Meade's Pursuit of Lee after Gettysburg

shermans_march

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#1
Meade lost an opportunity to destroy Lees army as it was retreating toward the Potomac. It has been said that Meade was satisfied with the victory and was in no big hurry to pursue the Army of Northern Virginia. It has also been said that getting the army moving again was difficult after battle. How was Grant able to do this during the overland campaign? I really think Meade lost an opportunity to end the war in July 1863. Lee had immense casualties and if attacked on the retreat would have had to fight and probably would have been forced to surrender. Was it justifiable that Meade waited to pursue Lee or was Lincoln right to criticize him for failing to get Lee and potentially ending the war?
 

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jackt62

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#2
My conclusion is that Lincoln's desire that the ANV be destroyed after a rapid pursuit by the AOTP was an unrealistic goal, and his partial condemnation of Meade inappropriate. The ANV remained a formidable fighting force even after it's heavy losses at Gettysburg and was heading closer to its supply base. Meade, being a cautious and deliberative commander, was in no hurry to pursue without first re-organizing and re-equipping his own forces, which also suffered heavily. Meade was content with the defensive victory he achieved and was not willing and able to change direction that quickly by going on the offensive.
 

shermans_march

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#3
My conclusion is that Lincoln's desire that the ANV be destroyed after a rapid pursuit by the AOTP was an unrealistic goal, and his partial condemnation of Meade inappropriate. The ANV remained a formidable fighting force even after it's heavy losses at Gettysburg and was heading closer to its supply base. Meade, being a cautious and deliberative commander, was in no hurry to pursue without first re-organizing and re-equipping his own forces, which also suffered heavily. Meade was content with the defensive victory he achieved and was not willing and able to change direction that quickly by going on the offensive.
Grant was able to attack Lee at Spotsylvania Court House after the Battle of the Wilderness. Meade definitely gets credit for the victory though even though he might have been a little cautious. Maybe I am expecting too much of him.
 
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#4
For an excellent and well documented (from original sources) account of the retreat, the pursuit, and the conditions faced by both armies, read Wittenberg, Petruzzi and Nugent's enthralling One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863. There was a lot going on during those ten days!

I strongly recommend you read this account before judging Meade and the US troops! It's a great read regardless of the conclusions you end up with!

Just a few things to consider--what if Grant had just taken command, completely unexpectedly, five days before and necessarily inherited subordinate staff who, he knew, actively disliked him; he had just lost three corps commanders, two of whom were his most reliable generals; if, after a horrendous three day battle with enormous casualties he was out of everything and had to march out of the direct route to the Potomac crossings to resupply; if the replacement troops sent him were completely green and unreliable militia; what happens to gear (already worn out from forced marches to reach Gettysburg) subjected to more forced marches in days of pouring rain (think what that does to shoes),; the fact that Lee was well entrenched in excellent defensive positions before the US forces arrived at the Potomac. I doubt if Grant would have done much better with the combination of all these factors (and a few more, like an incompetent cavalry commander who didn't even try to coordinate his troops).

Of course, Meade was not Grant. And there was this McClellan-type culture of caution ingrained into the Army of the Potomac. Even Grant couldn't overcome that!
 

shermans_march

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#5
For an excellent and well documented (from original sources) account of the retreat, the pursuit, and the conditions faced by both armies, read Wittenberg, Petruzzi and Nugent's enthralling One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863. There was a lot going on during those ten days!

I strongly recommend you read this account before judging Meade and the US troops! It's a great read regardless of the conclusions you end up with!

Just a few things to consider--what if Grant had just taken command, completely unexpectedly, five days before and necessarily inherited subordinate staff who, he knew, actively disliked him; he had just lost three corps commanders, two of whom were his most reliable generals; if, after a horrendous three day battle with enormous casualties he was out of everything and had to march out of the direct route to the Potomac crossings to resupply; if the replacement troops sent him were completely green and unreliable militia; what happens to gear (already worn out from forced marches to reach Gettysburg) subjected to more forced marches in days of pouring rain (think what that does to shoes),; the fact that Lee was well entrenched in excellent defensive positions before the US forces arrived at the Potomac. I doubt if Grant would have done much better with the combination of all these factors.

Of course, Meade was not Grant. And there was this McClellan-type culture of caution ingrained into the Army of the Potomac. Even Grant couldn't overcome that!
Thanks, I shouldn't be too quit to judge. Is that book the best one on the retreat or are there others?
 

