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