What if No Pickett's charge during Gettysburg?

Oct 2015
1,196
California
So the POD in this scenario has Lee thinking his troops were not invincible and instead heeds counsel that he not break off the assault on the union army and head south past Emmittsburg, seek a fording of the upper Potomac which is about a 10 mile march south, then a screening thrust 10 miles east.

To keep the Union Army in the Gettysburg field, Lee orders a feint against the center. This happens to be what Meade expects, but in any event, having failed at the flanks, a central assault seems "reasonable" anyway. At 9:00 a narrow barrage with 1/3 of the artillery commences. Placed in the woods is a brigade of cavalry and a brigade of infantry. Infantry emerges at around noon, followed by cavalry 5 minutes later, faking a charge, but hold up behind the infantry in apparent confusion. Both retreat in apparent poor order to the woods as though the charge went wrong. After an hour, artillery recommences, presumably preparing for the next assault.

At 9:30, a brigade of cavalry start south towards Emmittsburg. At 10:30, the first brigade of Pickett's division starts it's march, with orders to step aside when the next brigade of cavalry follows at 11:30, then another infantry brigade at 12:30, and then horse artillery 1:30. etc.

Around 3:00 another feint, "better organized", with cavalry in the lead half across the field, but turned back by artillery and another "confusion" with infantry that was presumable followed by an apparent rout. Meanwhile the fishhook slowly withdraws.

Within an hour, Emmitsburg is swamped and telegraph wires are cut. In another 30 minutes a false station is established south of the town. The reason for the break given as a raiding platoon is driven off, but with considerable casualties. What with the battle at Gettysburg, this gets low priority, despite repeated angry demands for help.

by noon, a ford is found and cavalry filters across the river. As of 2:00 the first of Pickett's men follow. By 5:00 Cavalry rests within striking distance of Westminster and prepares a night run to splice into the telegraph lines north and south of the town; and ready to bock the rail head at need.

Is this viable? If so what happens next? Confederates are split and strung out; but the Union can only rally in defense of Baltimore and Washington, by way of the railroad to Hanover Junction, thrice the distance of the railway from Winchester.
 
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stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,734
Las Vegas, NV USA
So the POD in this scenario has Lee thinking his troops were not invincible and instead heeds counsel that he not break off the assault on the union army and head south past Emmittsburg, seek a fording of the upper Potomac which is about a 10 mile march south, then a screening thrust 10 miles east.
I believe this was Longstreet's plan. Would Mead have let Lee march away easily? Mead wanted the advantage of the strong union position on Cemetery Ridge and was hoping for a Confederate assault. Once it started I'm not sure how easily Lee's force could disengage without serious losses. In any case this force would presumably be needed at Emittsburg.

Both sides were exhausted by the third day. Lee was eventually able to get back to Virginia. I think that would be his choice in this scenario I think he would have fought some rearguard action with Mead but he would have aimed to cross the Potomac. Lee lost his chance for victory on day 2 when he failed to take Little Round Top.
 
Oct 2015
1,196
California
I believe this was Longstreet's plan. Would Mead have let Lee march away easily? Mead wanted the advantage of the strong union position on Cemetery Ridge and was hoping for a Confederate assault. Once it started I'm not sure how easily Lee's force could disengage without serious losses. In any case this force would presumably be needed at Emittsburg.

Both sides were exhausted by the third day. Lee was eventually able to get back to Virginia. I think that would be his choice in this scenario I think he would have fought some rearguard action with Mead but he would have aimed to cross the Potomac. Lee lost his chance for victory on day 2 when he failed to take Little Round Top.

Good question. Meade tended to be on the conservative side and, having seen that the advantage had swung to the defense, probably would not have been too inclined towards an attack. Which is not to say that a conservative general in a defensive posture would be averse to aggressive scouting. I can see Meade doing this. Likewise, I don't know what could be seen from Big and Little Round Tops so scouting would really be necessary.

