Was Gettysburg Really a Major Defeat for the South?

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,391
#51
Lee failed to score a decisive blow against the Army of the Potomac, his attacks were repulsed on Days 2 (if barely) and 3, and his army went into retreat back into Virginia after, with between 30% and 40% of the rebels who marched or rode into the battle casualties. Those casualties included nearly one third of Lee's generals.

That the invasion of Pennsylvania gave Virginia's farms some respite was poor compensation for the mauling the Army of Northern Virginia took for no tangible military gain.
 
Likes: Edratman
Jul 2018
296
Hong Kong
#52
I agree that the impact of the AD 1863 Battle of Gettysburg was grossly "exaggerated" by many historians and military readers, just like how people overestimated the AD 1575 Battle of Nagashino's effect to the downfall of the Takeda clan.

Virtually, in terms of military strategy, what the Union army achieved was merely beating back the Confederate army and consolidated Lincoln's political reputation and his policy to continue the civil war, without capturing any valuable strategic point / base / region or drastically changing the military situation from the strategic perspective. Though Robert Lee's reputation was somehow diminished with this crushing defeat, he still had the large field army intact by leading them withdraw southward successfully as Maede failed to annihilate this Confederate army in hot pursuit. On top of that, the Confederation hadn't lost the will to fight or inclined on negotiating peace with the Union government after Gettysburg, and still possessed morale and large number of troops stationed in wide-range of territories with not a single state or troops "defecting" to the North. In AD 1864, Ulyssey Grant had to fight Lee's major field army for every inch of ground pushing southward with no less than 13 major battles and countless skirmishes encapsulated, proved the unweakened tenacity and military strength (in quality) of Lee's Confederate army, which was still mounting the huge challenge to the Union army's full-scale offensive after Gettysburg.

Just like how Nagashino failed to weaken Takeda Katsuyori "decisively" in strategic evaluation. From AD 1575-1581, Tokugawa Ieyasu's attempt to seize the large swath of territories ranging from the eastern Totomi to the western Suruga progressed little and thwarted by Takeda Katsuyori's field army efficiently for each attack until the fall of the Takatenjin Castle — a similar case to Grant's Overland Campaign.

Nevertheless, I still opine that Gettysburg was a "turning point", not because the North inflicted the "crushing victory" over the South strategically, but shattered the last hope for the Confederate to end the civil war by forcing peace upon the Union government with the growing resentment of the Northerners in the prolongation of the war.
 

Maki

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
2,060
Republika Srpska
#53
Nevertheless, I still opine that Gettysburg was a "turning point", not because the North inflicted the "crushing victory" over the South strategically, but shattered the last hope for the Confederate to end the civil war by forcing peace upon the Union government with the growing resentment of the Northerners in the prolongation of the war.
This actually happened over a year later, after the 1864 election.
 
Jul 2018
11
Holstenwall
#54
The greatest impact was the psychological defeat on Robert E. Lee. He realized the army of Northern Virginia was not the undefeatable force he had predicted. After his will was broken, you can see changes in his judgement as a commander. The south had the superiority in leadership but once the leadership's faith in the war was broken (ie gettysburg) the war had a steady decline. The South could not outproduce the North.
 

Code Blue

Ad Honorem
Feb 2015
3,584
Caribbean
#55
The greatest impact was the psychological defeat on Robert E. Lee. He realized the army of Northern Virginia was not the undefeatable force he had predicted. After his will was broken, you can see changes in his judgement as a commander. The south had the superiority in leadership but once the leadership's faith in the war was broken (ie gettysburg) the war had a steady decline. The South could not outproduce the North.
That's a very interesting hypothesis. Can you give a few bits of the evidence you use to draw inferences about Lee's will and judgment?

I can give you my "rebuttal" in advance. I am skeptical about Monday-morning quarterbacks and soul-reading. The ACW, in the east, reminds me of table-stakes poker in which Lee and Jackson have fewer chips. I sense signs of desperation in the whole idea of invading the North. That is, IF Lee can win on enemy soil, and IF this can be a big enough blow to enemy morale? Yikes! In the words of Aldo the Apache, that's one big IF. :)
 

Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,062
VA
#56
The greatest impact was the psychological defeat on Robert E. Lee. He realized the army of Northern Virginia was not the undefeatable force he had predicted. After his will was broken, you can see changes in his judgement as a commander. The south had the superiority in leadership but once the leadership's faith in the war was broken (ie gettysburg) the war had a steady decline. The South could not outproduce the North.
There is absolutely no factual basis for this. Lee continued as an effective field commander throughout the remainder of the war, commanding in much the same style. It was on the Union side that the command philosophy and effectiveness changed substantially.
 
Jul 2018
11
Holstenwall
#57
That's a very interesting hypothesis. Can you give a few bits of the evidence you use to draw inferences about Lee's will and judgment?

I can give you my "rebuttal" in advance. I am skeptical about Monday-morning quarterbacks and soul-reading. The ACW, in the east, reminds me of table-stakes poker in which Lee and Jackson have fewer chips. I sense signs of desperation in the whole idea of invading the North. That is, IF Lee can win on enemy soil, and IF this can be a big enough blow to enemy morale? Yikes! In the words of Aldo the Apache, that's one big IF. :)
There is absolutely no factual basis for this. Lee continued as an effective field commander throughout the remainder of the war, commanding in much the same style. It was on the Union side that the command philosophy and effectiveness changed substantially.
My quick "rebuttal" would be to just say Pickett's charge on the third of battle proved the vanity Lee had for the army of Northern Virginia. The march over three-quarters of a mile of open ground was a huge gamble. Longstreet almost flat out begged Lee to not engage in this attack. Losing Jackson was a big hit for the army meaning that Lee had to rely on Longstreet more than ever. He ignored his counsel and did not have proper reconnaissance throughout most of the battle due to the absence of J.E.B. Stuart. After the defeat Lee rode to greet his retreating troops, and is quoted as saying, "It was all my fault". I just don't think that had a positive affect on the army or Lee. I did not say his tactics changed only that his overall judgement had, knocking him back into reality showing that he could be defeated. The effect it had on Longstreet was probably greater because he is quoted as saying, "Never was I so depressed as I was on Jul 3rd." He seems to have been more willing to listen to Longstreet after the battle. Just a hypothesis as you said :).
 

Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,062
VA
#58
My quick "rebuttal" would be to just say Pickett's charge on the third of battle proved the vanity Lee had for the army of Northern Virginia
Perhaps so, but it was completely in line with Lee's previous behavior. He ordered a far larger assault at Gaines' Mill, that worked, planned a larger one at Malvern HIll, and planned a larger one at Chancellorsville.

and did not have proper reconnaissance throughout most of the battle due to the absence of J.E.B. Stuart.
Lee had access to four of the army's seven cavalry brigades throughout the entire campaign, and I have never seen a clear explanation of what information he could possibly have received that would have convinced him not to launch Pickett's Charge.

. I just don't think that had a positive affect on the army or Lee. I did not say his tactics changed only that his overall judgement had,
Lee was generally just as effective a general post-Gettysburg as he had ever been. The difference was that Union performance improved.

He seems to have been more willing to listen to Longstreet after the battle.
Based on what?
 
Jul 2018
11
Holstenwall
#59
Perhaps so, but it was completely in line with Lee's previous behavior. He ordered a far larger assault at Gaines' Mill, that worked, planned a larger one at Malvern HIll, and planned a larger one at Chancellorsville.
These are all pre-Gettysburg battles. He didn't order assualts on the same magnitude after Gettysburg.

Lee had access to four of the army's seven cavalry brigades throughout the entire campaign, and I have never seen a clear explanation of what information he could possibly have received that would have convinced him not to launch Pickett's Charge.
He could have learned from more intelligence that the bulk of the Union force was not behind the center of Cemetary ridge. He ordered his artillery to fire behind the front lines because he believed the bulk of the Union force was stationed there, so the largest artillery barrage in the western hemisphere was largely ineffective in softening up the Union position. Which lead to greater casualties in the attack.


Lee was generally just as effective a general post-Gettysburg as he had ever been. The difference was that Union performance improved.
Again I will say that I am speaking about the psychology of Lee which is something not often talked about, because the undying cult of worship around his abilities as a battlefield commander. He wasn't as gifted when it came to planning campaigns and utilizing victories. He was bogged down in the wilderness campaign after Gettysburg. I agree that the Union had better leadership when Grant came to the east after Vicksburg and Lee had to contend with a more capable commander.


He was not called "Lee's old warhorse" for nothing. After Gettysburg he agreed with Longstreet to allow him to take up command in the west. Where he saw some success. When he returned to the east under Lee's command he was instrumental in the engaging of trench warfare at Petersburg and Lee later adapted the strategy at Cold Harbor. It's no secret that Lee and Longstreet differed in battlefield ideology, but when Jackson was killed. Lee had to rely on Longstreet more because he was one of the few commanders he trusted to lead a large force.
 

Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,062
VA
#60
These are all pre-Gettysburg battles. He didn't order assualts on the same magnitude after Gettysburg.
Lee did not have the opportunity to engage in large assaults after Gettysburg. He was forced onto the defensive, but still planned and attempted bold strokes where he could. He planned to order two entire corps to assault a Union corps at North Anna, but the opportunity slipped away. He threw the dice as much as he ever did when he detached Jubal Early's corps from his lines


He could have learned from more intelligence that the bulk of the Union force was not behind the center of Cemetary ridge. He ordered his artillery to fire behind the front lines because he believed the bulk of the Union force was stationed there, so the largest artillery barrage in the western hemisphere was largely ineffective in softening up the Union position. Which lead to greater casualties in the attack.
This is fundamentally incorrect. Lee believed the Union center was weak because he had drawn their forces to the flank. The artillery was firing on the Union center, but often overshot because of faulty artillery fuses. Additionally, cavalry could not have told him this unless the Union cavalry allowed them behind Union lines; as East Cavalry Field clearly indicated, that was not happening.

He was bogged down in the wilderness campaign after Gettysburg. I agree that the Union had better leadership when Grant came to the east after Vicksburg and Lee had to contend with a more capable commander.
Exactly my point. Lee performed just as well as he usually did, in the same command style, with the same boldness. He was up against different, far more persistent Union leadership.

He was not called "Lee's old warhorse" for nothing. After Gettysburg he agreed with Longstreet to allow him to take up command in the west. Where he saw some success. When he returned to the east under Lee's command he was instrumental in the engaging of trench warfare at Petersburg and Lee later adapted the strategy at Cold Harbor. It's no secret that Lee and Longstreet differed in battlefield ideology, but when Jackson was killed. Lee had to rely on Longstreet more because he was one of the few commanders he trusted to lead a large force.
Longstreet was shot in the first battle of the Overland Campaign, at the Wilderness. Leading an offensive, incidentally. He had nothing to do with the trench warfare in the later stages of the campaign, or at Petersburg, which took place after Cold Harbor. Longstreet did not even return to the Army of Northern Virginia until near the end of the year in 1864. The trench warfare across the entire war by 1864 was driven by soldiers putting up entrenchments on their own, rather than by the order of any particular general.

Perhaps you should straighten out timelines and basic facts before attempting psychoanalysis?