On July 4, 1863, the 86th anniversary of the American Independence, the Confederate army waited for a counter-attack that never came. Around noon, it began to rain and washed away the blood. During the night, Lee retreated for Virginia. Some Union soldiers blocked Lee’s escape by destroying a bridge at the Potomac River, preventing his army from getting back to Virginia. Meade had decided not to attack Lee, but slowly pursued him. Although Meade had lost a fourth of its army to casualties, he was provided with reinforcements, boosting his army strength up to 85,000. Lee had lost a third of his army to casualties, and his army strength was further reduced by stragglers and deserters, leaving him with 35,000 men. On July 13-14, Lee’s men had rebuilt the bridge and crossed the Potomac River and went back onto Confederate soil.
President Lincoln had seen the Confederate invasion as an opportunity to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. When Lincoln heard of Lee’s escape, he wrote to Meade: “my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”
[read the entire letter from Lincoln to Meade July 14, 1863]
Dispatch from Halleck to Meade July 14
Meade to Halleck July 14
Halleck to Meade July 14
Meade wasn't the only one to submit a resignation. Depressed, Lee asked Jefferson Davis to be relieved of command, only to be denied. The Confederacy paid a terrible price at the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee had lost a large number of men who were difficult to replace, wasted precious ammunition and supplies, and reduced the moral of his army. Lee’s army never recovered its losses, and all Confederate hopes of winning the war were gone with it. Because the Army of Northern Virginia would never invade the Union again, the Battle of Gettysburg is also known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. From that point on, the major battles of the American Civil War were fought in the west.