In Section 1a, I recounted what seemed to be Lee’s overarching plan for the invasion of the north: 1) he hoped to win a decisive victory over the Army of the Potomac; 2) he hoped that that would bring Lincoln to the negotiating table to end the war. In another series of late-nite musings, I began to ponder under just what circumstances Lincoln might have been brought to the table. How decisive a defeat would the Army of the Potomac have had to suffer to cause him to call for a cease-fire and the end of hostilities – losing the Union in the process? In short, was it humanly possible for Lee to have achieved either of his goals?
Perhaps the loss of the city of Philadelphia, the former capitol of the nation, would have attained such a result. Political pressure may have caused Lincoln’s administration to falter. But the startling information provided by the spy James Harrison all but ended that venture. By 30 June 1863, Lee had to search of a Plan B. Since no plan actually existed, the best he could do was to reconsolidate his scattered forces near Gettysburg. We all know that BG Buford’s rather foolhardy ambush disrupted that movement as well. Perhaps the best plan was suggested by LTG Longstreet, but Lee rejected a move south towards Westminster in favor of continuing the campaign at Gettysburg.
What would a military defeat have looked like to Lincoln? Could it be counted off in the number of casualties inflicted? Seemingly not. Indeed, this was the first time that two armies of 100,000 men faced off against one another, but in prior clashes (Antietam, for example) casualty figures did not seem to be a deterrent from the opposing forces to continue the battle. It took no military genius to recognize that Lee’s army was a small island of the Confederacy isolated deep in the north. How long could he persist living off the land? Could he have undertaken any sort of prolonged siege?
Any of these possible battle positions could have deteriorated into a stand-off not unlike the Monitor and the Merrimack (aka the CSS Virginia). Both armies could have leveled punches at one another until one ran out of punches (supplies and ammunition). Lee would have been likely to fail first.
Just about all the senior officers on both sides were graduates of West Point. They had all studied the successes and failures of Napoleon. One of his favorite tactics was to isolate a portion of his enemy’s forces and annihilate them, thereby reducing the overall strength of his enemy. Unbeknownst to Lee, he might have had such an opportunity with the two Union Corps separated from the main force at Emmittsburg. But without any assistance from Stuart’s Cavalry, Lee had no way of knowing of their vulnerability.
Fortunately for Lee, Meade had no understanding of the disposition of troops of the Army of Northern Virginia either. Essentially, these two forces would blunder into each other near Gettysburg. As it played out over those three terrible days of battle, the terrain and tactics fell greatly in Meade’s favor. The compact line of contiguous hills that Meade occupied was much better suited to the defense than the original line he had chosen at Pipe’s Creek.
What exactly then would a victory for Lee have looked like? Would it not have taken some miraculous collapse of the Union forces to cause Lincoln to give up his goal of saving the Union? Harkening back to Lee’s original proposal and his two-fold goal, what would President Davis had thought would have been sufficient cause to have his forces prevail over Lincoln’s? Hence, why did Davis approve Lee’s plan? Was the threat of starvation of his army in western Virginia so real as to make the move north an absolute necessity?
We must remember that Lee had brought his entire army north. Meade, on the other hand, had his equal number of troops encompassed in 7 Corps. But the entire Army of the Potomac was comprised of 15 Corps. The other 8 were tasked with protecting WASHDC and Baltimore. But with Lee’s army not present as a threat from the south, some of those Corps could have been shifted rather quickly by rail to support Meade. Lee had no such options.
It did indeed seem that however and wherever the possible clashes between these two might forces would take place, Lee was doomed to defeat.
As I understand it, through the early months of 1863, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was being pushed westward. It was a see-saw campaign with both Union and Rebel armies exchanging defeats and victories. Lee proposed to President Davis that he thought that he could bring an end to the war through negotiations, if not an outright military victory, if he could defeat the Army of the Potomac deep inside their own territory.
Is it possible that Lee could have managed a military victory against the Union forces on their own ground? Over the past year or so, I have proposed a number of Alternative History scenarios that begin on 30 June 1863. The majority of those scenarios end in a Rebel defeat.
