Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Battle of Gettysburg


The Battle of Gettysburg


The Turning Point

In the early summer of 1863, the Civil War was two years old, and both the North and South had tasted victories as well as defeats. Confederate General Robert E. Lee's force of nearly 75,000 men had just inflicted a stunning defeat on the North's army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville, Virginia, and in early June it turned north, across the Potomac River, and headed toward Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Major General George Meade, who had just succeeded General Joseph Hooker as commander of the Federal troops, also headed north with 122,000 men, and by late June the stage was set for the greatest battle of the Civil War. It began on July I, when advance troops on both sides met near Gettysburg, a small town about 35 miles southwest of Harrisburg. The first major development occurred that morning when the northern troops who were defending McPherson Ridge were driven back. Before Lee could take advantage of the situation, however, he was forced to wait for the arrival of General James Longstreet's corps. Meanwhile, Meade was able to size up the situation and strengthen his main line of defense along Culp's Hill, Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge. On the second day of the battle, July 2, Lee sent Longstreet's corps to attack the Federal's south flank, where desperate hand-to-hand fighting took place at Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard. Although the Confederates could have seized the advantage at this point, they again delayed, allowing Meade time to plug up the gaps and reorganize. The third and decisive day of battle, July J, was highlighted by Confederate Major General G.E. Pickett's attack on Cemetery Ridge. This action, which was later immortalized as "Pickett's Charge," involved 15,000 Confederate troops moving across an open field toward 10,000 defenders who waited coolly behind stone walls while their artillery blasted the enemy with devastating effect. By the time Pickett's men reached the ridge, they had lost too many men and were under attack on three sides, suffering tremendous losses. The following day, July 4, Lee began his retreat to Virginia. The Union Army had lost 23,000 men killed, wounded or missing, while the Confederates counted 20,000 casualties. No single battle in American history cost so much in human lives. It was, moreover, a turning point of the war. The Confederacy began a decline after that which ended in Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. Illustration: Hand to hand combat in a wheat field at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

© 1979, Panarizon Publishing Corp. USA Illust: Gettysburg Natl. Military Park

Printed in Italy 03·012·01·11

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