Battle of Gettysburg, 1-3 July 1863

Battle of Gettysburg, 1-3 July 1863

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Battle of Gettysburg, 1-3 July 1863

American Civil War battle that ended Robert E. Lee’s second and final invasion of the north. His victories at Fredericksburg (13 December 1862) and Chancellorsville (2-5 May 1863) had handed Lee the initiative. His own army was as big as it had ever been, while the northern armies were shrinking as men who had enrolled for nine months in the summer of 1862 returned home. Lee decided that the best hope for the Confederacy was a victory won on northern soil.

On 3 June, the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia left its camps at Fredericksburg, and headed north west to the Shenandoah Valley. On 14-15 June it pushed aside the Union garrison of Winchester (Second battle of Winchester), and on 15 June crossed the Potomac into Maryland. On 14 June the Army of Potomac left its own camps opposite Fredericksburg and began to march north in pursuit of the Confederate army.

For the next two weeks the armies moved north. Lee’s army spread out across Maryland and Pennsylvania, gathering supplies as it moved north. On 25 June, Jeb Stuart took off on another of his cavalry raids, depriving Lee of his scouts for a crucial week. Thus it was only on 28 June that Lee discovered that the Army of the Potomac was close behind him. Lee immediately began to pull his army back together, ready to fight his decisive battle.

On the same day General Hooker was replaced in command of the Army of the Potomac, after an argument with General-in-Chief Halleck. He was replaced by Major-General George Meade, a relative unknown, His division at Fredericksburg had nearly pierced the Confederate line, and he had risen to Corps command since. Only three days after being appointed to command the entire army, Meade was to find himself involved in the most famous battle of the war.

Lee decided to concentrate his army in the general vicinity of Gettysburg, an important road junction. A.P. Hill ordered one of his divisions into Gettysburg to seize a supply of shoes said to be in the town.

On the morning of 1 July, this division found Gettysburg defended by two brigades of Union cavalry who had arrived on the previous day. Behind them, Reynold’s infantry corps was on its way. The battle soon began to escalate. The Union cavalry was able to hold off the Confederate division for two hours, until Reynold’s infantry began to arrive. By the time Lee reached the battlefield, 24,000 Confederate soldiers faced 19,000 Union men, with more arriving all the time.

Lee ordered a general assault. Four Confederate divisions swept the Union defenders out of Gettysburg, and on to their reserve position on Cemetery Hill. Lee gave orders for an assault on this position, but gave Ewell, the corps commander, the final decision on whether to attack that night. He chose not too. This was one of the most controversial decisions of the war. The Union position on Cemetery Hill was already strong, and being reinforced with fresh troops. If Ewell had attacked, what had been a good day for the Confederates would probably have ended in defeat.

Overnight the bulk of both armies arrived around Gettysburg. Meade’s line stretched south from Cemetery Hill along Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, and east to Culp’s Hill. However, on his southern flank, General Sickles had moved his Corps west, to higher ground along a road that ran south west out of Gettysburg, in an area known as the Peach Orchard. This position presented a stronger front than Cemetery Ridge, which was not of any great height at this point, but left Sickles’s Corps exposed on both flanks. Lee planned a two pronged attack for 2 July. On his right, Longstreet was to attack Cemetery Ridge in force. On his left, Ewell was to act as if he was about to attack, and then turn his demonstration into a real attack if Meade weakened the Union right to deal with Longstreet. If all went well, both flanks would crumble, allowing Lee to surround the strong Union centre on Cemetery Hill.

Unfortunately, Lee was let down by Longstreet. Despite orders to attack as early in the day as possible, Longstreet’s attack did not go in until 4 in the afternoon. Worse, Sickle’s decision to move forward to the Peach Orchard meant that after several hours of intense fighting, in which the Union forces were pushed slowly back and back, all Longstreet achieved was to push the Union line back to Cemetery Ridge, where he had expected to find them in the first place. A great chance to seize Little Round Top, at the southern end of the Union line was also missed. Finally, towards dusk, the Union Sixth Corps reached the battlefield, and was immediately placed into the front line. Longstreet’s attack had failed.

Lee decided to try one more attack on 3 July. This time he would attack the centre of the Union line, on the northern part of Cemetery Ridge. Lee was able to form a force 13,500 strong to launch this attack, supported by 160 guns. However, the artillery bombardment was ineffective. Eventually the Union guns ceased firing, simply to conserve ammunition and await the coming attack. This was taken as a signal that the Confederate bombardment was having the required effect, and the attack was ordered in.

Picket’s Charge has become known as the High Water Mark of the Rebellion. His 13,500 men marched into devastating Union artillery fire, and those that did get close to the Union line were exposed to the concentrated musket fire of the undamaged Union infantry. No more than a few hundred of Pickett’s men reached the Union positions on Cemetery Hill. The Confederates suffered around 7,000 casualties during Pickett’s Charge, and achieved nothing. Lee had demonstrated a similar stubbornness at Malvern Hill in the previous year. He had entered Pennsylvania to fight a war winning battle, and he was not willing to give up after two days.

After three he was left with no choice. On 4 July his army was too battered to launch another assault. Meade’s army was in slightly better shape, although was not in a fit state to launch its own counterattack. After staying in place at Gettysburg until about one in the afternoon of 4 July, Lee began a skilful retreat back to Virginia. The great gamble had failed. As Lee was pulling back from Gettysburg, the garrison of Vicksburg on the Mississippi was marching out to surrender. East and west the Union was victorious.

