.” Ambrose E. Burnside took over the army next.
Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862)
Burnside is slaughtered and nicknamed “The Butcher of Fredericksburg” for the way he threw his men into withering gunfire.
The “Mud March”
Burnside attempted to march around the Confederate army, but is bogged down in heavy mud. As Burnside’s demoralized men struggle with heavy equipment in the mud, they see signs stuck by Confederate troops in the mud: “This way to Richmond.” Burnside turns back.
Burnside is relieved of command after his debacles as a commander. “Fighting Joe” Hooker is named to command the army. Hooker maneuvers his army to hit the Confederate rear, but is foiled by Lee.
Chancellorsville (May 2-3, 1863)
Lee’s finest victory. Stonewall Jackson destroys the Union flank, and Hooker withdraws from numerically inferior Confederates.
Lee’s second invasion of the North:
Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863)
Lee’s first real defeat happened at this Pennsylvania road hub. Pickett’s charge on the third day is known as the “high-water mark of the Confederacy.” Meade took over command of the army only the day before the battle. This was the bloodiest battle of the war.
Ulysses S. Grant is named as the overall commander of the Union armies. After almost a year of only minor skirmishing (broken by only the Battle of Bristoe Station), Grant embarks on his Overland Campaign. He opens it by attempting to move through the Wilderness in spring 1864.
Wilderness (May 5, 1864)
After this stalemate, Grant did what no other Union general had done against Lee: he continued to move closer to Richmond, forcing Lee to block him.
Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864)
This battle slogged down into an extended trench battle after Grant’s initial attacks failed. On May 21, Grant left the front, seeking an easier route to Richmond.
Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12, 1864)
Grant’s initial attack lost him 7,000 men in half an hour. This was another Spotsylvania-like trench battle. Grant’s next move was to shift south of the James River to try to capture Petersburg, a rail station that supplied Lee’s army and Richmond.
The Petersburg Campaign took nine months, but only because incompetent generals under Grant failed to capture Petersburg initially. Grant repeatedly sought to extend his line to cut the railroads feeding Lee’s army, which was stretched out between Petersburg and Richmond. Finally, in March-April 1865, he began to break through. Below are some of the more notable engagements in the siege.
Initial attack on Petersburg (June 9, 1864)
The Crater (July 30, 1864)
The Union explodes a mine under Confederate earthworks, literally blowing a huge hole in the line. Burnside’s men rush into this crater, become trapped, and are slaughtered from above.
“Beefsteak Raid” (September 14-17, 1864)
Confederate cavalry under Wade Hampton discover that 3,000 heads of cattle are herded behind Federal lines. Hampton leads 4,500 men in a daring raid to get these cattle for Lee’s starving army. Grant is away at a conference; Hampton secures all but 18 of the cattle in the most daring raid of the war. Grant said that the Union would never capture Petersburg “if our armies continue to supply him (Lee) with beef cattle.”
Five Forks (April 1, 1865)
Over the previous week, Confederates had been pushed back slowly towards the vital railroads. Lee instructed Pickett to hold the Five Forks road juction “at all hazard.” Pickett failed, and so Lee was forced to evacuate Richmond. Interestingly, the Union general who had directed the victorious infantry in this battle, Gouverner K. Warren, was relieved of command.
Third attack on Petersburg (yes, I left out the Second attack) (April 2, 1865)
Petersburg is captured by Grant, and Lee evacuates. Ambrose “Little Powell” Hill is killed by Union infantry while riding to his corps.
Sailors Creek (April 6, 1865)
A large portion of the retreating Confederate army was cut off and captured, including “Old Baldy” Ewell
Appomattox (April 9, 1865)
Lee, desperate to reach supplies at Lynchburg, attacked Union troops who cut him off. The Federals held on, and Lee surrendered formally at the village of Appomattox Court House. Lee’s farewell address to his men was General Order Number 9. The surrender is signed in the house of Wilmer McLean, who also owned a house at the battlefield of First Manassas, the first real battle of the war.
Robert E. Lee was the most popular and feared general in the Civil War. His resignation was refused by Jefferson Davis after Gettysburg; his men cried as they left him at Appomattox. In both defeat and in victory, he was noble and true. Congress pardoned him posthumously.