Union pursuit of Lee's retreating fighters into Virginia
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, his bloodied forces still retreating after their defeat at Gettysburg, was confronted by harassing Union forces that followed his columns in pursuit this July week in 1863. Now some weeks after failure to carry out his second invasion of the North, Lee's fighters had returned back over the Potomac River, withdrawing into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. There, a group of Union fighters under Maj. Gen. William H. French began attacking Confederate columns near Manassas Gap — at Wapping Heights — as they withdrew into the Virginia countryside on July 23, 1863. The Union onslaught opened robustly but Confederate artillery pulled up and began firing back, hindering the federal fighters. The Union's badly organized attacks had to be halted by nightfall and Confederate fighters move safely beyond the reach of their Union pursuers during the early morning hours of July 24, 1864. President Abraham Lincoln had urged Union forces to urgently pursue and destroy the enemy after the federal victory at Gettysburg. But because Confederate fighters were able to escape to safety, they would be able to reorganize and fight another day — setting the stage for many more months of combat ahead in the Civil War.