Was there any chance that Lee could have fought on July 4th or 5th instead of retreating?

AThompson

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Although Lee's army had been damaged but so had the Union army. Could have Lee stayed put and wait for Meade to attack him? It appears that Lee had enough food but lacked ammunition. Could have Lee have fallen back to a good defensive position and waited for his ammunition resupply? I am not sure if Meade would have keen on attacking Lee in a good, well prepare position.
Just a small addition to the conversation: I don't think it was lost on Lee that Meade didn't attack at all on July 2 or 3, though he had ample opportunity to do so. Meade had a strong position and July 2 and 3 showed him he could hold it.
 

Yankee Brooke

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I believe there was almost zero chance. Lee was deep in enemy territory and needed a resupply badly. But there was no real way to get one with being so deep in enemy country as he was.
 

David Knight

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In modern terminology the AoP pre Grant was very risk averse and going after Lee when you are tired and inevitably disorganised from three days of heavy fighting would have been very much against the grain. I think has been already been said but the best chance would have been to prevent the ANV from a reletively easy crossing of the Potomac by cavalry action. Low food, low ammo and high casualties being transported would have given a chance for a major defeat of the ANV. Attacking on the Gettysburg field would not have been wise as it risked undoing the victory of the previous days.
 
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Belfoured

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In modern terminology the AoP pre Grant was very risk averse and going after Lee when you are tired and inevitably disorganised from three days of heavy fighting would have been very much against the grain. I think has been already been said but the best chance would have been to prevent the ANV from anreletively easy crossing the Potomac by cavalry action. Low food, low ammo and high casualties being transported would have given a chance for a major defeat of the ANV. Attacking on the Gettysburg field would not have been wise as it risked undoing the victory of the previous days.
I've always found it hard to criticize Meade too vigorously for what he did and did not do right after the battle. He had at least two corps that were wrecked (and they ultimately would be merged out of existence the next Spring). He had lost three corps commanders, three division commanders, and a number of brigade commanders. Those presented a significant problem. And yes, Lee suffered command losses as well, but going on the offensive requires more organizational stability than Meade had on July 4.
 

Joshism

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The rain that began after Pickett's Charge and continued through much of the next day pretty much precluded a major offensive move by either side.

Lee's logistics were also precarious, primarily with regard to ammunition.

Without Grant there to crack the whip, it was the Army of the Potomac’s habitual case of the slows that allowed Lee to withdraw.

Tactically, I think Meade erred by not pressing Lee's rearguard. But overall the AOTP pursued fairly well. The cavalry fought frequently. The rest of the army covered mileage at a good rate. Meade had to shift his supply line from one railroad in PA to a different railroad in MD, and also screen Washington.

Whether Meade should have attacked Lee's line at Williamsport is another matter, one unrelated to speed. Given the exhausted state of the AOTP and the difficulty during the ACW (especially by the AOTP) when it came to successfully assaulting entrenched or fortified positions, I have a hard time believing the attack would have been anything but a bloody disaster.
 

Harman Farm

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I agree with 111thNYSV. Lee's casualties were too high and there were practically no reserves available. Artillery ammunition was dangerously low after the July 3rd bombardment and that would have been key to holding a defensive position west of Seminary Ridge even if a good one could be found. We do know that Lincoln was very angry with Meade for not pressing Lee harder after the battle and saw it as a badly missed opportunity to end the war sooner. It's also true that the AoP had taken high casualties as well but they actually did have fresh troops in reserve. To be fair, it would be difficult to expect any army to be up for a hard fight after three days of combat like that.

Bill
The ANV was low on the long range stuff but according to E.P. Alexander they had more canister than they knew what to do with. Alexander was really hoping for a counterattack following the PPT charge. The Confederate artillery would have wrecked them.
 

GwilymT

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Just a small addition to the conversation: I don't think it was lost on Lee that Meade didn't attack at all on July 2 or 3, though he had ample opportunity to do so. Meade had a strong position and July 2 and 3 showed him he could hold it.
There was discussion of an attack on July the 2nd on Lee’s left but it was decided against as unfeasible or not “practicable” if you will. 😂

At what point and with what troops does Meade have this “ample opportunity” to attack on July 2 or 3?

The only thing I can think of was what was discussed late July 1 into early July 2, attacking Lee’s left (Ewell’s Corps) moving up along rock creek and over wolf’s hill. This was decided against as an unnecessary risk. May it have worked? Who knows, unlikely, but maybe. Other than that proposed attack, I can’t think of a single good option.
 
