The Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg

The Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, began in 1861. (Civil War, 2009) There was conflict between the northern and south states. The northern states did not believe in slavery as the southern states believed.

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They wanted it abolished. Tensions mounted between these two territories and thus began the Civil War. The Union was strong in manufacturing arms, and had a greater population than the south. The Confederates had a strong military with some of the greatest military leaders. Many thought that the war would be over quickly but that was not the case. “The conflict was the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American soil, with some 620,000 of 2.4 million soldiers killed, millions more injured and much of the South left in ruin.”(Civil War, 2009) Even though the Union was favored to win the war, the Confederates won many hard fought battles and their initial victories appeared to have them taking the lead. The battle of Gettysburg reversed the tide of the civil war favoring the union army.

There had been no plan to fight in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The confederate army, led by A.P. Hill, headed there in search of footwear and supplies. They had just experienced a great loss in Chancellorsville, when General Stonewall Jackson died. He had been mistaken as a Yankee and shot in the arm by one of his own Confederates. The injury resulted in amputation of his affected arm. He suffered complications of pneumonia and died a short time later. General Lee decided to press his troops north in the hopes of a victory on enemy soil. Hill was planning to get supplies from Gettysburg and meet up with the troops led by General Lee. He did not know that Union troops had arrived there a couple of days earlier. On the first day of the Battle, Confederates forces, led by Hill and Richard Ewell, were able to drive back the outnumbered Union troops to take over the town. Both sides called for reinforcements. Lee wanted to gain control of the higher ground of Cemetary Hill before the Union had a chance to gain more troops for battle. He ordered Ewell to attack the Union on Cemetary Hill. Fearing that the Union defenses were too strong, Ewell failed to order the attack. Throughout the night, the Union was strengthened by additional troops.

On day two, Union forces still controlled Cemetary Hill. They had the advantage of being positioned on Little Round Top, a hill with a great vantage point of the battlefield. General Lee ordered General Longstreet to attack the Union line. Longstreet did not agree with this decision. Lee wanted Longstreet to attack from one side while Ewell attacked from the other side. Longstreet followed the orders of his commander, however, he delayed his attack until later in the day. The Union forces were being led by Daniel Sickles. The Union was fortunate to hold their ground on Little Round Top. They had made the mistake of leaving their position. Luckily they realized their error in time. There was enormous blood shed in this day. “The combined casualty total from two days of fighting came to nearly 35,000, the largest two-day toll of the war.” (Danzer, 2009). The day ended with the Union forces giving up some ground to the Confederates. Still, they held their position and claimed the day as their victory.

Lee was certain that on Day 3 he could break the Union. Again he wanted to target the middle of the Union line. The fighting ensued and “could be heard in Pittsburg.” (Danzer, 2009) After a brief period of quiet, Lee wanted Longstreet and General Pickett to attack again. This attack was known as “Pickett’s Charge.” This would be Lee’s last attempt to penetrate the Union line at Cemetary Ridge. Although the Confederates were able to break through, they did not gain control. Their forces had been greatly weakened and they lacked reinforcements. This was the defeat of Lee and his troops. He retreated to Virginia and left behind battle flags and many prisoners. Even though Meade should have been praised for having stood his ground and winning the three day battle, he was criticized for not annihilating his attackers. There was disappointment in Meade for not pursuing the Confederates because many felt that if he had succeeded in defeating them, the Civil War may have ended with the Battle of Gettysburg.

There has never been a bloodier, more violent battle fought in North America, than the Battle of Gettysburg. The carnage and destruction is unparalleled. There was a staggering number of casualties. The number of wounded, missing, and dead topped 50,000. President Lincoln referred to what happened at the Battle of Gettysburg as “a new birth of freedom.” This phrase can be seen on the Lincoln Memorial.

Nearly 8000 men perished at the battle of Gettysburg. Twelve of those eight-thousand me were commanding generals. This lack of leadership would impact the war for months to come. A confederate general, Paul Semmes, had received a wound in the battle. Before his death he wrote a letter to his wife stating “ Martinsburg Va 9 July 1863

My Dearest Wife,I telegraphed you 3 day: “Seriously wounded. Main danger over. Stay at home. Will write.”I was wounded on the 2 inst. at Gettysburg, Penn. I arrived here in an ambulance yesterday, a distance of 60 miles. Abrm, Wm. Cleveland & Cody are with me – will write soon again. The wound has done remarkably well though I traveled part of 4 days in an ambulance – which was very uncomfortable. not leaving it after being placed in it at the Hospital until I got here I now write flat of my Back in a Comfortable room in a private family who treat me with kindness.I was wounded in the leg but stopped the flow of blood in the field by a Tournequet applied by myself and drawn by one of my men of the 10 Ga & lost but little blood.Col Mann—Lee Chambers Hd—killed—Jack Jones kill—& a long list.My Brigade suffered severely and behaved well.Much love to all. Your affec Hd. Paul J. Semmes. Ellis escaped—God will fully spare my life(Semmes, 1863). We all have cause to be thankful to Him. The generals handwriting is a clear sign he was struggling and that his wounds were severe.

A Cemetery was dedicated by President Lincoln several months after the Battle of Gettysburg took place. The speech delivered by the president had great power and his words would be forever remembered. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.”(Lincoln, 1863) It was a eulogy to the dead. Lincoln did not realize the effect that his words would have on the people. He did not think that his speech would be remembered let alone influential. “But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate we cannot consecrate we cannot hallow, this ground The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.”(Lincoln, 1863) He thought that the war, and the Battle of Gettysburg itself would be the only thing that anyone remembered. The destruction and carnage had made most of Gettysburg a burial ground. Lincoln’s speech changed the macabre into something rich. His famous address honored those who fought, and died during the gruesome assault. He honored the sacrifices made by both sides. “It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”(Lincoln, 1863).

The Battle of Gettysburg marked a turning point in the Civil War, in favor of the Union. The Confederate army was comprised of superior military leaders and a powerful military force. This War of the States started out strong for the south and they were building momentum until the Battle of Gettysburg. The pendulum turned after the Union took this battle and in the end of the battle, as in the end of the Civil War, the Confederates were defeated.

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