Could Lee have fought on July 4th or 5th instead of retreating from Gettysburg?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Although Lee's army had been damaged but so had the Union army. Could have Lee stayed put and wait for Meade to attack him? It appears that Lee had enough food but lacked ammunition. Could have Lee have fallen back to a good defensive position and waited for his ammunition resupply? I am not sure if Meade would have keen on attacking Lee in a good, well prepare position.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Although Lee's army had been damaged but so had the Union army. Could have Lee stayed put and wait for Meade to attack him? It appears that Lee had enough food but lacked ammunition. Could have Lee have fallen back to a good defensive position and waited for his ammunition resupply? I am not sure if Meade would have keen on attacking Lee in a good, well prepare position.
If the AoP is not nearby and the ANV is free to roam and "live off the land", Lee could stay for weeks. It is the proximity of strong Union forces that changes everything.

Once you have that, Lee needs to keep his force concentrated. Because they are concentrated for protection, they cannot scour a wide area for supplies and forage. A large number of concentrated men and animals will quickly "eat out" a small area; they may even begin to dry out the available water supply. This, by itself, would force Lee to disperse his troops over a larger area or move away in short order.

On ammo, Lee seems to have still been in OK shape on small arms; at least I have never seen any particular discussion on it and so guess it was not particularly short. The problem was that he was short on long-range artillery ammo (shot and shell); he seems to have been OK on short-range artillery ammo (cannister). This was caused by three days of intense battle, particularly the massive bombardment that preceded Pickett's Charge. In general, the status seems to have been that he had enough artillery ammo for ==one== more day of heavy fighting. That is a big problem because it means if you have that one day of fighting, you would be completely out or desperately short, in danger of being unable to shoot back.

After he crossed the Potomac, Lee had sent back orders for an additional artillery ammo train of wagons to be sent up (from the Shenandoah). IIRR, this was expected in Chambersburg about July 1 or 2; it was already late; and about July 3 Lee discovered it had been hit by Yankee raiders at the crossing of the Potomac. This bad news exacerbated everything else. Where Lee might have expected the arrival of that train to replenish his supply, now he knew nothing was coming.

Lee now is looking at a situation where his ammo supply is looking critical. His army has taken heavy casualties that he needs to get back to Virginia. He has accumulated very large wagon trains of scavenged supplies and herds of animals (mainly back in the Cumberland Valley, guarded by a single cavalry brigade) that need to get back to Virginia. His army will be tied to the protection of those, unable to maneuver freely, and the trains of supplies and animals and wounded will clog the roads, making vulnerable targets for Union forces.

If Lee can't maneuver, if he has to concentrate, if he cannot get rid of the close Union forces, he cannot stay where he is. The Yankees will -- sooner or later -- move against his LOC up the Cumberland Valley, either by coming down from Harrisburg towards Chambersburg, or by moving up the Potomac from Washington, or both. Time has turned against Lee with the failure to defeat Meade on July 1-3.

On July 4, Lee is willing to stand on Seminary Ridge to gain time -- and I am sure he hoped Meade would attack to give him a chance to bloody the Yankees. Lee knew he needed to get all the wagons and supplies and wounded started, and he knew he would have to go soon.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Lee could have stayed around through days 4 and/or 5, but to what end?

As shown by actual events including the fact that Lee had shortened his lines and was prepared to fight on Day 4, if Meade should have work up his courage to do so.

As shown by Trice, et.al., Lee could not forage in close proximity to the AoP and Meade was not going anywhere, but he obviously was not going to attack anytime soon either. To wait for Meade to attack would be fruitless and ultimately dangerous to sojourn in enemy territory, with little or no prospects of gaining anything material.

Lee could not attack with confidence, and Meade would not attack, there was stalemate and if that were so, the stalemate would be better and safer, continued in Va. rather than Pa.

Meade was prepared to escort the ANV out of Pa., and it was well that Lee took him up on it.
 
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