The third year of the war began with two landmark pronouncements by Abraham Lincoln. On December 31, 1862, he provisionally approved West Virginia’s application for statehood; Congress officially recognized the new state on June 20. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring free the three million enslaved people residing in areas loyal to the Confederacy.
Despite the profound impact of these political events, it was the day-to-day brutality of battle that was to dominate in this year. In May, the Battle of Chancellorsville gave Robert E. Lee his greatest victory, but resulted in the death of Stonewall Jackson. The ensuing Confederate push north into Pennsylvania resulted in the South’s devastating loss at Gettysburg and the end of Confederate offensive efforts in the North. Central Virginia suffered heavily in proportion to overall casualties: Charlottesville’s 19th Virginia Infantry lost 60 percent of its men in Pickett’s Charge.
Even before Gettysburg, events in the Western Theater foretold the war’s conclusion. With the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 4, the South lost the Mississippi River as a supply route. The Union continued its extended push towards Atlanta from the west, and, by the end of the year, controlled rivers and railroads in Mississippi and the Tennessee Valley.