Picketts charge, though a hazardous enterprise, was by no means a hopeless one and might well have succeeded had not Meade and Hancock been thoroughly prepared for it and had they not shown generalship of a high order. With Hooker in commandthe irresolute Hooker of Chancellorsvillethere would have been a different story to relate. A comparison of the management of the two battles will confirm Hallecks judgment that Hooker would have lost the army and the capital.2
Moreover, Lee had to decide between an attack and an inglorious retreat. Divided, his army could live upon the country, but during a prolonged concentration it could not be fed. His decision was in keeping with his aggressive disposition, and his mistake seems to have been in underrating Meades ability and in overestimating both the physical and moral damage done by his artillery fire. If the Confederates, who made the breach in the Union line could have held on, adequate support would undoubtedly have been given and Lees idea of one determined and united blow3 delivered by his whole line might have been realized. And if he could have thoroughly beaten the Army of the Potomac, Baltimore and Washington would have been at his mercy. Perhaps the risk was worth taking.
Whether Meade should at once have made a counter-charge across the valley, or attacked the Confederate right before dark on July 3, or occupied Lees line of retreat that afternoon and made a general advance early next morning are questions frequently discussed by military writers.