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

By Kent Masterson Brown | Go to book overview

One
Take what is necessary for the army

The logistical problems attendant to any retreat from Gettysburg by Lee’s army were acute. The mountains, the distance to the Potomac River, the thousands of sick and wounded, the size of the army, and the capability of the victorious enemy made such an operation extremely difficult. The most profound logistical challenge facing Lee on the afternoon of 3 July 1863, however, was safely moving his enormous quartermaster and subsistence trains— and all the horses, mules, cattle, sheep, and hogs traveling with them—back to Virginia. Those trains consisted of thousands upon thousands of wagons and their horse and mule teams; they extended for miles when on the road. The livestock accompanying them numbered in the tens of thousands. The nature and size of those trains, and the resulting logistical concerns they presented, can only be comprehended by examining Lee’s purpose in invading Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863.

The idea for the Pennsylvania campaign arose many months before. It was born in a desperation caused by the looming collapse of the Army of Northern Virginia if it remained in war-ravaged central Virginia without adequate food and supplies for its men and fodder for its horses and mules. Lee’s army had suffered from shortages of quartermaster stores all through the winter of 1862–63 The shortages were mostly the result of few manufactures being available for the army and a woefully inadequate supply system in the Confederacy. Clothing and shoes were desperately needed yet difficult to obtain. The soldiers were mostly dirty, ragged, and barefooted. Worse than that, the supply of fodder had run out in the early months of 1863. In February General Trimble had recorded that large numbers of horses in his division were dying every day due to “want of food and disease.” For that reason Lee scattered his mounted units, including many artillery batteries, to distant areas behind his lines to allow them to find fodder. On 16 April he wrote to Jefferson Davis of

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