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Lincoln Letter Brings up Interesting Question - Abraham Lincoln - The Participants of the War - Mikitary & Civilian - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Fri Jun 8th, 2007 02:28 pm
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TimHoffman01
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This article is on the front News Page of the CWI site:

http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0720751120070607

 

As the article says, it is the hand written original of a well known telegraph from Lincoln trying to get Meade to pusue and destroy Lee's army.  Popular opinion stated seems to be that if he had done so, the war would have ended two years earlier.

Question:  Is it probable that would have happened, or is it equally likely that pursuing Lee and forcing him into a defensive position (what Longstreet seems to have wanted from the begining) would have resulted in a bloodletting that reversed the gains of Gettysburg proper and made the campaign a draw militarily. 

I know that a lot of folks here don't like hypotheticals, but I was just wondering what the peanut gallery thought.  Could Lee's army on the defensive had enough fight to successfully hold against he Army of the Potomac, AND if they did so, what the military and especially the Political ramifications may have been?



 Posted: Fri Jun 8th, 2007 02:51 pm
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HankC
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Lee was in the same position as Pemberton at Vicksburg: flanks anchored on, and his back to, the river.

My opinion is that constant pressure by Meade would have prevented an orderly escape with losses to the ANV between 50 and 100 percent.

 

HankC



 Posted: Fri Jun 8th, 2007 08:01 pm
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ole
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So long as the peanut gallery was called on, the peanut gallery responds. "It's Howdy Doody Time!"

Must disagree with the learned Mr. C -- to a point. Meade was just as frazzled as was Lee. His wagons were scattered hither and yon, and he was too cautious to send the army (exhausted army) off without it. Mr. Hoffman has called it about right: there was nothing Lee or Longstreet would have liked more than to fight the AotP on ground of the ANV's choosing.

From Lincoln's -- and Mr. C's -- view, this was a war-ending opportunity. Lincoln's disappointment is palpable. How unreasonable was Meade's delay? He got the cavalry off in pursuit; could he have put an effective force on the road after the ANV on the morning of July 4th? Could he have done it and remained in compliance with his mandate -- cover Washington and Baltimore?

And let's look at Washington. Why didn't Halleck go in person to order Meade to move at all hazards? Wouldn't it make sense to strip the Washington garrison by half and move them over to Harpers Ferry or thereabouts -- at least to get in Lee's way a little -- perhaps to give him pause about crossing at some of the points he did?

Lincoln's disappointment is certainly understandable; but so too is Meade's hesitation. Will look for other replies to TimHoffman's post.

Ole

 

Last edited on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 08:03 pm by ole



 Posted: Sat Jun 9th, 2007 01:12 am
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Texas Defender
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   Once again, I see that some have a penchant for speculating on hypothetical situations. So, I'll make my contribution and then present a whimsical possible scenario.

   General Meade had just suffered 23,000 casualties, including many senior leaders. His men were exhausted in their defensive positions, experiencing a great sense of relief and not a charge of adrenaline. Meade had indeed : "Fought well on his own dunghole." He had thrown back the invincible ANV. Few were in any mood for an all out pursuit to begin. So, contrary to the wishes and hopes of Mr. Lincoln, my conclusion is that the AOP was not in any condition for the energetic action required to put any real pressure on General Lee.

   But here is how an accident of history MIGHT have happened:

   Hearing that the Confederates have been thrown back , a jubilant but quiet General Meade leaves his headquarters with some staff officers and rides toward the scene of the heaviest fighting.

   As he approaches the front lines, a stray round, fired very late and missing its target comes down and grazes Old Baldy. Feeling the pain, the horse lurches forward, causing General Meade to drop the reins. The general tries in vain to control the horse, which now gallops forward, passing through the federal lines and moving toward the withdrawing Confederates.