Sickles on the other hand would have been more adventurous, but was wounded and evacuated from the field.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,734
Las Vegas, NV USA
I can see Meade doing this. Likewise, I don't know what could be seen from Big and Little Round Tops so scouting would really be necessary.
Little Round Top was critical. Cannon placed on its summit could fire down the length of Cemetery Ridge rendering it almost useless as a defensive position. It was held by the 20th Maine commanded by Joshua Chamberlain on day 2. Had the Confederates taken it, history would been different although on pure strategic considerations the Union was bound to win the war if not the battle IF it persevered.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,986
Dispargum
I think you want Lee to put Meade into a situation where Meade must attack Lee. You want to do this by putting Lee across Meade's supply lines. The problem is that there are so many roads going into Gettysburg that Lee can not possibly cut them all. Lee's supply situation is far more precarious than Meade's. Meade could afford to be patient. Lee could not. Lee was living off of the land in hostile territory. Within a few days Lee's army would have exhausted local food supplies. Lee had to keep moving or else his army would have starved. Meade knew this and knew that Lee would have to fight a quick battle. Meade would have actually preferred Lee to stand on defense. If Lee had, Meade would have simply waited for starvation to do his work for him.

If Lee had taken Emmitsburg, Taneytown, and cut the Baltimore Pike either at Westminster or Littlestown, Meade would have simply transferred his base to York and continued to draw supplies normally. I wouldn't worry about the length of any railroad supply line. The length of a supply line only matters if using horse-drawn wagons. Trains don't get tired.

A couple of other factors: Lee's route to Emmitsburg is indirect, through Fairfield. Meade's route through Barlow and Fairplay is shorter and more direct so even if Lee gets a head start marching to Emmitsburg it's still possible that some of Meade's men could get there first.

On the morning of July 3 Meade had more fresh reserves than Lee did. 6th Corps and most of 2nd Corps had not yet been engaged as well as Gregg's and Kilpatrick's cavalry divisions. Lee had only Stuart's cavalry who had not yet seen combat at Gettysburg but who may have been tired from their recent march/raid. Also Pickett's Division was fresh and Anderson's Division had only been lightly engaged. (Can anyone tell me why Anderson was not used in Pickett's Charge?)

You are correct that to cut all of the roads south of Gettysburg, Lee would have to widely disperse his forces. Meade, however, could remain concentrated and defeat Lee's army in detail.

Lee might be better off making a quick dash to Washington, but with Meade close on Lee's tail, the Washington defenses would probably hold out long enough for Meade to come to the rescue. No, I don't see much opportunity for Lee south of Meade. In Virginia, Longstreet would have right to wait and invite attack from Meade, but in Pennsylvania and Maryland, Lee had to fight and win his battle quickly.
 
Oct 2015
1,196
California
I think you want Lee to put Meade into a situation where Meade must attack Lee. You want to do this by putting Lee across Meade's supply lines. The problem is that there are so many roads going into Gettysburg that Lee can not possibly cut them all. Lee's supply situation is far more precarious than Meade's. Meade could afford to be patient. Lee could not. Lee was living off of the land in hostile territory. Within a few days Lee's army would have exhausted local food supplies. Lee had to keep moving or else his army would have starved. Meade knew this and knew that Lee would have to fight a quick battle. Meade would have actually preferred Lee to stand on defense. If Lee had, Meade would have simply waited for starvation to do his work for him.

If Lee had taken Emmitsburg, Taneytown, and cut the Baltimore Pike either at Westminster or Littlestown, Meade would have simply transferred his base to York and continued to draw supplies normally. I wouldn't worry about the length of any railroad supply line. The length of a supply line only matters if using horse-drawn wagons. Trains don't get tired.

A couple of other factors: Lee's route to Emmitsburg is indirect, through Fairfield. Meade's route through Barlow and Fairplay is shorter and more direct so even if Lee gets a head start marching to Emmitsburg it's still possible that some of Meade's men could get there first.

On the morning of July 3 Meade had more fresh reserves than Lee did. 6th Corps and most of 2nd Corps had not yet been engaged as well as Gregg's and Kilpatrick's cavalry divisions. Lee had only Stuart's cavalry who had not yet seen combat at Gettysburg but who may have been tired from their recent march/raid. Also Pickett's Division was fresh and Anderson's Division had only been lightly engaged. (Can anyone tell me why Anderson was not used in Pickett's Charge?)

You are correct that to cut all of the roads south of Gettysburg, Lee would have to widely disperse his forces. Meade, however, could remain concentrated and defeat Lee's army in detail.

