The Great Mistake of Fighting at Gettysburg
Excerpt from How The South Could Have Won the Civil War,
by Bevin Alexander,
Lee’s decision to concentrate the army at Gettysburg was senseless. Even without the scouting of Stuart’s horsemen, he had attained a superb strategic position by his march into Pennsylvania. His army was well north of the Federal army. Long before Meade could have reacted, Lee could have consolidated his army, crossed the Susquehanna, seized Harrisburg, broken the bridges, turned the river into a moat, and had a long head start down the uncontested road to Philadelphia. This was the Union’s second city, with 600,000 people, directly on the main north-south railroad corridor, and absolutely vital to the North. If Lee moved on Philadelphia, Meade would have been obliged to stop him if he could. Anywhere along the way where there was a good defensive position with open flanks, Lee could have halted, drawn up his army, and waited. Meade would have been forced to attack. He almost certainly would have been defeated, and the entire war would have been transformed.
Instead, Lee ordered a forced march on Gettysburg. It was like stepping off a cliff in the dark. He had no idea what lay ahead. Lee admitted in his official report that he knew nothing about the size of enemy forces advancing on Gettysburg or what their intentions were. In fact, Union forces were closer to Gettysburg than were the Confederates. On this day [June 28, 1863] three Union corps and John Buford’s cavalry division were fifteen miles from Gettysburg. The Rebel forces under A.P. Hill remained twenty miles away, with the exception of Harry Heth’s division, which got to Cashtown on June 29. Longstreet and Ewell were twenty-five miles distant, Early’s advance elements forty. The Confederates would arrive exhausted at a place that had not been reconnoitered—and, as it turned out, was already occupied by Buford’s cavalry when the first Rebels arrived. Furthermore, Lee knew nothing of the town’s suitability for defense, nothing of the terrain.<< More 'Civil War' Excerpts << Back to top