At the beginning of June 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia held the southern bank of the Rappahannock River, while the Army of the Potomac held the northern bank. The armies stared at each other across the river.

Most historians say that the Gettysburg Campaign began on June 9, 1863, when 12,000 horsemen of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps splashed across the Rappahannock and pitched into the Confederate cavalry near Brandy Station. It was a fourteen hour slugging match that accomplished little; it delayed the beginning of Robert E. Lee’s movement north by a single day.

Most histories of the Gettysburg Campaign state that the campaign ended with the Confederate crossings of the Potomac on July 14, since that marks the date that the Army of Northern Virginia returned to the safety of the Old Dominion. However, it took another two weeks for the armies to return to their starting points; on August 1, there was another large-scale cavalry fight at Brandy Station, and the two armies sat staring at each other across the Rappahannock River after some more hard marching and some heavy fighting as they marched back down the Loudoun Valley. In short, sixty days later, the armies were right back where they started from.

What’s particularly interesting is that most of the official reports of the campaign go all the way to the return to the banks of the Rappahannock. In other words, the participants believed that the campaign did not end until the armies had returned to their starting points.

Our original draft of the retreat book ended like all the others, with Lee crossing the Potomac. JD pointed out to me that cutting it off abruptly there leaves the reader hanging, and he’s right. Hence, we’ve decided to add a brief epilogue that provides an overview of those two weeks and the return of the armies to the Rappahannock. Our detailed tactical discussion will end with the crossing of the Potomac, but we felt that in order to finish the story correctly and provide some balance to the story of the campaign, we needed to bring the armies back to their starting points. We’re going to cover those two weeks in only three or four pages, but will at least address this two-week period.

So, the question remains: when did the Gettysburg Campaign really end?

Scridb filter


  1. Thu 26th Jul 2007 at 8:59 pm

    I think this is a very interesting post. It’s a relevant question, but I was wondering if given the views expressed by those involved that perhaps a few pages would be too few. In other words, a full recounting of those last few weeks would really give the reader a different sense of what the campaign involved; most importantly it might change the way it is evaluated. Anyway, I like the idea of broadening the focus.

  2. Thu 26th Jul 2007 at 9:56 pm


    There’s no question that those two weeks need a detailed treatment.

    Our problem is that for us to cover those in detail, it would add another 20-30,000 words to a manuscript that is already pushing the limits of the length we’ve been given by Ted Savas for the project. We thus had to make a difficult choice of doing the first ten days in the level of detail we’ve wanted to do, or thin it all out to include these two weeks. Consequently, we decided to do things the way I laid out in the post. We just can’t include it all, keep the book under 160-175,000 words, and keep the price under $40. It just can’t be done.

    Fortunately, old friend Bob Trout is planning on tackling this period in his next book, so they will get a detailed treatment.


  3. Dave Smith
    Fri 27th Jul 2007 at 8:19 am

    I think a reasonable way to approach the question is to ask whether either Lee or Meade (not both) considered the campaign over once Lee crossed.

    One might argue that by and large Meade did, but I dare say Lee did not.

    That said (and I haven’t looked at any length at any of the primary sources), those primary sources would indicate the degree to which it need be covered.


  4. Art Bergeron
    Fri 27th Jul 2007 at 8:38 am

    What do you mean the campaign ended? Aren’t folks still fighting it?


  5. Fri 27th Jul 2007 at 9:34 am

    Eric (and JD of course),

    I have always been curious about the trials and tribulations that occurred with the evacuation of the wounded from Gettysburg, as well as the differences between the care and transportation of the officers vs. the troops. For instance, how was Kemper treated and ultimately “saved” when his wounds IIRC were originally determined to be mortal, and how many troops died en route to the Old Dominion.

    I’m not sure if this even fits into your study, but I have always felt that the post-engagement logistics and experiences surrounding those that fell (and survived) tend to be neglected. That was one of the things that most impressed me about your “Plenty Of Blame” book as you guys made a concerted effort to included the logistics behind the horses. I’d love to see something on the wounded.

    To this day, I am still dying to know how Gordon was able to survive being wounded repeatedly at Antietam. Even our good buddy Ranger Mannie said that specific details on his emergency care (after he was removed from the Bloody Lane) is rare. Therefore (to me) its another neglected subject that would fit nicely into an entire study of an army’s retreat. Just an idea.

    I always thought that it would be brilliant to write an entire history of WW2 completely from the perspective of the Medics. Their view of the battlefield would be quite different and would be both inspiring and disturbing all at the same time.

  6. Steve Basic
    Fri 27th Jul 2007 at 9:44 pm

    Good point Art, and I second what you posted. 🙂 I don’t think it will ever end, at least not in my lifetime.

    Hope all is well.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve Basic

  7. Don
    Sat 28th Jul 2007 at 10:00 am


    My vote would be for the campaign ending on August 1st, as nearly all of the reports I’ve seen include that time period as well. One could almost make the case that the campaign ended for the Union infantry when Lee crossed the Potomac, but it didn’t end for the AoNV and the Union cavalry until the Rappahannock…. I’ll be very interested to read Trout’s work when it comes out.

    You’ve mentioned that the movement of the hospital would be included several times, but are you planning to cover the march of the Confederates’ prisoners of war?

  8. Sat 28th Jul 2007 at 11:00 am


    No. Brown addresses that, and it’s a logistical thing. We’ve elected not to cover the things that Brown covered in great detail.


  9. Sat 28th Jul 2007 at 8:36 pm


    I apologize for not responding sooner–I missed your comment.

    The answer is no, we’re really not focusing on the wounded much at all. The only portion of the story of the wounded that’s getting any attention from us is the saga of the Wagon Train of the Wounded. Beyond that, it’s more of a logistical issue, and not within the scope of what we’re trying to do here. Rather, our emphasis is on tactics and decision-making, and the story of the saga of the wounded does not fall within those parameters at all.


  10. Shane
    Wed 15th Aug 2007 at 7:36 pm

    “It was a fourteen hour slugging match that accomplished little”

    I beg to differ. Perhaps from a tactical standpoint, but strategically Brandy Station was huge. The forced reconnaisance collected by the union cavalry strongly indicated that Lee’s main body was on the move. Infantry columns were observed by union cavalry that had broken through Stuart’s screen. As a result, the AOP knew of Lee’s advance before they were supposed to. They had no clue that Lee was on the move before this happened and had Stuart not been caught with his pants down it would have remained that way for a while (IMO, too long). Essentially, these observations completely changed the dynamics of Lee’s campaign and in the end caused it’s failure. It caused Stuart to get trapped by union columns that weren’t supposed to be there yet and it precluded Lee’s ability to choose a winning battlefield in Pennsylvania. Like I said, it was huge.

    Even from a tactical standpoint, the Union cavalry, for the first time, held it’s own against JEB Stuart. This was a much needed moral boost. The union cavalry had been routed and embarassed by Stuart every time they encountered one another before this battle. After Brandy Station, that completely changed, the South never really had an advantage with their cavalry again (at least in the East…N.B. Forrest–enough said).

    Anyway, I think the Union accomplished a lot at Brandy Station.

  11. Shane
    Wed 15th Aug 2007 at 8:07 pm

    nevermind..I was reading up on Brandy Station and I guess I’m wrong about it’s strategical worth. I could have sworn that Lee’s infantry was observed at some point during the battle. Maybe Pleasonton ignored it or something. Anyway, sorry about that. I guess I’m wrong. I’m a little rusty with this stuff. I still think it was a big moral boost though.

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