Lee seemed to have supreme confidence in the ability of his army to defeat the Union forces. But was his effort doomed to defeat from its inception? Did he initiate a chess match that he could never win? I return to my analysis that the Battle of Gettysburg was decided based on 4Ts: Tactics, Terrain, Technology and Timing.
To me, the single most important factor in determining the outcome of that battle was the terrain. The Union’s compact defensive line spanning a series of contiguous hills was not unlike a castle. I can envision Lee looking out from the cupola of the Seminary late on 1 July seeing the Union soldiers digging in at the cemetery and adjacent hills and thinking that he was like thousands of military commanders before him watching the enemy forces manning the castle walls. The concentration of cannons and shoulder-to-shoulder infantry spread over a mere 3 miles was seemingly impregnable.
Time and time again (pun intended), purely serendipitous timing changed the course of that three-day clash. Had Early’s division not arrived just as the last units of the Eleventh Union Corps were moving into place on the Union right flank, the Union line might have held on Day 1. The unzipping of the line was the result of Early attacking a flank that was not yet set in place and therefore was easier to break. This is not withstanding the simple fact that the Eleventh Union Corps had had a questionable history of breaking under pressure. On Day 2, the timing of the 20th Maine’s arrival on the far left flank saved the Union line from being rolled up by Hood’s attack.
Technology came into play twice to the detriment of a Confederate victory. Early on Day 1, the breech-loading rifles that Buford’s cavalrymen carried had convinced Heth, Hill and then Lee that they were facing a much larger force than the 3300 men Buford commanded. Lee’s direct observation of the battlefield mid-morning of 1 July convinced him that Heth had the battle well in hand and that adding Pender’s division would sway the battle his way. Had he fully understood how few men were facing him at that moment, he may have thrown Hill’s entire corps into the fray and won the day prior to the arrival of the Union First Corps. But the volume of fire from those breech-loaders fooled all of them.
Technology also worked against Lee on Day 3 as his faulty artillery fuses decreased the effectiveness of the massive artillery bombardment that should have softened the lines for Pickett to attack.
Lastly, the tactics employed worked against Lee throughout the battle. The major success was Early’s flank attack on Day 1 that broke the Union line. Once Meade was settled behind his ‘castle walls’, he was content to let Lee dictate the course of events. He’d just sit and wait for Lee to act. Lee’s choice of a flank attack by Longstreet on Day 2 was, in reality, the perfect choice. Lee had every reason to believe that the Union left flank was unsettled. It just happened that because of the completely unpredictable action by Sickles that that flank wasn’t where he thought it would be. The ultimate defeat on that day was less Lee’s fault than a victory for Meade in being able to rapidly move troops within his compact perimeter to stave off Longstreet’s attack.
Lee’s decision to try a more frontal attack into the heart of the Union line on Day 3 is much more questionable. Given the fact that a single brigade had reached if not penetrated the Union line on Cemetery Ridge on Day 2, he had reason to believe that a multi-division attack could succeed. My major concern about that tactic was that Lee had not provided any forces to exploit any breach that Pickett might have made.
In short, the odds were stacked against Lee at every turn. I have explored a number of alternative battle scenarios that may have developed in July 1863. The only one that leads to a Rebel victory was for Lee to abandon Gettysburg following the Day 1 battle. This had to occur so that Meade had all of his troops at or moving to Gettysburg on 1-2 July. I have played out multiple alternative battle scenarios (see Section 27) . I have moved the chess pieces around the board in various ways. Most of the time Lee losses!
As postulated in the Alt Hx book by Newt Gingrich and his co-authors, the only route to victory was for Lee to move rapidly south to capture the Union supply depot at Westminster. Every scenario where Meade is directly defending Westminster leads to a Rebel defeat. Despite the fact that Lee had a vast logistical wagon train, he was in fact an island of the Confederacy deep in Union territory. Without the cache of supplies at Westminster, he could not sustain a prolonged battle or siege versus Meade at any geographical position in MD or PA.
