Battle of Gettysburg
Location: Gettysburg, PA
Dates: July 1, 1863 - July 3, 1863
G. Gordon Meade, Major General
Robert E. Lee, General
After a monumental victory, at Chancellorsville, VA,
Robert E. Lee
determined to take the war to his enemy. As in the Maryland Campaign,
terminating at Antietam, the strategy for moving north was simple - win a
war on northern soil, destroying the north's will-to-fight, and relieve the
pressure on Virginia, which had fed her troops for the better part of 2 1/2
years. It was Lee's hope to feed and cloth his men, in the north,
sweep into Harrisburg, and possibly on to Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, with the Shenandoah Valley as a
screen, crossed the Potomac and entered Maryland. Lee continue north,
crossing into Pennsylvania, stopping at Chambersburg, PA. He had split
his army, sending Lieutenant General,
Richard S. Ewell's 2nd Corps towards
Carlisle and Harrisburg.
Prior to leaving Virginia, Lee had sent his
cavalry, under the command of Major General,
J.E.B. Stewart, on a
circuitous, information gathering ride, east of his army. This would
prove a serious gaff on the part of Lee.
G. Gordon Meade's Army of
the Potomac, moving north on a parallel route to
Lee, a major battle was
inevitable. On July 1, Federal Cavalry under Brigadier General
Buford, entered the crossroads village of Gettysburg - home to the Lutheran
Seminary. As Buford's mounted troopers headed west, out of Gettysburg,
on the Chambersburg Pike, they ran headlong into Major General
Confederate 3rd Corps division. Heth's division had been sent to
Gettysburg, to scout the area and search for an alleged stash of shoes for
the footsore rebels. Lieutenant General
Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill had
instructed Heth not to bring on a general engagement if he were to run into
any Federal scouts.
Buford's cavalry had determined the troops
entering Gettysburg were in fact rebels, they were convinced that it was
only a brigade, and dismounted just west of the Lutheran Seminary, facing
west on the Chambersburg Pike.
Heth's division ran into Buford's
troopers and the battle of Gettysburg, America's most famous, started in
Buford quickly determined that he had run into a division and
that he would not be able to hold long against them. Sending to the
rear, for reinforcements, Major General
John Reynold's 1st Corps quickly
marched into position. As he was deploying his corps, John Reynold's
was struck in the head by a well aimed musket ball, instantly killing him.
He would be the first general killed at Gettysburg, and one of the highest
ranking Union generals killed in the Civil War. Upon Reynold's death,
command of the 1st Corps fell to Major General
Doubleday's 1st Corps held
A.P. Hill's corps for a couple of hours, but they
slowly fell back southeast, through Gettysburg. During the retreat,
street fighting erupted in Gettysburg. As they exited the south side
of Gettysburg, the Union troops invested the area of Culp's Hill and
As the afternoon wore on, the Confederate division of
Jubal Early, of
Ewell's corps, arrived on the north side of Gettysburg.
Hill's Corp's and Early's division, pushing the federal troops, an
opportunity was missed. Ewell was urged by
Lee to try to push the
federal troops from Culp's Hill, but the written order offered Ewell
discretion. After scouting the federal position, Ewell determined to
make no general engagement to take the hill. This proved costly for
Lee, as repeated attempts to take the prominence, during the next two days,
would fail. If Ewell had instructed Early's troops to take the hill on
July 1, before the rest of the Yankee army had arrived, there may have been
a different outcome. As the battle closed, on day one, the Yankee's
held a strong position, south of town on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge.
Day 2, dawned with the Union troops sitting across the valley from the
Confederate troops arrayed along Seminary Ridge, due west of town.
James Longstreet's 1st Corps had the far right position, with
A.P. Hill's 3rd Corps
in the center, and
Richard Ewell's 2nd Corps in a semicircle around the north side
of the Union position. The Federals were aligned, south to north, by
Daniel Sickles's III Corps,
Winfield S. Hancock's II Corps,
Abner Doubleday's I
Corps, now commanded by Major General
O.O. Howard's XI Corps
Henry Slocum's XII Corps. The Union lines were shaped like a fish
hook, with the hook end on the north. The key to the position, was
G. Gordon Meade could reinforce his troops using a shorter line.
He could easily send troops from one side of the "fish hook" to the other
side, over a much shorter line than
Lee could with his troops. This
would prove to be a decisive advantage during the second day's battle.
