This kept me up last night and is doing so now. I’ve been reading Civil War accounts for the past few weeks—the campaigns, the battles, the men with no names who fought in them and the men with well-known names who made their decisions (it’s always seemed to me and seems so still, that almost all the decisions made during that war were bad but for a striking few) and I arrived at Gettysburg, which led me down a wormhole of differing scenarios, each one leading to a parallel universe as a result of that outcome. I’ve rested on the fact that the Battle of Gettysburg should have never happened at all. It was a consequence of Lee’s Virginia-centric war outlook. For, in Lee’s view, if the Old Dominion ceased to be, then the Confederacy died all at once. This view was held despite 750,000 interior square miles, the Mississippi River, what was but limited, industrial and munitions centers, the Gulf of Mexico and no less than a dozen ports (albeit mostly blockaded, but theirs nonetheless, and a decisive victory would have lifted that blockade from European recognition).
During the summer weeks of ’63 that Lee was contemplating taking the war into Pennsylvania, Rosecrans was in Tennessee. Grant was in Mississippi running over token resistance until he reached and burned Jackson. With the capital secured and on his flank, he’d march west and take Vicksburg—the real prize for the Union—for the capture of Vicksburg cut the Confederacy in half, denied it any control over the Mississippi, while allowing complete Union control over it, and greatly reduced the Confederate interior. It was Vicksburg and not Gettysburg that spelled doom for the Confederacy.
Whatever the infinite outcomes and decisions one can create, securing the interior, cutting Grant off from the rest of the Union, and destroying him as he tried to break out, would have either secured victory for the Confederacy or prolonged its existence for an eventual defeat by other means not influenced by the outcome of Gettysburg.
Instead of taking his army north, Lee should have sent a sizable portion of his command under Longstreet, perhaps two divisions, into the interior, to join Bragg and Johnston in Tennessee. Combined, the army now numbering 130,000 to 150,000 effectives was well within the interior and space and time to counter both Rosecrans and Grant’s separately. An all-out offensive would have been possible much like the Confederacy did in ’62 when during the end of that year there wasn’t a Union boot on confederate soil. In Tennessee, they would draw Rosecrans out to a ground of their choosing, defeat him soundly and push him beyond the Ohio. The command could then head west, secure Memphis and cut off Grant’s access up the Mississippi. Grant completely boxed in and cut off, low of supplies, and with no hope of receiving more, would have seen the jig was up. Consequently, he’d had to give up his designs on Vicksburg or face total defeat. Out of military necessity, he’d have no choice other than to make a run for it up river against an overwhelming force in complete control of the Mississippi and the interior. Grant would have no doubt been defeated, possibly in toto.
With no Union threat within the interior, the command would then split into two parts. One part would reinforce Kirby Smith who would then retake Missouri all the way down to Louisiana. The other part, under Longstreet, would reinforce Lee in Virginia, who could then take up his decision to invade the north, except under much stronger and more contemplated strategic military terms.
Oddly enough, this scenario is a mixture of Beauregard’s and Longstreet’s proposed plans in response to Grant’s designs on Vicksburg with modifications on my part made from the advantage of hindsight. They were dismissed in Richmond at the highest reaches of government in two rounds of voting, with the same result each time, 5-1, in favor of Lee’s Virginia optics—the one holdout who remained unconvinced of a northern invasion was a non-Virginian native, who was the Confederate postmaster general from Texas.