There are very few alternative battle scenarios that result in a Rebel win. Lee was possibly correct in determining that a Rebel victory deep in Union territory could have brought Lincoln to the negotiating table and ultimately resulting in the recognition of the CSA by the USA and therefore an overall victory for the South. However, the ultimate chess game that Lee was playing against Meade had all the pieces in Meade’s favor. Whether it was the defense on the hills at Gettysburg or at Pipe Creek, Meade held the advantage in their chess match. Despite Lee’s confidence in his men and his plan to defeat the Army of the Potomac on their own territory, his bold move to invade the north seems to have been doomed to defeat.
OK, I’ll beat this drum one more time [in these uncertain political times, one darn’t beat a horse!]. After hours of ponderings and deliberations over how Robert E. Lee could have snatched victory from the mouth of defeat, I have settled on the one possible road to that victory.
It was the route chosen by Newt Gingrich and his co-author in their ALT Hx book simply entitled GETTYSBURG. They propose that after a long day of fighting even bloodier that the real DAY 1, Lee sees the futility of attacking the castle walls that the Union was fortifying at Gettysburg. He decided to deliberately, but stealthfully, abandon the battlefield and strike out for Westminster.
As always he hands the lead to Longstreet and has him use the Fairfield Rd connection through Emmittsburg then Taneytown and on to Westminster. The rest of the Army of Northern Virginia would follow in trail. I won’t re-tell Gingrich’s tale. Suffice it to say Lee captures Westminster and its huge cache of military supplies. This enables him to then re-position his army to Pipe Creek and re-fight the Battle of Fredericksburg; this time to a decisive victory.
In some of my late night musings, I have explored a variety of alternative attack plans; all leading to a Rebel defeat. Only if he is shored up with Union supplies and occupying the next best defensive line (Pipe Creek) south of Gettysburg, can Lee find victory!
Having laid out this route to a possible Confederate win, we are forced to ask if it is plausible. Getting Longstreet to Westminster required two long days of marching. But that was the easy part, could Lee have held Meade’s attention at Gettysburg and slipped his army (less a few thousand men) away unnoticed? Newt seems to think so, to the point where he used that victory as the basis of a trilogy of books.
Part of the plan, of the ploy, was to capitalize of Meade’s well-known cautiousness. Straightaway down the Gettysburg to Westminster road through Taneytown was a long, but manageable, single day’s march for infantry. Lee’s main challenge was to hold Meade’s attention while his army slipped away. Gingrich postulates that Stuart’s Cavalry would play a vital role – I agree. Thousands of cavalrymen demonstrating on the NE near Culp’s Hill would certainly grab one’s attention.
Meade would have had to be particularly comfortable in his defensive perimeter to allow Lee the time to slip behind Seminary Ridge and push his army south. Throughout the actual battle, Meade did seem quite content to await Lee’s next moves. Waiting throughout 2 and even into 3 July for Lee to mount a major infantry attack would not be out of the question for Meade.
Suffice it to say that by the time Meade reacts and redirects his army south, Lee is waiting at Pipe Creek; his men have full bellies and are weighted down with Union ammunition. In Newt’s version not only does Meade lose, but dies in the process!
I have always thought that the crossroads battle at Gettysburg could be compared to that for Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in WW2. Patton pulled off an almost impossible military maneuver in rotating his Third Army 90 degrees to relieve Bastogne’s beleaguered garrison. In much the same way, Lee would have had to shift his army away from Gettysburg and slide it south without alerting Meade to what was going on.
Was Lee’s northern invasion doomed to defeat? In these next two scenarios I lay out possible ways for him to have succeeded.
Although I believe that I understand this clash of titans quite well, I am admittedly no expert on the rest of this war. I have, however, recently looked at other major battles in search of a pattern of command on the part of Robert E. Lee. As I had suspected, I found that Gettysburg was outside that pattern.
