Lee's Gettysburg Campaign Was Doomed From the Start; Logistics & Horses.

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Rhea Cole

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Lee's Gettysburg Campaign Was Doomed From the Start; Logistic & Horses

Gettysburg_Board_Game_1958.jpg


It is great fun to speculate on what General Lee could of, would of, should of at Gettysburg. I personally have war gamed dozens of scnerios. While that was both instructive & entertaining, it did leave out the critical factor that made all my "cunning plans that could not fail" moot. In reality, Lee's diminishing supply of horses & lack of logistical assets doomed his campaign from the start.

The stated goal of the Gettysburg Campaign was to raid into Pennsylvania, cause alarm among the populous & dampen the will to win of the Northern Population. If possible, Lee was to fight one beat battle, defeat the Army of the Potomac & take Washington. From there, Lee was to publish a declaration the Jefferson Davis had written & await the inevitable Northern Collapse. Whatever doubts an educated observer may have about that collapse or the wisdom of the overall strategy that sent Lee into Pennsylvania, certain iron clad rules that even Lee's genius could not outflank applied.

Horses & mules were a diminishing asset. In 1860 there were 4.2 million horses in the Northern states, 1.7 million in the Southern states. A horse had to be five years old in order to be physically developed enough for military duty. No stallions, pregnant mares or mares with foals, hot blooded breeds, under or oversized animals need apply. The artillery, for example, required a Morgan or similar breed, 16 hands tall. About one million five hundred thousand horses were lost during the Civil War. Cavalry operations used up horses at an almost unbelievable rate. Each cavalryman could require two or there remounts during an active campaign.

Henry Lovie Battle of Shiloh.jpeg

Henry Lovie, "Shell burst in the spot sketched [center left] killed 6 horses & wounded all the position & tore Sergeant Tosey previously wounded to pieces."

Every horse that was of military age during the Civil War was the issue of a stallion that stood to a mare before 1860. Both sides went to war with the existing stock & had no ability to add to it. Lee was running out of horses. The great horse & mule country of Kentucky & Tennessee had been closed to him for some time. In some cavalry units, more men were on the books without mounts than with. The Gettysburg Campaign & a theoretical follow on would have consumed horseflesh at an unsuitable rate. The huge farm animals that some of Lee's officers found themselves mounted on speak volumes about the impossibility of finding remounts in Pennsylvania.

During the first two years of the Civil War, the Union Army issued 284,000 horses to 60,000 cavalrymen. Indeed, the cavalry used up horses like the infantry used up shoes.

What would it have taken for Lee to mount his raid into Pennsylvania, fight his major battle & then sustain himself in Washington D.C. long enough to force the North to surrender? We can speculate, but a better use of our time might be to examine a campaign that started a few days after Lee recrossed the Potomac River. On June 23rd, William Stark Rosecrans ordered the Army of the Cumberland centered on Murfreesboro TN to attack the Army of Tennessee under Braxton Bragg. The logistical effort it took to chase Bragg to Chattanooga & stay there is a real world analogy for what it would have taken for Lee to take & hold Washington.

The best description of what became known as the Tullahoma Campaign's logistical challenge I know of comes from a Sanitation Commission report.

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It is interesting to note that the wagon train "extended forty-seven miles' is almost exactly the same as the line of wagons General Imboden guarded during Lee's retreat from Gettysburg. Given that, we can have confidence that the total of twenty-two thousand army horses, three thousand private horses (officer's mounts) & thirty-six thousand mules, "in all sixty-one thousand animals" is a fair approximation of Lee's animals.

66,000 X $140 = $2,240,000 at the average rate of $140/horse paid by the Union army during the war. When you figure that each of those animals would be replaced at least once during an extended campaign, $4,480,000 worth of animals would be required to sustain a campaign in Pennsylvania & Washington D.C. In reality, that number is probably very conservative. On an active campaign, the Confederacy simply had no means available to remount Lee's army or pay for it in the summer of 1863.

