In May 1863, after his army's exhilarating victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee wanted to move fighting away from Virginia and invade Union territory once again. He had been repulsed earlier in Maryland, thwarted in his advance at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862.
With Union forces in shambles after their humbling loss at Chancellorsville, Lee seized his opportunity. He reorganized his forces at nearby Fredericksburg, Va., and seized the garrisons at Winchester, Va., and Martinsburg W. Va., in June 1863. From there the Confederates struck into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Once in Pennsylvania, the army of more than 70,000 men could take advantage of the bounty of the surrounding farm country and keep Union forces on the run.
Faced with a great sense of urgency, President Abraham Lincoln called upon Pennsylvania to provide volunteers to aid in the Union defense. Soldiers from New York also answered this call, as did New Jersey. By the end of June, Lincoln had also replaced his field commander, Gen. Joseph Hooker, with Gen. George R. Meade.
Lee's ultimate goal was to seize the city of Harrisburg, the industrial hub of central Pennsylvania. From that point, the Confederates would hold a decided advantage over the fumbling Union defenses. Yet Harrisburg would not be the site of a battle. Geography played a part in this happening. A dozen roads led into Gettysburg, Pa., from all over the area. To this day, the road names - Baltimore, Emmitsburg, Taneytown, Chambersburg, York, and Harrisburg - reflect the fact that Gettysburg laid as a central junction point in south-central Pennsylvania, just north of the Maryland border. One writer described it as "a town on the rise," with its 2,000 residents in July 1863. Gettysburg would heretofore be defined by this battle that would start on the month's first day.