   The exhausted Union troops stare with disbelief as their commanding general spontaneously leads a charge towards the retreating enemy, followed closely by some of his staff officers. A great cry goes up starting with the closest witnesses, and travelling down the lines on both sides. Some soldiers begin to rise up and follow their commander. A great cheer rises, and large numbers of men crawl out of their defensive positions and begin to advance. The movement begins to develop on its own momentum, a la Missionary Ridge (Later, but used as an example).

   Cavalry joins the movement, and even artillery units prepare to hook up their guns. A kind of competitition develops between units to be in advance of the general forward movement. Subordinate commanders now order an advance.

   A full quarter of a mile from his starting point, someone manages to rein in Old Baldy. But by now, even Lincoln himself, if he had wanted to, could not halt the advance.

   Units now begin to engage the Confederates, pushing back the rear guard and pressuring the trains. Great consternation devlops among the tired Confederates, and eventually, a less orderly withdrawl begins to take place. Sensing a greater victory, the Union cavalry surges forward, followed by the leading units of infantry. A general pursuit is now underway.

   Confederate units attempt to set up hasty defensive positions, and they manage to at least slow the federal advance. But the bulk of the ANV finds itself in a shrinking perimeter with the swollen Potomac to its rear. In the end, General Lee and most of his men manage to escape by crossing the river, but instead of 28,000 casualties, the ANV suffers 50,000, most of which are captured in the end.

   The Confederacy is stunned. 30,000 men have just surrendered at Vicksburg, and now 50,000 more are effectively lost. Jefferson Davis offers his resignation, which is not accepted. He sends an envoy to ask what terms Lincoln would require for an end to hostilities. A peace conference is arranged, a la the later one that took place in February of 1865. Alexander Stephens meets with Lincoln, whose one demand is: "Union."

   Jefferson Davis  agonizes . He'll never get better terms than he is offered now. Will he ask the southern people to give up their hope of independence, or will he ask them to fight on, after their finest armies have been defeated, and no rational person could expect a military victory at that point? He cares not about his own fate, but what will theirs be? Both choices are equally devastating to him. In the end, he decides that he must.........

(Feel free to continue the scenario from here. Hey, I told you that it was whimsical).

 

 



 Posted: Sat Jun 9th, 2007 01:43 am
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ole
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In the end, he decides that he must.........


take a few days off. (In whimsy, there are no boundaries.)

Thanks for an entertaining post.

Ole



 Posted: Sun Jun 10th, 2007 11:57 pm
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CleburneFan
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What I question is in what kind of shape was Meade's army to mount an energetic pursuit after Lee's army. Meade faced some considerable barriers to an immediate pursuit.

First, it was raining like crazy on July 4 and throughout the night into July 5.  Not just rain, but lightening and drenching rain for hours. Smoke and rain made it hard for his Signal Corps to observe Lee's movements. Leealso had  ordered his troops to set fire to their log breastworks so as to create a smoke screen for his retreat.

Meade needed to know where Lee was headed. Yes, most likely to the Potomac, but which route? Would he head to South Mountain or would he head to Williamsport? Meade's cavalry under Kilpatrick and Gregg had been detailed to harass and raid Lee's wagon trains, but they didn't send back enough timely intell about Lee's intentions.

Meade had his supply base in Winchester. Should he move his supplies to Frederick or keep them in Winchester? That depended on what Lee was doing.

Meade's men were hungry, horses were unfed, badly shod and breaking down. The men and horses were exhausted. How do you mobilze a force under such discouraging  conditions?

Lee had left behind hundreds of dead men, horses and mules. Plus Meade had hundreds and hundreds of Union deceased to bury, let alone the wounded and ill of both sides.  The air was foul with the stench of rotting flesh. Could Meade just leave and expect the citizens of Gettysburg to bury the remains of so many troops or did he have some obligation to put details together to complete that horrible task? (Evidently this question did not plague Lee as he did go off and leave behind dead and severely wounded, although he did leave some medical staff to care for Confederate wounded.)

