Battle of Gettysburg

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Battle of Gettysburg
Part of the American Civil War
Battle of Gettysburg, by Currier and Ives.png
The battle of Gettysburg, Pa. July 3d., 1863, by Currier and Ives
Date July 1 (1863-07-01)–3, 1863 (1863-07-04)
Location Adams County, Pennsylvania
Result Union victory[1]
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
George G. Meade Robert E. Lee
93,921[2] 71,699[3]
Casualties and losses
(3,155 killed
 14,531 hurt
 5,369 captured/missing)[4]
(4,708 killed
 12,693 hurt
 5,830 captured/missing)[5]

The Battle of Gettysburg (locally how to say: /ˈɡɛtɨsbɜrɡ/, with an ss sound),[6] was fought July 1–3, 1863. The battle took place in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was the battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War.[7] Gettysburg is often called the war's turning point.[8] Union Major General George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac stopped attacks by Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. This ended Lee's invasion of the North.

Lee's army won an important battle at Chancellorsville in Virginia in May 1863. He then led his army through the Shenandoah Valley. His plan was to start his second invasion of the North (named the Gettysburg Campaign). Lee hoped to change the area of the summer from northern Virginia. He hoped to force Northern politicians to give up the war by going as far as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or even Philadelphia. President Abraham Lincoln told Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker to have the Union army follow Lee's army. Lincoln took Hooker's job away three days before the Battle of Gettysburg. Gen. Meade replaced Hooker.

Parts of the two armies first fought at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Lee quickly moved much of his army there. He hoped to fight the Union army and destroy it. Union Brig. Gen. John Buford defended low ridges in the northwest of town at first. Two corps of Union infantry came to defend this area as well. However, two large Confederate corps attacked them from the northwest and north. This broke apart the weaker Union lines. The defenders retreating through the streets of town to the hills just to the south.

On the second day of battle, most of both armies had arrived. The Union line was put in a defensive formation that looked like a fishhook. In the late afternoon of July 2, Lee started a heavy attack on the Union left side. Fights were held at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, and the Peach Orchard. On the Union right, demonstrations became big attacks on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. All across the battlefield, the Union defenders held their lines, but lost a lot of soldiers.

On the third day of battle, July 3, fighting took place on Culp's Hill. Cavalry battles occurred to the east and south. The main part of the battle was an infantry assault by 12,500 Confederates against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. This attack is known as Pickett's Charge. The charge was stopped by Union rifle and artillery fire. Many Confederate soldiers died in this attack. Lee led his army on a tough Retreat back to Virginia]]. Between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in the three-day battle. That November, a cemetery for the dead Union soldiers was opened at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. President Lincoln spoke the Gettysburg Address at the ceremony to open the cemetery and honor the dead soldiers.

July 1[change | change source]

Confederate infantry attacked the Union cavalry, commanded by John Buford, around 5:30 am on Herr Ridge. Buford would run back to McPherson Ridge and Seminary Ridge as the Confederate forces marched in more men. Buford would get more men later in the day and would be allowed to leave with his division. Buford slowed down the Confederate attack long enough for Union forces to set up a defense on Cemetery Ridge. That night, Confederate General Richard Ewell was given orders to take Culp’s Hill if possible. Ewell was too careful and decided not to take the hill. The Union took the hill and set up defense. This was the first major mistake of the battle for South. The Army of the Potomac would end the day with around 21,900 men on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Ridge. The Army of Northern Virginia would have around 27,000 men from Benner’s Hill to Seminary Ridge.

July 2[change | change source]

Both armies got more men over the night to begin the second day of action. General James Longstreet, commander of the I Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, set his troops on the right of the Confederate line. Around 4 pm, his forces attacked the Union left. Earlier in the day, Major General Daniel Sickles, commander of the III Corps of the Army of the Potomac, moved his Corps forward to the Peach Orchard without orders to do so. When attacked in this position, a large number of his soldiers were killed. Sickles fell back to the Wheatfield. Meade quickly rushed 20,000 men to his left to aid Sickles and fight off Longstreet. Meade’s men would take up position in Devil’s Den. They would fall back and run the Union left on Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top. The Confederate forces drove back the Union left, but were unable to break it. They would have to fall back. They formed the Confederate right and ran the line from Seminary Ridge to Devil’s Den. At 7 pm, Ewell attacked Union forces commanded by General Henry Slocum on Culp’s Hill on the Union right. Ewell was forced to fall back because Union forces were too strong.

July 3[change | change source]

The night of July 2, Longstreet’s largest division commanded by General George Pickett arrived and was placed in the center of the Confederate line. Lee’s plan was to attack on both the Union right and left as the day before. Around 4 am, fighting broke out on the Union right as Slocum attacked Ewell’s forces that had taken some ground on Culp’s Hill the day before. This fighting ended around 11 am with no winner. This changed Lee’s plans. Now he was going to attack the union center with cannons and move across three quarters of a mile across open ground. He would use three divisions; General George Pickett, General Isaac Trimble, and General James Pettigrew. The three divisions amounted to around 13,000 men. At 1 pm, around 170 Confederate cannons opened fire. After two hours, the attack began. Confederate forces broke the Union center, commanded By General Winfield Hancock, for a just a moment at The Angle. This was the closest the Confederacy ever got to winning the war. This point of the battle is called the “High Water Mark” for this reason. Hancock would get more men and drive back the attack. Pickett’s division was killed. At the end of the battle, Lee ordered Pickett to gather his division and get ready to fight against a Union attack. Pickett said, “General Lee, I have no division.” Lee knew he was defeated and took his men back to Virginia on July 4.

Aftermath[change | change source]

Both the Confederate and Union forces had more than 23,000 casualties apiece. The battle took more American lives than any other battle in United States history. Gettysburg is still the largest battle to ever be fought on American soil. The Union victory over the Confederacy ended Lee’s invasion of the north. Lee would never try to invade the Union again. The Army of Northern Virginia would never get their strength back. Lee never had more than 51,000 men the rest of the war. Numbers from the Union forces wore down Lee and his army. This is why Gettysburg is said to be the turning point of the American Civil War.

References[change | change source]

  1. Coddington, p. 573. See the discussion regarding historians' judgment on whether Gettysburg should be considered a decisive victory.
  2. Busey and Martin, p. 125: "Engaged strength" at the battle was 93,921.
  3. Busey and Martin, p. 260, state that "engaged strength" at the battle was 71,699; McPherson, p. 648, lists the strength at the start of the campaign as 75,000.
  4. Busey and Martin, p. 125.
  5. Busey and Martin, p. 260. See the section on casualties for a discussion of alternative Confederate casualty estimates, which have been cited as high as 28,000.
  6. Robert D. Quigley, Civil War Spoken Here: A Dictionary of Mispronounced People, Places and Things of the 1860's (Collingswood, NJ: C. W. Historicals, 1993), p. 68. ISBN 0-9637745-0-6.
  7. The Battle of Antietam, the end of Lee's first invasion of the North, had the largest number of casualties in a single day, about 23,000.
  8. Rawley, p. 147; Sauers, p. 827; Gallagher, Lee and His Army, p. 83; McPherson, p. 665; Eicher, p. 550. Gallagher and McPherson cite the combination of Gettysburg and Vicksburg as the turning point. Eicher uses the arguably related expression, "High-water mark of the Confederacy".

Other websites[change | change source]