Could General Meade have ended the Civil War at Gettysburg?
Despite winning a decisive victory at Gettysburg, General Meade was in President Lincoln's doghouse for not aggressively persuing the Army of Northern Virginia to prevent them from recrossing the Potomic river back to the south.
Meade's men were exhausted from three days of heavy fighting and had sustained heavy losses, but his army was still well supplied and could yet draw on reserves. The Southern army had also sustained very heavy losses, but was in substantially worse condition -- short on supplies and not on home ground.
Nonetheless, General Lee's army slipped away during the night after waiting out a miserable day in the rain-soaked Pennsylvania countryside, trying to escape the Federals before they counterattacked. The Army of Northern Virginia was gone before General Meade realized it and had a good head start on its way south, though it was slowed by long wagon trains of wounded.
If General Meade had somehow beaten the Army of Northern Virginia to the river, it would have been trapped and perhaps completely lost....possibly ending the war. However, Lee was a superb defensive fighter and Meade was worried about possibly turning his victory into a defeat. As it was, the retreat devolved into a series of defensive scraps with the Army of Northern Virginia successfully recrossing the river to the safety of the south.
Should Meade have thrown caution to the wind and gone for the big kill?