What if Lee won at Gettysburg?

No this is not “Would the CSA had won the war?” Everything I had read says he planned to

  1. Get supplies at Harrisburg
  2. ???
  3. Profit

First of all it makes more sense given the support in Maryland than Pennsylvania that he would have gone to Baltimore plus it’s proximity to Washington DC. But my real question is this:
Let’s assume Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top is unsuccessful and Meade makes a tactical retreat to regroup his forces and move to defend DC. As Lee you have control of Gettysburg. You know approximately where your enemy is but still do not have Stuart’s cavalry. Longstreet is advising you to defend but you just won an offensive battle even though Stonewall Jackson was replaced by Ewell who was nowhere his equal and failed to take the Union’s right flank.

Given that situation, what would Lee have done?

He would likely have continued to pursue the Army of the Potomac, because that had been one of his targets all along. Your scenario as described leaves the Army of the Potomac essentially intact and DC still defended; he would have to keep after it.

Another defeat would have been embarrassing, but losing Gettysburg isn’t some sort of real strategic blow to the North. Without destroying Meade’s army or taking a major target like Philly or DC, Lee hasn’t really accomplished his aims. He cannot realistically do anything directly about the situation in Mississippi, which is strategically catastrophic, so he has to end the war with a huge victory in the east, and Gettysburg doesn’t do that if Meade’s army remains in fighting shape.

As I understand it, the goal of the PA invasion was not so much to get a strategic military advantage as it was to freak out the North and strengthen elements who wanted to sue for peace. So I would guess he would have continued along the same lines.

AIUI, the North’s advantage was so overwhelming that eventually the Civil War would still have led to a Southern defeat.

This thread question is a bit akin to people who ask what would have happened if Yamamoto had been more successful at Pearl Harbor by knocking out the oil tanks, or if Japan had won at Midway. It would have only postponed the inevitable.

Was there still the goal of influencing Great Britain and France by winning a battle on Union soil, resulting in diplomatic, not necessarily military intervention?

By Gettysburg, the chances of a European intervention (diplomatic or military) were slim regardless of the outcome of the battle. Southern cotton had been replaced by other sources. The French were bogged down in their intervention in Mexico. And the Emancipation Proclamation made support for the Confederacy a political liability in Britain.

I think Lee would have turned east. If you look on a map, Lee has a clear shot to the east coast with only the Army of the Potomac (or what’s left of it) in his way. Sweep east, cut down the Susquehanna River, and you now have D.C. and Baltimore cut off from the rest of the Union.

Lee doesn’t have to completely defeat the Army of the Potomac. All he has to do is bloody their nose a bit so that Washington D.C. realizes that they are facing the very real danger of being completely cut off. That puts the Confederacy into a much more powerful bargaining position.

Keep in mind that the Confederacy didn’t have to win. All they had to do is not lose. The Union had to win. So yes, the Union had a huge advantage in the production of weapons and other things, but the Union also had a more difficult task.

Any peace agreement that allows the Confederacy to remain a separate nation is a “win” for the Confederacy.

Lee doesn’t have to completely destroy the Army of the Potomac. Lee doesn’t have to actually take control of Washington D.C. All Lee has to do is become enough of a threat that folks get scared and accept the Confederate’s demand to stay separate from the Union.

That was a goal, but not a very realistic one. Great Britain had already decided that they weren’t going to take sides. They were quite content to sit it out and supply arms to both sides (profit!).

Britain and France weren’t going to fully support the Confederacy based on a single battle. The Confederacy was going to have to show that they were almost certain of victory before Britain and France would step in and add their support.

From the OP

No this is not “Would the CSA had won the war?”

It is specifically about Lee’s strategy immediately following a Gettysburg victory. I don’t think anyone thinks anything other than a Copperhead victory in 1864 would have won the war for the South and a Gettysburg victory paired with the Fall of Vicksburg wasn’t going to bring that about.

Could Lee have taken Baltimore at this time?

Eh, that’s a tough one.

On military strength alone, I would say probably not.

The tricky part is that there was a lot of support for the Confederacy all throughout Maryland. The Union placed a lot of troops in Baltimore to make sure that it stayed under Union control. I think Lincoln himself said that Baltimore was one good riot away from joining the Confederacy. There were riots and protests in Baltimore, but apparently not the one good one that Lincoln feared. I know at one point troops coming from the north were routed around Baltimore specifically to avoid stirring up the locals.

Fort McHenry was being used as a military prison during the Civil War. They also had a lot of folks imprisoned there that were considered to be pro-Confederacy and therefore a threat, but weren’t really military prisoners. If enough pro-Confederacy sympathizers managed to get inside of Fort McHenry and started releasing all of the prisoners, I could see that turning into a huge bloody mess.

Add that to riots and chaos in the streets, and the Union might have lost its grip on the city.

Lee’s original plan of action for the Gettysburg Campaign was to gain supplies (and allow them to be drawn from areas of Virginia freed from the fighting), and to force the Army of the Potomac to distribute itself across a broad area trying to keep up with him. He thought that once this happened, he could assemble his army together faster and proceed to defeat the Army of the Potomac in detail.

The action of July 1st was pretty close to Lee’s original design - routing I and XI Corps in succession - but the night gave the Army of the Potomac time to assemble. Once it had assembled itself, as was true by July 2nd, Lee had little chance of pulling off his original design. One truism of Civil War combat is that it damaged and disorganized the victor almost as much as the vanquished. Given that the Union was more together than the Confederates on the battlefield (Pickett was still not yet on the field), Lee should have rethought things - as it was, he came closer to victory than could be expected.

If the Army of the Potomac loses on July 2nd, it most likely falls back to the south and east, covering Washington. Lee still has some basic logistic problems. He’ll have a hard time feeding his army if he keeps it together, whether it is on the move or (worse yet) stationary; he also has to worry about ammunition supply, and he has a lot of wounded soldiers to send south on every wagon his army can dig up.

Lee also had a great deal of respect for Meade - he had declared only a few days earlier that the general “would make no blunder on my front, and if I make one, he will make haste to take advantage of it.” Would this retreat have convinced Lee that Meade was, in fact, a blunderer? Or would he have assumed that Meade had been hard done by a subordinate’s error? Considering Sickle’s advance into the Peach Orchard, he might well have assumed the latter.

Given the situation, Lee’s respect for Meade, and the imperative to keep the Army of Northern Virginia alive and fighting, I could not see Lee advancing into a potential trap. More likely, I think he could have maintained a presence astride the B&O main line in Maryland west of Frederick, or possibly as far east as the line of the Monocacy River, reestablished his lines of supply, and kept pressure on the Administration. Feeding his army would not have been easy in this advanced position, but trains run up to Manassas Junction could transfer to a wagon road through Leesburg and to Frederick. (If they could retake Alexandria, they could run trains straight to Leesburg, but the Arlington Line of fortifications had mostly been built by mid-1863 and would probably make the cost of such an effort prohibitive).