Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign

Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign

Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign

Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign

Synopsis

In a groundbreaking, comprehensive history of the Army of Northern Virginia's retreat from Gettysburg in July 1863, Kent Masterson Brown draws on previously unused materials to chronicle the massive effort of General Robert E. Lee and his command as they sought to move people, equipment, and scavenged supplies through hostile territory and plan the army's next moves.

More than fifty-seven miles of wagon and ambulance trains and tens of thousands of livestock accompanied the army back to Virginia. The movement of supplies and troops over the challenging terrain of mountain passes and in the adverse conditions of driving rain and muddy quagmires is described in depth, as are General George G. Meade's attempts to attack the trains along the South Mountain range and at Hagerstown and Williamsport, Maryland. Lee's deliberate pace, skillful use of terrain, and constant positioning of the army behind defenses so as to invite attack caused Union forces to delay their own movements at critical times.

Brown concludes that even though the battle of Gettysburg was a defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee's successful retreat maintained the balance of power in the eastern theater and left his army with enough forage, stores, and fresh meat to ensure its continued existence as an effective force.

Excerpt

Gettysburg, 3 July 1863, approximately 3:50 p.m.

Through the heavy smoke and enemy artillery fire, the tattered remnants of the commands of Major General George E. Pickett, Brigadier General James Johnston Pettigrew, and Major General Isaac R. Trimble streamed down the bloody slope of Cemetery Ridge. Their attack against the center of the Union Army of the Potomac had been a disaster. “The whole field,” wrote a Confederate officer, “was dotted with our soldiers, singly and in small groups, coming back from the charge, many of them wounded, and the enemy were firing at them as you would a herd of game.”

Losses had been appalling. In the commands of Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble, more than 6,700 officers and men were casualties. Nearly 5,000 were killed or wounded. Along the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge the dead and wounded lay in “heaps.” The bodies of many of those who fell near the Union lines were literally set on fire by the flames from the blasting artillery pieces.

In Pickett’s Division, the severe loss was told by the staggering number of casualties among general and field-grade officers. Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead was mortally wounded and in enemy hands. Brigadier General Richard Brooke Garnett was dead and his body unrecovered. Only Garnett’s frightened, wounded, and riderless horse had been seen cantering to the rear prior to the climax of the attack. Brigadier General James Lawson Kemper was savagely wounded; a musket ball had entered his groin and ranged up his spinal column. Thirteen regimental commanders were killed or wounded; three lieutenant colonels were killed and eight were wounded. Of nine majors, one was killed and seven were wounded.

Not only Virginia but also North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee had sent their sons into that maelstrom of death. In those fields . . .

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