Army of Northern Virginia: February to September 1862

Appearance of Robert E. Lee

What persuaded the Southern leaders to go on the offensive in the summer of 1862?

At one level, it was a case of “now or never.” The Confederates had taken so many losses—of men and materiel—in the first half of 1862 that if they did not take the offensive now, there might never be another opportunity. At the same time, however, there was a shrewd calculation that the Western European powers might recognize the Confederate States of America.

Everyone involved—from Jefferson Davis to his lowest private—knew that it was a quixotic undertaking. Britain and France had a record of nearly eighty years of diplomatic association with the Union: they had only known the Confederacy for a year and a half. But if an opportunity existed, it lay in the chance of winning a major battle on Northern soil. That might persuade the European powers to recognize the Confederacy and perhaps even intervene on its behalf. Therefore, when Robert E. Lee proposed an invasion of the North, Jefferson Davis agreed.


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