The battle of Gettysburg is one of the most significant events in terms of the American Civil War. The battle took place from the 1st to the 3rd of July in 1863 near a small town called Gettysburg (Parish, 2020). Leading to a devastating Southern defeat the battle is considered to be the turning point of the Civil war, which had a vast impact on the war’s outcome. As the encounter had considerable strategic meaning, it also was a source of inspiration for the Union’s Army, leading to Lincoln’s famous speech known as the “Gettysburg Address”.
The main precondition for the battle was Confederate Army’s victory over Potomac Army. Robert E. Lee decided to consolidate success by invading the north and potentially encouraging France and Britain to recognize the Confederate States of America (Parish, 2020). Such desired consequences were supposed to maintain Confederacy’s positions in the domestic and global arena. At the same time, President Abraham Lincoln’s trust in Joseph Hooker was gone due to Potomac’s loss at Chancellorsville. Therefore, Lincoln replaced Hooker with George Gordon Meade, who decided to engage the Confederate marching Army in battle.
The First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg
Lee was informed about the movement of the Army of the Potomac through a spy and decided to use Gettysburg as a transit point to rest and restore supplies. However, as one of the Confederate divisions arrived in town, they came to realize that Union cavalry already occupied the town. Confederate outnumbering forces managed to push cavalry back until they encountered Union infantry and particularly a brigade of Western regiments, which was also called the “Iron Brigade of the West” (Streissguth, 2016). The Union forces fought Lee’s divisions back and managed to consolidate their positions on Cemetery Hill. Lee did not want the Union to gain reinforcements and fortify the hills completely. Hence, he ordered General Ewell to dislodge the enemy from the occupied heights, but the order was not delivered in time and Ewell decided not to attack the Union forces, which held advantageous positions on the hills. As General Ewell delayed the attack, Meade gained time to reinforce the troops.
The Second Day of the Battle of Gettysburg
By the second day, the Union troops fortified their positions along with Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Cemetery hill. Lee wrongfully evaluated his positions and decided to attack the Union Army, even though it had a significant landscape advantage. James Longstreet was commanded to attack the Union left, whereas Ewell’s troops were supposed to strike the Union from the right flank. Longstreet had to reverse his forces as he realized that the planned route would expose their movement and take away the advantage of surprise. Nevertheless, General Daniel Sickles made a dramatic strategic mistake, which gave Longstreet’s men an opportunity to attack the Union unexpectedly. Sickles decided to move his positions, which stretched his units. Meade had to minimize the negative effects of Sickles’ wrongful decisions by sending several corps as reinforcements. By the end of the day, the Union forces managed to hold most of their positions. Both the Union Army and the Confederate Army sustained significant causalities, making a sum of thirty-five thousand men lost in two days.
The Last Day of the Battle
On July 3, Lee’s time-tested aggressive strategy led the Confederate Army to an unexpected defeat. In the morning Union troops regained ground on the Culp’s Hill during a prolonged encounter with the enemy. Lee thought he must maintain the controversial success of the previous day, so he ordered his divisions and arriving enforcements to attack the Cemetery Ridge to push the central Union forces back and take the height. However, Lee did not know that Federals had reinforcements coming. At 1:00 in the afternoon, the Confederate army began the preliminary bombardment to weaken Union’s artillery and infantry (Streissguth, 2016). At first, the Union Army conducted an artillery barrage in return but soon decided to save ammunition for the upcoming attack. The attack started at 3 p.m. exposing Lee’s forces to the shelling and rifle fire of the Union troops. The frontal attack of nearly fifteen thousand men turned out to be a disaster for Confederates and made the survivors flee from the battlefield. That dramatic failure of the Confederate Army will later be known as “Pickett’s Charge”.
Aftermath and Historical Significance
Acknowledging his mistake Lee abandoned the ambitious idea of invading the North. On the fourth of July the Confederate Army expected a counterattack from the Union, which did not happen as, despite the victorious previous day, Union forces were exhausted and short on supply and ammunition. Having assessed the situation, Lee decided to retreat to Virginia, whereas Meade decided not to pursue Lee’s army which lost approximately twenty-eight thousand people (Streissguth, 2016). Afterward, Lee, demoralized by the defeat, offered their resignation to President Jefferson Davis, which was refused. Even though the Confederate Army was not destroyed and the Federals suffered considerable losses, the victory in the Battle of Gettysburg shifted the power balance in favor of the Union.
Parish, P. J. (2020). The American Civil War. Routledge.
Streissguth, T. (2016). The Battle of Gettysburg. Abdo Publishing.