The daily ration for an army horse was 14 pounds of hay & 12 pounds of grain (oats, corn or barley). The 26 pounds per day of the 66,000 animals in the army weighted 229,000 pounds. Project a one month stay in Pennsylvania & the Army of Northern Virginia would have to transport 6,870,000 pounds of fodder just to meet the minimum requirement for keeping their animals alive. The next calculation is easy, the standard army wagon could carry 1,000 pounds of cargo. That is an astonishing 700,000 wagon loads to be driven both ways from somewhere in Virginia. Confederate rail roads transporting that volume of fodder to a forward railhead in Virginia simply could not have happened.

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Doubling teams to get up grades or other obstacles was a common occurrence. After all, a six horse hitch has only six horsepower.

The grim reports of the Confederate inspector general for transport make it certain that no such lift capability existed in the entire Confederacy even if fodder in that volume could be obtained. There were no surplus animals available to reenforce Lee. In June the inspector reported that the Army of Tennessee was thousands of draft animals & wagons short.

General Rosecrans ordered rations & ammunition be forwarded by wagons from Murfreesboro. The railroad was used exclusively to transport fodder. During WWI, the British shipped more tones of long fodder to France than they did ammunition. One problem with fodder is that the rail cars cubed out before they grossed out, i.e., ran out of room before they ran out of load carrying capacity. The fodder consumed by Rosecrans' animals came from what we would call the Midwest. The rail cars & steamboats that hauled it came from every line in the country. Southern railroads refused to consolidate under a military railroad command like did Union companies with the U.S. Military Rail Road. The territorial squabbling & general self-centeredness of Confederate rail executives resembled nothing I can think of but what happens when six small girls are cooped up in the back of a van on a 500 mile car trip. It wan't a pretty thing to witness.

How was Lee going to evacuate his sick & wounded? General Imboden reported that the convoy of wounded extended the entire 45 miles from Gettysburg to the Potomac. 10,000 wounded & stragglers were left in Union hands. It required the entire lift capacity of Lee's army to transport his wounded. Lee could sustain his fighting regiments or evacuate his wounded, not both. Confederate armies in the West abandoned their dead & wounded to be cared for by the Union army. How many men would Lee have had to abandon along the way during his advance toward Washington D.C., thousands, tens of thousands? There is no way to know, I don't suppose.

Where was Lee going to get the labor to man his logistical push into Pennsylvania & maintain his position in Washington D.C. for a month? The obvious source of labor would be the slaves of the men in whose interest Lee went to war. By 1863, a significant percentage, ranging as high as 75% in some areas, of the adult male slave population had run off. Anywhere Union forces had even passed through saw a wholesale exodus of slaves. Even when all the adult male slaves in the surrounding area were commandeered, the labor force was only a fraction of what was needed. Needless to say, Virginia did not have a surplus of white males available to do the backbreaking labor that was required. Lee simply did not have the labor pool to keep his army supplied on the projected Gettysburg/Washington D.C. campaign.


Box Car loading rations copy.jpeg

Depending on the meat ration (salt pork in brine vs smoke cured bacon, e.g.) an army boxcar was packed with 8 to 9,000 complete daily rations. That meant that the ten car drags, which is all that the rickety Nashville & Chattanooga could handle, would deliver a single days' rations for Rosecrans' 80,000 men. A train an hour 24/7 passed through Murfreesboro headed south toward Rosecrans' army. The consists were lashed together as far away as Chicago & at the railhead on the Tennessee River at Johnsonville TN, 75 miles west of Nashville. Manning the rail yards, warehouses, building & maintaining the track were thousands of self-liberated black people. The Nashville & Northwestern Rail Road was successfully guarded & kept open by several regiments of United States Colored Infantry like the 13th & 100th. That labor source & military aide was not something Lee could count on. In fact, the opposite was true. The 25th Corps that took Richmond was an all United States Colored Troop unit.

