The Battle of Manassas Gap represented Union forces’ last chance to cut off Lee’s retreating Army of Northern Virginia after its defeat at Gettysburg.
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After recrossing the Potomac River at Williamsport during his retreat from Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army withdrew up the Shenandoah Valley. Union Gen. George Meade crossed the Potomac River east of the Blue Ridge and followed Lee into Virginia. On July 23, Meade ordered the III Corps, under Gen. William. H. French to cut off the retreating Confederate columns at Front Royal by forcing passage through Manassas Gap. At first light, French began slowly pushing Walker’s Confederate brigade (Anderson’s division) back into the gap. About 4:30 pm, a strong Union attack drove Walker’s men until they were reinforced by Rodes’s division and artillery. By dusk, the poorly coordinated Union attacks were abandoned. During the night, Confederate forces withdrew into the Luray Valley. On July 24, the Union army occupied Front Royal, but Lee’s army was safely beyond pursuit.