Meade's Pursuit of Lee after Gettysburg

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Dom71

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I think Lincoln for his part believed the brass ring was their to take, and not knowing the full condition of the army was quick to judge he had another overly cautious General with the slows. He wrote the letter to Meade then rightly stuffed it in a drawer. I agree with Bee that he is very undervalued. He was gruff, and had a vicious temper, which didn't help his cause.
 
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WJC

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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 thank you for your recommendation; Jeff Bezos thanks you for adding to my Amazon Wish List....
 

WJC

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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.
Thanks for your response.
I agree. Further, I believe that many historians- following Lincoln's lead- have been unfairly critical of General Meade.
 
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shermans_march

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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
I saw this on amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0807829218/?tag=civilwartalkc-20
Both are around the same length and have similar reviews. Which one should I pick? :confused:

By the way all you guys are great. So many responses!
 

shermans_march

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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/
Thanks for the very thorough response Bee. Greatly appreciated the link!
 
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WJC

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I think Lincoln for his part believed the brass ring was their to take, and not knowing the full condition of the army was quick to judge he had another overly cautious General with the slows. He wrote the letter to Meade then rightly stuffed it in a drawer. I agree with Bee that he is very undervalued. He was gruff, and had a vicious temper, which didn't help his cause.
Another factor was that- unlike some other officers who cultivated the press, Meade did not care for reporters and spent as little time with them as possible.
 
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Joshism

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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.
It should be remembered that the ANV only won the race to Spotsylvania because their lead elements, under a new commander, decided not to stop for the night due to the brush fires in the Wilderness. (See Gordon Rhea's Spotsylvania book.)
 

Joshism

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On July 4, 1863 the leadership of the AotP was in shambles through no fault of Meade's.

He had been AOTP commander for a week. His Chief of Staff, whom he inherited from Hooker (Butterfield), had been wounded.

I Corps was on its third commander in a few days who had taken over midbattle (Hays) and had not previously been with the Corps.

II Corps lost its best two commanders to wounds (Hancock & Gibbon).

III Corps had been wrecked and lost its commander.

V Corps' commander had been on the job as long as Meade, because he took over when Meade because Army commander. Sykes would also later be intentionally downsized out of a job.

VI Corps was under stable leadership with Sedgwick and by far the largest corps, but it had been marched longest and hardest to get to Gettysburg in the first place then had to be divided up to support the battle line. Sedgwick was also consistently slow and cautious throughout the war.

XI Corps had been routed for the second battle in a row. Nobody in the army had any reason to consider Howard or his Germans reliable in any way.

XII Corps was steady under Slocum, but he had a reputation for slowness and IIRC had made some decisions during the battle that Meade was not happy with.

Meade received reinforcements during the pursuit under French. Meade didn't know how reliable these new men were and their commander proved to be an incompetent (although Meade presumably didn't know that yet).
 

wausaubob

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McClellan had months to prepare for his sealift: Meade had just days to take advantage of this 'opportunity'.
They would have needed to react to the opportunity with speed and creativeness. They would have needed the same kind of effort that they used to get Hooker to Tennessee.
They learned from the failure to react to Gettysburg.
As far as anyone taking chances in the Eastern Theater, had anything happened there that indicated that was a prudent course of conduct?
 
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Southern Unionist

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Preventing Lee from escaping into Virginia would have required an extremely impressive effort from Meade, but I'm sure Lincoln knew that nothing less would get the job done. Lee had done things that appeared to be miraculous in the past, and it was time for the US Army to do something similarly astonishing. Maybe the problem was that Meade was just a very good general in a time and place where a truly great and legendary general was needed.

Lincoln should have been pushing for the win. It was his job to remind Meade that his job was to find a way to win, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it might be, and that history is made by winners, not by those who try hard and fail honorably. He had to say all the hard things that Meade didn't want to hear. At the highest levels of command, expectations have to be extremely high.