As has already been alluded to, Lee had an almost impossible situation were his wounded were concerned. A week after the battle, a large cluster of Army of Northern Virginia wounded were discovered laying in the open under the shade of an orchard. Aide was called for immediately. The men had been left there when Lee retreated & only discovered by chance. Had Lee maneuvered to Washington D.C., many thousands more of his wounded would have suffered the same fate as the survivors of the orchard.

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Hospital train running between Nashville & Chattanooga.

In contrast, Rosecrans had "almost 20 hospitals in Murfreesboro". There were many more in Nashville. From there, the sick & wounded men were transferred by river or by rail to their home states. Special built rail cars were lashed up to form hospital trains. A diagram of the hospital cars is in the The Official Military Atlas of the Civil War that most of us have in our library. Hospital ships, such as the luxury packet Red Rover, catered to the needs of soldiers without regard to which side they were on. Remarkably, once a soldier was in a Union hospital, he had a 90% survival rate. The fate of the many wounded that Lee would, of military necessity, have abandoned along his line of advance is, fortunately, only a subject of conjecture.

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Interior of specially constructed hospital car. If you look carefully, you can see the rubber straps that hopefully cushioned the bone jarring ride on the rickety N&CRR.

The final analogy of Lee's raid into Pennsylvania & Rosecrans' Tullahoma Campaign is provided by the battles of Chickamauga & Gettysburg. Lee, of necessity, had to make a precipitate withdrawal across the Potomac into Virginia. Rosecrans, on the other hand, was, as Lee might have been, pinned in place. Because of the high morale & sheer doggedness of the Army of the Cumberland, Chickamauga was reduced to a the level of a tactical defeat... an incident along the way in a triumphant campaign. There was no equivalent of the Army of the Tennessee or corps from the Army of the Potomac to come to Lee's aid should he take & hold Washington D.C. Both topography & manpower made such a move on the part of the Confederate Army impossible. Grant's army group smashed Bragg's Army of Tennessee & secured Chattanooga. There was no concentration of forces of that caliber & number that could have joined the Army of Northern Virginia in Washington D.C. In fact, it was Lee's defeat in Pennsylvania that allowed three corps of the Army of the Potomac to be transferred to Chattanooga.

There is a saying, "Amateurs talk about tactics, generals talk about logistics." Whatever the political reasons given for Lee's raid into Pennsylvania & dreamed of laying down the surrender terms on President Lincoln's desk were, the Army of Northern Virginia simply did not have the logistical support necessary to make such an outcome possible.
 
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wausaubob

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It was probably in the aftermath of Gettysburg when Sec'y of War Stanton began to question rescuing the Confederate stragglers and then exchanging them for US volunteers. The exchange protocol broke down that fall, I believe.
 
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wausaubob

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If Grant could operate in Mississippi, Lee could operate in Pennsylvania. Except Grant was measuring the days until he could reconnect to the Yazoo River, and Lee was surrounded by railroads, which the US Army could use, and Lee's army could not use.
 
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wausaubob

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The Army of the Cumberland was in quite a fix at Chattanooga. However, the Confederates never forced Burnside out of Knoxville. 23,000 reinforcements were about 1 1/2 days away, after about 3 weeks. And then more reinforcements arrived after the logistical bottleneck was eliminated and a logistical surplus could accumulate. At Chattanooga, it was Dana that panicked, not Rosecrans and Thomas.
 

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If Grant could operate in Mississippi, Lee could operate in Pennsylvania. Except Grant was measuring the days until he could reconnect to the Yazoo River, and Lee was surrounded by railroads, which the US Army could use, and Lee's army could not use.
Where, exactly was Lee going to find the fleet of steamboats & the warships to convoy them so he could be supplied in Washington? Which one of the surrounding railroads was Lee going to control & where were the supplies, thousands of tons of supplies a day, going to be coming from? A bit of map study will inform your opinion.
Grant could stay in Mississippi because convoys of supply vessels came down river. He had forty barges of ice that he turned over to the Sanitary Commission for use in the hospitals around Vicksburg. Mrs Livermore of the Sanitary Commission was given command (literally) of a convoy of 14 supply steamers to take north & return with fresh onions etc. to stave off the onset of scurvy among Grant's troops. Where was Lee going to get the convoys of supply steamers & barges of ice to help relieve the suffering of the men in his hospitals? Logistics of a Civil War army required far more than a few farms in Pennsylvania could possibly supply.
 

