Famous Battles in History Gettysburg and the Civil War

About the famous Battle of Gettysburg between the Union and Confederate forces in the American Civil War.



Hoping to win a battle which would crumble Northern resistance, Gen. Robert E. Lee invaded the North in June, 1863. When Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was crossing the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania, Lincoln relieved Gen. Joseph Hooker of his command, replacing him with Gen. George Meade on June 28. Discovering that his Army of the Potomac was in Maryland while the Confederates were far to the north, Meade quickly marched northward.

Both Confederate and Union armies were scattered, and the battle began by accident. On July 1, a Confederate brigade was marching to Gettysburg, Pa., to seize a supply of shoes when it blundered into a Union cavalry unit. Both armies rushed reinforcements to the scene, precipitating a battle neither had planned. The first day, the Confederates took Gettysburg, forcing the Northerners to retreat to the heights south of the town.

The next day, July 2, the Union forces occupied a convex front running from Culp's Hill in the north down to Cemetery Ridge, then south to Little Round Top hill. From the west and north, Lee launched unsuccessful attacks against both Union flanks. When Maj. Gen. George Pickett arrived with 15,000 fresh Confederate troops, Lee planned another attack for the next day.

On July 3, Lee concentrated 159 cannons and Pickett's soldiers on Seminary Ridge, a mile from the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. Lined up axle to axle, the Confederate artillery began firing at 1:00 P.M. Unfortunately, their shells missed the Union lines and instead fell in the rear. At 3:15, Pickett began his famous charge against Cemetery Ridge. Union artillery and musket fire decimated the exposed Southern ranks, but they continued on up Cemetery Ridge. At the top, in hand-to-hand fighting, Pickett's men were finally repulsed, with over two thirds dead or wounded. With Pickett's failure, Lee admitted defeat and retreated. Meade failed to pursue the Confederates, allowing them to reach safety in Virginia.

Union soldiers numbered 88,000, against 75,000 Confederates. The North lost 3,155 killed, 14,529 wounded, and 5,365 missing; the South lost 3,903 killed, 18,735 wounded, and 5,425 missing. By losing at Gettysburg, Lee had lost the war for the South, while Meade--by allowing Lee to escape--had failed to win the war for the North.

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