Rebforever

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#6
Meade lost an opportunity to destroy Lees army as it was retreating toward the Potomac. It has been said that Meade was satisfied with the victory and was in no big hurry to pursue the Army of Northern Virginia. It has also been said that getting the army moving again was difficult after battle. How was Grant able to do this during the overland campaign? I really think Meade lost an opportunity to end the war in July 1863. Lee had immense casualties and if attacked on the retreat would have had to fight and probably would have been forced to surrender. Was it justifiable that Meade waited to pursue Lee or was Lincoln right to criticize him for failing to get Lee and potentially ending the war?
It would have taken a complete idiot to attack General Lee at Williamsport-Falling Waters. General Meade did not stand a chance to win there. And he did fight General Lee all the way back to the Rapadan River in Virginia.
 

shermans_march

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#7
It would have taken a complete idiot to attack General Lee at Williamsport-Falling Waters. General Meade did not stand a chance to win there. And he did fight General Lee all the way back to the Rapadan River in Virginia.
I am green in the events happening right after the Battle of Gettysburg. I think I need to get that book pronto. :frantic:
 
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#9
You'll enjoy the book--it's a marvelous read! You'll be feeling the pain after the first chapter (about the wagon train of Confederate wounded).

I don't know if there's any other work with that much detail about the retreat. I know that the histories of the Gettysburg battle I've read (not actually that many) either omit the retreat or summarize it.
 
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#10
George Meade would have had to block the Confederate Army with one part of his army, and send another part to Virginia by a sea route, and hope they could get there so fast that they would have the least be back were McClellan was in 1862. That supposes a enormous logistical effort which may have easily failed.
Meade defeated the Confederate Army and covered Washington. What had other Eastern Army generals done?
But George Meade learned quite a bit from the experience.
Meade and Grant worked very hard the following spring to improve the Army of Potomac's ability to move and to handle casualties.
 
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Eric Wittenberg

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#11
For more on this subject, visit my blog, and read the series of posts that I did on the topic of Meade's pursuit of Lee after the battle. Hopefully, you will find something useful there.

This is the link to the first of a five part series that serves as the nucleus of a book manuscript that addresses George Gordon Meade's tenure as commander of the Army of the Potomac: http://civilwarcavalry.com/?p=4262
 

jackt62

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#12
Grant was able to attack Lee at Spotsylvania Court House after the Battle of the Wilderness. Meade definitely gets credit for the victory though even though he might have been a little cautious. Maybe I am expecting too much of him.
In contrast to post-Gettysburg, after the Wilderness, a tactical draw, Grant attempted to outflank the ANV, and offer battle when offensive conditions seemed appropriate. But the ANV under Lee was way too wily to let itself get caught in open field and was able to assume a defensive posture at Spotsylvania.
 

Dom71

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#13
If I remember correctly in Stephen Sears book he speaks of the possibility of Meade cutting off Lee at the Potomac being unrealistic, as Meade would have had to anticipate Lee would retreat on the 4th. And start quietly moving forces around Lee west. I don't think I would take that gamble.
 
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#14
In addition to the excellent response by @MaryDee , especially the "read the book" part, when Meade was given command he was also given wide latitude with ONE exception- he was under strict orders no matter what else to keep the AoP between Washington and the ANV.

As with many topics this one has been discussed at length in previous threads.

Please, read the book. I think you will find it enlightening and enjoyable. There is also a book by Brown. I will find it and come back and edit this post.

Retreat from Gettysburg by Kent Masterson Brown
 
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Dom71

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#16
You'll enjoy the book--it's a marvelous read! You'll be feeling the pain after the first chapter (about the wagon train of Confederate wounded).

I don't know if there's any other work with that much detail about the retreat. I know that the histories of the Gettysburg battle I've read (not actually that many) either omit the retreat or summarize it.
Ugh my reading to do list grows every longer. I will read this book as well. Thanks for the sugestion.
 

Bee

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#17
For more on this subject, visit my blog, and read the series of posts that I did on the topic of Meade's pursuit of Lee after the battle. Hopefully, you will find something useful there.

This is the link to the first of a five part series that serves as the nucleus of a book manuscript that addresses George Gordon Meade's tenure as commander of the Army of the Potomac: http://civilwarcavalry.com/?p=4262
Here is but a taste of what you will find in this EXCELLENT series of articles by Eric, below. Somehow, I have ended up being a Meade devotee without really intending to. I have read through the Committee on the Conduct of War transcripts, I have scrutinized the Pipe Creek Circular (even addressed a panel of scholars on the topic of Meade) I believe that his good judgment has been highly undervalued over time.

