14 August 2007 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 16 comments

I had one of those Eureka moments that occasionally hit me this evening. As I may have mentioned previously, we decided to add a brief epilogue to the retreat book that covers the period between Lee’s crossing of the Potomac (July 13-14) and the return of the armies to the banks of the Rappahannock River at the end of July. I wrote about four pages on this time frame. It has very little in the way of detail, but it fills the gap in the story and brings the story of the Gettysburg Campaign full circle.

While writing this piece, I remembered that, among the many hurdles that George Gordon Meade had to face during the retreat from Gettysburg, he also had to deal with the fallout of the New York City Draft Riots. The first draft lottery in the history of the United States occurred on July 11, and two days later, five days of bloody mayhem broke out in the streets of New York. As the rioting broke out on July 13, Meade was preparing to launch an all-out attack on Lee’s lines that was scheduled to occur at dawn the next morning. Lee’s crossing of the Potomac on the night of July 13-14 was the only thing the prevented that all-out attack.

Meade’s army was depleted by several thousand of its best combat troops when those troops were sent to New York to help quell the riots. By July 16, martial law had been declared in New York City, and thousands of Federal troops filled the city streets, hoping to restore order.

So, among the many hurdles faced by George Gordon Meade as he tried to bring Lee’s army to bay, he also had to deal with the loss of several thousand veteran combat troops who were sent to New York to deal with the crisis there. I don’t know that any other treatment of the retreat from Gettysburg has addressed this issue, and I don’t know what the precise consequences of these events were for the pursuit of Lee. However, given the many obstacles facing Meade, it’s no real surprise that he chose not to attack Lee’s army at Williamsport until he believed he was truly ready to do so.

I think it bears some additional thought, and I expect to tinker with the epilogue further in order to flesh those thoughts out some more.

This is why I love the Civil War.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Mike Fitzpatrick
    Wed 15th Aug 2007 at 11:49 am

    Eric,
    Thanks for bringing up that point. I feel General Meade has been
    unjustly maligned in regards to the aftermath of Gettysburg.
    For someone thrown into command on such short notice, he did a magnificent job.

  2. Valerie Protopapas
    Wed 15th Aug 2007 at 12:57 pm

    I have brought this topic up a number of times to prove that the concerns that were both thought and voiced about a guerrilla war after the ‘shooting’ war were very real. Lincoln had them, Grant had them and Sherman specifically mentioned the likes of Forrest and Mosby as the ‘nightmare scenario’ in which Union troops would have to fight not easily discovered armies but small tactical groups that could ‘fade into the landscape’ and virtually disappear. If a few Irish gangs without leadership or weapons could cause what was almost an insurrection, how much more damage could have been done by men with good leadership, the ability to procure weapons (unlike Forrest, Mosby equipped his battalion virtually from its inception from the armories of Uncle Sam) and a ‘black flag’ mentality. All one has to do is look at the state of Ireland for several hundred years to know that there would have been chaos, continuing bloodshed and a wound in the nation that would never have healed (always supposing that one believes that the would that WAS created has ‘healed’).

    Lincoln admitted that the only way to win such a war was to annihilate the population fighting it and although the South had lost a large percentage of its population – especially men of fighting age – the type of warfare that took place in New York City doesn’t have to be fought by ‘men of fighting age’ (see modern terrorism). Furthermore, though Sheridan and Sherman might have had no qualms about genocide in the South, Grant would not have been in favor of it if his writings can be believed.

    People wonder today why any respect or honor should be paid to Robert E. Lee. Well, the very fact that there WASN’T a ‘guerrilla war’ after Appomattox can be attributed to Lee. He was asked to give his ‘blessing’ to it and he refused. I think that certainly should be remembered in light of what happened in New York in 1863.

  3. Stephen Graham
    Thu 16th Aug 2007 at 1:23 am

    And you should heap scorn and derision upon any Confederate figure who thought it might be a good idea. Because the people who would suffer the most would be those caught in the regions any guerillas might operate in. That was obvious in 1865 just based on prior experience in West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Missouri. It’s only become more obvious since then.