Rhea Cole

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It was probably in the aftermath of Gettysburg when Sec'y of War Stanton began to question rescuing the Confederate stragglers and then exchanging them for US volunteers. The exchange protocol brook down that fall, I believe.
The exchange system hit a snag when the Confederates refused to exchange USCT prisoners. In any case, the prisoners going South were in reasonable shape, the men going North were in pitiful shape. Few, if any of them ever returned to service. Grant, rightly, saw no reason to provide the Confederacy with reinforcement at a time they were scraping the bottom of the barrel for replacements. It was, by the standards of the day, a cruel policy. It was, however, the rational one.
 
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wausaubob

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Once Kentucky and Tennessee were conclusively removed from the Confederacy by September of 1863, the Confederacy was in trouble with respect to remounts and working horses. The US produced a work around. Mules could be used for mobility, if the mules were taken to the rear before there was any fighting.
 
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Before the war started, the southern states had decreased their oats production. Northern areas were used to providing oats and hay to city horses, so they had a system in place, even if it did not work perfectly.
 

CowCavalry

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It is great fun to speculate on what General Lee could of, would of, should of at Gettysburg. I personally have war gamed dozens of scnerios. While that was both instructive & entertaining, it did leave out the critical factor that made all my "cunning plans that could not fail" moot. In reality, Lee's diminishing supply of horses & lack of logistical assets doomed his campaign from the start.
The poster Saphroneth answered you and the logistics questions quite capably in the "What if " thread regarding Lee's army in PA. Link to thread:

edited to illustrate the content of the linked thread.
 
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Saphroneth

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It should be self evident that the Army of Northern Virginia can supply itself largely from forage for a period in the vicinity of a month, because that's exactly what happened historically. Unless he was carrying an impractically large amount of supplies (that is, enough for the entire AoNV for a month) it should be clear that he foraged much of his required supply from the countryside.

Per Coddington:

"The Cumberland Valley in Maryland and Pennsylvania was so rich in agricultural produce that by June 23, within a week after the first units of Ewell's corps had crossed the Potomac, they had accumulated enough supplies to feed all of his corps until June 30, as well as 1,700 barrels of flour for the rest of the army".

This means in other words that Ewell's corps was able to procure food significantly faster than they were consuming it.

The horse issue is slightly different, because while there were only so many horses in the South the number still means it's possible to sustain offensive campaigning in 1863 (because, you know, it happened) and moving into PA also offers the possibility of the army getting more horses from the horse supply of Pennsylvania - post war claims were that the Confederates took over 1,000 horses from York County PA alone. (With Gettysburg seeing about 1,500 horses killed on both sides, this strongly suggests that Gettysburg was actually overall a horse net gain for the Army of Northern Virginia).

Now, this doesn't mean that the AoNV can operate in Pennsylvania forever; there's only so much food to be had in the state. But it means that to a first approximation Lee's army can keep moving and supplying so long as they can keep hitting new areas, and that furthermore they have some slack - a week of foraging gains enough supplies for more than a week.


Given these limitations, I think it would be fair to say that it is not necessary for Lee to remain in Pennsylvania forever in order to make the Gettysburg Campaign a success; several things would qualify as a success.

  • For Lee it is a net plus to supply his army from PA instead of VA for a period of time.
  • If Lee is able to rampage around Pennsylvania unhindered he has humiliated the Union, which is a way of eroding public support for Lincoln and the war.
  • By rampaging around Pennsylvania Lee has the opportunity to provoke a battle, rather than letting the Army of the Potomac wait until it's ready and then going on the offensive again. At this point Lee's beaten the Army of the Potomac twice in a row - if he gets a third victory in relatively short order then the AotP's morale is harmed and their fighting ability is degraded.
  • Finally, while the Rappahanock-Rapidan is a good defensive position that cuts both ways; if Lee wants the chance to fight a battle of annihilation it's got to be somewhere the enemy can't retreat a short distance and get over a fairly major river. This is a "stretch goal" but it offers the prospect to win the war at a stroke.