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The ANV was low on the long range stuff but according to E.P. Alexander they had more canister than they knew what to do with. Alexander was really hoping for a counterattack following the PPT charge. The Confederate artillery would have wrecked them.
Harman Farm,
Interesting point, I have also read that the CSA was anticipating a counterattack after Pickett's charge. My opinion is that they had just lost too many men by July 3rd to make another stand unless it was a last resort. E.P. Alexander's memoir is on my short list of books to get to.

Bill
 

AThompson

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There was discussion of an attack on July the 2nd on Lee’s left but it was decided against as unfeasible or not “practicable” if you will. 😂

At what point and with what troops does Meade have this “ample opportunity” to attack on July 2 or 3?

The only thing I can think of was what was discussed late July 1 into early July 2, attacking Lee’s left (Ewell’s Corps) moving up along rock creek and over wolf’s hill. This was decided against as an unnecessary risk. May it have worked? Who knows, unlikely, but maybe. Other than that proposed attack, I can’t think of a single good option.
That's all correct. But Lee wasn't there to hear that part of the conversation. From his view on Seminary Ridge, Meade didn't attack him all day on July 2 or the morning of July 3. From Lee's perspective, Meade could have attacked during those time periods, but he didn't. My comment was in response to the question as to why not wait for Meade to attack. If Meade has shown no inclination to attack (and the result proved he was correct in this inclination), then waiting for him to attack would be a waste of time.
 

jamine

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Meade could have snatched defeat from the jaw's of victory. He was the first Union General to defeat Lee decisively. Had Meade attacked Lee on the 4th or 5th, Lee would have likely responded and maybe won. Lee most likely would have had to retreat regardless because the risk of remaining in enemy home territory was
too risky at best.

There are a lot of could/should heaves, but Meade won, defeated Lee, defended Pennsylvania and DC.
 
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Friction Primer

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"There are a lot of could/should heaves, but Meade won, defeated Lee, defended Pennsylvania and DC."

No offense, but the end of this statement reminds me of what President Lincoln said after reading Meade's G-burg Battle assessment:
Something to the effect of: When will our generals realize that it is all our land?
 

PatW

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Lee DID stay on the battlefield on the 4th of July. He could have stayed longer. In doing so, he is essentially hoping that Meade would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That might have been a good risk with Pope or Burnside. But Meade was pretty respected and gambling that he would blunder seems to be a long shot.

Also, Lee is on a giant raid. He really does not have established lines of communication. He also has mountains he has to cross if he wants to fall back. If Lee gives Meade time, Meade might send troops behind Lee and put entrenched blocking forces on Lee’s line of retreat. Also, for all Lee knows, Meade could receive substantial reinforcements. And Lee has a pot load of wounded who need decent treatment. Getting them back to Virginia soon is a good idea.

Also, Lee tends to win when he maintains the initiative. Surrendering the initiative and hoping for a blunder is not his style.
 

wausaubob

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The problem was that the 6th corp was spread out all over the place.
And the command structure was badly messed up with 3 corp commanders out of action, and plenty of division and brigade commanders down.
And by the evening of the 3rd the army as an organization was below 50% strength. Obviously the army did not loose 50% of its men, but a lot of men where simply not with their units. Some had gotten lost, some where helping wounded men to hospital, some where lightly wounded and so on.
Reynolds was dead. Hancock and Sickles were severely wounded. Gathering together units that still had fighting capacity looked easy in Washington. In Pennsylvania it did not look as easy. Lee's correct move was to get back to Virginia. But Meade could have moved units to the James River with water born transport. He might have taken Richmond. But the threat would have been re-established.
 
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That is true, we only know what Grant did do when he was looking over Meade's shoulder a few months later. Every Confederate army Grant ever faced either surrendered or left the field in disorder.
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Seems to me that every battle conducted with Grant looking over Meade's shoulder resulted in a Union repulse.

Grant makes a simple frontal assault, is repulsed and with no further frontal assault possible tries a flanking movement but Lee manages to place himself in position to again repulse a simple frontal assault. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.

The only exception was following Cold Harbor when he manages to cross the James and make an assault SOUTH of Richmond on Petersburg. With what result again? He's blocked by Confederate forces who force him to make another unsuccessful frontal assault. It's not until April '65 when he's stretched Lee's lines to a breaking point where they finally break and retreat to Appomattox and surrender.
 

Rhea Cole

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Seems to me that every battle conducted with Grant looking over Meade's shoulder resulted in a Union repulse.

Grant makes a simple frontal assault, is repulsed and with no further frontal assault possible tries a flanking movement but Lee manages to place himself in position to again repulse a simple frontal assault. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.

