ALTERNATE HISTORY is a genre where one makes a simple change to a known historical event and explores how that might have changed the history of the event or even of the world as we know it. Throughout history, the entire sequence of the future could have been changed if the outcome of a battle or other event simply went another way.
The Battle of Gettysburg presents us with 5 possibilities that could easily have altered the outcome. Four of these take the advantage over to the Confederate side. By the end of 1863, we could have had the formal recognition of the Confederate States of America is any of these paths in history were followed.
In chronological order these 5 events are:
- JEB Stuart does his job
- BG Buford does his job, and no more
- Lee decides to abandon Gettysburg and move south
- MG Sickles stays put
- The Day 3 artillery barrage succeeds
To my way of thinking, as I explore the likely outcome of changing each of these events, all but #4 result in a distinct advantage to Lee. Unfortunately, for Lee, if he got to #5, he was still likely to lose the battle due to a failure to have a plan to exploit any success of Pickett’s attack.
I do not pretend to be a greater military strategist than Robert E Lee. But I can read a map and I do have the perspective of hindsight. By knowing what actually happened, when and where, I can place myself into the mind and body of the relevant players and allow various scenarios to play out as it they were a movie. In the following Sections, I will lay out a large number of such scenarios as to how a change might have affected the outcome. Some changes are minor, others more far reaching. I generally enter them with no concept of the eventual outcome (IOW these movies have no script) and allow them to play out while trying to stay as faithful as possible to the time, place and persons of the actual events.
In my mind’s eye I envision Meade and Lee facing off over a huge chess board. Pawns (military brigades), knights (cavalry) and rooks (strong points) are strewn about almost haphazardly. Like two Greek gods they are maneuvering those pieces in moves, blocking moves and counter-moves.
The other analogy that I will use often is that the series of contiguous hills south of the city act like castle walls. Like hundreds (thousands?) of military commanders before him, Lee was facing off with Meade as he defended that castle. Lee, however, needed to storm that castle. He could ill-afford a long siege.