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[54] them. Our main Western army, under Bragg, was confronted in southern Tennessee by a much larger army under Rosecrantz,. while the Army of Northern Virginia was confronted on the Rappahannock by one of nearly, if not quite double its numbers, under Hooker. In this condition of things, it was very apparent that unless we could break through the cordon that was gradually closing and tightening around us, we must infallibly be crushed as a victim in the coils of a boaconstrictor. To set down and content ourselves with a mere defensive policy, would be to await an inevitable collapse of our cause, sooner or later, by the gradual process of attrition and exhaustion. The only hope for us, then, was to strike such a blow as would alarm the North and shake its faith in the financial credit of the Federal government, and its ability to conduct the war to a successful issue.

Bragg's army was not in a condition to strike such a blow, and the issue of the Kentucky campaign of the previous year would not have warranted its employment for such a purpose, if other things had been favorable. The Army of Northern Virginia was the only one that could be relied on to undertake the difficult task, and its recent success at Chancellorsville had inspired the whole of that army with a spirit that gave promise of success.

There were but three plans that presented themselves for our adoption, if we were to take the aggressive. The first was to attack Hooker's army in position, and endeavor to destroy it: the second, to draw it out into the open field and defeat it, which could only be done by threatening Washington or the States north of the Potomac; and the third was to undertake an invasion of the latter States, pure and simple.

If we, had awaited a renewal of the attacks of the Army of the Potomac, we might have repulsed it again and again; but from the nature of the ground occupied by the two armies respectively, with a wide, low plain or the south bank of the Rappahannock between the heights occupied by us and the river, while the commanding heights on the north bank were close


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