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 Post subject: To Destroy an Army
PostPosted: Wed Aug 11, 2021 5:00 pm 
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Joined: Sun May 14, 2017 1:55 am
Posts: 375
Location: Tennessee
I was listening to Civil War historians Donald Pfanz and Gerry Prokopowicz discuss the action on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg. They briefly discussed the myth that "if only the Confederates would have taken Cemetery Hill/Culp's Hill on July 1 the war would be over." Both agreed it was completely ridiculous to assume that just because two Federal corps were pushed off good high ground that the other five corps would have been "defeated" without a struggle and the entire course of the war changed. Meade would have simply fallen back to the "next high ground" or the Pipe Creek line.

Hard to really argue that point too much.

Gerry then spoke about how often Civil War enthusiasts discuss the "what ifs" of history as though a single moment in a battle would hinge the entire outcome of the war.

Again, can you argue?

From the North's perspective I guess you could say, "if only McClellan would have attacked Lee's center late on September 17, 1862, at Antietam, he could have routed Lee's army with their backs to the Potomac and destroyed them." Would it have brought the end of the war? The south was then in the middle of mass enlistment efforts which might have refilled the southern ranks at Richmond to form a new army. Chances are they would have had to abandon Richmond though and move to North Carolina to regroup.

From the South's viewpoint about the only battle which might have "ended the war" with a different outcome was Early's 1864 attack on Washington DC. Maybe if he succeeds, or if Lincoln is killed by a stray shot, the war drastically changes in one day. But that might have been their only real shot to end the war with a military victory in a day.

Just in case you'd like to check out the conversation

Maj. Gen. Blake
Confederate CoS - CSA Cabinet Member
El Presidente 2010 - 2012


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 Post subject: Re: To Destroy an Army
PostPosted: Wed Aug 11, 2021 6:42 pm 
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Joined: Wed Oct 07, 2020 10:42 pm
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My argument would be that if Meade had fallen back to the Pipe Creek line (because he had lost Cemetery Hill/ Culp's Hill) then Lee would have been unlikely to attack that new defensive line.

Why would he? General Stuart would have returned with the cavalry by July 3 so Lee would again have 'eyes'. Once reports returned on the solid nature of the Pipe Creek line Lee would have moved his army elsewhere. I suspect he would have either headed east to threaten Baltimore from the north or (and I think more likely) moved south-west to Frederick where it could simultaneously threaten Baltimore from the west and Washington from the north.
Either option, especially the second, would have forced Meade to abandon the Pipe Creek line to protect his supply lines and the cities being threatened.

Paul Swanson
Army of Northern Virginia

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 Post subject: Re: To Destroy an Army
PostPosted: Fri Sep 10, 2021 5:07 pm 
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Joined: Mon Dec 18, 2017 8:31 pm
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Speculative history adjusting is a popular hobby, perhaps especially in the USA. However, history is made of of the collective effects of countless incidents and interactions. If one believes in "systems Theory" you have to believe that to change one thing is to change everything. We delude ourselves when we seek clarity with perfect hindsight into events in which we alter just a single fact.

British historian Dame C.V. Wedgewood perhaps said it best: “History is lived forwards but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only.”


J.L. Boling
Major General, USA
United States Army

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