The Battle of Gettysburg was a changed the outcome of the Civil War. The first major win of the Union in a long while, it served as a morale booster and proof that the north had a chance of winning. By this point the war had been going on for two years since the first Battle of Bull Run and both sides were getting desperate. No one believed the war would go on for as long as it did, and with no sure victory in sight, things were getting tense.
General Robert E. Lee was in command of the entire Confederate Army. He had just won two big battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and he was feeling pretty confident. He was, of course, very shaken by the loss of Stonewall Jackson, his second in command, who had been accidentally shot by his own men during the Battle of Chancellorsville. The rest of the army was also remorseful of the loss of the beloved military genius, so Lee decided that it would be good for morale as well as the war itself if the Confederacy won a battle in Union territory, so he marched everyone north.
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General Meade, who was in charge of the Union armies at the time, realized the Confederacy was moving north but he didn’t know where they were going, so he also took his army north to defend Washington D.C. the capital of the north. During the march, the army went through a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg. Of no major importance, the town was like any other and no paid it much attention until it was realized that ten major roads all converged at Gettysburg, making it perfect to be on the look-out for the Southern army. The Union army took up post and remained alert.
Around the same time, the Confederacy happened to be passing nearby, and a reconnaissance team was sent out to check the surrounding area, constantly on edge because neither army knew where the other was. During the recon mission, the union was discovered and the Battle of Gettysburg began at Mcpherson Ridge on July 1st, 1863.
The vicious battle was led by General Heth and General A. P. Hill on the Confederate side and Generals Reynolds, Wadsworth, and Buford on the Union. The south attacked hard from the west, but the Yankees held their lines well. But then, as the battle went on, General Ewell came from the north, bringing Confederate reinforcements with him, and the union was forced to retreat back through the town and to claim higher ground on Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top.
On July 2nd, 1863, General Lee decided to attack the Union Army located on Cemetery Ridge, neglecting to realize that there were also union troops on Little Round Top hill. The troops set out early in the day, hoping to secure victory before the rest of Meade’s troops arrived. Luckily General Wadsworth saw them just in time from Little Round Top and was able to send reinforcements. Fighting broke out in three main locations, the Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, and the Peach Orchard. By the time the day ended, the union had given up ground but had held their position on the high ground.
July 3rd, 1863 is the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg and also the day of the infamous Pickett’s Charge. The Confederacy now knew that the union lines stretched from Little Round Top to Cemetery Ridge in roughly the shape of a fish hook. The southerners, themselves, were located along Seminary Ridge, just beyond the tree line. In between the two armies lay an open field. Confident that his men could cross the field and attack the union with a victory, General Lee planned assault led by General George Pickett, for whom this battle is named. Lt. Gen. Longstreet, Lee’s second in command, was not so certain this plan would work. However, when his concerns were presented to General Lee, they were waved off and ignored. The attack began as planned with cannon fire. Both militaries used napoleon rifles and shrapnel to attempt to weaken the armies before the real fight began. After two hours of this, Longstreet gave the order for his men to attack.
The Confederate army stepped out from behind the trees to form a line about a mile long. They began to march, and the union watched in awe as this huge mass of men came towards them. Eventually, the union came to and realized that they had to fight back. Under the command of General Gibbon, they began to fire at the approaching army from behind the safety of a low stone wall. At first, it appeared to be in vain, everytime a section was cleared, more men came forth to fill it. The south appeared to have no end. However, in the middle of the field, there was a fence. The fence proved to be too sturdy to knock over or break, so the Confederate army had to climb over it. This slowed them down and gave the Yankees a chance to pick them off one by one. Even still, the south still managed to break through Union lines for a short period of time. There it turned to hand to hand combat before the southerners were driven back.
On July 4th, 1863 Lee’s army began retreating and eventually surrendered, having suffered a large loss. The Battle of Gettysburg officially ended and the Union had won. Lee returned to the south to tend to his wounded, count his losses, and regroup. The union stayed put to do the same. A few days later, President Lincoln arrived to give a short speech at the ceremony for the new National Cemetery. Despite not being the main speech, Lincoln’s short, two minutes long, ten line speech became one of the most remembered speeches in American history and continues to inspire American citizens to this day.
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