Excerpt from Antietam National Battlefield Site, Maryland
Only a week before, August 28 - 30, they had routed the Federals at the Battle of Second Manassas, driving them headlong into the defenses of Washington. With this event, the Strategic initiative so long held by Union ... forces in the East had shifted to the Con federacy. But Lee recognized that Union power was almost limit less. It must be kept off balance - prevented from reorganizing for another drive on Richmond, the Confederate capital. Only a Sharp offensive thrust by Southern arms would do this.
Because his army lacked the strength to assault Washington, Gen eral Lee had decided on September 3 to invade Maryland. North of the Potomac his army would be a constant threat to Washing ton. This would keep Federal forces Out of Virginia, allowing that ravaged land to recuperate from the campaigning that had Stripped it. It would give Maryland's people, many of whom sympathized with the South, a chance to throw off the Northern yoke.
From Maryland, Lee could march into Pennsylvania, disrupting the east-west rail communications of the North, carrying the brunt of war into that rich land, drawing on its wealth to refit his army.
Lee's army crossing the Potomac; Union scouts in foreground. From wartime Sketch by A. R. Waud. Courtesy, Library of Congress.
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