July 4th Action Impact On Decision Making

Wallyfish

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I finally ordered the July 2001 Gettysburg Magazine that featured a great piece from @Tom Elmore on Battle action on July 4, 1863. I found this subject very interesting. There is so little written on these July 4th actions. Tom details the limited actions that occurred that day however I won't rehash those events here.

My question surrounds the potential strategic impact of those July 4th actions. Were they just chance encounters that occured having no impact on Lee's Gettysburg "escape" or Meade's pursuit of such? Or was there any strategic nature to those limited actions such as buying time for Lee to escape Gettysburg?

@Tom Elmore , your work on detailing the timing of actions has been outstanding. Have you researched the timing of these July 4th actions? It would be interesting to me to understand if the bulk of the July 4th actions occurred before the bulk of Lee's army left the field. It would help me understand as well, what Meade understood on the confederate strength of numbers on July 4th.

I have always believed that Meade made the correct decision in not pursuing Lee. However, if Meade knew that the bulk of Lee's army had departed Gettysburg, but his army was still in place, was it a sound decision to take an offensive position and overwhelm the few remaining confederates left at Gettysburg further hurting the AoNV.

Did the July 4th actions make any impact on Meade's decision making on maintaining a defensive position while believing there were more confederates remaining at Gettysburg because of the July 4th actions?

These are some of the questions raised while I read that piece. That July '01 Gettysburg Magazine is still available from Nebraska Press for $5 plus $5 shipping. They continue to publish the Gettysburg Magazine to this day.
 

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Tom Elmore

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I finally ordered the July 2001 Gettysburg Magazine that featured a great piece from @Tom Elmore on Battle action on July 4, 1863. I found this subject very interesting. There is so little written on these July 4th actions. Tom details the limited actions that occurred that day however I won't rehash those events here.

My question surrounds the potential strategic impact of those July 4th actions. Were they just chance encounters that occured having no impact on Lee's Gettysburg "escape" or Meade's pursuit of such? Or was there any strategic nature to those limited actions such as buying time for Lee to escape Gettysburg?

@Tom Elmore , your work on detailing the timing of actions has been outstanding. Have you researched the timing of these July 4th actions? It would be interesting to me to understand if the bulk of the July 4th actions occurred before the bulk of Lee's army left the field. It would help me understand as well, what Meade understood on the confederate strength of numbers on July 4th.

I have always believed that Meade made the correct decision in not pursuing Lee. However, if Meade knew that the bulk of Lee's army had departed Gettysburg, but his army was still in place, was it a sound decision to take an offensive position and overwhelm the few remaining confederates left at Gettysburg further hurting the AoNV.

Did the July 4th actions make any impact on Meade's decision making on maintaining a defensive position while believing there were more confederates remaining at Gettysburg because of the July 4th actions?

These are some of the questions raised while I read that piece. That July '01 Gettysburg Magazine is still available from Nebraska Press for $5 plus $5 shipping. They continue to publish the Gettysburg Magazine to this day.
All of the Federal probes were completed by around noon due to heavy storms moving in during the afternoon. Perhaps the most significant action was the reconnaissance in force to the Peach Orchard by the Regulars. Most of Lee's army was of course still present, consolidated along Seminary Ridge, Ewell having pulled back from east of the town and left the town itself in Federal hands - it pointed to an imminent Confederate withdrawal. Consider the physical and mental exhaustion by much of the Federal army and in particular its senior commanders. Meade had had little sleep over the preceding three days. The Confederate army was certainly no better off, but most everyone had the better part of July 4 to rest up. Lee moved his army after dark and was away before daylight on July 5 except for the last of his skirmishers. His rear guard subsequently held a larger enemy pursuing force (Sixth Corps) at bay.

The afternoon of July 4 would appear an ideal time to have pressured Lee once Meade knew his exact position from multiple probes conducted in the forenoon, but it coincided with a period of continuous intense thunderstorms that made military operations unfeasible. Nature favored the Confederate side that day.

I have mentioned before aggressive Confederate skirmish activity in front of the Union center on July 4 likely convinced the Federals that their opponent had plenty of fight left, like a cornered animal. Lee's note to Meade under a flag of truce early in the day gave no hint whatsoever that he was in trouble. Taken together, I am left with the impression that Lee was adept at deception and this helped preserve his battered army until it could reach a formidable defensible position in front of the Potomac crossing points.
 

Wallyfish

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@Tom Elmore , thank you for your response. It did not occur to me that the weather could be a factor on that July 4th afternoon..

