Confederate Commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg

Leading the Army of Northern Virginia

Illustration of General Lewis Armistead at the Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg, Pickett's Charge on Cemetery Hill, July 3, 1863. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Fought July 1-3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg saw the Army of Northern Virginia field 71,699 men which were divided into three infantry corps and a cavalry division. Led by General Robert E. Lee, the army had recently been reorganized following the death of Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Attacking Union forces at Gettysburg on July 1, Lee maintained the offensive throughout the battle. Defeated at Gettysburg, Lee remained on the strategic defensive for the remainder of the Civil War. Here are profiles of the men who led the Army of Northern Virginia during the battle.

General Robert E. Lee - Army of Northern Virginia

General Robert E. Lee
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

The son of American Revolution hero "Light Horse Harry" Lee, Robert E. Lee graduated second in West Point's class of 1829. Serving as an engineer on the staff of Major General Winfield Scott during the Mexican-American War, he distinguished himself during the campaign against Mexico City. Recognized as one of the US Army's brightest officers at the beginning of the Civil War, Lee elected to follow his home state of Virginia out of the Union.

Assuming command of the Army of Northern Virginia in May 1862 after Seven Pines, he won a series of dramatic victories over Union forces during the Seven Days Battles, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Invading Pennsylvania in June 1863, Lee's army became engaged at Gettysburg on July 1. Reaching the field, he directed his commanders to drive Union forces off the high ground south of the town. When this failed, Lee attempted attacks on both Union flanks the next day. Unable to gain ground, he directed a massive assault against the Union center on July 3. Known as Pickett's Charge, this attack was unsuccessful and resulted in Lee retreating from the town two days later.

Lieutenant General James Longstreet - First Corps

General Longstreet's Arrival At Bragg's Headquarters
General James Longstreet's arrival at General Bragg's headquarters, 1863. Kean Collection / Getty Images

A weak student while at West Point, James Longstreet graduated in 1842. Taking part in the 1847 Mexico City campaign, he was wounded during the Battle of Chapultepec. Though not an avid secessionist, Longstreet cast his lot with the Confederacy when the Civil War began. Rising to command the Army of Northern Virginia's First Corps, he saw action during the Seven Days Battles and delivered the deciding blow at Second Manassas. Absent from Chancellorsville, First Corps rejoined the army for the invasion of Pennsylvania. Arriving on the field at Gettysburg, two of its divisions were tasked with turning the Union left on July 2. Unable to do so, Longstreet was ordered to direct Pickett's Charge the next day. Lacking confidence in the plan, he was unable to verbalize the order to send the men forward and only nodded in ascent. Longstreet was later blamed by Southern apologists for the Confederate defeat.

Lieutenant General Richard Ewell - Second Corps

General Richard S. Ewell
Getty Images/Buyenlarge

A grandson of the first US Secretary of the Navy, Richard Ewell graduated from West Point in 1840. Like his peers, he saw extensive action during the Mexican-American War while serving with the 1st US Dragoons. Spending the bulk of the 1850s in the southwest, Ewell resigned from the US Army in May 1861 and took command of Virginia cavalry forces. Made a brigadier general the following month, he proved an able division commander during Jackson's Valley Campaign in late spring 1862. Losing part of his left leg at Second Manassas, Ewell rejoined the army after Chancellorsville and received command of a restructured Second Corps. In the vanguard of the Confederate advance into Pennsylvania, his troops attacked Union forces at Gettysburg from the north on July 1. Driving back the Union XI Corps, Ewell elected not to press the attack against Cemetery and Culp's Hills late in the day. This failure led to them becoming key parts of the Union line for the remainder of the battle. Over the next two days, Second Corps mounted a series of unsuccessful attacks against both positions.

Lieutenant General Ambrose P. Hill - Third Corps

General Ambrose Powell Hill, Jr. (1825 - 1865),
Getty Images/Kean Collection

Graduating from West Point in 1847, Ambrose P. Hill was sent south to take part in the Mexican-American War. Arriving too late to participate in the fighting, he served in occupation duty before spending most of the 1850s in garrison duty. With the beginning of the Civil War, Hill assumed command of the 13th Virginia Infantry. Performing well in the war's early campaigns, he received a promotion to brigadier general in February 1862. Assuming command of the Light Division, Hill became one of Jackson's most reliable subordinates. With Jackson's death in May 1863, Lee gave him command of the newly-formed Third Corps. Approaching Gettysburg from the northwest, it was part of Hill's forces which opened the battle on July 1. Heavily engaged against the Union I Corps through the afternoon, Third Corps took significant losses before driving back the enemy. Bloodied, Hill's troops were largely inactive on July 2 but contributed two-thirds of the men to Pickett's Charge on the battle's final day.

Major General J.E.B. Stuart - Cavalry Division

James Ewell Brown Stuart (1833 -1864)
Getty Images/Hulton Archive

Completing his studies at West Point in 1854, J.E.B. Stuart spent the years before the Civil War serving with cavalry units on the frontier. In 1859, he aided Lee in capturing noted abolitionist John Brown after his raid on Harpers Ferry. Joining Confederate forces in May 1861, Stuart quickly became one of the top Southern cavalry officers in Virginia.

Performing well on the Peninsula, he famously rode around the Army of the Potomac and was given command of the newly-created Cavalry Division in July 1862. Consistently out-performing the Union cavalry, Stuart took part in all of the Army of Northern Virginia's campaigns. In May 1863, he delivered a strong effort leading Second Corps at Chancellorsville after Jackson was wounded. This was offset when his division was surprised and almost defeated the next month at Brandy Station. Tasked with screening Ewell's advance into Pennsylvania, Stuart strayed too far east and failed to provide key information to Lee in the days before Gettysburg. Arriving on July 2, he was rebuked by his commander. On July 3, Stuart's cavalry fought their Union counterparts east of town but failed to gain an advantage. Though he skillfully covered the retreat south after the battle, he was made one of the scapegoats for the defeat due to his absence prior to the battle.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Confederate Commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Confederate Commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Confederate Commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).