General Robert E. Lee

Robert Edward Lee was acknowledged as the most outstanding officer in the U. S. Army at the start of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln offered him the command of the Federal forces, an honor that, due to Virginia's secession, Lee declined. The Sharpsburg Campaign was Lee's first major incursion into the northern states. Lee's primary objective was to lure the Federals from their Washington entrenchments into open battle. After the Federal defeat at Second Manassas, Lee felt that John Pope's troops had serious morale problems, and that the time for the Confederates to strike was at hand. Lee also hoped that a campaign into Maryland would allow his Army to reprovision there, giving the Virginia farmers a respite and a chance to harvest their crops.

Lee was unaware, as he entered Maryland, that Pope had been removed from command and that George B. McClellan had been given command of the Washington garrison that included the Pope's Army of the James and the troops from the Army of the Potomac who had been detached and assigned to Pope. He was also unaware of the effect that McClellan's reappointment had in rapidly restoring the fighting spirt of the Union army.

Lee's lack of a victory at Sharpsburg caused Great Britain to hesitate in recognizing the Confederate government, and also led to Lincoln's issuing of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on 22 September 1862.

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Photo credits: National Archives
Library of Congress

Created 15 SEP 1999; Modified 24 JUL 2014