I should know this answer, but I don't. How much rain or humidity did it take to shutdown Civil War military operations? Also, did the armies take any lightening safety precautions during a thunderstorm? Artillery located on high ground would not be a great place to be around during a thunderstorm. I don't believe I have ever read a report where lightening strikes created casualties.

Did I just Highjack my own thread?
 

Paul Yancey

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This is a discussion that I've wondered about as well. A book that I plan to read in the near future is "Retreat From Gettysburg" by Kent Masterson Brown. I would be curious if any other members of CWT have read this book and what it has to say about Meade's actions on the 4th.
 

Tom Elmore

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Our firearms experts can address the issue more intelligently, but it seems to me that trying to pour black powder down the barrel of a muzzle-loading weapon in a driving rain would pose a real problem.

As for lightning, I have seen the occasional account of a strike that injured or killed soldiers (not surprisingly), like this one:
Fall 1863, two men of 41st Virginia killed by lightning while resting against a large chestnut tree. (source: James Eldred Phillips, Company G, 12th Virginia)
 

Wallyfish

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Thanks Tom. I found this comment on firing a CW rifle during a rainstorm.

Rain could make battle an incredibly trying experience for those who fought. When gunpowder and paper cartridges became wet, it was more difficult to fire a weapon accurately. Such was the case in the September 1862 Battle of Chantilly, in which Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and Isaac Stevens clashed during a heavy thunderstorm.

Certainly the Battle of Monterey Pass (Gettysburg Campaign) occurred during a bad rainstorm on the eve of July 4.

I was surprised about the above weapon accuracy comment versus the total inability to fire one in a heavy rain. I know little about Chantilly, but I do know that action did occur during a heavy rainstorm. I am just attempting to determine in my mind, what role the July 4th PM rain played in Meade's decision to not pursue the remaining confederates that remained on the battlefield. If they could fire weapons at Monterey Pass, why couldn't they fire them at Gettysburg?

By all means, I hope someone can discuss the problems encountered with firing a CW weapon in a rainstorm. I do not know how much rain it takes to force a CW era battle to suspend operations.

Great discussion all. Greatly appreciated.
 

Tom Elmore

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Federal cavalry and Confederate artillery were principally involved at Monterrey Pass. Would it be correct to say that in both cases their powder would be somewhat protected from the elements, the former remaining in a packaged cartridge and the latter in a bag attached to the round?
 

Wallyfish

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Federal cavalry and Confederate artillery were principally involved at Monterrey Pass. Would it be correct to say that in both cases their powder would be somewhat protected from the elements, the former remaining in a packaged cartridge and the latter in a bag attached to the round?

I understand, Maybe I am the one all wet?

So the combination of the AoP needing rest after the extensive battle, recognizing the Confederates still had plenty of fight left after brisk skirmishing, and the July 4th rains forced Meade to maintain his defensive posture. As Tom said previously, "Nature favored the Confederate side that day".

Thank you for bring clarity to the actions and decisions on July 4.
 

klongstreet

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I am wet also, I understand the fact that both sides needed to regroup and rest, the dead that could be buried had to be seen to. I never considered the weather or the actual date before, both might have been a factor to a greater or lesser extent. A thought provoking thread.
 

OpnCoronet

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Meade(and, apparently, most of his top commanders) seems to have been in a Glass half-empty frame of mind during and after battle, i.e., much more concerned with what Lee migh do to him, rather than what he might do to Lee.

For whagtever reason, Meade, from his words and actions, seems to have been determined or, at least content, to maintain the 24 hrs lost on Day 4, during the pursuit phase of Lee;s retreat.From the reports at the time, it is difficult, for me, to believe, that Meade's decisions and movements during the pursuit phase, was affected in any appreciable way by the storm(except, IMO, to give himn a plausible excuse, to do what he was already prepared to do, in any event).
 

Belfoured

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Thanks Tom. I found this comment on firing a CW rifle during a rainstorm.

Rain could make battle an incredibly trying experience for those who fought. When gunpowder and paper cartridges became wet, it was more difficult to fire a weapon accurately. Such was the case in the September 1862 Battle of Chantilly, in which Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and Isaac Stevens clashed during a heavy thunderstorm.

Certainly the Battle of Monterey Pass (Gettysburg Campaign) occurred during a bad rainstorm on the eve of July 4.

