Abraham Lincoln’s Grand Strategy Of The Summer Of 1863.

by Daniel Russ on July 30, 2011

Post image for Abraham Lincoln’s Grand Strategy Of The Summer Of 1863. General George Meade, Winner At Gettysburg


July 1863 was a bad month for the Confederacy. Timid tempestuous Union Army Commander Scott McClellan had been fired, and replaced with a feisty unapologetic and aggressive new combat commander that had put the Army of the Potomac and the Union army to the west in good fighting order. Shelby Foote once quipped that at the outset of the Civil War, the South was fighting tooth and nail, and the North was fighting with one hand behind its back. In July 1863, the Union Army took its other hand from behind its back, and the battlefield wins that Robert E Lee piled up became more rare, and more costly to what was left of his forces. The population of the Union States was 10,594,250. The Confederacy had 5,704,888 people, and almost 4,000,000 slaves. So the North could stand to take casualties that Lee couldn’t. In some ways, all wars of attrition are just numbers games and the numbers were slanted in the North’s favor from the very beginning. The North had extensive rail lines running north and south and east and west. The south had about 12 major rail lines mostly running east to west to take cotton to shipyards and freight them to Europe. So the Union Army could move quickly over rail lines. Now the difference in available industry, available soldiers and wealth was beginning to tell. What else would tell here is the fact that the use of slaves was a double-edged sword for the Confederacy. While slaves provided labor to tend to farms and ranches while soldiers fought, they also made it easy for the Confederacy to avoid developing more industrialized machinery. The full weight of the difference in wealth and power and industry came to bear on two battlefronts.

Gettysburg Battle Map



In the west, working his way down the Mississippi was Grant. He attacked the Vicksburg garrison, the last Mississippi redoubt of the Confederacy and the last hold they had on the river traffic there. Grant’s idea was to take Vicksburg and effectively split the Confederate army. Once the Union had control of Vicksburg, the south would be encircled. The Army of Northern Virginia was occupying large tracts in Tennessee, and they controlled Tennessee. If Grant took Vicksburg Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana would be cut off from the rest of the South, and who ever controlled the river would be able to stage troops into the south from any workable port. A full third of the Confederacy would be cut off, including heavy artillery and gunboats once owned by the south. So the Southern forces were now contained as it were in a noose around the neck of the threadbare Confederate Army. Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederated States of America had enough troops all told to confront the massive Union Tidal wave. There was a best case scenario for Davis and the CSA at one point. However if Grant could take Vicksburg, much of Lee’s army would be stuck west of the Mississippi with no major routes over the river. So Lee, in an unusually shortsighted move decided that there was little in the west to win except open expanses. He probably did not devote enough resources to keep Vicksburg as he should have. Instead, he tried the boldest move he could think of. Take the capitol as soon as possible and see if England will recognize the Confederate States of America. He decided that while he had the forces, some 75,000 men and a few thousand in reserve, he would invade north and west of the Capitol and seize it. He would then force a negotiated peace.

If the British were ever to have recognized the CSA, there would be no United States today.

The blockade of the Confederacy was beginning to show results as well. The South relied on supplies to come in to southern port cities and in through New Orleans.  Now the South was beginning to starve.

Lee took his army to Sharpsburg Maryland in the north to forage for supplies and food and shoes. A small reconnaissance party of barefoot Confederates ran into a patrol of Union forces and the firefight that ensued alerted forces near each other in the thick forested region to rush towards each other, looking to form a line. On the first day the Confederates got the best of the battle but George Meade was able to take the high ground in a sort of backwards questions mark shaped line that ran from Culps Ridge to Cemetery Ridge to Big Round Top and Little Round Top. On the second day when fighting began, Jeb Stuart led a large cavalry charge around the rear of the Union line but a smaller and more aggressive force lead by George Armstrong Custer stunted the assault and sent the Confederates back. Infantry assaults along the Union lines were not successful as the Union held the high ground and had clear fields of fire. They also had Henry repeating rifles which could spit out 15 rifled rounds a minute without the complicated steps to load an Enfield pattern musket which could fire at best three rounds a minute. At Gettysburg the Union Army almost made some devastating mistakes. General Daniel Sickles stationed his forces without support and had to be rescued by Meade’s 7th cavalry. Also, an assault on the hills on the left flank of the Union army, Little Round Top and Big Round Top almost felled to left flank of Mead’s forces.

The third day was a disaster for Lee. George Pickett ordered a massive infantry assault on the line at Cemetery Ridge and his men were cut down. At the end of the bloody battle, dazed, wounded, demoralize Confederates marches back to their own lines while Robert E. Lee sat on his horse and yelled “It’s all my fault.”

Union Gunboats Pound Vicksburg Into Submission.

On July 3rd 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was over, and the Confederate Army was forced from the field. On July 4th, Vicksburg fell. It wasn’t until 1921 that Vicksburg residents would even celebrate the 4th of July. If you stay in the Grove Bed and Breakfast in Vicksburg, you will see a few things that remind one of the resilience of bitterness. There is a cannon ball lodged into the wall in the foyer of this gorgeous little place. It says “Do Not Touch”. In a dining room, there is a hole in the wood planks on the floor, torn open by a cannon ball, and the people who renovated the place kept a lucite plate that preserves the hole for visitors. I imagine soon there will be a sign on it that says “Look at what the YANKEES did!”

Lincoln’s strategy was to keep constant pressure on the Confederacy from the East and the West. Vicksburg effectively split the CSA. He knew that the South couldn’t fight forever, and a flat out war between the North and the South would always favor the biggest dog in the fight.

Had Gettysburg fallen to Lee, Meade would have had to withdraw to Harrisburg, and the Union Army in Mississippi would have gathered to attack the Confederate flank. The war itself dragged on for two more bloody years, but by then the writing was on the wall, inked in blood.


Confederate Major General George Pickett

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