Lee was determined to be on the offensive. He planned to send
Longstreet's Corps, across what became known as the "Valley of Death," while
Ewell's Corps would push up Culp's Hill. If an opening were found, Lee
A.P. Hill's Corps ready for an advance. Longstreet was not
pleased with the orders and expressed his concern to Lee. Lee restated
his orders and instructed his lieutenants to start the battle. At 4:00
PM, rebel cannons, from Ewell's Corps signaled the start of the battle.
The Union troops facing Longstreet were not in position. Unknown, to
Dan Sickles pushed his III Corps, a mile further towards the rebels
than the rest of the line on Cemetery Ridge. This proved disastrous
for his corps. Meade had sent his chief of engineers, Brigadier
Gouverneur K. Warren to check his troop deployments. Warren,
on the crest of a large hill, later to be known as Little Round Top,
determined Sickles was out of position and went to find Meade. Before
leaving he surpassed his authority and deployed a portion of
George Sykes' V Corps on Little Round Top.
Upon learning of
Meade rode with haste to see Sickles'. Sickles,
offering to pull his troops back to the "round tops" was rebuffed by Meade,
saying it was too late for this move. At that time,
Longstreets' 1st Corps
slammed into Sickles' III Corps. Horrific fighting broke out
throughout Sickles' sector. A wheat field that would forever be known
in the proper noun form: "Wheat Field," and a pile of huge boulders would host
such carnage that it would be known as the Devil's Den. And as Union
troops were pushed through the Devil's Den their blood, mixed with rebel
blood would christen an area to be forever known as the "Slaughter Pen."
Further east, seeing the fighting in his front, Strong Vincent, and Patrick
O'Rourke deployed their brigades on Little Round Top. Vincent's
regimental commander, Lt. Colonel
Joshua Chamberlain, would have the
unenviable task of being on the left flank of the entire Union army.
His regiment of troops, from Maine, would be immortalized as saving the
Union army at Gettysburg. As Sickles' III Corps vaporized, retreating
across the "Valley of Death," and the "Slaughter Pen," Vincent and
O'Rourke's brigades prepared for the onslaught. Troops from
Henry Benning's Georgians and
Jerome Robertson's Texans stormed the Little
Round Top. After being repulsed, they would reform and charge again,
and again. As twilight overpowered the last of the sun's rays, Little
Round Top remained in Federal control.
Further up the Union line, on
Cemetery Ridge, a division from
A.P. Hill's Corps, commanded by Major
Richard Anderson, suffered a similar fate as they slammed into
Winfield S. Hancock's II Corps. Hancock troops repulsed several
charges by Anderson's division, leaving a significant amount of southern
blood in the area between the two ridges.
Late in the afternoon, after not
moving his divisions,
Ewell would send two divisions, under
Jubal Early and
Edward Johnson, forward into the Union positions held by
O.O. Howard's XI
Henry Slocum's XII Corps. This piecemeal attack, against a
well entrenched opponent proved futile. Ewell's troops would suffer
severe casualties on the approaches to Evergreen Cemetery and Culp's Hill.
This would end the fighting for day 2, at Gettysburg.
Lee would meet,
individually, with his corps commanders (except
Ewell), during the second
night. He explained that he planned to hit "those people," where they
were and would continue on the offensive on day three.
again expressed concern for this plan, and stated that the Union commanders
would be hoping for them to do this. Instead, Longstreet advocated a
move around the southern flank of the Union army, getting between them and
their capitol, and forcing them into battle on ground chosen by Lee's
troops. Lee would hear nothing of this.
While Lee was meeting with
G. Gordon Meade called a war council at his
headquarters. He polled his generals, asking them to chose between
three choices: 1) Move south, getting between the rebels and Washington
D.C.; 2) Take the offensive on the ground they currently held; 3) Continue
to hold the ground they had on the defensive. Most all of his
lieutenants chose the third choice. So, at the opening of the third
day's battle, the troops would hold the same ground they did at the start of
the second day of battle.