The only exception was following Cold Harbor when he manages to cross the James and make an assault SOUTH of Richmond on Petersburg. With what result again? He's blocked by Confederate forces who force him to make another unsuccessful frontal assault. It's not until April '65 when he's stretched Lee's lines to a breaking point where they finally break and retreat to Appomattox and surrender.
Five Forks & the general assault at Petersburg were the result of Grant’s campaign to destroy Lee’s army. As a result of the constant pressure on Lee, the A of NV completely lost the initiative & was reduced to reacting to the A of the P. When Lee was forced to dig in around Petersburg, me knew that he was defeated.

At Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, & Chattanooga initial phases of the battle were CSA successes. That is the nature of war. It is who wins the last battle that matters. In every instance it was Grant.

While Grant was looking over Meade’s shoulder; the Army of TN was destroyed, the war along the Mississippi Valley was essentially over; Sherman marched to the sea; he then turned north tearing the heart out of SC; Wilmington was captured; Mobile was captured; that is the war Grant was fighting,
 

Yankee Brooke

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It always seemed to me that Grant's actual strategy after coming East was simply to keep Lee busy while damaging his army as much as he could, while Sherman did his thing and take or destroy valuable land, men, and material in the deep south, and an army could raise the Shenandoah Valley. I don't know that he was even much concerned with Richmond, it was more "if we get it, we get it" while trying to beat on the ANV and keep it busy enough to stay isolated and tied to Richmond, while things inevitably played out elsewhere that would ensure the fall of the Confederacy.
 

Rhea Cole

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It always seemed to me that Grant's actual strategy after coming East was simply to keep Lee busy while damaging his army as much as he could, while Sherman did his thing and take or destroy valuable land, men, and material in the deep south, and an army could raise the Shenandoah Valley. I don't know that he was even much concerned with Richmond, it was more "if we get it, we get it" while trying to beat on the ANV and keep it busy enough to stay isolated and tied to Richmond, while things inevitably played out elsewhere that would ensure the fall of the Confederacy.
The documentary record indicates that Grant saw taking Richmond as a potential mortal blow to CSA morale. Ideally, Butler would have swept into Richmond instead of bottling himself up in Bermuda Hundred. For Grant, Richmond was only valuable as a means of fixing Lee in place. The destruction of Lee’s army was Meade’s objective.
There was nothing inevitable about events elsewhere. Sherman, Thomas & other commanders were doing what Grant ordered them to do. The days of the Union Army acting without coordination were over. Under Grant’s command, the Armies of Tennessee, Northern Virginia, et al were all under pressure at the same time. There was absolutely no possibility for Richmond to shift forces around to confront disjointed US attacks. The A of the P was only about 20% of the force Grant commanded.
 

Drew

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That is true, we only know what Grant did do when he was looking over Meade's shoulder a few months later. Every Confederate army Grant ever faced either surrendered or left the field in disorder.

I'm not aware Grant ever tactically defeated General Lee in the field. Rather, he fought a war of attrition and ultimately suffered twice the casualties of his adversary.

He won, sure, but he was the only General in Chief in American history who gave his own men's lives to the degree he did. Not Washington, not Pershing, not Eisenhower, not MacArthur, Westmoreland or Schwarzkoph.

Only Grant. Great military genius, indeed.
 

Rhea Cole

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I'm not aware Grant ever tactically defeated General Lee in the field. Rather, he fought a war of attrition and ultimately suffered twice the casualties of his adversary.

He won, sure, but he was the only General in Chief in American history who gave his own men's lives to the degree he did. Not Washington, not Pershing, not Eisenhower, not MacArthur, Westmoreland or Schwarzkoph.

Only Grant. Great military genius, indeed.
Here’s a funny thing about Gen Lee & Gen Grant as army commanders. The Army of NV suffered about 240,000 casualties under Lee. He led two aborted incursions into Northern Territory. For the rest of the war, Lee defended a few counties in Virginia. (We will leave out loosing 1/2 of Virginia largely to Gen Rosecrans pre A of NV.)

During that same period of time, while sustaining fewer casualties, Grant as an army commander accepted the surrender of two armies, captured fortresses, opened the Mississippi River & Cumberland Rivers, took or caused to be captured Cairo, Nashville, Memphis, Columbus & Bowling Green KY.

Perhaps, in your analysis, Sheridan’s defeat of Early or the Battle of Five Forks or repulse of Gen Gordon’s attack don’t count as tactical victories, just to name some obvious examples. I suggest that retreating all the way to Petersburg & being forced to dig in & await the end is, by anybody’s definition, a very strange sort of victory.
 
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