Civil War Talk Radio: May 8, 2009

by Brett Schulte on May 8, 2009 · 0 comments

Air Date: 050809
Subject: Lee’s Retreat From Gettysburg
Books: One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863
Guest: Michael F. Nugent

Summary: Mike Nugent, co-author of One Continuous Fight, discusses Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg.

Brett’s Summary: Mike Nugent wrote One Continuous Fight, an account of the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg with co-authors Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi.  Mike opened the hour talking about his background with the other authors.  Mike is a retired Army Officer and is currently a police officer is Westbrook, Maine.

Gerry started by asking why Meade didn’t attack on July 4.  Nugent and the other two authors believe this question is a result of hindsight and that Meade had no way to specifically know Lee’s intentions on July 4.  Meade, says Nugent, had to keep his army between Lee and Washington, D.C.  Nugent believes Meade made “sound decisions” based on what he knew at the time.

Mike then described Meade’s actions after he found out Lee was retiring from the battlefield.  He points out that Meade immediately sent out the cavalry to ascertain Lee’s intentions.  Over the next 10 days or so, 12 engagements were fought between Gettysburg and Falling Waters.  Nugent described Imboden’s “wagon train of wounded” and how it left before Lee’s main body.

At the start of the second segment, Gerry asked Mike Nugent if they were writing their own book at the same time Kent Masterson Brown was writing his own Gettysburg retreat book, and Mike said they were.  They initially wanted to just do a tour guide, but they expanded it.

Imboden was placed in charge of the wagon train of wounded partly because his cavalry was not a part of Stuart’s ANV cavalry.  The two men did not like each other.  Nugent believes this retreat was “Imboden’s finest hour.”  He utilized his forces to get the wounded men to the Potomac River crossing at Williamsport.  The wagon train of wounded took a more northerly route to the Potomac than did the main body of retreat.

The main body waited until late in the day on July 4, waiting for the wagon train of wounded to get a head start.   They used multiple routes along a main axis of retreat to Williamsport and Falling Waters.  Gerry asked if Meade could have attacked along this retreat route.  Nugent again points to hindsight and mentioned that Meade, rather than just attacking the tail end of the Confederate column, wanted instead to get on Lee’s flank with a chance to perhaps capture a portion of Lee’s army.  Nugent also pointed out Meade’s need to get his men organized again.  As Lee’s army first moved south Meade’s army also moved south, shadowing Lee to the east and continuing to provide a screen for Washington, D.C.

Gerry next mentioned the multiple new forces available to Meade’s army.  Nugent points out that these men were green and far from as effective as a similar number of veteran troops.  As Lee’s army retreated, there were a series of sometimes serious engagements, both mounted and dismounted, along the retreat route.

At the start of the third segment, Nugent addresses Gerry’s question about repetition of certain passages, something which was corrected in later editions of the book.  Gerry also asked Mike about working with co-authors and how that worked.  Nugent has been pleased by reader comments which noted how seamless the final version of the book read.

When Lee’s army reached Williamsport, the Potomac River was at flood stage and unfordable.  The pontoon bridge the Confederates had built during the invasion had been destroyed as well.  The only way to cross was with a few small rafts, which Imboden used for couriers and to evacuate some of the worst off wounded.  Imboden and the forces with him actually held off some Union cavalry from capturing Williamsport prior to the arrival of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Gerry commented that it seems odd Meade and his generals did not earlier recognize Williamsport as a potential choke point for Lee’s army.  Nugent responds by saying Union Cavalry commander Alfred Pleasanton was primarily at fault for not pushing Lee harder on the retreat.

Once Lee’s army reached Williamsport, he had them dig in around Williamsport and Falling Waters until they could find a way across the swollen Potomac River.  Nugent says the terrain around Williamsport “is really worth a look.”  He indicates there are concentric rings around Williamsport which were ideally suited for the defensive.  Nugent says that once you walk the ground you realize how impregnable this defensive position was.  He says that if Meade had attacked this position it “had the potential to be Fredericksburg all over again.”  Meade’s corps commanders agreed with this assessment in a council of war and no fight occurred, allowing Lee to escape across the Potomac.

As the show ended, Nugent reiterated that the criticism against Meade for failing to attack is largely unfounded.  He again mentioned hindsight, an important distinction to the three authors of One Continuous Fight.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.

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