Submitted by C.J. Johnson
On June 10, 1863, “The Confederate General Pemberton sent word to Richmond that he could hold Vicksburg against General Grant, and Grant said he could take the city at any time, but that to do it then would mean the sacrifice of a great many men,” according to a syndicated “The Civil War Fifty Years Ago” published in 1913.
On the other side of the War, a small Union garrison at Winchester, Virginia was targeted. The Battle of Brandy Station in early May helped distract Union leaders while General Robert E. Lee was preparing for his second invasion of the North – this time to Pennsylvania. Most recently, Winchester was in Union hands, but “ownership” had changed hands several times.
The garrison had been warned about Rebels in the area, but the Confederates cut telegraph lines before the garrison could receive an order to evacuate the town. The head of the garrison, Robert Milroy, had reportedly “bragged that he could hold the town against any Confederate force,” stated history.com.
Regarding the 2nd Battle of Winchester, the National Park Service commented General Lee “ordered the Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, under Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell to attack the US force at Winchester and clear the Lower [Shenandoah] Valley of Union opposition. In the resulting three-day battle (13-15 June), Ewell’s corps defeated, routed, and nearly destroyed a US division under Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy.
This victory (the apogee of Ewell’s career) offered high hopes for the success of Lee’s second invasion of the North, hopes that were dashed…[at] Gettysburg… In the words of Confederate artillerist Maj. Robert Stiles, ‘This battle of Winchester … was one of the most perfect pieces of work the Army of Northern Virginia ever did.’ The battle was won by deft flanking maneuvers and underscores the inadequacy of relying on entrenchments when confronted by a mobile attacking force.”
History.com summarized the outcome saying, “Ewell captured about 4,000 Federals, while Milroy and 2,700 soldiers escaped to safety. Ewell lost just 270 men but captured 300 wagons, hundreds of horses, and 23 artillery pieces. Milroy was relieved of his command and later arrested, although a court of inquiry found that he was not culpable in the disaster.”
On June 15, following the battle at Winchester, Confederates were at the Potomac River. They were close to Washington, D. C. – too close for comfort for the Federal leadership. Lee had no intention of attacking the capital city of the North, but they had no way of knowing that. Some knowledge of Confederate troop movements was available, but there was not enough detail to assess the Rebel plan of action.
That same day President Lincoln called for another 100,000 troops immediately, from the local militias of Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the new state of West Virginia. While the new troops were not available immediately, the emergency call for troops “was an indication of how little the Union authorities knew of Lee’s movements and how vulnerable they thought the Federal capital was,” concluded history.com.