Let’s take the Battle of Fredericksburg (Virginia not Maryland) as an example. When GEN Burnside (then in command of the Army of the Potomac (AoP)) unexpectedly arrived of the east bank of the Rappahannock River, LTG Longstreet rushed his corps into place along the high ground overlooking the city. What did he do next? He summoned Lee from his HQ some distance to the south. IOW, even ‘Old Pete’ was not going to engage the enemy without Lee’s permission and guidance.
I do not think that this is because Longstreet thought himself incapable of prosecuting such an effort, but rather that he and all the other generals had enormous respect for Lee’s abilities as a tactician and commander. Lee immediately ordered up Stonewall Jackson’s corps to support the defense. Lee then remained on Marye’s Heights with Longstreet throughout the battle.
Such was Lee’s pattern of command. He’d watch each battle as it developed and react accordingly. His repeated absences at Gettysburg were truly an aberration!
I can easily understand his actions on Day 1. What he observed that morning convinced him that Hill and Ewell were well positioned to rout the small cavalry force that stood in their way. So he felt comfortable in departing the battle front. What he did not anticipate was that within a few hours, with the arrival of the First Union Corps, the entire battle would shift in favor of the AoP. It was only the fortuitous arrival of Early’s division that afternoon that turned the tide back in favor of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV).
But why did Lee depart? History says that he returned to the Cashtown area where he was scheduled to meet with LTG Longstreet. But what was so important about that meeting that Lee would ‘abandon’ his forces who were engaged in active combat? Why would he have expected that his initial impression of the battle would play out exactly as he envisioned it? As I have pointed out elsewhere in these essays, none of his commanders would have been proactive in altering or expanding the battle plan without his guidance.
In Section 28 I speculate how the simple deployment of MG Anderson’s Division that morning could have resulted in a Confederate victory. LTG A.P. Hill would never have even considered overstepping the bounds of Lee’s approval to send Pender’s Division to support Heth while holding Anderson in reserve.
As to Ewell’s Corps, both of his lead divisions simply blundered into an ongoing battle and reacted accordingly. In actuality, Rodes’ was more aggressive in his execution of the attack than was Early. Rodes’ men chased the withdrawing Union soldiers into and through the town; although I doubt that this was done on order of Rodes or even his subordinate commanders. I’d suggest that it was a maneuver generated by the rank and file; that the field commanders had generally lost control of their men who wanted to exploit what they perceived as a victory after having been repeatedly repulsed earlier in the afternoon. It wasn’t so much a planned military tactic as a rabble!
MG Early maintained better control and re-formed his division after routing the 11th Corps’ right flank. He had disposed of the immediate threat and, as he would tell Lee later that day, he was following the last orders that he had received telling him not to engage in a major confrontation until the AVN was consolidated. IOW, he was not about to take any additional action without orders .
I return again to the concept that Lee was in the midst of an attack of angina. Even the oft-repeated quote that he ‘felt’ the cannon fire before he ‘heard’ it adds to the speculation that he was focused on (and concerned about) his chest / heart more than the battle. History does not record exactly what Lee did or where he was for the next few hours. He returned to the battle front about six hours later to find the Union forces seemingly in retreat. Even though the arrival of two Union infantry corps had altered the prosecution of the battle, his men had prevailed. Day 1, however, was closer to a stalemate than a clear Rebel victory. It was mainly Early’s decisive action that unraveled the Union line. Heth and Rodes had barely held their own. Pender was only partially engaged.
I do not have any pertinent speculative thoughts on how the execution of the battle may have been altered beyond the deployment of Anderson to the south. Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, Heth and Rodes fought a rather disjointed series of engagements on the main portion of the battle field. Pender was slow to engage on Heth’s right flank. Early scored a quick and easy “check mate” as he disposed of the 11th Corps’ flank. Was there anything that Lee could have contributed as far as orders that could have altered the actuality of that day?
It took a number of hours and a series of repelled attacks before elements of Rodes’ and Heth’s divisions coordinated their efforts on the NW corner of the town. This occurred more or less simultaneously with Early’s decisive actions in the east. The collapse of the Union line was likely due much more to Early than either Heth or Rodes. They benefitted from the rout in the east more so than playing a role in causing it. They could only exploit it.
