Book Review: “Meade and Lee After Gettysburg”

On July 14, 1863, Federal cavalry clashed with a rearguard of Confederate infantry along the banks of the Potomac River. The action not too far from Williamsport, Maryland was quick and bloody before the Federal troopers retreated and the Confederate infantry finished their retreat across the Potomac River back into Virginia. To many historians, the battle of Falling Waters marks the end to the Gettysburg Campaign. But according to a new book, such was not the case.

 

Jeffry Hunt picks up his story where many choose to end theirs. Hunt seeks to study the movements of both armies back into Virginia following their clash in Adams County, Pennsylvania. In this, Hunt masterfully succeeds—though Gettysburg is in the title, this is not just another story of the first three days in July. Hunt excels in detailing the near continuous cavalry skirmishing, like near Shepherdstown, West Virginia, or the infantry fights, like at Wapping Heights later in July. Robert E. Lee’s retrograde movement into the Loudoun Valley of Virginia shows how quickly the southern general and his depleted ranks were ready to face off against George G. Meade and the Army of the Potomac. Complimenting Lee’s principal subordinates, Hunt writes, “All of this stood in marked contrast to the corps commanders’ conduct at Gettysburg” (268).

Hunt criticizes Meade’s lackluster movement through the last days of July, and points out that the Army of the Potomac saw numerous chances slip through their grasp. Hunter, however, is sympathetic to the beaten up ranks of Federals and the badly battered officer corps, and writes, “Difficulties faced by Meade and his troops in trying to accomplish any of these goals were underappreciated by their government, the press, and the Northern public” (269).

Hunt’s narrative is accompanied by plenty of maps that assist his text, describing the convoluted maneuvers the Confederate army performed as they sought the safety of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers.

His book also has plenty of footnotes and a strong bibliography, for those readers who wish to follow the sources.

With the end of the campaign, the war finds the armies right where they had started in early June. Hunt seeks to pick that narrative up and describe the operations in the fall of 1863 with successive books—those monographs are eagerly awaited.

 

Jeffrey Wm. Hunt, Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863.

 Savas Beatie, 2017.

312 pages, footnotes, bibliography, index.