Gettysburg was the turning point in the American Civil War. Back in the day’s before animation. More importantly Gettysburg was the climatic clash between the two major American cultures of their time: the North and the South. A climax of a conflict between two cultures with such vastly different ideals that they could not coexist in “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
When looking at the causes of the Civil War, and eventually the Battle of Gettysburg, one must understand the differences between these two cultures. The Confederacy had an agricultural economy producing tobacco, corn, and cotton, with many huge plantations owned by a few very rich white men. These owners lived off of the labor of sharecroppers and slaves, charging high royalties for the use of their land. Similarly the Confederate Army consisted of a group of white males, fighting for their independence form federal dictates.
On the other hand the Union economy was one of manufacturing. Although there was still inequality, the minorities in the North were better off than those in the south on an average basis. The northern politicians wanted tariffs, and a large army while the southern plantation owners wanted the exact opposite. Like Northern society the Union army was one of many races and types of people. The Union army was far from one of equality, but it was better than the South.
Because of these differences, the Civil War was actually two different wars. The South was fighting against a government that they considered to be unfair. They believed that Washington was overtaxing them, with tariffs and property taxes making their lifestyles even more expensive than they already were. On the other hand the North was fighting this war for two reasons, first to keep the Nation unified, and second to abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the commander and chief of the Union forces, along with many other Northerners believed that Slavery was not only fundamentally wrong, but it was a great humiliation to America. One can see that with these differences a conflict would be inevitable, but not many had predicted that a full-blown war would break out. One did and after three bloody and costly years for both sides we come to the date of July 1, 1863.
The stage was set for an immense struggle at Gettysburg after the May 1863 Battle of Chancellors Ville, when General Robert E. Lee made the historic decision to divide his already out manned and outgunned Army of Northern Virginia. This apparent violation of basic strategic principles was undertook at great risk, and only for the reason that a great payoff was possible. By creating 3 corps from his 75,000 men, Lee made it possible to accomplish more tasks in the same amount of time. The three commanders were, in theory, to be supported by the strategic reconnasaince of Jeb Stuart’s cavalry-a role in which he failed dismally (and fatally) in the days and weeks leading up to Gettysburg. Lee decided to take the offensive by invading Pennsylvania via Maryland in an attempt to end the war quickly by threatening the Northern capitol and waging “total war” on the Northern citizens. Unfortunately for Lee, Stuart’s joyriding (Jeb delighted in riding complete circles around the Northern armies and hence all of the public recognition and attention) left him blind, without any clue as to the whereabouts, intentions, strengths, or capabilities of the Union Army of the Potomac. Unbeknownst to him, Meade was marching straight for him with almost 82,000 men (certainly outnumbering the South) and, more importantly, a competent and mission-oriented calvary commander in John Buford.
July 1, 1863 (Day 1)
The battle began on July 1, when some of General Ambrose Powell Hill’s advance brigades entered the small civilian town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania looking for shoes. Because of General Stuart’s failure to complete his mission of graphing the Union army’s movement, Hill’s troops encountered a Union cavalry division commanded by Major General John Buford, which altered their plans. During battle in front of Cemetery Hill, General Hill encountered stubborn resistance from the Union forces trying to hold until the rest of forces could arrive and dig in. The fighting went on until General Richard S. Ewell arrived and forced the federal troops to retreat to better ground southeast of Gettysburg. Although the Confederates won the day, Ewell made the mistake of not allowing General Hill to clamp down the Union forces further back leaving the Union troops with the high ground.
July 2, 1863 (Day 2)
On the following day, July 2, General George Gordon Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac arrived, along with the majority of the army. He formed his forces in the now widely recognized horseshoe, anchored at Big and Little Round Top on the west, and Culp’s Hill on the east, and dug in behind a stone wall along Cemetery Ridge. The numerically superior Union forces faced an unplanned deployment of Southern troops preparing for a “hasty attack”. The Confederate forces roughly mirrored the Union line, commanded left to right by Longstreet, Hill, and Ewell.
Determined to annihilate the Army of the Potomac once and for all, and end the war swiftly, General Lee ordered an attack over the protests of James Longstreet. The ill-fated attack was delayed time and time again, eventually kicking off just before noon and failing soon thereafter. Confederate gains were limited to the Peach Orchard and a sector of Culp’s Hill, while major losses were incurred in personnel, equipment, ammunition, and morale. The second day concluded with planning for the third and final day of this historic battle. General Meade and the federal forces believed an attack would come, but expected an attack in the same place as earlier that day. Ironically, given incredible losses to forces opposing Longstreet’s first attack, the troops under the command of Colonel Chamberlain were shifted to the center of the line, which, they were promised, was sure not to see much action July 3rd. General Lee, on the other hand, was determined to strike at the center of the Union line in the belief that Meade would move most all of his forces to sure up the flanks that had been barely held on the 2nd.
July 3, 1863 (Day 3)
The morning of July 3rd brought about little besides light shelling by both sides. Preparations for the South’s attack were delayed yet again, but the half-hearted attack began around noon with the infamous Pickett’s Charge. Major General George Pickett, a division commander, led roughly 13,000 men across hundreds of yards of open fields, across a road and a number of fences, and up to the junction side of Cemetery Ridge, all the time under enormous volumes of fire from Union cannons and muskets (no automatic weapons though). This assault and its achievements in the face of such overwhelming odds are an incredible tribute to the leadership of Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Pickett, among numerous others, as well as the incredible spirit of the Confederate troops. One must not neglect to mention, however, the heroic stand of the Union troops, from the first day and the dismounted calvary of John Buford to the third day and the combined effort of the entire Army of the Potomac. Even if no other factors influenced the attack, due to the sheer number and firepower of the entrenched Union troops, the assault was destined to fail.
On the night of July 3rd, General Lee and the Confederate army began their retreat back to Virginia. During the costly three days the carnage ended with the Union casualties equaling: 3,070 soldiers killed, 14,497 wounded, and 5,434 captured or missing. The Confederates suffered 2,592 deaths, 12,706 wounded, and 5,150 captured or missing. There were few doctors to help with injuries. Gettysburg had important psychological effects also, demoralizing the South and causing the North to celebrate a great victory with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Although the casualties seem pretty equal, the Battle of Gettysburg second and last great invasion of the North, for the South had neither the arms nor the numbers to continue an assault, but the war dragged on for two more years.
We Know annually celebrate the people who fought for our country.