Had Lee remained in the woods on the far western edge of the battle space or perhaps moved to the higher ground of Oak Hill to better oversee (literally) the battle field, what orders might he have issued that would have even influenced, much less changed, the ebb and flow of that day’s battle? Compared to the pace of battle that we see today (using radios to communicate), battles of that era would appear to be played out in slow motion. In addition to being a highly respected (almost revered) commander, Lee was a brilliant tactician. He did seem to have a knack for anticipating how a battle would develop and act accordingly. But WHAT might he have noticed and HOW might he have ordered a change to what actually transpired?
One of the ‘blunders’ that occurred that afternoon was Rodes’ decision to bring up his artillery to ‘soften up’ the enemy before his infantry attacked. This apparently only had the effect of alerting the Union commanders to his presence and allowed them to shift their lines to better repel those attacks when they finally came. Perhaps Lee’s presence could have precluded that action. Perhaps he could have ensured that Rodes’ three brigades better coordinated their attack rather than acting more or less independently and being repulsed in turn. As I understand it, one of those brigade commanders had not yet arrived when his men attacked and another was quite drunk. Quite obviously Rodes’ division was without competent leadership for a number of hours. Might Lee’s presence have overcome that deficient?
Another factor that might have influenced the flow of the battle was the slowness with which Pender’s Division deployed on the Confederate right flank. Only Archer’s Brigade was heavily engaged against the Union Iron Brigade as the others maneuvered into an attack position. But the Union broke contact before they were adequately aligned. Given the simple fact that all of this was taking place in or to the south of Herbt’s Woods, I doubt that Lee could have even been aware of those developments in time to influence them – particularly if he had re-located farther north to Oak Hill. I’d suggest that that day’s battle space was too large for any one man to observe and influence.
Likewise, MG Early marched into the battle space from the NE. He was quite a distance from the rest of the fighting. He acted swiftly and decisively then moved even farther away from the main battle space. Even a vigilant Lee would likely have been unable to react in time to alter Early’s actions. Dispatch riders on horseback took considerable time to deliver battle reports and orders. Lee would have been expecting Early but would have had no way to know the precise time and place of his arrival . Likewise, Early would have had no idea where to send messengers to alert Lee to his impending arrival. Early was operating in a complete vacuum!
Lee’s infamous “if practicable” order regarding Culp’s Hill came as a result of his late afternoon observation of the series if hills (the castle walls) to the south of town from the Seminary building. Since the majority of the fighting took place on the NW corner of the city, if Lee had stayed to direct the battle he most likely would have done so from the north (Oak Hill). IOW he’d have remained blissfully un-aware of the “castle” to the south of town.
I keep looking for a different chess moves that Lee might have made that could have influenced the battle as it played out that day. He only had five ‘chess pieces’ at his disposal. Given that MG Heth was fully engaged, there was not much he could do with that ‘piece’. MG Pender was too far to the south to observe and alter his actions. Likewise, MG Early was too far to the east. Short of deploying MG Anderson, the only ‘piece’ he had any control over was MG Rodes’ Division. Given the facts of the timing and direction of Rodes’ arrival, it seems to make perfect sense that he’d deploy using Oak Hill as his base of operations. Even the brilliant Lee could not have re-located him to a better tactical position. The best he could have done was employ that division more effectively.
By the late afternoon, the Union line disintegrated and melted back into the city. The only better outcome would have been for the various Rebel units to have isolated and annihilated the Union force. Until Early disrupted it, that Union line was just too strong for the Rebels to break it apart. One of Napoleon’s favorite tactics that all cadets at West Point would have memorized was to break off portions of the enemy’s force and defeat each smaller part in turn. Surely Lee would have liked to have employed that tactic. It almost happened when Archer and Meredith clashed in Herbst’s Woods, but Meredith’s Iron Brigade managed to extract itself and rejoin the main Union line of defense. Was there any way that Lee could have engineered a breakthrough at the point where the 1st and 11th Corps abutted one another? It would have taken a much better plan and level of execution than Rodes was able to muster.
