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The first detailed military history of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia's desperate retreat from the disastrous Gettysburg battlefield and the Union effort to catch and destroy it. These critical ten days triggered nearly two dozen skirmishes and major engagements, including fighting at Granite Hill, Monterey Pass, Hagerstown, Williamsport, Funkstown, Boonsboro, and Falling Waters. What was Union General George Meade's plan for intercepting and destroying Lee's army? How did the Southerners manage to ...
The first detailed military history of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia's desperate retreat from the disastrous Gettysburg battlefield and the Union effort to catch and destroy it. These critical ten days triggered nearly two dozen skirmishes and major engagements, including fighting at Granite Hill, Monterey Pass, Hagerstown, Williamsport, Funkstown, Boonsboro, and Falling Waters. What was Union General George Meade's plan for intercepting and destroying Lee's army? How did the Southerners manage to defend their army and the ponderous 17-mile long wagon train of wounded?
One Continuous Fight draws upon a massive array of documents, letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and published primary and secondary sources to describe the plans, the decisions, the fighting and the outcome, both through the eyes of the generals and from the viewpoint of the men in the ranks. The result is a rich and comprehensive study loaded with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern and Northern cavalry, and fresh insights on every engagement, large and small, fought during the retreat.
Complimented with eighteen original maps, dozens of photos, and a complete driving tour with GPS coordinates of the entire retreat, One Continuous Fight is an essential book for every student of the American Civil War in general, and for the student of Gettysburg in particular.
Foreword Ted Alexander vii
Preface Noah Andre Trudeau xii
Introduction and Acknowledgments xv
1 A Vast Sea of Misery: The Wagon Train of the Wounded 1
2 The Retreat of the Main Confederate Army Begins 27
3 July 4: The Midnight Fight in the Monterey Pass 49
4 Meade's Pursuit Begins 75
5 The Confederates Garrison Williamsport 91
6 July 6: The Battle of Hagerstown 107
7 July 6: The Battle for Williamsport 123
8 July 7: In Full Pursuit 143
9 July 7: Skirmish at the College of St. James and the First Battle of Funkstown 163
10 July 8: Heavy Fighting at Beaver Creek Bridge and Boonsboro 173
11 July 9: Sniping Along the Lines 199
12 July 10: The Second Battle of Funkstown 207
13 July 11: The Armies Jockey for Position 235
14 July 12: The Second Battle of Hagerstown 249
15 July 13: A Frustrating Day Spent Waiting 263
16 July 14: The Crossings at Williamsport and Falling Waters 275
17 The Federal Advance and Aftermath 299
Appendix A Driving Tour: The Retreat from Gettysburg 349
Appendix B Driving Tour: The Wagon Train of the Wounded 377
Appendix C Order of Battle 391
Posted June 29, 2013
Although this book provides detailed accounts from primary sources of Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg, July 4 – July 14, it is ultimately flawed and unbalanced. After the Battle of Gettysburg, in which the Army of Northern Virginia was repulsed in its efforts to invade the North, Lee guided his army through daunting obstacles, miserable weather, and a pursuing army fresh from victory to a safe haven in his native Virginia. Theories abound as to Maj. General George Gordon Meade’s anemic attempts to crush Lee’s forces and the authors cover those in detail as well as add their own.
However, only once in the book do the authors state that Lee’s retreat was “skillfully executed.” And herein lays the major defect of the book. The authors, all Northerners and amateur historians with no advanced degrees in history, spin their own version of the events that took place in those ten days after the North claimed victory at Gettysburg. Lee was a masterful tactician who understood the importance of needing to regroup his tired and hungry troops so that they could fight another day. This is similar thinking Washington employed during his retreat to Valley Forge in the harsh winter of 1777-78 – a time to rest, rearm, and resupply. The authors don’t see it that way and don’t give Lee much credit for anything. Instead, they take the attitude that Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg should be seen as a defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia with its troops sent packing and their tails between their legs, not giving credit to Lee’s tactical move to ferry his damaged forces across the swollen Potomac during extremely difficult conditions, leaving Union commanders scratching their heads in disbelief that Lee escaped.
Had Lee been “defeated” at Gettysburg, and that includes the Northern pursuit of his army to the Potomac, the war would probably have ended soon after with a Union victory and end to hostilities. However, Lee’s ability to see and realize the state of his army bought him buying time to continue the war almost two years after Gettysburg. Instead, the authors focus on the “hardships” and missed opportunities of the Northern forces to destroy Lee’s wounded army. The book ultimately becomes an apology and excuse for the Union efforts. Also, the book abounds with “what-ifs” for the Union side. What if Meade, What if Meade’s subordinates, and so on. In one instance in the book the authors let slip the word “unfortunately” to describe a missed opportunity by the Union army to head off the Confederates. This type of bias makes the rest of the book suspect and there are other examples. These viewpoints do no service to a more balanced analysis of Lee’s retreat.
There was plenty of blame to go around on the Union side for their tentative pursuit of Lee after the main battle at Gettysburg. Lincoln, though pleased with the Union victory at Gettysburg, couldn’t disguise the fact to Meade that he was livid at missing the opportunity to strike Lee finally and for good. Lincoln, while no amateur when it came to micromanaging the Union war effort, saw more of the importance of stopping Lee’s army completely than Meade himself probably realized. Others in Meade’s command took similar views while others believed that when Lee gained the advantage of higher ground after his crossing into Virginia the Union army could possibly experience severe losses and “undo” their recent victory at Gettysburg. Meade blamed his tepid chase on the fact that he had only recently been appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac and that his subordinates had little combat experience. Meade, after all, claimed that he was an engineer by profession and that he had no experience as a field commander, not wanting the overall command of the Army of the Potomac. Lee too was an engineer in the regular army but the authors don’t mention that fact and that Lee never issued a similar excuse when he met defeat. Meade comes across as an honest, career soldier who was never motivated by politics or blind ambition. Whether Meade was right or wrong in his method of pursuing Lee will continue to be debated. It wouldn’t be until later in 1863 that Lincoln would find his general in Ulysses S. Grant.
Meade was ultimately brought before a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War in the winter of 1863-64. The committee members were radical Republicans who wanted to nail Meade’s hide to the wall. Meade, a soldier and not a politician, took it on the chin though the proceedings eventually never achieved their desired results. The remainder of his career was spent in defense of his actions at Gettysburg but not particularly satisfying his own critics.
The book was obviously conceived with an agenda: to deliver another blow to the Confederacy for good measure 150 years after the fact. Why three authors were needed to accomplish that is beyond me. Perhaps there is strength in numbers. I hope more balanced books are in the works to counter the Northern bias that has dominated recent attempts to depict the Confederacy as an unequal adversary. Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg is an interesting aspect of the war and needs to be told without partiality. Near the end of the conflict the Confederacy could barely feed and equip itself. The Confederacy’s lack of an industrial base and its overall agricultural economy succumbed to the vast numbers and materiel the Union could muster, to paraphrase Shelby Foote, with one hand tied behind their back.
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