I was surprised about the above weapon accuracy comment versus the total inability to fire one in a heavy rain. I know little about Chantilly, but I do know that action did occur during a heavy rainstorm. I am just attempting to determine in my mind, what role the July 4th PM rain played in Meade's decision to not pursue the remaining confederates that remained on the battlefield. If they could fire weapons at Monterey Pass, why couldn't they fire them at Gettysburg?

By all means, I hope someone can discuss the problems encountered with firing a CW weapon in a rainstorm. I do not know how much rain it takes to force a CW era battle to suspend operations.

Great discussion all. Greatly appreciated.
Granted it was from an earlier/flintlock era but the Battle of the Clouds on September 16, 1777 was fought outside Philadelphia during a torrential downpour and most of the firearms were rendered inoperable due to wet powder.
 

John S. Carter

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All of the Federal probes were completed by around noon due to heavy storms moving in during the afternoon. Perhaps the most significant action was the reconnaissance in force to the Peach Orchard by the Regulars. Most of Lee's army was of course still present, consolidated along Seminary Ridge, Ewell having pulled back from east of the town and left the town itself in Federal hands - it pointed to an imminent Confederate withdrawal. Consider the physical and mental exhaustion by much of the Federal army and in particular its senior commanders. Meade had had little sleep over the preceding three days. The Confederate army was certainly no better off, but most everyone had the better part of July 4 to rest up. Lee moved his army after dark and was away before daylight on July 5 except for the last of his skirmishers. His rear guard subsequently held a larger enemy pursuing force (Sixth Corps) at bay.

The afternoon of July 4 would appear an ideal time to have pressured Lee once Meade knew his exact position from multiple probes conducted in the forenoon, but it coincided with a period of continuous intense thunderstorms that made military operations unfeasible. Nature favored the Confederate side that day.

I have mentioned before aggressive Confederate skirmish activity in front of the Union center on July 4 likely convinced the Federals that their opponent had plenty of fight left, like a cornered animal. Lee's note to Meade under a flag of truce early in the day gave no hint whatsoever that he was in trouble. Taken together, I am left with the impression that Lee was adept at deception and this helped preserve his battered army until it could reach a formidable defensible position in front of the Potomac crossing points.
Was there a Congressional inquiry into Meade's actions on the fourth? Did Meade appear before such? Did Meade not have the reserve divisions which he could have used ? Could he have moved into Lee's front with calvary to at least slow Lee's retreat or harass him?Rain did not halt Lee from moving how did it halt Meade from following with a harassment force to keep Lee from crossing over the river?Hind sight like if only TJ had been there!
 

Andy Cardinal

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Meade(and, apparently, most of his top commanders) seems to have been in a Glass half-empty frame of mind during and after battle, i.e., much more concerned with what Lee migh do to him, rather than what he might do to Lee.

For whagtever reason, Meade, from his words and actions, seems to have been determined or, at least content, to maintain the 24 hrs lost on Day 4, during the pursuit phase of Lee;s retreat.From the reports at the time, it is difficult, for me, to believe, that Meade's decisions and movements during the pursuit phase, was affected in any appreciable way by the storm(except, IMO, to give himn a plausible excuse, to do what he was already prepared to do, in any event).
Lee didn't actually begin his retreat until the night of July 4. On the 4th he withdrew to a new line basically running from Oak Hill and along Seminary Ridge. At least part of it included breastworks. If there was a lost day it was July 5, when Sedgwick conducted a "reconnaissance" and made contact with Ewell's men near Fairfield. As best as I understand it, Sedgwick was concerned about getting involved in a battle in the mountains and Meade ordered him to disengage. Meade might have ordered at least part of the army to begin moving to cut Lee off from the Potomac on the 5th or even first thing on July 6, but it was July 7 before they got underway.
 

rpkennedy

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Was there a Congressional inquiry into Meade's actions on the fourth? Did Meade appear before such?
Yes and yes. Meade did testify about Gettysburg later in 1863 before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War.

Did Meade not have the reserve divisions which he could have used
Meade had no reserve divisions. He had the Sixth Corps which was very lightly engaged but they had been scattered across the field to shore up the line.

Ryan
 

OpnCoronet

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Lee didn't actually begin his retreat until the night of July 4. On the 4th he withdrew to a new line basically running from Oak Hill and along Seminary Ridge. At least part of it included breastworks. If there was a lost day it was July 5, when Sedgwick conducted a "reconnaissance" and made contact with Ewell's men near Fairfield. As best as I understand it, Sedgwick was concerned about getting involved in a battle in the mountains and Meade ordered him to disengage. Meade might have ordered at least part of the army to begin moving to cut Lee off from the Potomac on the 5th or even first thing on July 6, but it was July 7 before they got underway.


