Sunday, August 25, 2013

August 21, 1863 (Sunday): Standoff on the Rappahannock

General George Gordon Meade

AUGUST 21, 1863-10 a. m.
(Received 12. 15 p. m.)
Major-General HALLECK:
    The movements of the enemy in the vicinity of Fredericksburg and United States Ford seem to have changed yesterday. My cavalry reported the enemy's pickets opposite Falmouth as being materially reduced in numbers and the men very quiet, refusing to talk. At the same time clouds of dust of considerable length were noticed on the roads leading south from Fredericksburg. A large force of cavalry, which had been near United States Ford, were believed to have moved up the river.    Whether these different movements are due to an abandonment of the proposed or suspected movements on my left flank, or whether this movement on the part of the enemy was in reality only a demonstration to draw me down to Falmouth, or whether they ascertained that I was apprised of it and prepared, are all questions the future only can solve.
    From scouts and other sources it is reported that a body of a cavalry have gone into the valley with a view to turning my right flank. My own idea is that Lee is puzzled to account for my inaction. The Richmond journals of the 19th positively assert I am falling back, object unknown. Deserters say they believe I am about transferring my army to the Peninsula, but our own journals, I regret to see, state that I am falling back. Under this conviction it is not unlikely that Lee may make some demonstration to ascertain whether I am or am not falling back,and if he believes I have been materially weakened (and he only has to read our journals to come to that conclusion), he may attempt to compel me to retire by turning one of my flanks.
    I shall endeavor, by the disposition of my cavalry, to be apprised at the earliest moment of any such movement. The necessity of employing my cavalry on both flanks and watching my rear, at such distances from depots and supplies, causes the services to be as hard upon this branch of the army as when in active operations. I have therefore to hope that every effort will be continued, as I know heretofore has been exerted, to keep my cavalry up to the maximum standard.
    I attach no importance to the report, by Harper's Ferry, that Lee is concentrating at Fredericksburg preparatory to falling back on Richmond. I do not believe he will fall back until I advance, unless he really believes I am transferring to the Peninsula, when, of course, he will endeavor to get there in advance, and this may be the cause of the movement reported yesterday as being south of Fredericksburg. I shall await events in my present position unless otherwise ordered.

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

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 29, Part 2, Pages 82-83.

After Gettysburg the tactical situation remained much the same.  Lee was near Fredericksburg, Meade opposite him at Falmouth, and the Union maintained a small force on the Peninsula.  The objective of the Union command should have been to draw Lee back towards Richmond with as little fighting as possible, by strengthening the forces on the Peninsula.  But even with the draft there was still a fear of not having sufficient forces to cover a threat to Washington.  And so the status quo was maintained. 

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