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The concepts of interior and exterior lines gained prominence during the Napoleonic Era with the writings of Jomini. Interior Lines of Operation deal with forces whose operations diverge from a central point. The use of interior lines allows a commander to rapidly shift forces to the decisive point.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a great historical example illustrating the impact of interior and exterior lines. At the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederates uncharacteristically fought along exterior lines. Their lines of communication stretched from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley south to Richmond. This was an extremely precarious situation for General Lee and weighed heavily on his decisions at Gettysburg.
The Army of the Potomac, under command of newly appointed General Meade, found themselves operating from interior lines at Gettysburg. On July 2 and 3, this became a major factor in General Meade’s ability to react to the offensive actions taken by the Army of Northern Virginia.
I propose that Lines of Operations, as espoused by Jomini years earlier, was the decisive factor in the Gettysburg Campaign. I believe that the use of interior lines by General Meade, specifically throughout the day and night of Day 2 and again on day 3, allowed the Army of the Potomac to gain victory. The Army of Northern Virginia on several occasions achieved momentary breaks in the Union lines only to be repulsed by Union forces shifted from other positions. General Meade would not have been able to rapidly shift these forces to the decisive point unless he was operating on interior lines.
Throughout the three days of battle, General Meade applied Operational Art in positioning his forces at the decisive time and place. One must keep in mind the significance of General Meade’s actions at Gettysburg. He defeated the venerable General Robert E. Lee on the battlefield, a feat elusive to all previous commanders of the Army of the Potomac.