Robert E. Lee and his army were soaked through when they marched south on the morning of July 4, 1863.
The blood and sweat poured out over the past three days had been for naught. And the gloom of the Army of Northern Virginia matched the gloom of the weather.
Lee had marched his more than 70,000 men into the Pennsylvania countryside on June 30. His plan was to threaten Washington D.C. from the lightly defended north in hopes of forcing a peace settlement with Abraham Lincoln’s government.
But on July 1, a portion of Lee’s army stumbled into a scrape with a portion of George Meade’s Army of the Potomac on the outskirts of the hamlet of Gettysburg. Lee’s army came to Gettysburg to “requisition” shoes from the factory there, not to fight a battle. But the battle that ensued over the next three days would prove to be the bloodiest on American soil.