Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 5, 1863 (Monday): Lee's Bad Example

River Crossing at Williamsport

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Gettysburg, July 5, 1863-8 p. m.
    GENERAL: West left here this morning. When he arrived here last night, the enemy was apparently in full force before my center and left, but had withdrawn from my right. I knew he was in a strong position, awaiting my attack, which I declined to make, in consequence of the bad example he had set me in ruining himself attacking a strong position. At the same time, I left a little nervous about your position, as Couch telegraphed you were going to Cashtown, where I could not have helped you. I therefore detained West till morning, when we found the enemy had retired on the Cashtown and Fairfield roads. I then told West you could safely join me by keeping a little to the west.
    My instructions to Couch were to cross and make a demonstration in my favor, always looking to his return to the Susquehanna in case of disaster to me or other cause requiring it. I have never given him any other orders, and I do not like to run the risk of taking his troops away from the position that may be so important to hold. After I found the strength of your command, and its proximity, in consideration of my losses, I thought I would order you to join me, but if you consider your command essential to the defense of the Susquehanna, you had better return after I leave here. I say this because Couch writes he has now only men to guard the fords, and seems to be nervous.
    One of your messengers that arrived this p. m. I sent back, asking you to come forward in person, as I should like to see you. As I understand you are 12 or 14 miles from here, I can hardly expect you. Should you arrive with the intention of joining me, I will, in case I am not here, leave orders for your guidance.
     Respectfully, yours,

    GEO. G. MEADE,
    Major-General, Commanding.

P. S. -I am not able to say what Lee is going to do, but expect he is off for the Potomac or the lower end of the Valley; he may, however, remain behind the mountains.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 27, Part 3, Page 539.

Meade could not be sure what Lee's intentions were, but he was correct in thinking he would be headed for the Potomac.  The pursuit, or lack of it, of Lee would become Meade's undoing with Lincoln.  Meade's comment regarding Lee's bad example attacking a strong position reflected a consensus of opinion which formed early.

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