American History Series: Lee and His Army Cross Into the North


Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

Two years of a bitter, bloody civil war started to show their effects on both the Confederate states of the South and the Union states of the North. Both sides began to feel the pressure of the costly struggle. The South, however, felt the pressure more severely, because it was weaker in troop strength and industrial strength.

This week in our series, Maurice Joyce and Jack Moyles discuss the early summer of eighteen sixty-three in the American Civil War.


General Robert E. Lee
General Robert E. Lee
In eighteen-sixty-three, the Confederate states were becoming short of supplies. Food and guns were difficult to find to keep the Confederate armies in the field.

Men were also needed. More and more men. There seemed to be no end to the demand for men to fill the places left empty by dead and wounded soldiers.

Many in the South were heavy of heart. And the hope among them slowly started to sink. The war was tiring. Its suffering was more than they could bear. And the situation in the West made matters worse.

Union Armies were on the move in the states of Mississippi and Tennessee. Their successes were becoming a serious threat. They might soon win control of the whole Mississippi river. This would split the states of the Confederacy and might end its very existence.

Something was needed to raise up the spirits of the South to break the pressure of Union armies.


General Robert E. Lee believed he had the answer: an invasion of the north. This, he felt, would throw fear into the people of the north and weaken the Union war effort.

Lee had organized an army of seventy-five-thousand men at Fredericksburg, Virginia, halfway between Washington and Richmond.

Lee began moving his men June third. They marched northwest into the Shenandoah Valley. The valley led north to the Potomac River. Across the river was the narrow neck of western Maryland, then Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania was the target. Its rich farmland produced plenty of food -- enough to feed Lee's hungry army for the summer.


Standing in the way of Lee's army was a small Union force at Winchester, in northern Virginia. There were only seven-thousand Union soldiers. And they had no idea that the Confederate army was nearby.

The Confederates easily defeated them. More than half of the Union troops were captured. The others fled.

Now there was nothing to stop Lee from marching into Pennsylvania.

The huge Army of the Potomac was behind him, near Washington. The Union commander, General Hooker, had to keep his army between Lee and Washington to prevent the Confederates from seizing the national capital.


A painting of a Confederate attack near the town of Greencastle in the northern state of Pennsylvania
A painting of a Confederate attack near the town of Greencastle in the northern state of Pennsylvania
Lee's army crossed western Maryland and entered Pennsylvania. His soldiers found the Pennsylvania countryside very different from Virginia's. Virginia had been a battleground for two years, and the land showed it. Many of its farms had been destroyed. Its stores were empty.

Pennsylvania had not been touched by the war. Its big farms were rich. Its towns and villages were full of food and goods of all kinds.

The hungry, poorly-clothed soldiers could not believe their eyes. This was the land of the enemy, they cried, and they could take whatever they wished.

But General Lee said "No." He said supplies could be taken only by Confederate supply officers. And he said they must pay -- in Confederate money -- for everything they took.


Lee did not want to anger these people in Pennsylvania. Many of them did not support the Union war effort. Some of the rich farmers said openly that they did not care who won the war. They said they only wanted to be left alone.

Lee was sure that many in the north felt the same way. There had been signs that people were growing tired of the war.

Coal miners in eastern Pennsylvania had shown their feelings toward the war a few months earlier.

They rose up against a new law drafting men into the Union army. The miners did not want to fight. They refused to join the army. They rioted and attacked officials who tried to take them. Soldiers were sent to the mining areas to put down the riots.


A cartoon in the magazine Harper's Weekly showing anti-war Copperheads as snakes threatening the Union
A cartoon in the magazine Harper's Weekly showing anti-war Copperheads as snakes threatening the Union
Farmers in nearby Ohio also rebelled against the draft law. They refused to be drafted. Instead, they took guns and battled soldiers who came to arrest them.

Feelings against the war were growing stronger, not only in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but also in several other farm states of the north. These areas saw a growing support for a peace party -- a political party opposed to the war.

Leaders of this movement were Democrats called "Copperheads." They got this name because they wore on their coats a copper penny with the head of an Indian.


The chief Copperhead was a former Ohio congressman. His name was Clement Vallandigham.

As a member of Congress, Vallandigham criticized the war and the Republicans. He told them:

"The war for the Union is, in your hands, a most bloody and costly failure. War for the Union was abandoned. And war for the Negro was openly begun with stronger effort than before. With what success." Vallandigham asked. "Let the dead at Fredericksburg and Vicksburg answer."

Vallandigham said he wanted peace, and he wanted it immediately. He offered a simple program: stop the fighting. Make a ceasefire. And let some friendly foreign nation negotiate peace between North and South.


Clement Vallandigham
Clement Vallandigham
After he lost his seat in Congress, Vallandigham opened a campaign to become governor of Ohio. He traveled all across the state speaking out against the war. He said Republicans did not want peace. He said they wanted to fight until every black man was free.

The Union military commander for Ohio was General Ambrose Burnside, a former commander of the Army of the Potomac. After losing the battle of Fredericksburg, Lincoln removed Burnside as army commander and sent him to Ohio.

Burnside was worried. Too many people in Ohio opposed the war. He believed that much of what was being said and done in Ohio was close to the crime of treason.


Burnside announced several new measures to quiet the opponents of the war.

One of these orders limited the right of citizens to criticize government military policy. Another declared that statements of support for the enemy would be punished as treason.

Vallandigham refused to recognize Burnside's right to give such orders to civilians. On May first, he made a campaign speech to a big crowd at Mount Vernon, Ohio. He denounced Burnside's orders and spoke of the President as "King Lincoln."

Vallandigham claimed that Lincoln was using the war to become a dictator. He said Lincoln did not want peace, that the president had rejected peace offers from the South. Once again, he said the war was not a struggle for the Union, but a fight to free the slaves of the south. And he said men of Ohio who let themselves be drafted into the Union army were no better than slaves themselves.


General Ambrose Burnside
General Ambrose Burnside
Burnside had sent several army officers to listen to the speech. When they reported what Vallandigham said, Burnside ordered his arrest. Without question, the man had violated the General's orders.

Late the next night, soldiers went to Vallandigham's home in Dayton. They knocked on the door and said they had come to arrest him.

Vallandigham called for help and refused to let the soldiers enter. They broke down the door, seized him and took him to a military prison in Cincinnati.

A few days later, Vallandigham went on trial before a military court in Cincinnati. That will be our story in the next program of THE MAKING OF A NATION.



Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Maurice Joyce and Jack Moyles. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are online, along with historical images, at Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.


This is program #107 ofTHE MAKING OF A NATION