At the very least, cavalry could have been sent to the Potomac River to blow up bridges and prevent pontoon bridges from being built. Cutting off Lee from supply and retreat wouldn't have been so hard, making use of the river. Have you seen the Potomac in that region? Violent whitewater. You can't ford it, and pontoon bridges require temporary rock dams downstream to calm the water. Lee would have been stuck for a while.

What would US Grant have done in that situation? I believe he would have at the very least attempted to do something.

You know the old saying, you have to fight with the army you have, not the one that you want. This was the big thing McClellan never could get through his head. Apparently, Meade didn't learn this lesson by observation.
 

Rebforever

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It should be remembered that the ANV only won the race to Spotsylvania because their lead elements, under a new commander, decided not to stop for the night due to the brush fires in the Wilderness. (See Gordon Rhea's Spotsylvania book.)
I think you need to take a look at the cavalry action prior to Spotsylvania Courthouse battle.
That was in his book also.
 
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wausaubob

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Preventing Lee from escaping into Virginia would have required an extremely impressive effort from Meade, but I'm sure Lincoln knew that nothing less would get the job done. Lee had done things that appeared to be miraculous in the past, and it was time for the US Army to do something similarly astonishing. Maybe the problem was that Meade was just a very good general in a time and place where a truly great and legendary general was needed.

Lincoln should have been pushing for the win. It was his job to remind Meade that his job was to find a way to win, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it might be, and that history is made by winners, not by those who try hard and fail honorably. He had to say all the hard things that Meade didn't want to hear. At the highest levels of command, expectations have to be extremely high.

At the very least, cavalry could have been sent to the Potomac River to blow up bridges and prevent pontoon bridges from being built. Cutting off Lee from supply and retreat wouldn't have been so hard, making use of the river. Have you seen the Potomac in that region? Violent whitewater. You can't ford it, and pontoon bridges require temporary rock dams downstream to calm the water. Lee would have been stuck for a while.

What would US Grant have done in that situation? I believe he would have at the very least attempted to do something.

You know the old saying, you have to fight with the army you have, not the one that you want. This was the big thing McClellan never could get through his head. Apparently, Meade didn't learn this lesson by observation.
And the lessons were learned. The logistical operation was improved, and once contact occurred the Army of Potomac never let up, in May 1864. The results were mixed but eventually they got back to Petersberg and still anticipated Early's raid.
 

Rebforever

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Preventing Lee from escaping into Virginia would have required an extremely impressive effort from Meade, but I'm sure Lincoln knew that nothing less would get the job done. Lee had done things that appeared to be miraculous in the past, and it was time for the US Army to do something similarly astonishing. Maybe the problem was that Meade was just a very good general in a time and place where a truly great and legendary general was needed.
Meade ordered the 10,000 soldiers at Harpers Ferry to intercept General Lee. But that didn't replace what had been lost at Gettysburg. That created problems for General Lee from crossing through the mountain passes.

Lincoln should have been pushing for the win. It was his job to remind Meade that his job was to find a way to win, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it might be, and that history is made by winners, not by those who try hard and fail honorably. He had to say all the hard things that Meade didn't want to hear. At the highest levels of command, expectations have to be extremely high.
"Lincoln was in Washington, and as much as he had learned as Commander in Chief, he had no conception of the practical challenges facing Meade. Neither had anyone else at that point. As much as popular history may portray Gettysburg as a great victory, it was also a near disaster for Meade. This was a situation where political expedience had to give way to military necessity. It is a mistake to accuse Meade of timidity. He did the best anyone could in the face of a combination of major obstacles."

https://www.quora.com/When-Lee-retreated-from-Gettysburg-Lincoln-ordered-pursuit-but-Meade-would-not-Was-this-feasible-perhaps-ending-the-war-much-earlier


At the very least, cavalry could have been sent to the Potomac River to blow up bridges and prevent pontoon bridges from being built. Cutting off Lee from supply and retreat wouldn't have been so hard, making use of the river. Have you seen the Potomac in that region? Violent whitewater. You can't ford it, and pontoon bridges require temporary rock dams downstream to calm the water. Lee would have been stuck for a while.
Coming and Going to Gettysburg wading the river was the only way to cross. The river at Williamsport was lower then than it is now until there was a dam put across. Falling Waters Lee had a pontoon bridge that he left behind. Some soldiers were sent from Harpers Ferry to destry it after Lee's army had passed.