These are the sorts of reasons that French armies in the Napoleonic Wars would operate in enemy territory for months at a time by forage. European farmland is generally more densely provided with foodstuffs than American in this time period, but as I've cited above the Cumberland Valley at least was rich enough for a campaign.


So here are some of the ways the Gettysburg campaign could be a win for Lee:

1) No battle happens. Lee forages extensively from Pennsylvania, possibly burns Harrisburg if his columns get there fast enough, and the Union has been humiliated in the north.
2) A battle happens which is an overall draw. Lee hasn't humiliated the Union north of the Potomac so much, but he's still foraged supplies and this means he's gained over if the same battle happened south of the Rappahanock. (Lee can also send troops west to support the CS armies in the west, as historical.)
3) A battle happens which does serious damage to the Army of the Potomac (that is, Lee wins the battle). This is a double-down, with humiliation, supplies and a weakened Army of the Potomac which has now lost three major battles in a row; Meade probably gets fired within the week and the AotP needs more rebuilding before it's good to go.
4) The Army of the Potomac is routed/shattered/destroyed - think what happened to Pope at Second Bull Run, if not worse. In this case Lee can keep operating in Pennsylvania until he's gathered up the majority of the food stores of a state of almost three million people, which should keep an army of ~100,000 Aggregate Present going for a while; this offers the opportunity to do something strategically decisive, like cut the rail line between Washington and the rest of the Union.
 

Saphroneth

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66,000 X $140 = $2,240,000 at the average rate of $140/horse paid by the Union army during the war. When you figure that each of those animals would be replaced at least once during an extended campaign, $4,480,000 worth of animals would be required to sustain a campaign in Pennsylvania & Washington D.C.
I think this is probably an extrapolation too far; there are at least two issues here.

The first is that you've included the cost of the animals Lee already had, but this is a capital cost already paid. Lee has already "spent" that much on animals, and campaigning in PA or VA or GA doesn't change that; if you're considering horse attrition due to a PA campaign you should consider the replacement requirements as that's what the horse budget does.

The second issue is with the number of horses required as replacement.
You appear to have defined "extended campaign" as "one long enough to require the replacement of every horse", but you haven't separated horse casualties from campaigning and horse casualties from general attrition.

The latter would happen no matter where Lee was, and to some extent so would the former (during the Union's summer campaign, whatever it happens to be). The issue that needs to be considered is not "the number of horses that would require replacement during an extended campaign" but "the additional number of horses that would be required due to campaigning in Pennsylvania instead of the alternative".

For example, if campaigning in Pennsylvania for a month led to 6,000 more horses being lost compared to campaigning in Virginia for two weeks against Meade's Upper Rapidan movement (say) followed by two weeks of inactivity, then the additional gross horse cost of campaigning in Pennsylvania is 6,000 horses - not 132,000.
However, this number may be offset by captured horses. If campaigning in PA and MD allows for the net capture of 3,000 horses (i.e. the influx of PA/MD horses into the army is 3,000 more than the additional number of horses captured away from the CS army), while campaigning in VA obviously does not allow for accessing additional horseflesh, then the additional net horse cost of campaigning in PA and MD for a month is 3,000 horses.


Based on the numbers for the Union's cavalry arm (two years for 284,000 horses to 60,000 cavalrymen) a first approximation for the rate of horse replacement required is that an army would go through all their horses every five months; cavalry horses are the ones most often galloped and exposed to horse diseases, but we'll elide that for now.
Allowing somewhat for how this rate would be higher in periods of heavy campaigning, for Lee's army to require a gross replenishment of 66,000 horses (equal to their estimated starting number) would mean that Lee had been campaigning north of the Potomac for over three months.
I would put it to you that if Lee is able to campaign north of the Potomac for three months in the first place he's probably cut off Washington from the North and gained control of Maryland. This does not mean I think it would happen; it means that I think the Confederates would be assuming that either they'd win (before the horse issue became bad enough to require a complete replenishment) or the campaign would have to be abandoned (before the horse issue had time to require a complete refurbishment).
 