In summary then, I speculate that Lee’s angina was the root cause of his prolonged absences on both Day 1 and 2. While it was his overall command philosophy not to delve too deeply into the details of the execution of his orders, he would generally observe the developments of a battle and react accordingly. This was uncharacteristically not the case in 1 and 2 July 1863! Could his personal presence on the battle field have changed the outcome to any great extent? Could we be dealing with a wholly different world composed of 3-5 “Americas”, after the Confederate States were recognized as a separate country in July 1863?
 Within hours he’d receive the infamous “if practicable [sic]” order concerning Culp’s Hill and decided against further action that evening.
 Remember that Early returned to Gettysburg by a different route than he had traversed when he passed through en route to York.
Having re-written the history of Day 1 above, I now feel compelled to do the same with Day 2. Here, too, Lee disappears after his breakfast meeting with Longstreet. We are told that he received Cpt Johnston’s scouting report later that morning but it neither contradicted nor confirmed his impression of the planned battle, so he issued no new orders. We also know (by default) that none of his subordinate commanders (namely MG Anderson via LTG Hill) informed him of Sickles’ move.
So let’s rewind the clock and return Lee to his standard pattern of observing the battle as it progressed. Late morning he emerges from his HQ, mounts Traveler and proceeds south past the Seminary and up onto the ridge. Reaching the south end, he selects a good vantage point on the crest and surveys the valley before him. What he sees – or doesn’t see – shocks him! Except for skirmishers, there are no Union troops arrayed along the Emmittsburg Road as he had described to Longstreet earlier. Instead they are a quarter to a half mile to the east on the long low ridge (It would be some time after the battle that he would learn the actual names of these formations.) Scanning farther south, he can discern no Union activity on the two rocky hills (Big and Little Round Tops). This at least agrees with Johnston’s scouting report.
It is now sometime after 10 AM when he would have expected to see Longstreet emerge at the southern end of Seminary Ridge. He is a bit perturbed but not overtly concerned and he is not ready to intervene. He always allows his commanders to work out the details of his orders.
When there is still no sign of Longstreet at 11:30, the exasperated Lee dispatches a messenger to have Longstreet halt his march and report to him. Simultaneously, he summons both LTGs Hill and Ewell. Being on the march, Longstreet will be hard to locate and LTG Hill is the farthest away to the north still on the Day 1 battle field.
Then the most unexpected of all possible scenarios occurs! From the saddle between the two long hills nearly directly in front of him, LTG Sickles’ Corps emerges on full parade; easily identifiable by the various command flags on display. With both awe and shock, Lee watches as he deploys two divisions onto the knoll overlooking the Emmittsburg Road and into the nearby wheat field. He is now precisely where Longstreet plans to pivot to begin his attack.
Instantaneously, Lee assesses his options. Again, looking at the battle field as a chess board, Sickles has just put him into ‘Check’ and needs to act fast to extricate himself! Uncharacteristically, he sends for MG Anderson who he knows should be on the slopes just below him.
LTG Ewell is the first to arrive. He is eager to please and to repent for his failure to move on Culp’s Hill the day before. Lee simply tells him to stand down from his attack plan. At the moment his entire corps is too far afield to assist in blocking Sickles’ chess move.
When MG Anderson arrives, he is somewhat perplexed at being summoned to meet with his senior commander without the presence of LTG Hill. Lee proceeds to lay out in great detail the disposition of Union forces in the valley before them. Having had no assigned role in the planned battle, he was not part of the earlier planning at any level.
LTGs Hill and Longstreet arrive almost simultaneously to find the two of them in deep discussion. Lee has completely revised his battle plan. Anderson’s five brigade division is to replace Longstreet’s two divisions as the primary attack force. He will move off the slope and attack Sickles from the north and mount a secondary attack near the saddle to interdict reinforcements. [This ALT Hx scenario is played out in great detail in Section 25K.]
