MEADE’S MISSED OPPORTUNITY
One of the myths discussed by Fred Chiaventone in his article on the Battle of Gettysburg (MHM June/July 2023) merits further consideration.
Chiaventone argues that Union General Meade was correct not to pursue the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) as it retreated from Gettysburg. Meade was probably correct not to attack the ANV directly on Seminary Ridge on the 4 July, or in its prepared positions around Williamsport on the 13 July.
But surely Meade had an opportunity to disrupt the Confederate Army’s withdrawal from the Gettysburg battlefield itself? Although his own Union Army of the Potomac had suffered heavy losses, he could judge from the number of corpses and of captured prisoners that the ANV had also been seriously depleted. In fact, all nine ANV divisions had suffered more than 25% casualties and two had lost about 50%.
Not all of the Union Army divisions had suffered so badly. Three divisions of the powerful VI Corps were almost unscathed and three more (two in the XII and one in the V Corps) had sustained only slight losses. From these infantry units and his two available cavalry divisions, Meade might have assembled a strong task force to outflank the ANV left, and thus interdict the Chambersburg Pike.
This manoeuvre, if successful, would have forced the entire ANV to retreat along the Hagerstown Road, which would have been extremely congested with nearly 40 miles of wagons, as well as the marching troops. In that vulnerable situation, the retreating ANV would surely have suffered heavier losses than it actually did.
Of course, it is easy for armchair generals to ignore the hunger, fatigue, and post-traumatic stress of Union troops and their commanders on 4 July, and the discouraging heavy rain that afternoon. It is also understandable that newly promoted Meade would have been content with the victory his army had won and was reluctant to make risky manoeuvres.
But it is surely arguable that his caution missed an opportunity to damage the ANV, perhaps irrevocably, during its retreat?
David Kirkpatrick, Odiham, Hampshire
WHY LEE LOST
One issue not mentioned in your article on Gettysburg (MHM June/July 2023) was that Confederate General Lee’s normally excellent reconnaissance was way short of what was required for victory.
Lee’s intent had been to get between Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Washington DC, forcing the Union general on to the offensive to defend the capital. However, lacking good reconnaissance, it was Lee who was forced to fight offensively at Gettysburg – on ground not of his choosing – and not in the defensive way that had won him so many victories in the war until that date. General Meade truly had the high ground.
A contributing factor to Lee’s defeat was his poor psychological and physical health. He was still mourning the death of his right-hand man ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, and had poor substitutes in the form of corps commanders Richard S Ewell and James Longstreet, the latter of whom disagreed with Lee on strategy.
Physically, too, Lee was ill with angina and dysentery. It may well have been that he was so poorly that he wanted to get the battle over so he could return to his sickbed and rest.
Wayne Long Haverford, PA
TOO MANY HOLES
The K-class submarine discussed by David Porter in his ‘Back to the Drawing Board’ article (MHM August/September 2023) really was a doomed invention. It is worth also recalling the fate of the ill-named K13, not discussed by Porter in his article.
On 13 January 1913, her boiler room flooded, and she sank with 23 dead and just one survivor, her captain. Raised and renumbered as K22, she was rammed and damaged by HMS Inflexible in the Battle of May Island in the last year of the First World War.
She survived – but went on to suffer the fate that everybody had expected. In 1921, K22 dived with both funnels still open… As that submariner quoted by David Porter rightly observed, the class just had ‘too many damned holes’.
Rodney Bennett West Wickham, Kent
As an avid fan and occasional lecturer on Nelson, I relished Stephen Roberts’ excellent article on the Battle of Aboukir Bay (MHM August/September 2023). I have to admit also to a great admiration for Napoleon, not just for his military skills but also for his amazing administrative talent.
On a visit to Malta some years ago, I spotted this plaque [above] on the wall of the Palazzo Parisio in Valletta, which commemorates the French Emperor’s brief stay there on his way to Egypt in June 1798. During those few days there, he decreed a constitution for Malta based on his ‘Code Napoléon’. This was subsequently codified into Maltese law from 1854 to 1873, and much of it is still in place today.
Roger Laing Iver, Buckinghamshire
Please note: letters may be edited for length; views expressed here are those of our readers, and do not necessarily reflect those of the magazine.