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Rhea Cole

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I think this is probably an extrapolation too far; there are at least two issues here.

The first is that you've included the cost of the animals Lee already had, but this is a capital cost already paid. Lee has already "spent" that much on animals, and campaigning in PA or VA or GA doesn't change that; if you're considering horse attrition due to a PA campaign you should consider the replacement requirements as that's what the horse budget does.

The second issue is with the number of horses required as replacement.
You appear to have defined "extended campaign" as "one long enough to require the replacement of every horse", but you haven't separated horse casualties from campaigning and horse casualties from general attrition.

The latter would happen no matter where Lee was, and to some extent so would the former (during the Union's summer campaign, whatever it happens to be). The issue that needs to be considered is not "the number of horses that would require replacement during an extended campaign" but "the additional number of horses that would be required due to campaigning in Pennsylvania instead of the alternative".

For example, if campaigning in Pennsylvania for a month led to 6,000 more horses being lost compared to campaigning in Virginia for two weeks against Meade's Upper Rapidan movement (say) followed by two weeks of inactivity, then the additional gross horse cost of campaigning in Pennsylvania is 6,000 horses - not 132,000.
However, this number may be offset by captured horses. If campaigning in PA and MD allows for the net capture of 3,000 horses (i.e. the influx of PA/MD horses into the army is 3,000 more than the additional number of horses captured away from the CS army), while campaigning in VA obviously does not allow for accessing additional horseflesh, then the additional net horse cost of campaigning in PA and MD for a month is 3,000 horses.


Based on the numbers for the Union's cavalry arm (two years for 284,000 horses to 60,000 cavalrymen) a first approximation for the rate of horse replacement required is that an army would go through all their horses every five months; cavalry horses are the ones most often galloped and exposed to horse diseases, but we'll elide that for now.
Allowing somewhat for how this rate would be higher in periods of heavy campaigning, for Lee's army to require a gross replenishment of 66,000 horses (equal to their estimated starting number) would mean that Lee had been campaigning north of the Potomac for over three months.
I would put it to you that if Lee is able to campaign north of the Potomac for three months in the first place he's probably cut off Washington from the North and gained control of Maryland. This does not mean I think it would happen; it means that I think the Confederates would be assuming that either they'd win (before the horse issue became bad enough to require a complete replenishment) or the campaign would have to be abandoned (before the horse issue had time to require a complete refurbishment).
The point of my posting was to show that Lee couldn't successfully operate for a few days 40 miles north of the Potomac. There were good reasons for that. As this 1860 map of Pennsylvania clearly shows, any operation in that state was restricted by rivers & other topographical obstructions.

57287.jpg


The remount service that supplied the astonishing number of horses that the Union Army required did not exist for a Confederate Army on the move. Just going around taking the plow horses away from farmers was not going to supply Lee's equine needs. At the same time of the Gettysburg Campaign, The Supply For Tomorrow Must Not Fail, Civil War of Captain Simon Perkins Jr., a Union Quartermaster by Lenette S. Taylor documents the vast volume of supplies that it took to keep an army in the field. After the Battle of Chickamauga, the Army of the Cumberland fell back into Chattanooga. One division had no more than 700 broken down animals. There were few, if any animals in the supply line going back to Louisville. General Miegs ordered the purchase of 1,000 cavalry & artillery horses to be purchased & shipped to Louisville at the cost of $130,000. 1,5000 horses & 1,000 mules were purchased by the Nashville depot at a cost of $100,000. Transporting the feed for these animals was a monumental logistical challenge. Even hiring the gangs necessary for handling mountains of sacked corn was very challenging. The difficulty of moving the necessary feed & the exhaustion of the fodder available for foraging in the Stephenson, Alabama region put 8,000 animals in danger of starvation.