And, yes, it could be argued that Lee's army had equally overwhelming obstacles to their successful retreat including wagon trains that were miles and miles long, thousands of head of livestock foraged by Confederate troops up to and even during the actual battle, plus the same terrible weather and muddy roads that blocked Meade's advance. Lee also had to move as many wounded as possible in those wagon trains, a trip so harsh that many died and were buried by the roadside or wounded whose conditions worsened so they were left in nearby homes. Lee had another burden...a few thousand Union prisoners. Meade had refused Lee's request for an exchange, so Lee was stuck with all those men to guard, feed, and care for.)

I can't recall exactly, but wasn't Meade running short on ordnance and QM supplies at this time? He probably would have had to send for more. I'm foggy on this part. G-burg experts can clarify Meade's supply situation in the critical days right after the battle. but I'm sure Meade's logistical situation would have slowed him down too. 

Well, to shorten this post, I'll just say I don't know if Meade's situation would have allowed a swift and decisive pursuit of Lee's army with the aim of finishing it off once and for all even if Lincoln did dream of such a possiblity and long for it. That's just the way I see it.


(I forget who called it that, was it Lee? But it was a phrase called the "friction of war" or the "friction of battle." An army or its leaders may desire a certain outcome, but so much can happen to slow down or impede the desired result. Right after Gettysburg, I feel the "friction of war" was very much in force those fateful next few days.)
 

 

Last edited on Mon Jun 11th, 2007 12:05 am by CleburneFan



 Posted: Mon Jun 11th, 2007 07:41 am
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ole
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There is no doubt that Meade was in an impossible situation. The only point here is that Lee was, as well. The stakes were so high on July 4th, that the impossible ought to have been attempted.

Ole



 Posted: Tue Jun 12th, 2007 12:55 am
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CleburneFan
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But what about the risk, Ole? Meade had just lost about a quarter of his army. Yes, Lee had lost even more. But Meade, fearing that Lee had headed to the mountains for the purpose of creating a stronghold and making a fierce stance, couldn't risk being on the low ground and losing to Lee.

Meade did send cavalry out. Kilpatrick attacked Hagerstown and Buford attacked Williamsport where Lee's wagon trains were jammed up waiting to cross the swelling Potomac River. That both Union cavalries lost their attempts and had to retreat shows how tired, hungry and unsupplied Meade's men and unfed, unshod horses were post-Gettysburg.

I'm just not sure how effective any strategy Meade might have employed would have been given his circumstances and, let's not forget, that torrential rain and knee-deep mud. Nobody was going anywhere very fast.

Maybe he could have sent out one or two corps to harass and slow Lee's progress, but first he needed to know what Lee was up to and not risk being lured into a deadly  trap. Plus Meade may only have been able to guess how badly torn up Lee's army was.



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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2012 09:09 am
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Hellcat
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It seems fairly well known that Lincoln wanted Meade to follow up his success at Gettysburg. Had he done so could he have ended the war sooner? Possibly, but people tend to forget that the war ddn't end when Lee meet Grant at Appomatox Courthouse. There were still other armies in the field and it was weeks before they all surrendered. This would have freed the Army of the Potomac to move west and join in the fighting there, though likely the AoP would have had to become more an Army of occupation while the war was still being fought in the Western Theater.

But could Meade have acted quickly? His army had just fought one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The AoP was tired and worn out, they might have had the heart to go on but would they have had that heart for much longer or would the push have turned the tide of battle. That's impossible to say and so I won't begin to guess on that one. But Meade had another thing going agaisnt him, some of his generals were still loyal Hooker men and had already been causing him troubles even before the battle ended. After the battle and his failure to follow up and crush the ANV two of these men, Butterfield and Sickles, tried to discredit Meade and have Congress remove him. Meade had as much to contend with some of his own generals as he did the state of the army. Had he moved sooner than he did then the former might not have been a problem. But the latter would have been a different matter.



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