I stand corrected on the date. But, a 24 hr. lead is a 24 hr. lead, little matter when it occured, I think, in this case.

I, myself, have come to the conclusion, that given the state of mind of Meade and his corps commanders, it is just as well that he did not press too hard against Lee's retreat.

To me, it always seemed that Meade was ever prepared to confront Lee and the ANV, with any real expectation of defeating them. From what I have gathered from my studies, it seems to me that after Gettysburg(until the coming of Grant)Meade was content to keep approximately, a 24 hrs. distance between the AoP and the ANV(and, again, I have comne to the conclusion, that it was probably just as well).
 

Andy Cardinal

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I stand corrected on the date. But, a 24 hr. lead is a 24 hr. lead, little matter when it occured, I think, in this case.

I, myself, have come to the conclusion, that given the state of mind of Meade and his corps commanders, it is just as well that he did not press too hard against Lee's retreat.

To me, it always seemed that Meade was ever prepared to confront Lee and the ANV, with any real expectation of defeating them. From what I have gathered from my studies, it seems to me that after Gettysburg(until the coming of Grant)Meade was content to keep approximately, a 24 hrs. distance between the AoP and the ANV(and, again, I have comne to the conclusion, that it was probably just as well).
You are right that there was a definite 24 hour (at least) delay before launching the main army in pursuit. I believe Meade worried that Lee would fall back behind the mountains and then continue his campaign from there. He didn't order the main army to pursue until he was certain Lee was retreating to the Potomac.

I believe Meade had many strengths, but obviously some flaws as a commanding general as well. Two that I find are that he could not anticipate his opponent very well, and 2nd he seems to have had a hard time interpreting intelligence.
 

WJC

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he could not anticipate his opponent very well, and 2nd he seems to have had a hard time interpreting intelligence.

I believe that Meade did anticipate Lee's withdrawal. However, he was very careful- one free of the pressure he was under might argue too careful- in evaluating the information provided by his forward units.
At 8:30 AM July 5, 1863, Mead reported to Halleck "The enemy retired, under cover of the night and heavy rain, in the direction of Fairfield and Cashtown. All my available cavalry are in pursuit, on the enemy's left and rear. My movement will be made at once on his flank, via Middletown and South Mountain Pass."
<War of the Rebellion, Reports of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, U.S. Army, commanding Army of the Potomac, of operations July 4-August 3, and correspondence with the authorities in Washington, &c. Series I, Volume XXVII/1, Serial 043, p. 78.>
At 11:30 AM, July 5, 1865, Meade notified Warren:

all the indications from Howard's, Birney's, and other reports point to the withdrawal of the enemy, via Cashtown and Fairfield. The orders for our march are ready, waiting fuller advices from you. Please report by bearer.
By 12:30 PM July 5, 1863, Meade ordered Sedgwick:
All the information I an obtain proves withdrawal of enemy through Cashtown and Fairfield road. Push forward your column in a westerly direction. Fire on his force. If rear guard, it will be compelled to return; if not, you will find out. Time is of great importance, as I cannot give order for a movement without explicit information from you.
<War of the Rebellion, Correspondence- Union. Series I, Volume XXVII/1, Serial 045, p. 535.>
With Sedgwick's response, Meade's plan of pursuit was confirmed, but he waited for further confirmation from Warren.
As one reads through these communications, it becomes easy to understand the pressure Meade was on from the unknown and, perhaps more importantly, often conflicting communications from Halleck.
[/quote]
 

John S. Carter

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Yes and yes. Meade did testify about Gettysburg later in 1863 before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War.



Meade had no reserve divisions. He had the Sixth Corps which was very lightly engaged but they had been scattered across the field to shore up the line.

Ryan
As to the inquiry could you inform me as to their findings or where I may find them.Were they sealed to avoid embarrassment or just as many today just seen as a publicity stunt to please the public and in the end do not achieve anything.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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This is a discussion that I've wondered about as well. A book that I plan to read in the near future is "Retreat From Gettysburg" by Kent Masterson Brown. I would be curious if any other members of CWT have read this book and what it has to say about Meade's actions on the 4th.
We have quite a bit more detail in our One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863. The focus of Brown's book is Confederate logistics. The focus of our book is Union decision-making and tactics. I suspect you will get more on these actions from our book than from Kent's, with no disrespect whatsoever intended toward Kent's book.
 
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