Discussion Was Gettysburg THAT pivotal to the war?

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Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The simple answer is no. In 1863 Gettysburg was rightly considered a humiliating disaster. It wasn't until the 1870's that Gettysburg was declared the "high water mark of the Confederacy" by Jubal Early & the Southern Historical Society after the war. It was a facet of the creation of the the Lost Cause & deification of Lee, Jackson & Joe Johnston. Everything that occurred in Virginia was elevated to a level of biblical importance that it certainly did not deserve. Gettysburg lives in a warm glow of fools gold, not the real thing.

Stripped of its Lost Cause halo, the Gettysburg Campaign is a case study in how not to operate in enemy territory. Lee only penetrated 40 miles into Pennsylvania. In the tradition of a Napoleonic advance, Lee had no logistical support. The Army of Northern Virginia was sent north in complete ignorance of the position of the Army of the Potomac. Because of that intelligence failure, Lee's army blundered into a completely unplanned meeting engagement. As a result, Lee made a series of assaults at significant tactical disadvantage. As a result, Lee destroyed about half his army & was only saved from destruction by the AoP's habitual case of the slows & torrential rain.

How would a Confederate victory at Gettysburg be defined? No matter what, Lee was going to be out of ammunition at the end of the day. Every single wagon he could lay his hands on was filled with his wounded, he was incapable of resupplying his army. So, this putative victory would have occurred in the middle of nowhere with a major river iyn front & behind his army. Win or loose at Gettysburg, Lee was going to retreat back into Virginia. No professional military analysis projects any chance that Lee could have lived off the land in Pennsylvania. It was July, the crops were green, there was nothing to live off of even if Lee could have somehow made the time to forage.

So, apart from fantasies that ignore basic military realities, no professional military scenario projects anything that a rational person could call a Confederate victory at Gettysburg anything but a side show.
 
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John Winn

Captain
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
@Rhea Cole is spot on. Lee was probably actually going for Harrisburg but even if he'd somehow captured it he couldn't hold on to it. His only hope was that somehow that would be so disheartening to the Union that they'd decide it was no longer worth the fight and call some sort of truce. I think the likelihood that the Union would have done that even if Lee had taken Harrisburg is darn close to zero. Sure, it would have been an embarrassing black eye but it most likely would have just resulted in a focused determination to grind Lee into dust (and the Union had the resources to do that). Harrisburg wasn't Washington, D.C.

I personally think a second invasion was Lee's biggest (but not only) mistake. He'd have had a better chance of draining the Union's will if he'd taken a more defensive stance and made them come to him on his ground (resulting in high casualty rates). I also don't really think Lee thought a victory would have caused any European country to somehow come to the rescue of the confederacy. Even if he did he was making too big a bet on too poor a hand. And as a p.s., after day two he should have realized he was whipped and folded that pair of fives.

OK, that's opinion #57. Stay tuned for opinions with even larger numerical values.
 
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leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
The simple answer is no. In 1863 Gettysburg was rightly considered a humiliating disaster. It wasn't until the 1870's that Gettysburg was declared the "high water mark of the Confederacy" by Jubal Early & the Southern Historical Society after the war. It was a facet of the creation of the the Lost Cause & deification of Lee, Jackson & Joe Johnston. Everything that occurred in Virginia was elevated to a level of biblical importance that it certainly did not deserve. Gettysburg lives in a warm glow of fools gold, not the real thing.

Stripped of its Lost Cause halo, the Gettysburg Campaign is a case study in how not to operate in enemy territory. Lee only penetrated 40 miles into Pennsylvania. In the tradition of a Napoleonic advance, Lee had no logistical support. The Army of Northern Virginia was sent north in complete ignorance of the position of the Army of the Potomac. Because of that intelligence failure, Lee's army blundered into a completely unplanned meeting engagement. As a result, Lee made a series of assaults at significant tactical disadvantage. As a result, Lee destroyed about half his army & was only saved from destruction by the AoP's habitual case of the slows & torrential rain.

