Should Lee have stayed in the Cumberland valley?


Sergeant Major
Nov 12, 2016
Should Lee have restricted operations to the Cumberland valley instead of heading in direction of Gettysburg?
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Jun 18, 2017
He would have to make sure that the AOP did not pass over the mountain south of him and cut off his line of communication/supply, retreat, etc. I've always thought the road networks and need to be able to spread out his force so as to allow it to subsist dictated he kept his forces so as to converge in or near Chambersburg or Gettysburg. His choice as to which area to choose was dependent on what he learned about where the AOP was. If I understand your question more directly, Lee wrote the decision to consolidate east of the mountain was specifically because he learned the AOP was across the Potomac and at Frederick. He wanted to keep them out of his lines in the Cumberland Valley


Lt. Colonel
Feb 23, 2010
It depends on whether Lee does not invade Pa., because he is, m sending reinforcements to the East. If he is, then he necessarily, must pull back to defend Richmond behind the Rappahannock.

I he is not going to invade Pa., or send reinforcements west, the Shenandoah Valley is only a protected invasion route North towards Washington City and, perhaps Baltimore. and if he is using it as a threat to invade he does not need to base his whole army there. He needs to be back in his old lines, where he is closer to supply line.

So, No, The Rappahannock is the place he needs to be.


Jul 28, 2015
New York City
Remaining in the Cumberland Valley would be problematic. Although it might have provided Lee with an initially safe harbor between South Mountain and the Alleghenies to the west, it meant that Lee's supply lines would be jeopardized further by their extension from the Shenandoah Valley. Furthermore, halting in the Cumberland would have only allowed Lee to achieve the limited goal of foraging, while abandoning the more aggressive goal of threatening civilian population centers such as Harrisburg. Moreover, at some point, the AotP would have likely began to converge on the ANV, thereby cutting off its escape route.


Aug 4, 2011
I don't think he could. Vicksburg was ready to fall. Had to do something.

Could Lee have moved towards DC, and worried Lincoln? Maybe a third Bull run?

That's it. There was a continental-scale war ongoing, for the survival of the southern confederacy, and they were losing, despite Lee's successes over about 1% of the total territory. They needed more than just feeding their horses in Yankee farmland for a couple of months.

James N.

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Feb 23, 2013
East Texas
Should Lee have restricted operations to the Cumberland valley instead of heading in direction of Gettysburg?
No; the whole object was to threaten the North and merely sitting in this relatively secluded area wouldn't threaten anything.
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Jul 28, 2015
New York City
Does Lee have to worry about his 'escape' route if the Union main forces are required (by Lincoln?) to stay between the Confederates and Washington/Baltimore?
Yes, that would be a concern and an advantage for Lee. But Meade would probably have been able to protect both the Washington/Baltimore area and have sufficient force to place a choke-hold at the Potomac River in the narrow corridor through which I-81 now runs between Winchester and Chambersburg.

Stone in the wall

2nd Lieutenant
Sep 19, 2017
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
Does Lee have to worry about his 'escape' route if the Union main forces are required (by Lincoln?) to stay between the Confederates and Washington/Baltimore?
Yes, very good point. Lee should worry about it since that boob Beverly Robertson was in charge of guarding it, and Stuart was who knows where?


May 2, 2006
A few points:
  • If Lee was sending troops to the West, that would have been done back in May or early June. As a result:
    • Lee would not be invading Pennsylvania with his army in late June
    • Any troops crossing the Potomac would have been essentially on a raid. They would have pulled back if any substantial Union force came after them.
    • A raid across the Potomac and up the Cumberland Valley would still have had a lot of value
      • as a distraction/diversion to divert Yankee forces to the north of the Potomac
      • as a foraging mission to get supplies and other material
      • to relieve the stress of supplying Lee's ANV in Virginia
      • to allow the harvesting of crops in Virginia
      • as a political/PR ploy
  • if we are talking about the situation as it existed on June 30:
    • Meade has already changed the game by his rapid approach march.
    • Lee can no longer keep his army scattered because the AoP is too close to the ANV.
    • Lee must concentrate in one of two places:
    • Behind South Mountain
      • Ewell pulls back into the north end of the Cumberland Valley (Cashtown)
      • Longstreet and Hill cover the gaps over South Mountain
      • Lee waits for Meade to come after him
      • Lee can forage for weeks up here until the Union forces him back.
      • Stuart's fate is in the wind
    • In front of South Mountain (IOW, towards Gettysburg)
      • Ewell pulls back towards Lee through Gettysburg
      • Lee reaches out across South Mountain to connect with Ewell (Heth's division, maybe more)
      • This forward concentration risks a meeting action with Meade (as happened on July 1)
      • This may help Stuart by forcing Meade to react to Lee's aggressive move
      • If there is no battle, Lee can always retreat behind South Mountain (as in the "Behind South Mountain" scenario above). If Stuart has rejoined, this is even better.
      • if Lee has the ANV concentrated in-and-around Gettysburg, he controls the road net in Adams County and has a great range of movement with a lot of initiative.
  • IMHO, Lee's whole purpose here is to force the Yankees to come to him away from fortified places. He wanted to hammer the AoP, to beat them decisively. The cities only matter as places the Yankees would feel compelled to defend.
    • In particular, the importance of Harrisburg is as the home of the Pennsylvania RR. If Lee takes and hold Harrisburg for a few days, he will wreck all the RR shops and factories located there, destroy the bridges, rip up the track thoroughly in both directions. Every day he is there will be a Confederate foot on a Yankee artery. The Union cannot let him stay there.
    • There are only three Union East-West RRs:
      • the B&O has already been cut by Lee's advance
      • the Pennsylvania will be cut by taking Harrisburg
      • the soon-to-be New York Central RR and the Erie Canal are out of reach
      • cutting the first two will cause great hardship and disruption in the Union. The effects will last for months.
  • FWIW, Lee and Jackson had set their map-makers working on a detailed series of maps from the Shenandoah up the Cumberland Valley to Harrisburg, then eastward to Philadelphia, in February of 1863. It is pretty clear where their thoughts were in the Winter of 1862-63.