  4. Don
    Thu 16th Aug 2007 at 11:34 am

    Eric,

    Perhaps the impact on Meade’s pursuit might be best determined by which units and which subordinate commanders were sent (ie more passive or more aggressive)?

  5. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 16th Aug 2007 at 12:04 pm

    #

    Stephen Graham said,

    August 16, 2007 at 1:23 am

    And you should heap scorn and derision upon any Confederate figure who thought it might be a good idea. Because the people who would suffer the most would be those caught in the regions any guerillas might operate in. That was obvious in 1865 just based on prior experience in West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Missouri. It’s only become more obvious since then.

    First, I don’t believe that the ‘guerrilla war’ you speak of in those theaters is anything like the kind of war waged by Mosby or even Forrest though Forrest could not be called a ‘guerrilla’ in the classic sense, whereas Mosby could.

    Much of the bloodshed in the border states had started BEFORE the war and was simply carried on once the war began with more ease than before. In Kansas and Missouri, the jayhawkers and bushwhackers (so-called ‘Union’ and ‘Confederate’ guerrillas) were very active before Fort Sumpter and actually the ‘war’ continued after Appomattox. The use of the cattle trail to Dodge City developed because of the depredation of ‘jayhawkers’ against the cattle herds coming up from Texas.

    However, let me say this: shortly before his death, Lee together with some representatives from Texas spoke with authorities from the Federal Government about the unrest that permeated the South under military occupation during the period of so-called ‘reconstruction’. After the Texas delegation left, the representatives of the government then asked Lee regarding HIS feelings. At that time, he told them in no uncertain terms that had he known what ‘those people’ were going to do to the South after the war, HE WOULD NOT HAVE SURRENDERED AT APPOMATTOX BUT WOULD HAVE DIED WITH HIS SWORD IN HAND WITH HIS MEN rather than surrender to Grant and the Union. It would seem that had Lee been more prescient, he might NOT have refused the ‘guerrilla alternative’ presented to him before he surrendered.

  6. Thu 16th Aug 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Valerie,

    With all due respect….

    This has nothing to do with guerrilla warfare. It has nothing to do with R. E. Lee. It has nothing to do with Mosby.

    This post was about the New York City draft riots. Period.

    You are SO far off topic that I have to respectfully request that you take this discussion to private e-mail, please. Thank you.

    Eric

  7. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 16th Aug 2007 at 7:18 pm

    Forgive me for seeing a connection between the ‘draft riots’ and what happens during a war when an ‘insurrection’ breaks out. Yes, the draft riots not only stopped Meade – which I have opined in other places – but lengthened the war. After all, if we consider that the war ended at Appomattox (and just about everybody does), then we must assume that had the Army of Northern Virginia been destroyed or forced to surrender after Gettysburg, who knows how quickly the entire Confederate resistance would have crumbled?

    What does that have to do with ‘guerrilla warfare’? Simple! One could say that those involved in the draft riots – though they didn’t consider themselves ‘Confederates’, still less Confederate guerrillas – were doing similar types of assaults on the Union. Indeed, the Confederates themselves considered setting fire to New York City as a method of advancing the Confederate cause. I fail to see much difference in the effect simply because those who brought it about had different motives and places of origin.

    Now, when you consider – as you so clearly did – the COST to the Union of the effort to end a riot staged by a group of mere ‘gangs’ (NOT trained soldiers), it doesn’t take much of a ‘stretch’ to see what would have happened had troops such as Forrest’s, Mosby’s and others ‘disappeared into the woodwork’ after Appomattox to continue resistance on such a level. Indeed, Sherman specifically mentions BOTH men in a letter to Grant stating his concern that the defeat of the standing armies in the South would simply mean a change of the type of warfare and a desperate struggle with men who knew no fear and would probably fight to the death under the black flag.

    Ergo, although the topic was the ‘retreat from Gettysburg’, I could see that the very premise that you presented could be interpolated into a much more serious matter than a simple ‘missed opportunity’. Yet, even THAT fact kept the war going for another year and a half when it might have ended in July of 1863!

