After Gettysburg And Vicksburg

       During the day following Lee's last attack at Gettysburg his army remained in line twenty-four hours, within easy reach of Meade without being assailed. It was afterward stated in testimony before the committee of the United States Congress "on the conduct of the war," that in a council of Meade with his corps generals the propriety of the withdrawal from Gettysburg of the Federa1 army was earnestly discussed. To what extent any such withdrawal was considered at any time is not known, but it is clear that Meade's army had been seriously shattered and was not in a condition which made an immediate advance advisable. The Gettysburg battle was indeed very nearly a Confederate victory. Prompt pursuit of the flying foe on the first day would have made triumph easy. Resolute attack on the morning of the second day by all divisions must have given the field to the Confederates. The fortunes of battle were uncertain on the third day, after all the Federal forces were on intrenched elevations which they were to hold by superior numbers of infantry and artillery. It was still possible by concerted heroic movement to have captured the intrenchments; and this possibility is suggested by the fact that wherever the Confederate attack was heroic and concerted the Federal lines were broken, but where concerted action and due support were lacking the movement failed. So nearly was Meade beaten that he was forced to let the recoiled line of Lee lie undisturbed while its great commander arranged the withdrawal of his army into Virginia. The issue at Gettysburg between a Confederate army of 62,000 and a Federal army (fighting on its own soil) of 105,000, reached this stage of doubt after three days of battle, with loss of Confederates 19,000 and of Federals 20,000.
       On the clay when Lee and Meade were thus contemplating their respective situations, the central strategic position in the West--Vicksburg and the Mississippi river--was surrendered to the Federal forces after a prolonged siege. With valor similar to that which had been shown by the army of Northern Virginia in the battles of this year, their comrades in the West had been contending for supremacy in that section. After many battles the defenders of Vicksburg endured a siege of nearly fifty days and their surrender became imperative. Four days afterward Port Hudson was also given up and the Mississippi river went out of Confederate control.
       These two prominent events occurring together--the withdrawal of Lee from Gettysburg to Virginia and the loss of the Mississippi river--are indissolubly associated in the public mind as the turning point of the issue at arms between the two nations. What might have been the achievements of Lee's army if Stonewall Jackson had not fallen at Chancellorsville is a deeply interesting speculation. What would have resulted had Meade's army been broken into fragments, leaving Maryland delivered, and Washington open to capture, will also remain among unsolved questions. Rumor said that foreign nations were prepared to recognize the Confederate States if Lee made his advance successful; that domestic discontent throughout the North would increase to a revolt there, and that the peace party would present a front' which the war party could not withstand. This sketch, however, treats of events only, and throwing them into groups as they occur will leave them to speak for themselves.
       Taking fresh account of the military situation after this Fourth of July epoch in the Confederate war, it will be found that Meade after some delay transferred his army into Virginia and advanced to Culpeper, where Lee confronted him with a line along the Rapidan. Lee's army when placed in this position was about 48,000, recruited to 56,000 by the 1st of August, including all arms, and composed of the corps of Longstreet, Ewell and Hill, the artillery and Stuart's cavalry. Longstreet's corps was sent to Bragg, and Lee's army from that time varied very slightly from 43,000 after the end of 1863. Two corps were ordered away from Meade about the same time that Longstreet's two divisions were detached from Lee and sent to Johnston. The two armies thus reduced were engaged only in desultory fighting, including one successful advance by Lee in October, and the attempt of Meade at Mine run which failed.

This Page last updated 02/10/02