Meade's Pursuit of Lee after Gettysburg

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Rebforever

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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.
Correct! Don't forget about the rain at that time. :thumbsup:
 
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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 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!
One Continuous Fight is in my pending stack. After this, I think I'll have to move it up.
 

shermans_march

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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.
I will get One Continuous Fight then. I might have to wait a little while though, I have been buying a few too many books.
 
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WJC

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As far as anyone taking chances in the Eastern Theater, had anything happened there that indicated that was a prudent course of conduct?
Thanks for your response.
In a word, no....
But- in fairness to all the commanders involved, including Grant- the proximity of the theater to Washington generally made it difficult to take chances. High stakes and too many kibitzers....
 
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Joshism

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At the very least, cavalry could have been sent to the Potomac River to blow up bridges and prevent pontoon bridges from being built.
I think that is the best criticism, but it falls mostly on commanders other than Meade. Lee's original pontoons were destroyed and Lee had to stall while waiting for new ones to be cobbled together and the Potomac to drop from flood stage. Meade's cavalry was attacking Lee, but lacked the strength to meaningfully delay him. French's troops, Washington garrison troops, or something outside the AOTP needed to get to Williamsport and dig in ahead of Lee, but I'm not sure that was possible. Nor was there probably anyone aggressive enough to lead such a dangerous operation. Nobody had adequately planned for the possibility of cutting off Lee should he retreat from Gettysburg back to the Potomac.

The high water that kept Lee stuck for days also prevented Union troops to block the South bank opposite Lee. Meade might be faulted for not preparing pontoons for crossing forces as soon as possible; he seemed to have tunnel vision about attacking Lee head on at Williamsport as his only option. He may have Lincoln was pressuring that option.

(Caveat: I still need to read "One Continous Fight" so maybe that is addressed.)

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.
Noah Andre Trudeau's book on Gettysburg, one of the more recent full length works on that battle, pretty much fails to cover the retreat at all.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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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.
Really?

What cavalry? The ragtag refugees from Milroy's command? There was no available and reliable force of cavalry of any significance that could possibly have gotten there before Lee. This is some exceedingly wishful thinking and a fabulous example of Monday morning quarterbacking.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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The high water that kept Lee stuck for days also prevented Union troops to block the South bank opposite Lee. Meade might be faulted for not preparing pontoons for crossing forces as soon as possible; he seemed to have tunnel vision about attacking Lee head on at Williamsport as his only option. He may have Lincoln was pressuring that option.
Ummm...from where would these pontoons have come?
 
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Andy Cardinal

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I think one thing that is generally overlooked is that the campaign didn't really end at Falling Waters. Meade moved fairly quickly to cross the Potomac into Virginia and tried to bring Lee to battle in more advantageous circumstances than frontally assaulting a fortified position. The result was a missed opportunity at Manassas Gap/Wapping Heights on July 23. Meade was said to be more disappointed here than at Falling Waters.

 

Rebforever

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I think one thing that is generally overlooked is that the campaign didn't really end at Falling Waters. Meade moved fairly quickly to cross the Potomac into Virginia and tried to bring Lee to battle in more advantageous circumstances than frontally assaulting a fortified position. The result was a missed opportunity at Manassas Gap/Wapping Heights on July 23. Meade was said to be more disappointed here than at Falling Waters.

Yep. You are right. I forget what the next crossing up the Luray Valley is but General Lee just moved to the next crossing point. I need to go down the Skyline Drive one day and take pics of these crossings. There were earthworks and continuous guarding by soldiers and militia of these Mountain Gaps.

Rockfish Gap is up the mountain here at Waynesboro, Va. I really need to find the spot for earthworks there.
 
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civilken

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Monday morning Quarter back the only way I could honestly answer that question was if I was there I have read all the books on this and still have no definitive answer there are so many variables to this question. That I don't believe one page could answer it properly.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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Lee crossed into MD with the aid of pontoons. Didn't Meade also?
No, Hooker did not. Most of the army waded the Potomac at Edwards Ferry.

I know the AotP used pontoons before and after the Gettysburg campaign on the Rappahannock. Had they left their pontoon train at Aquia?
I am unaware of the AoP having any pontoon trains with it in Pennsylvania.
 

Joshism

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Most of the army waded the Potomac at Edwards Ferry.
Even the artillery?

Seems very shortsighted by Hooker, Halleck, or maybe both not to have pontoons available on the Potomac because they assumed it would be fordable. Probably should have occurred to Meade at some point after he took over, but by then any pontoons may have been too far away arrive in time. Somebody dropped the ball (and that would hold true even if the river hadn't flooded).
 
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Andy Cardinal

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I found this reference to pontoons in The Pennsylvania Reserves in the Civil War (Ent, Kindle edition location 8109)

“It rained on us very hard last night and this morning,” Morrison recorded in his diary, and the 9th found the road “exceedingly heavy and slippery.” The Division passed through Liberty, Union Bridge and Union Town. The 2nd Reserves’ history remarks that a pontoon train that was accompanying the column that day “created much wonderment among the rustics, who did not believe we could do much with our ‘gun boats’ up in the mountains.” The 2nd, at least, marched twenty miles that day, bivouacking two miles beyond Uniontown where it was mustered for pay."

The author cites the history of the 2nd reserves. I have not followed the source any further.

I believe this account refers to June 30.
 

jgoodguy

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Pontoons slow down an army. You only bring them along if you know you are going to need them.
If you leave them anywhere, you need to guard them, so the enemy don't capture or destroy them.
Pontoons can be built ad hoc if needed. Especially in areas with houses and such.
 
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thomas aagaard

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Pontoons can be built ad hoc if needed. Especially in areas with houses and such.
Naturally you can do that, and it was done a lot. Shermans men was clearly very good at this, even when we are just talking ordinary infantry. I think this is one clear case where the american soldiers was way more "practical" that what we see in Europe.

My point was about military pontoon trains. They required a lot of wagons and are slow to move from a to b.
 

jgoodguy

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Naturally you can do that, and it was done a lot. Shermans men was clearly very good at this, even when we are just talking ordinary infantry. I think this is one clear case where the american soldiers was way more "practical" that what we see in Europe.

My point was about military pontoon trains. They required a lot of wagons and are slow to move from a to b.
I agree that about standard military pontoon trains.
 
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