The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, and was the largest Confederate field army in any theater. Established in 1861, it is most closely identified with its third and last commander, General Robert E. Lee. Under Lee, the ANV participated in some of the most famous and most critical battles of the war. It was disbanded in April 1865, after Lee surrendered to U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant.
Army of Northern Virginia in The Guns of the South
In the early days of 1864, the Army of Northern Virginia was running out of men, resources, and hope. Although its ranks were composed of a great many hardened veterans, led by the legendary General Robert E. Lee, the Army's prospects in 1864 did not look good. Andries Rhoodie, a mysterious man with strange clothes and a strange accent, arrived at the Army of Northern Virginia's camp and demonstrated an extraordinary new repeating rifle, promising that it could bring victory to the Army of Northern Virginia. Rhoodie and his comrades, nicknamed the "Rivington Men" after the town in North Carolina where they had set up shop, began bringing hundreds, then thousands of AK-47 rifles to the Army of Northern Virginia, complete with immense quantities of bullets, magazines, and bayonets.
Despite the poor state of the C.S. cause in general, the AK-47, issued to every soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia, more than made up the superior numbers of the North. A single Rebel skirmish line of a dozen men or so could match the firepower of a Union brigade. In the Battle of the Wilderness, the Army of Northern Virginia utterly routed the Army of the Potomac. They advanced north to Bealeton, where the Federal army was beaten once more, with a loss of more than 40,000 Union men combined from the two battles as reported by the New York Times. Entire Northern regiments were destroyed in the fighting, and II Corps under General Winfield Scott Hancock took so many losses that it effectively ceased to exist. General Lee swiftly moved to pursue the broken Army of the Potomac as it fled north to Washington City. In a daring night assault, the Army of Northern Virginia broke through the Union forts and captured Washington and the White House. Once President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly capitulated, the C.S. was recognized by Great Britain, thus granting the South and the Army of Northern Virginia victory at the end of four long years of war.
The Army of Northern Virginia remained in Washington on occupation duty for a time, then proceeded to head south for a victory parade in Richmond. Afterward, its men were mustered out and sent home. Robert E. Lee, the Army's much-beloved commander, eventually became the 2nd President of the Confederate States of America, in part thanks to the loyalty of veterans like Nate Caudell, who remembered how Lee had led them to victory.
Army of Northern Virginia in Southern Victory
In 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee outmaneuvered the overly slow and cautious General George McClellan's Union Army of the Potomac in a daring feint attack towards Philadelphia. McClellan never realized what was happening, in part thanks to a vital order that a common Rebel infantryman found and returned to a dispatch rider who otherwise would have lost it. The Army of Northern Virginia caught McClellan and his army at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Caught entirely unprepared and unable to escape or retreat, the Army of the Potomac was completely destroyed in the battle. The Army of Northern Virginia then advanced on Philadelphia. Britain and France responded by extending diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy, and so forced the Union to accept Confederate independence.
In the Great War, the ANV took Washington, DC then fought its way north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, coming within aeroplane range of Philadelphia before being driven back. Jake Featherston, Clarence Potter, and Jeb Stuart III all served in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Great War. Unlike its first war, however, the Army of Northern Virginia failed to achieve victory, and was eventually forced to return to Virginia as the Confederate States conceded defeat.
In 1941 the Army of Northern Virginia was commanded by General Hank Coomer. Coomer slowed Daniel MacArthur's drive into northern Virginia that year to a crawl, then, with the help of his commander of armored forces, George Patton, halted the advance altogether with the Battles of Fredericksburg the following year. In 1943, with the Virginia front stabilized, much of the Army of Northern Virginia was transferred to George Patton's command to combat US General Irving Morrell's rapid advance that year. Like the rest of the Confederate Army, the Army of Northern Virginia was defeated and forced to disband by 1944.
- American Front, pgs. 3-4, HC.