How would a Confederate victory at Gettysburg be defined? No matter what, Lee was going to be out of ammunition at the end of the day. Every single wagon he could lay his hands on was filled with his wounded, he was incapable of resupplying his army. So, this putative victory would have occurred in the middle of nowhere with a major river iyn front & behind his army. Win or loose at Gettysburg, Lee was going to retreat back into Virginia. No professional military analysis projects any chance that Lee could have lived off the land in Pennsylvania. It was July, the crops were green, there was nothing to live off of even if Lee could have somehow made the time to forage.

So, apart from fantasies that ignore basic military realities, no professional military scenario projects anything that a rational person could call a Confederate victory at Gettysburg anything but a side show.
My understanding is that if Lee won at Gettysburg and the AoP more or less disolved then Lee could at a minimum temporarily occupy Baltimore or Philadelphia burn it to the ground and a demoralized Union public would force the politicians to sue for peace.
Yes it's a bridge to far but by June 1863 not a lot of good options for Lee. Lee felt rightly he had to go for the hail Mary Pass.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
@Rhea Cole is spot on. Lee was probably actually going for Harrisburg but even if he'd somehow captured it he couldn't hold on to it. His only hope was that somehow that would be so disheartening to the Union that they'd decide it was no longer worth the fight and call some sort of truce. I think the likelihood that the Union would have done that even if Lee had taken Harrisburg is darn close to zero. Sure, it would have been an embarrassing black eye but it most likely would have just resulted in a focused determination to grind Lee into dust (and the Union had the resources to do that). Harrisburg wasn't Washington, D.C.

I personally think a second invasion was Lee's biggest (but not only) mistake. He'd have had a better chance of draining the Union's will if he'd taken a more defensive stance and made them come to him on his ground (resulting in high casualty rates). I also don't really think Lee thought a victory would have caused an European country to somehow come to the rescue of the confederacy. Even if he did he was making too big a bet on too poor a hand. And as a p.s., after day two he should have realized he was whipped and folded that pair of fives.

OK, that's opinion #57. Stay tuned for opinions with even larger numerical values.
I will argue that Lee had no choice but to invade Pennsylvania and go for the Hail Mary Pass.
By June of 1863 the Confederacy is in a bad way.
1. Their is no relief or hope of breaking the naval blockade which slowly but surely strangling the Confederate economy.
2. The situation in Vicksburg is bad and if Pemperton surrender's all those Union troops are going to go somewhere and that somewhere may very well be Virginia.
3. Rosecrans is gathering more manpower and supplies in central Tennessee. Rosecrans is either going into Georgia or North Carolina. Either way eventually the AoC can reach Virginia via the back door.
4. If Lee does nothing then a good portion of his army will be sent West which is what actually happened and a good chance the AnV will loose a lot of men but gain nothing in return.
5. Morale is high in the AnV and low in the AoP post Chancellorsville so Lee has to strike while the iron is hot.
I agree that Lee knew that no foreign nation had any intention of coming to the rescue of the Confederacy.
Leftyhunter
 
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wausaubob

Major
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Location
Denver, CO
As long as General Lee and his army were in Pennsylvania, and the Confederacy was not shuttling troops to Jackson, MS, the US was willing to be defeated in Pennsylvania, as long it wasn't too bad. Since the US had rail connections to Gettysburg, the US army was going to recover much faster than Lee's army could, no matter what disaster occurred.
The United States was sending infantry and artillery reinforcements to Grant and Sherman, in June 1863, as fast as they could. All other objectives were on hold while Porter's gunboats patrolled above and below Vicksburg, and raided the Yazoo river. Farragut stayed on Mississippi and blockaded the confluence of the Red and the Mississippi. The press thought Gettysburg was important, but the US government was committed to capturing Vicksburg.
 

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
After approximately June 17, 1863, nothing General Lee could accomplish was going to save the Mississippi River for the Confederacy. Therefore any armistice demanded by the Confederacy was going to be resisted in the Midwest and the Confederacy was going to be a divided nation, for as long as it could exist.
 
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wausaubob

Major
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Location
Denver, CO
Less than 3 months later the Confederacy achieved a brilliant tactical victory at Chickamauga. But that did not force Burnside out of Knoxville, and Thomas held on for about a month at Chattanooga, in Tennessee, until Hooker was able act in coordination with Thomas.
The total affect of the great victory lasted almost exactly three months.
 
