OK, I'll try to take a stab at this and get the discussion started.Suppose Meade had had to fall back to the Pipe Creek Line after Gettysburg? Would it have been defensible? Could a winning battle for the Union have happened there? What do you feel the outcome would have been?
The Pipe Creek Line was a formidable position in many ways. There's an interesting article on it here.Suppose Meade had had to fall back to the Pipe Creek Line after Gettysburg? Would it have been defensible? Could a winning battle for the Union have happened there? What do you feel the outcome would have been?
One more choice, which Lee himself had spoken of earlier (not knowing anything about the PCL): pull back behind South Mountain, holding the gaps, and continue to forage on PA until Meade comes to get him.If Meade takes this position, it's because he's already engaged Lee in Gettysburg. To my mind, Lee then has three reasonable options: (1) he can pursue Meade to the Pipe Creek Line and try to engage him there, which I think would be suicidal; (2) Lee can break off pursuit and try to continue on to Harrisburg, or perhaps Philadelphia, but then he'll have the AofP in his rear. Literally. Or (3), he can retreat back home the way he came.
I think he probably could, and you are right that the position is a very strong one for defense. The one projected, though, covered about 20 miles with 7 full-strength corps. If Meade is to pull back here after July 2 or 3, he may not have enough troops to hold it all.Anyhow, one of the keys to the PCL, I think, is the extensive road network that would allow Meade to shuffle troops from one threatened area to another — just as he did at G-burg. He might have been stretched, but I think he could have met the demands. He really would have no choice with Baltimore and Washington DC not all that far away. I still think the PCL would be too strong for Lee to crack. He'd be like a wave crashing against rocks.
That's the only real source of veteran troops, but it will take a few weeks to get them up to central PA. Grant returned Burnside's troops after Vicksburg fell, but it was August before they were up and ready to participate in the attack towards Knoxville. Troops from Grant have to come up the Mississippi and maybe the Ohio to get to some point where they can get on a RR.You know, I thought about the South Mountain option, and I think it's a creditable one. But Vicksburg has just fallen, and having Lee on the west side of South Mountain would be intolerable. Could not some of those western Vicksburg troops be released to pressure Lee from the west and force the issue?
From what I'm recollecting, there was really no easy way around the Pipe Creek Line. It was go through it or go home.
Although Lee could have lived off the country until well past the harvests, I don't see him doing that. He had or would have had not brought the AotP to a decisive battle on ground of his choosing. He just can't go traipsing around in Pennsylvania while the Confederacy is starving and he's not protecting Richmond.