Why did Meade not pursue the AoNV fully, as they retreated from Gettysburg:

Meade lost three of his seven infantry corps commanders. Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, a fellow Pennsylvanian and career Regular with whom Meade was close,

Likewise, Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the II Corps, was badly wounded during the repulse of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble attack on July 3. After Reynolds fell, Meade sent Hancock to Gettysburg to take command of the field and to determine whether it was a good place for the army to stand and fight. Hancock had been magnificent throughout the entire Battle of Gettysburg, and his loss was immeasurable.

Finally, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, the commander of the III Corps, while an amateur soldier, was nothing if not aggressive

Thus, having lost his most aggressive commanders and saddled with very inexperienced corps commander, Meade had nobody to advocate really aggressive activity. Further, he lost the two subordinates he most trusted and depended on most heavily in Reynolds and Hancock, and instead had to rely upon four inexperienced temporary corps commanders in Newton, Hays, Birney and French.

The Army of the Potomac had used up much of its ammunition and supplies at Gettysburg. The limbers of its artillery units needed to be refilled, and so did the cartridge boxes of the infantry. Meade’s logistical chain needed time to re-supply the army. That practical necessity also hindered Meade’s decision-making freedom. The Army of Northern Virginia, by contrast, had been receiving supplies around the clock at Williamsport. A small ferry called Lemon’s Ferry carried Lee’s wagons across the Potomac River one at a time and returned with crates of supplies. The ferry ran twenty-four hours a day, and each trip brought back more ammunition and other supplies. By the time that the Army of the Potomac was in position to attack, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had been fully resupplied.

A severe set of thunderstorms set in the night of Lee's retreat. By morning, most of the roads were impassible and untenable for any heavy artillery et al.

Regarding how Mead is perceived today, it is important to realize that a major campaign against his reputation had begun shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg: Sickles, Butterfield, and others had personal scores to settle. Hooker still had a strong following with powerful folk supporting his return to leadership, Halleck was a friend to nobody and very adept at talking out of both sides of his mouth (some might even say duplicity), and the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War had an agenda within and agenda. Mead had very few allies

https://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/07/09/civil-war-witch-hunt-part-iii/
 
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WJC

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#18
Meade lost an opportunity to destroy Lees army as it was retreating toward the Potomac. It has been said that Meade was satisfied with the victory and was in no big hurry to pursue the Army of Northern Virginia. It has also been said that getting the army moving again was difficult after battle. How was Grant able to do this during the overland campaign? I really think Meade lost an opportunity to end the war in July 1863. Lee had immense casualties and if attacked on the retreat would have had to fight and probably would have been forced to surrender. Was it justifiable that Meade waited to pursue Lee or was Lincoln right to criticize him for failing to get Lee and potentially ending the war?
My amateur assessment has been that Meade's army was just as spent after the battle as Lee's and it would have been foolish to bring on another battle in the next few days. He suffered severe casualties; lines of command were in disarray; many men hadn't eaten in days; ammunition, supplies and replacement horses were not readily available.
Lee not only expected to be attacked, he wanted the opportunity to redeem his loss. He would have been fighting from his favored, defensive position.
Obviously my opinion is at odds with Mr. Lincoln's. And in 1863 his carried a great deal of weight.
Grant- actually Meade's AofP- was able to continue hammering Lee later in the war because of far better supply systems.
 
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#19
My amateur assessment has been that Meade's army was just as spent after the battle as Lee's and it would have been foolish to bring on another battle.
Obviously that opinion is at odds with Mr. Lincoln's....
I think it is Wert 's book on Gettysburg that points out that Hooker held the AoP in Virginia for 2 weeks after he knew Lee was on the move. Hooker argued that was the time to attack Richmond. So even though the AoP had the inside line of march, they were way behind. Long forced marches and as we all know day 1 was a foot race and even day 2 to some extent for the AoP. Yes, I think it is a safe assumption to say they "were spent."

Respectively, Mr. Lincoln was wrong on this matter.
 

WJC

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#20
George Meade would have had to block the Confederate Army with one part of his army, and send another part to Virginia by a sea route, and hope they could get there so fast that they would have the least be back were McClellan was in 1862.
McClellan had months to prepare for his sealift: Meade had just days to take advantage of this 'opportunity'.
 



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