Published on June 11, 2015

In the summer of 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee made the Shenandoah Valley an “avenue of advance” for his invasion of the north.  

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The Shenandoah Valley’s bountiful farms were a welcome respite for Lee’s long-suffering Army of Northern Virginia, supplying it with food and livestock.

But more importantly, Lee used the Blue Ridge to screen his army from Federal eyes, thus avoiding a general engagement until he and his troops were ready. The Valley was a natural avenue of invasion that led perfectly to the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania where Lee hoped to draw the Federal army away from war-weary Virginia.

After the cavalry battle at Brandy Station on June 9, Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was assigned the task of clearing Union forces out of the Valley. This he accomplished at Second Winchester (June 13-15), defeating (and nearly destroying) a Union division under Gen. Robert Milroy. With cavalry holding the Shenandoah Valley gaps, the Confederate army marched behind the screening Blue Ridge into Maryland and then penetrated deep into Pennsylvania – until meeting a devastating defeat at the hands of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg on July 1-3.

The retreating Confederates crossed the Potomac at Williamsport, and once again found safety and provisions in the Shenandoah Valley.  During the retreat, Meade’s army came close to penetrating Lee’s defensive screen only once – at Manassas Gap east of Front Royal on July 23. But the inability of the Federal army to coordinate their attacks allowed the Confederate army to escape, bringing an end to the campaign.

Explore the Story Today:

The Valley was witness to both the beginning and end of Lee’s second and final invasion of the north, and its role first as an avenue of invasion – and then as a safe haven, food source, and hospital site – was seldom more clearly shown.  Follow the link below to learn about the places you can visit today that can help you learn about and understand that story.

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Second Winchester (June 13-15)
Manassas Gap (Wapping Heights) (July 23)