    As for the mention of Lee, I thought it was necessary to recognize his nobility, especially in this day of ‘revisionist history’. He could have chosen to ‘fight on’ using this means of warfare. It was Lincoln’s, Grant’s and Sherman’s nightmare. If it was ‘off topic’, I apologize. However, I certainly would have been content to ‘leave it’ at that, save for the comment concerning ‘scorn and derision’ which I at least felt was far more ‘off topic’ than my original point. Perhaps I should not have responded to it, but there is – as I’m sure you will agree – a very different aspect to the ‘guerrilla war’ waged in the border states than that which was waged under Lee in Northern Virginia.

    I hope that this explanation makes some sense of at least my original post. However, rest assured, I shall not revisit the matter.

  8. Stephen Graham
    Fri 17th Aug 2007 at 1:09 am

    There’s a decent summary in Welcher’s Union Army vol. 1, in the Department of the East summary. Initially it was a few individual regiments here and there, as well as a number of the New York State Militia regiments that had been mobilized for service in Pennsylvania. Later in July all of the Regular infantry was sent, along with the Vermont brigade from Sixth Corps and something like another 5,000 troops from Second, Third and Twelfth Corps.

    The O.R. coverage starts on p. 875 of vol. XXVII, pt 2. A quick glance doesn’t show a return for the Department of the East in July or August in that volume. It might be found in Series 4.

  9. Ann
    Fri 17th Aug 2007 at 6:21 am

    Hi Nice blog site you have.
    i wonder if you are intressted to exchange link with me i have a site about the American civil war 1861-1865
    http://www.factasy.com/civil_war/index.shtml
    Regards Ann

  10. Fri 17th Aug 2007 at 10:16 am

    Valierie said:

    “What does that have to do with ‘guerrilla warfare’? Simple! One could say that those involved in the draft riots – though they didn’t consider themselves ‘Confederates’, still less Confederate guerrillas – were doing similar types of assaults on the Union. Indeed, the Confederates themselves considered setting fire to New York City as a method of advancing the Confederate cause. I fail to see much difference in the effect simply because those who brought it about had different motives and places of origin.”

    Very bizarre indeed. I try to teach my students skills in drawing relevant comparisons, but this is just off the deep end.

  11. William Fisher
    Sat 18th Aug 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Have you considered the fact the Lincoln and Halleck were frustrated by what they perceived as Meade’s failure to counterattack and his perceived slow pursuit of Lee after July 3? Maybe if Meade had been pursuing Lee as aggressivley as Lincoln and Halleck thought he should, those troops they sent to New York for riot duty could have been retained by Meade.

  12. Mon 27th Aug 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Eric,

    Sorry to be responding to an old message, but I was just catching up on some blog reading. I’m curious about the timing here. Do you know when exactly Meade detached troops to New York City? I don’t think Lincoln received a request for help from the city until July 13th, the same day that Lee began crossing the river. So didn’t Lee effectively “escape” prior to Meade losing those troops?

    David

  13. Mon 27th Aug 2007 at 10:52 pm

    Dave,

    No problem.

    The first troops went on the fifteenth. While it’s true that Lee had crossed the Potomac by then, Meade remained in full pursuit of his army, and, as I said in another post, some folks say that the retreat did not end until the armies returned to the Rappahannock again at the end of the month.

    On August 3, 1863, Meade wrote to his wife, “The Government, for some reason best known to itself, has ordered me to cease the pursuit of Lee, though I strongly recommended an advance. This is confidential, though the newspapers for some days have been announcing that I would have to assume for the defensive. Halleck in one despatch said it was because a considerable part of my army would be required to enforce the draft, but afterwards said he would only require sixteen hundred men, which I have sent. I don’t know what this all means, but I suppose in time it will all come right.”

    Eric

  14. Tue 28th Aug 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Eric,

    Thanks. As far as Lincoln was concerned, the game was up on the 14th. From his view, Lee and the ANV had escaped once they crossed the Potomac. So in the 10-day window between Gettysburg, and the NYC draft riots, and Lee’s crossing into Virginia, Meade had not yet detached significant numbers of troops.

    David

Add comment

*

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress