Advancing to the Rear

While analyzing with some youngsters at the Atlanta Chess Center the Legendary Georgia Ironman was heard to say, “I never retreat. I only advance to the rear.”
On this date in 1863 the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat from Gettysburg. The logistics of moving such a large force of men and material is truly staggering. General Robert E. Lee had lost the battle, but the war still raged. To live to fight another day required “advancing to the rear,” to the safety provided in the South. Many books have been written about the retreat and I highly recommend this one: Retreat from Gettysburg: “Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign”, by Kent Masterson Brown (
General Lee’s successful retreat was one of the most incredible maneuvers in the history of warfare and has been studied at the Army War College, and by military personnel all over the world. In his book, “Kent Masterson Brown reveals that even though the battle of Gettysburg was a defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee’s successful retreat maintained the balance of power in the eastern theater and left his army with enough forage, stores, and fresh meat to ensure its continued existence as an effective force.”
General George Meade had checkmate on the move, but, like Victor Korchnoi against Anatoly Karpov in a match for the World Championship, failed to deliver the blow. “The Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, was unable to maneuver quickly enough to launch a significant attack on the Confederates, who crossed the river on the night of July 13–14.”
“Confederate supplies and thousands of wounded men proceeded over South Mountain through Cashtown in a wagon train that extended for 15–20 miles, enduring harsh weather, treacherous roads, and enemy cavalry raids. The bulk of Lee’s infantry departed through Fairfield and through the Monterey Pass toward Hagerstown, Maryland. Reaching the Potomac, they found that rising waters and destroyed pontoon bridges prevented their immediate crossing. Erecting substantial defensive works, they awaited the arrival of the Union army, which had been pursuing over longer roads more to the south of Lee’s route. Before Meade could perform adequate reconnaissance and attack the Confederate fortifications, Lee’s army escaped across fords and a hastily rebuilt bridge.”
“The retreat from Gettysburg ended the Gettysburg Campaign, Robert E. Lee’s final strategic offensive in the Civil War. Afterwards, all combat operations of the Army of Northern Virginia were in reaction to Union initiatives. The Confederates suffered over 5,000 casualties during the retreat, including more than 1,000 captured at Monterey Pass, 1,000 stragglers captured from the wagon train by Gregg’s division, 500 at Cunningham’s Crossroads, 1,000 captured at Falling Waters, and 460 cavalrymen and 300 infantry and artillery killed, wounded, and missing during the ten days of skirmishes and battles. There were over 1,000 Union casualties—primarily cavalrymen—including losses of 263 from Kilpatrick’s division at Hagerstown and 120 from Buford’s division at Williamsport. For the entire campaign, Confederate casualties were approximately 27,000, Union 30,100.
Meade was hampered during the retreat and pursuit not only by his alleged timidity and his willingness to defer to the cautious judgment of his subordinate commanders, but because his army was exhausted. The advance to Gettysburg was swift and tiring, followed by the largest battle of the war. The pursuit of Lee was physically demanding, through inclement weather and over difficult roads much longer than his opponent’s. Enlistments expired, causing depletion of his ranks, as did the New York Draft Riots, which occupied thousands of men that could have reinforced the Army of the Potomac.
Meade was severely criticized for allowing Lee to escape, just as Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan had done after the Battle of Antietam. Under pressure from Lincoln, he launched two campaigns in the fall of 1863—Bristoe and Mine Run—that attempted to defeat Lee. Both were failures. He also suffered humiliation at the hands of his political enemies in front of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, questioning his actions at Gettysburg and his failure to defeat Lee during the retreat to the Potomac.”

Like many a chess player General Mead had reached a won position, but failed to convert. This prolonged the War For Southern Independence and caused more death and destruction for the South. If the war had ended with Gettysburg, General William Tecumseh Sherman would never have perpetuated war crimes against Southern citizens.(“War Crimes Against Southern Civilians” by Walter Cisco) He would instead have been free earlier to head west and start performing genocide against the Native Americans. The Northern force won the battle in spite of, not because of General Mead, who was not one of the better Generals of the War For Southern Independence. Sherman is famous for saying about U.S. Grant, “I stood by him when he was drunk and he stood by me when I was crazy.” The devil Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, who was mentally ill (her oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, took legal action to have her declared insane and a court placed her in a private sanatorium), said this about U.S. Grant, “He is a butcher and is not fit to be at the head of an army. Yes, he generally manages to claim a victory, but such a victory! He loses two men to the enemy’s one. He has no management, no regard for life.” Conversation with Abraham Lincoln regarding General Ulysses S. Grant. SOURCE: Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley (New York, Penguin Books, 2005), p. 59.
Benson Bobrick, in his masterful book, “Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas,” posits the best General in the yankee army was from the Great State of Virginia. His sisters considered him a traitor and turned his picture to the wall and never spoke to him again. The yankees never trusted him and wrote deprecatingly concerning his accomplishments and disparagingly of him in general. It is only now that more objective historians are giving the man deserved recognition.