Were Maps Lee’s Real Enemy at Gettysburg?

By Earl B. McElfresh

Can poor planning and bad maps explain the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg?

In early June 1863, two Union topographical engineers spent several days studying the southern banks of the Rappahannock River with their field glasses, ascending repeatedly in a willow basket suspended from a gas-filled observation balloon. They were keeping close watch on General Robert E. Lee’s command, the Army of Northern Vir­ginia, which was encamped along the river near Fredericksburg, Va. Only a month before, Lee’s Confederates had outwitted, outmaneuvered and overawed Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac at Chancel­lorsville, inflicting a harsh defeat on a numerically superior opponent and adding to the renown of the seemingly invincible Lee. President Abraham Lincoln resisted relieving “Fighting Joe” Hooker from command of the Army of the Potomac after that battle. Instead, he merely queried his chastened commander, “What next?”

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