The remainder of Hills Corps is still not part of the plan. He is only there so that he will not feel slighted by being ignored. Longstreet’s orders are amended to act as a supporting attack on Sickles from the south. But at least now he is aware of the presence of that corps in his path. Once again, Ewell is told to time his attack to follow the sounds of Anderson’s.
Almost as an afterthought, Lee summons his artillery chief and tells him to mass every cannon he can on the crest of this hill to support the attack on Sickles’ Corps.
Then, as he had planned to do, Lee relaxes somewhat to watch his forces destroy a part of the Army of the Potomac. He reflects on those lessons long ago at West Point of how Napoleon often did the same with his enemies.
Assuming the revised Day 2 plan is executed more or less as I envision it in Section 25L, the Army of Northern Virginia enters Day 3 much stronger than the actual 3 July 1863. Longstreet’s Corps has suffered far few casualties and is available to support the main attack by Pickett. There is no real change to the cobbled together units on Pickett’s left but both Hood and McLaws extend the battle line far to the south. On 3 July nearly 20,000 men will assault the entire length of the Union line.
Scenario #5: Stalemate
The issues (supply & logistics) that prompted the concept of the invasion of the north were going to plague the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) throughout that campaign. The last thing Lee could afford was to get into a prolonged stalemate. By mid-July 1863, that is exactly what was happening as he faced off with the Army of the Potomac at Pipe Creek (see Section 27).
It takes an enormous amount of food and fodder to maintain an army. Lee’s quartermaster teams were having to range farther and farther north and east to ‘procure’ those items. His next biggest concern was ammunition. He had already looted all that was available at Carlisle. As wagons were emptied, they ferried wounded back to Virginia and returned with more, but this was a slow process. Like a long stream of ants, those wagons were nearly impossible to defend properly. It would only be a matter of time before GEN Halleck would find a way to interdict their flow. It might initially fall to the small Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry. There would be an irony therein. It was partially a disagreement over the use of that garrison that had gotten GEN Hooker relieved and replaced by Meade. Now they could possibly contribute to Lee’s defeat.
Even with the huge losses that MG Stuart’s raid on Westminster caused, Meade was flush with supplies. The damaged railway had been repaired and an eighth corps ferried up from WASHDC. With the AVN bottled up in Maryland, the Capitol was hardy under any immediate threat from the south. They were deployed to the east and south of Westminster as a screen against any such future raids.
On a smaller scale, Lee’s other problem involved Longstreet’s Corps. It was isolated far enough to the SW that it had to operate as an independent force procuring its own supplies. Emmittsburg served as its main base, but it too was all but depleted.
Operating as an island of the Confederacy in the middle of Union territory was never going to be easy. What Lee had counted on was a quick strike and a quick victory. Laying siege to Westminster was never part of that plan. But once Meade implemented his Pipe Creek plan, Lee had no choice but to face off against him.
Now in mid-July, there seemed no hope of moving Meade away from his Pipe Creek line defending Westminster’s cache of military supplies. Meade had no reason to go on the offensive to drive him away. Hunger would be his downfall.
Lee called a war council of his 4 major commanders (Longstreet, Ewell, Hill and Stuart) and announced his decision to admit defeat and withdraw. Stuart would screen the westward shift of Ewell and Hill. Longstreet would act as the army’s rearguard and the last to move west via Hagerstown. By moving Ewell and Hill’s Corps via Emmittsburg, he hoped that he could mask the withdrawal until they were safe.
In summary, I have explored perhaps a dozen ALT HX scenarios by altering one element after another of this battle. All of them lead to a Rebel defeat except three: 1) deploying Anderson’s Division early on 1 JUL; 2) MG Early arrives via the York Pike and turns south; 3) Lee seizes Westminster. Other alterations to the actual battle sometimes improve, often worsen Lee’s position. Ultimately, his invasion fails. Worse of all seem to be those scenarios where Meade does not proceed to Gettysburg but invokes the Pipe Creek Plan. Once, a stand-off evolves north of Westminster with Meade well supplied, Lee has no chance. The laws of Logistics are against him.
It does indeed seem that this invasion was doomed to defeat!