Your decision on July 1 at 5 PM: What do you do?

Let’s discuss Lee’s decision at the end of Day 1.  Does he stay or go?  Remember, the Union objective was not to defeat Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in a major battle on Day 1, but to hold Lee’s forces back from seizing the high ground southeast of town.  Lee’s men approached Gettysburg from the west, and the north.  So, it is about 5 PM on July 1st.  The fighting is over for now.  2nd and 3rd Corps of your army have pushed the Union 1st Corps and 11th Corps back through town and taken many prisoners.  James Longstreet is counseling you to move, either around Gettysburg, or back toward South Mountain.  Lee insisted on staying and assaulting the Union forces on Culp’s and Cemetery Hills, and Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top.   You know how that worked out.

You are General Lee.  It is 5 PM on July 1.  Do you stay?  If you stay, what would you do differently from what Lee did?  If you go, where do you go?  What would your plan be?

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About wgdavis

Mr. Davis is an historical researcher and NPS Volunteer living in the Gettysburg area.
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1 Response to Your decision on July 1 at 5 PM: What do you do?

  1. wgdavis says:

    Here is what we think:
    Lee failed to grasp the tactical advantage gained by the Federal forces on July 1 when they delayed the Army of Northern Virginia all day, thus allowing the bulk of the Army of the Potomac to arrive and occupy the more advantageous high ground southeast of the town: Culp’s Hill, Powers’ Hill, Cemetery Hill, Stevens Knoll, Cemetery Ridge, Munshower’s Knoll and Little Round Top. Accordingly he played right into the hand originally dealt by Brigadier General John Buford and Major General John Reynolds, that the key to stopping Lee was to be ensconced on that high ground in what we now know as “The Fishhook”.

    We think, therefore, that the best move for Lee would have been to withdraw west onto the upper slopes on the east side of South Mountain, controlling the gaps with combinations of Cavalry, artillery and some Infantry for support. All the avenues of approach to the ANV’s positions there would be narrow, and steep, and the terrain would prevent the Union troops form forming lines of battle to assault Lee’s troops. Additionally, Lee would be closer to his supply line, and to his avenue of withdrawal. His movement down the Cumberland Valley to the Potomac would be guarded on his left by those forces guarding the gaps [Monterey, Fairfield, etc.]. There would still be food available in the Cumberland Valley, and even more available immediately west of the Valley, and an almost total lack of any Union forces in that area – certainly not enough to matter.

    Additionally, Lee would draw the ire of every newspaper editor in the north, so that Lincoln [and Meade] would be faced with quickly mounting public pressure to forcibly remove Lee from Pennsylvania.

    The Longer Lee stays in Pennsylvania the more crops can be harvested in the Shenandoah Valley, which was pne of the principal reasons for mounting the campaign.

    Finally, the move steals the initiative back from the Army of the Potomac, and allows Lee to dictate where he will fight them, on ground of his choosing, not of theirs.


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