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Less than 3 months later the Confederacy achieved a brilliant tactical victory at Chickamauga. But that did not force Burnside out of Knoxville, and Thomas held on for about a month at Chattanooga, in Tennessee, until Hooker was able act in coordination with Thomas.
The total affect of the great victory lasted almost exactly three months.
Would you agree that it could've ment a longer War?
 
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CowCavalry

Corporal
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
How would a Confederate victory at Gettysburg be defined?
Easy; by inflicting yet another humiliating defeat on the AOP, this time, on their home soil after supplying his army off the fat of the enemy's land for a change, and strengthening the peace party in the North as well as influencing the 1864 elections. Lee most likely knew better than anyone that he wasn't going to stay north of the Potomac indefinitely. As E. P. Alexander stated in his memoirs, and he would know; they had enough ammunition and supply for one big battle and a victory would have given them enough for another.
 
Joined
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You all forget that the revolutionary War was fought against the strongest Nation on Earth with a massive amount of resources. But yet the Patriots won. The situation was similar with the civil War, only the outcome was different.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
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Location
los angeles ca
As long as General Lee and his army were in Pennsylvania, and the Confederacy was not shuttling troops to Jackson, MS, the US was willing to be defeated in Pennsylvania, as long it wasn't too bad. Since the US had rail connections to Gettysburg, the US army was going to recover much faster than Lee's army could, no matter what disaster occurred.
The United States was sending infantry and artillery reinforcements to Grant and Sherman, in June 1863, as fast as they could. All other objectives were on hold while Porter's gunboats patrolled above and below Vicksburg, and raided the Yazoo river. Farragut stayed on Mississippi and blockaded the confluence of the Red and the Mississippi. The press thought Gettysburg was important, but the US government was committed to capturing Vicksburg.
If and was a long shot at best Lee at a minimum routs the AoP perhaps that will demoralize the Union public to sue for peace. Realistically Lee has to burn down at least one major US city which might demoralize the Union public or it just might incense them.
Of course to be fair we have something no historical figures of the ACW has and that's 150 plus years of 20/20 hindsight.
Do far no one has really come up with a viable alternative for Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania.
Leftyhunter
 
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leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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los angeles ca
You all forget that the revolutionary War was fought against the strongest Nation on Earth with a massive amount of resources. But yet the Patriots won. The situation was similar with the civil War, only the outcome was different.
Not even close to being a similar situation. Look up the battle of Yorktown for starters.
The Colonial Rebels were ably assisted by the French Army ,the Spanish Navy, Dutch financial aid and by 1778 the British were fighting a two front war in the Indian Subcontinent. The UK had limited manpower resources and had to choose between what was more valuable the Indian Subcontinent or North America. It wasn't a hard decision.
The British Army was a volunteer army (although if a man was found drunk not so much) and the British early in the ARW had to hire German Principalities to supply troops to fight in North America.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
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Location
los angeles ca
So for the sake of argument Lee just twiddles his thumbs in Virginia. Sherman and Grant post Vicksburg are going to go on another offensive but where? Even if Grant and Sherman just reinforce Rosecrans then there is a good possibility they will end up in Georgia or North Carolina as far as Lee knows. Either way Grant and Sherman eventually will end up in Virginia. Lee can't know if after Hooker's defeat at Chanslorsville Hooker or a replacement will go for an early Fall offensive in Virginia.
Chanslorsville was a Confederate victory but it was a closely won victory with heavy Confederate losses. Lee knew that the AoP made some critical errors that allowed him to win. Next time he might not be so lucky. So waiting for an offensive is also a very risky option.
Leftyhunter
 
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CowCavalry

Corporal
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Aug 17, 2017
If and was a long shot at best Lee at a minimum routs the AoP perhaps that will demoralize the Union public to sue for peace. Realistically Lee has to burn down at least one major US city which might demoralize the Union public or it just might incense them.
Of course to be fair we have something no historical figures of the ACW has and that's 150 plus years of 20/20 hindsight.
Do far no one has really come up with a viable alternative for Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania.
Leftyhunter
Lee wasn't going to be burning down any enemy cities, reference his gen orders #72.
 
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