Burnside, having failed to win a victory at Fredericksburg, was now removed in his turn, and the command of the Union army given to General Joseph Hooker, whom the soldiers called “Fighting Joe.” But at Chancellorsville (1863) Hooker was stunned by a cannon ball, and as his army was thus left during several hours without a general, it was completely defeated. Owing in part, no doubt, to this accident, Lee won a brilliant victory over an army twice as large as his own; but he lost one of the bravest Southern officers, the gallant Stonewall Jackson. The latter was riding along with his staff, at nightfall, when his own men, mistaking him for the enemy, suddenly fired upon him, thus killing the man they loved so dearly.
Chancellorsville was the last great victory won by the Confederates in the Civil War, but their past successes had filled their hearts with hope. When Hooker retreated, therefore, Lee boldly crossed the Potomac and marched into Pennsylvania. His plan was to carry the war into the enemy’s country and make the Northern people feel the hardships which the South had to suffer. Hooker, who had not expected this bold move, followed him in hot haste; but before he could overtake Lee, the command of the Union army was taken from him and given to General Meade.
It was the latter general, therefore, who overtook Lee at Gettysburg, on the 1st of July, 1863. Here was fought the greatest and most decisive battle of the whole war. It lasted three whole days, and about one third of the men engaged in it were killed or wounded. Both sides did wonders in the way of bravery on this occasion, and the Confederate General Pickett led a charge which will ever be famous in history. But in spite of their determined valor, the Confederates were finally beaten, and Lee was forced to retreat to Virginia, having failed in his second and last attempt to carry the war into the North.
So many Americans lost their lives at Gettysburg that part of the battle ground was changed into a national cemetery. The dead of both armies are buried there, and, besides many nameless graves, there are those of some of the principal men who fell during those three awful days (July 1–3, 1863). The regiments which took part in the battle have since erected beautiful monuments on the spots where they stood during that terrible but glorious struggle, when both sides proved their valor.
The fact that the Union forces had won the victory at Gettysburg filled all Northern hearts with happiness, and they were soon to enjoy a new triumph. You remember that while the disastrous peninsular campaign was going on, Grant was on the Mississippi, where his object was to gain possession of Vicksburg.