Ewell's division, under
Edward Johnson, started
the battle, on day three, by assaulting the east slope of Culp's Hill.
He would run into a brigade of troops, commanded by Brigadier General
Greene. George Greene, had his troops working throughout the evening,
building trenches and parapet's for his big guns. This proved very
effective on the morning of day three, as
John Geary's Division, of
Corps, held the ground around Culp's Hill.
Lee's primary movement of the
day, would be a huge assault, across the valley, into the federal troops in
the middle of the Union line.
Lee believed that
Meade had moved troops
from his center, to reinforce troops on both of his flanks. Lee
determined to have
Longstreet's Corps, with a couple of
A.P. Hill's brigades
lead the attack - forever known as "Pickett's Charge." The battle
would be started with a huge artillery barrage by the head of Longstreet's
E. Porter Alexander.
Alexander's big guns opened up during the mid to late afternoon.
The artillery continued to pound Union positions, east of Emmitsburg Road
for a long period of time. Running low on ammunition, Alexander told
George Pickett that he would have to get his division moving or cancel his
charge. At this urging, Pickett's Division and the brigades of
Hill's Corps started across the fields. Union troops on the other side
were awestruck by the precision and mass of the approaching Confederates.
On they came.
On the Union side, Major General
Winfield Scott Hancock, had
ordered his division commanders to hold fire until the assaulting troops
were quite close. The rebels steadily crossed the ground, between
Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge. As they approached within 300 or so
yards, Federal cannons opened with double-shot canister and grape shot.
This tore large swaths in the Confederate formation. They continued on
- with a "copse of trees" in the distance as their goal. As they
approached the federal lines, Union troops, from behind a stone wall, would
stand up emptying their muskets into the ranks of the rebels. As they
were three lines deep, the Union troops fired incessantly. This grand
attack was doomed. The Confederates charged the wall, with a few men
going over. These men, including Brigadier General
were mowed down. Armistead, who was close friends with Hancock, was
killed within yards of Hancock, who was also seriously wounded. The
Confederate troops could not maintain the attack and retreated across the
open field, where they were still under Federal assault. Upon reaching
Robert E. Lee, at Seminary Ridge,
George Pickett was told to reassemble his
division. George Pickett replied that he no longer had a division.
Longstreet's troops were getting chewed up by
Stuart launched one of the largest cavalry assaults, east of Gettysburg,
that occurred during the Civil War. He was unlucky this day, as
arrayed against him were troops under Brigadier General
Judson Kilpatrick -
including a brigade of cavalry under Brigadier General
George Custer - who
later in life would become famous for being slaughtered at the Battle of
Little Big Horn. J.E.B. Stuart's troops were turned away by the
Federal cavalry after dismounted attacks and much hand-to-hand combat.
Robert E. Lee, resigned himself to having been beat, and apologized to
his troops. The next morning, Lee determined to move out and retreat
back to southern soil. He left behind thousands of Confederate dead,
and wounded. Union troops would remain in the Gettysburg area for
several days, before taking off after Lee. They had much work to do
and many dead to bury.
Union: 23,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 28,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Gettysburg would become the most costly battle in U.S. history.
More troops died, in these three days of fighting, than have died before or
after. Gettysburg would be
Lee's last venture into northern soil.
His troops would retreat back into northern Virginia, and would remain
fairly quiet the rest of the year. Meanwhile, Meade slowly pushed
after Lee, but never seriously threatened him. Besides a Confederate
defeat at Gettysburg, the south learned that on July 4th, troops under Major
U.S. Grant, had received Confederate General
John Pemberton's surrender
at Vicksburg. Being more strategically important, Vicksburg opened the
Mississippi River to the U.S. and essentially cut the Confederacy in two.
Four months after the Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln attended festivities for
the commemoration of the national soldiers cemetery. He was asked t
say a few appropriate remarks. His words continue to live, and breath
life in the U.S. today.
"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 battle-field of that war. We
have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final
resting place for those who here gave their lives that that
nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that
we should do this.
But, in a
larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we
can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead,
who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor
power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor
long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what
they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be
dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought
here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to
be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us —
that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to
that cause for which they gave the last full measure of
devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall
not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, 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." - Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863.