What would US Grant have done in that situation? I believe he would have at the very least attempted to do something.

You know the old saying, you have to fight with the army you have, not the one that you want. This was the big thing McClellan never could get through his head. Apparently, Meade didn't learn this lesson by observation.
McCellan was too busy retreating to tell whether he was a good General or not.
Pretty sure there is some good reading for you in Eric Whittenberg's book on the retreat and would highly recommend to you.
 

Rebforever

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And the lessons were learned. The logistical operation was improved, and once contact occurred the Army of Potomac never let up, in May 1864. The results were mixed but eventually they got back to Petersberg and still anticipated Early's raid.
Really? Who says so?
 
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MaryDee

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Which book to pick?
Per the authors' introduction to One Continuous Fight, p. xvi:
"Whereas Brown's book masterfully details and highlights the complex logistical aspects of the Retreat, the main subject of this book concerns the fights and skirmishes, large and small, that erupted as predator chased still dangerous prey back to and across the Potomac River. With a combined forty-plus years of studying those ten days following the Gettysburg garage, we had unexpected scores of "new" untapped resources that mch more fully told the storeies of the men whose fighting was bnot nearly finished, It is our humble belief that the combination f these two books gives the reader the full story of the Retreat, with each providing its own spcialty of purpose."

I'd start with One Continuous Fight, and get the Brown book later if you decide you want to learn more about the logistical aspects.

For those who think that Meade just sat back and let Lee retreat unharassed, One Continuous Fight will open your eyes.
 

theoldman

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Preventing Lee from escaping into Virginia would have required an extremely impressive effort from Meade, but I'm sure Lincoln knew that nothing less would get the job done. Lee had done things that appeared to be miraculous in the past, and it was time for the US Army to do something similarly astonishing. Maybe the problem was that Meade was just a very good general in a time and place where a truly great and legendary general was needed.

Lincoln should have been pushing for the win. It was his job to remind Meade that his job was to find a way to win, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it might be, and that history is made by winners, not by those who try hard and fail honorably. He had to say all the hard things that Meade didn't want to hear. At the highest levels of command, expectations have to be extremely high.

At the very least, cavalry could have been sent to the Potomac River to blow up bridges and prevent pontoon bridges from being built. Cutting off Lee from supply and retreat wouldn't have been so hard, making use of the river. Have you seen the Potomac in that region? Violent whitewater. You can't ford it, and pontoon bridges require temporary rock dams downstream to calm the water. Lee would have been stuck for a while.

What would US Grant have done in that situation? I believe he would have at the very least attempted to do something.

You know the old saying, you have to fight with the army you have, not the one that you want. This was the big thing McClellan never could get through his head. Apparently, Meade didn't learn this lesson by observation.
I say this with the utmost respect and understanding of where you are coming from: read the book. It is a real eye opener to learn what actually happened. The topic of the retreat and Meade's actions has really been poorly covered and many people, then and now, did not and still don't know what happened. Just a 'for instance', Meade did send 2 divisions of cavalry in immediate pursuit, but Lee held the mountain passes. Meade did send VI Corps on either 4-5 July in pursuit but they moved cautiously not knowing what to expect from Lee. The entire AoP, minus artillery due to weather, was at Williamsport on July 14, IIRC, and preparing to attack, but Meade's commanders wanted time to recon prior to attacking so he waited one day and in that day Lee escaped.

Lee actions at Gettysburg are discussed often to this day. His retreat from Gettysburg gets little attention but it was brilliant.

Check out the Battle of Monterey Pass
 
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