Perhaps this real world example will enlighten you to what it took to keep a Civil War army supplied in enemy territory. Lee, of course, was on a raid where no logistical link to his base was maintained. Had he attempted to stay in Pennsylvania, pinned beneath the river & mountain obstacles, your Napoleonic reference would have been all too apt. As Napoleon did in Russia & Spain, Lee would have recrossed the Potomac having lost irreplaceable numbers of men & equines.

Lee understood the logistical realities challenges his army faced & acted accordingly. Out of ammunition, his broken down horses literally lining the line of march, he fell back on his base while he still could. Rosecrans followed by Grant as army group commander in Chattanooga held Chattanooga & went on the offensive because of massive logistical support.

Note:

The Supply For Tomorrow Must Not Fail is a unique source. Captain Simon Perkins, Jr. was an army quartermaster. He was a civilian businessman who held his commission & reported directly to the quartermaster general in Washington, not local commanders. When he left the army, he kept his paperwork in a trunk. It was found intact & achieved by Lennette S. Taylor of Kent State University. The resulting book, published in 2002, is a nuts & bolts study of what it took to keep the Army of the Cumberland & then Grant's army group supplied in Chattanooga. I highly recommend it. I have never thought about Civil War army movements the same since I first read Taylor's book.
 
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Saphroneth

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The point of my posting was to show that Lee couldn't successfully operate for a few days 40 miles north of the Potomac. There were good reasons for that.
..um...

I don't mean to be a pedant, or anything, but Gettysburg is about forty miles north of the Potomac. How exactly do you think Lee got there?
 

Rhea Cole

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..um...

I don't mean to be a pedant, or anything, but Gettysburg is about forty miles north of the Potomac. How exactly do you think Lee got there?
The Gettysburg Campaign requires no guesswork on my part. The movements of the AoNV are exhaustively recorded in the documentary record. Lee went to Gettysburg because Longstreet's scout Harris supplied recon that forced Lee to concentrate. Gettysburg looks like the center of a spider web on a map, thus an excellent place to order a concentration of his dispersed corps. Apart from being a convenient rally point, Gettysburg had no strategic value. It was not a part of any plan on Lee's part, ditto General Meade.

The Battle of Gettysburg is what is known as a meeting engagement, i.e., it occurred somewheres the armies happened to run into each other. Lee's operation was a raid, unlike Rosecrans' Tullahoma Campaign & Grant's Vicksburg Campaign which were campaigns of conquest that occurred at the same time.

Hope that answers your question.
 
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Saphroneth

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The movements of the AoNV are in the documentary record. Lee went to Gettysburg because Longstreet's scout supplied recon that forced Lee to concentrate. Gettysburg looks like the center of a spider web on a map, thus an excellent place to order a concentration of his dispersed corps. Apart from being a convenient rally point, Gettysburg had no strategic value, so was not a part of any plan on Lee's part, ditto General Meade. The Battle of Gettysburg is what is known as a meeting engagement, i.e., somewheres the armies happened to run into each other.
Fine, I'll be more specific.

If Lee could not successfully operate for a few days 40 miles north of the Potomac, and yet Lee did in fact get his whole army to Gettysburg (which is 40 miles north of the Potomac), stay there for a few days without moving (i.e. not gathering forage) and then get back to the Potomac, how did he do it?
 

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Fine, I'll be more specific.

If Lee could not successfully operate for a few days 40 miles north of the Potomac, and yet Lee did in fact get his whole army to Gettysburg (which is 40 miles north of the Potomac), stay there for a few days without moving (i.e. not gathering forage) and then get back to the Potomac, how did he do it?
He did it by using up his supply of ammunition, severely depleting his draft & cavalry animals, his infantry had almost no rations & leaving his army vulnerable to being cut off on the wrong side of the Potomac. As it was, he abandoned 10,000+ wounded men & stragglers as he retreated.
 
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