Lee Versus Meade after Gettysburg
Lee's Army of Northern Virginia suffered terrible losses at Gettysburg, and its supplies were low. Retreat was its only course, but when it reached the Potomac it found the river so high it had to wait for lower water. Lincoln urged Meade to take this opportunity to crush Lee's wounded army, but Meade's Army of the Potomac was hardly in better shape than Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Its losses had been severe as well. Meade made a slow advance against Lee's fortified position alongside the Potomac. When Meade finally did get in position and prepared for an attack, Lee managed to move his army across the river at last and into Virginia. Lincoln never quite forgave Meade for what Lincoln thought an important missed opportunity.
“No one is more aware than myself of my inability for the duties of my position. I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfill the expectations of others?” — Robert E. Lee, offering his resignation to President Jefferson Davis a month after Gettysburg; Davis refused to accept it
Meade followed Lee into Virginia, but he wasn't eager to bring the Rebels to battle. Battered as it was, the Army of Northern Virginia was a very dangerous enemy; Meade wanted to avoid any repeat of the debacles that had sent the Army of the Potomac reeling back into Washington as it had on two previous occasions. Meade tried attacking a portion of Lee's army as it moved along the Blue Ridge in Virginia, but Lee quickly brought in reinforcements, making success unlikely.
Lee and President Davis sensed that Meade would not be able to make a successful assault on Lee's army for a while and so detached 12,000 men under General Longstreet, sending them to Bragg's army in Tennessee. Indeed, Meade and Lee never did come to grips during the late summer and fall of 1863. Meade tried to get an advantage over Lee that he thought would help him win a battle, but he never saw one he liked enough. Lee at one point set his smaller army north in hopes of catching Meade scattered or in an awkward position, but these maneuvers never led to a situation Lee liked enough to risk battle. At one point he considered invading the North again when he was close to the Potomac and Meade near the Washington defenses, but he concluded that his men — many of whom were shoeless — were not well enough supplied and his army too weak; he retired to a defensive line near the Rapidan River. Meade, like Lee, ultimately sent a good portion of his army to Tennessee to help Federals there after the Battle of Chickamauga.