I guess with his army finally concentrated, even a cautious commander like Meade could order a general assault on Confederate positions. The confederates already outnumbered, are now strung out and separated as well. Does Meade send in his entire army and pivot to redeploy so he could begin to roll up the rebels?

Meade can expect reinforcements, especially from the forts guarding Washington. Grant having taken Vicksburg is also on his way to take over from Meade.
Lee for his part can expect few replacements for casualties and little in the way of reinforcements. Does Meade become daring enough he can send his cavalry and some infantry out to tear up Confederate lines?



Lee might be better off making a quick dash to Washington, but with Meade close on Lee's tail, the Washington defenses would probably hold out long enough for Meade to come to the rescue. No, I don't see much opportunity for Lee south of Meade. In Virginia, Longstreet would have right to wait and invite attack from Meade, but in Pennsylvania and Maryland, Lee had to fight and win his battle quickly.
True and that move might put Lee in a bind if he gets pinned by Meade's forces on one side and the ring of forts and whatever forces Lincoln and co could assemble . The over all plan that Lee was working toward was a decisive battle that would convince the North to just let the south go.(Unlikely to happen in my opinion. Even a Confederate victory at Gettysburg would only have prolonged a losing war for the South as stevev just said) Where would lee wish to stop in order to wage that fight? Gettysburg was after all, a meeting engagement neither side expected to fight.
 
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Oct 2015
1,004
Virginia
The geography was against the Confederate army marching across the front of the Federal army (offering its flank like the Austro-Russians at Austerlitz) and getting to a position between them and Washington.

The South Mountain ridge is too close (5-10 miles) and there were/are nothing but farm lanes between it and the Emmitsburg Road, which was within rifle range of the Federal lines. Add to this that the rebels were unfamiliar with the ground, their best cavalry was miles away with Stuart, and the army was spread out in a 10 mile long arc.

But even if they "turned a double sommersault" and somehow reached Emmitsburg before the Federals were aware of the move (there was a Federal cavalry brigade guarding that flank), Meade's army would still be closer to Taneytown and Westminster than the rebels would be, had a better road network to get there (which the staff had already reconnoitered) and was better concentrated, with the entire VI Corps massed and ready to move.

And if by some miracle the rebels did get between Meade and Washington, they couldn't stay there as they had no supply line and couldn't forage with the Federal army in front and the Washington fortifications behind. The rebels might have found themselves surrounded.

It was not a practicable operation. Lee's choices were attack or retire thru Cashtown.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,986
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Gettysburg was after all, a meeting engagement neither side expected to fight.
I'm not so sure about this, despite Lee's after action report that made the battle sound like an accident. I suspect he was being somewhat disingenuous. There were four Confederate divisions marching toward Gettysburg on the morning of July 1. They weren't all looking for shoes. Possibly none of them were, despite Heth's later claim to the contrary. Lee knew he had to win a quick victory. He had successfully concentrated his army, or expected to at Gettysburg. He thought he could swallow up a small part of Meade's army there. He may not have expected Meade to concentrate at Gettysburg as quickly as Meade did.
 
Feb 2019
906
Pennsylvania, US
They weren't all looking for shoes. Possibly none of them were, despite Heth's later claim to the contrary.
I think this is one of those pervasive myths about Gettysburg - there was just one report filed weeks after the battle that mentioned the Confederates were looking for supplies, "shoes especially". There were no shoe factories in Gettysburg at the time - or in the surrounding area; so this quick comment after the fact was blown out of proportion. It's more likely that the roads converging in Gettysburg just pushed the two armies together there.

I think people like the "shoeless Confederate" image, because it's very real (it does give a palpable sense of the state of the average Southern soldier), it's romantic (elicits pathos) and it is a simple, anecdotal explanation compared to the actual elements forming the prelude to the battle.

While I'm sure the Confederates needed shoes among other supplies, I'm pretty sure that has been debunked as the motivation to move towards Gettysburg.
 
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Oct 2015
1,004
Virginia
Lee nearly did win a quick victory, driving the Federal XIth and Ist Corps from the field on July 1st and wrecking IIIrd Corps on the 2nd. Hard fighting by Ist Corps on the 1st, and Meade's rapid concentration of IInd, Vth and XIIth saved the Army of the Potomac.