Battle of Gettysburg, 1-3 July 1863 - History

After his stunning victory at Chancellorsville, Lee successfully lobbied against sending a reinforcement to the western armies. Instead, he would move north with his recently reorganized army. As Lee shifted his army west to Culpeper, Hooker sent his cavalry on a reconnaissance across the Rappahannock. Union cavalry fought well in the ensuing battle at Brandy Station, but Hooker learned little. Ewell's corps of Lee's army then crossed into the Shenandoah Valley and smashed an isolated Union force at the Battle of Second Winchester. Soon Lee's whole army was moving north screened by Stuart's cavalry. Union cavalry pushed Stuart back in clashes at Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville and as a result learned of Lee's presence in the Valley. In response, Hooker now moved north across the Potomac, and when Stuart found that the way directly north was occupied by the Union army, he determined to move around it to the east instead of moving into the Valley to cover Lee's army directly.

Although Lee had two cavalry brigades of his own and two "temporarily" left to guard the passes of the Blue Ridge, because of the absence of Stuart, he remained unaware of Union positions and movements. Parts of Ewell's corps reached as far as the Susquehanna while Longstreet's and A.P. Hill's corps were far away near Chambersburg in the Valley. Late on June 28th, Lee learned that the Union army was across the Potomac and moving north, commanded now by George Meade, who had replaced Hooker. Lee ordered his dangerously exposed army to concentrate near Cashtown eight miles west of Gettysburg. By June 30th, Buford's Union cavalry was at Gettysburg screening the army. Pettigrew's North Carolina brigade ran into them that day and fell back. The next day, although Lee had ordered that a major battle be avoided, Hill ordered Heth's division to march to Gettysburg to capture any supplies there.

The photos are separated into the following sections.

They Met at Gettysburg ***** This was the first book in the wonderful series written by Edward Stackpole. Although now somewhat dated, the book covers the whole campaign its strongest feature is its analysis of the leaders and their decisions. Stackpole points out that poor Union staff work could have lost them the battle. This book is an excellent introduction to the battle.

All sections of John's Military History Page are copyrighted, including this Gettysburg section. This includes both text and photos. All content is copyright 1999 - 2005 by John Hamill. All rights are reserved. No portion may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated, or used without express written permission.

Gettysburg - July 1 to 3, 1863

On the morning of July 1, an engagement between Union cavalry commanded by John Buford and Confederate infantry and artillery commanded by Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill set into motion one of the most famous battles in military history. By 10 a.m., Hill’s men had Buford’s troopers on their heels. Timely Union infantry reinforcements poured onto the field, overseen by “Left Wing” Cdr. John Reynolds. Shortly after entering the battle, Reynolds was killed, and after an hour and a half of stout resistance, the Federals held their own as a lull came across the field.

Tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers approached the field from the west and the north, as tens of thousands of Federals approached from the south. Late in the afternoon, outnumbered and in a poor tactical position, the Federals were driven from the north and west sides of the town. The Yankees rallied on Cemetery Hill and bolstered their line, incorporating the dominating Culp’s Hill on their right flank into their defensive position. Meanwhile, on their left, the Federals extended their line south along Cemetery Ridge, to the base of Little Round Top.

Late on the afternoon of July 2, the Rebel army renewed its assaults, striking the Federals at Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield. The next three hours witnessed some of the most intense fighting of the war. The Rebels were able to secure Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield, and they dislodged much of the Federal line. Yet, the Federals still held tenaciously to Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge. An ill-coordinated Confederate assault struck the right of the Union line at Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill. At the end of the day, the Federal army was determined to stay and fight it out.


Military situation Edit

Cavalry forces played a significant role at Gettysburg only on the first and third days of the battle. On the first day (July 1), the Union cavalry division of Brig. Gen. John Buford successfully delayed Confederate infantry forces under Maj. Gen. Henry Heth until Union infantry could arrive on the battlefield. By the end of the day Buford's troopers had retired from the field. [1]

On the Confederate side, most of Maj. Gen. Stuart's cavalry division was absent from the battlefield until late on the second day. Possibly misunderstanding orders from Gen. Robert E. Lee, Stuart had taken his three best brigades of cavalry on a pointless ride around the right flank of the Union Army of the Potomac and had been out of touch with the main body of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia since June 24, depriving Lee of critical intelligence information and screening services. Stuart arrived from Carlisle at Lee's headquarters shortly after noon on July 2 and his exhausted brigades arrived that evening, too late to affect the planning or execution of the second day's battle. Hampton's brigade camped to the north, following a relatively minor clash with Union cavalry at Hunterstown that afternoon. [2]

Lee's orders for Stuart were to prepare for operations on July 3 in support of the Confederate infantry assault against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Stuart was to protect the Confederate left flank and attempt to move around the Union right flank and into the enemy's rear. If Stuart's forces could proceed south from the York Pike along the Low Dutch Road, they would soon reach the Baltimore Pike--the main avenue of communications for the Army of the Potomac--and they could launch devastating and demoralizing attacks against the Union rear, capitalizing on the confusion from the assault (Pickett's Charge) that Lee planned for the Union center. [3]

Confederate cavalry forces under Stuart for this operation consisted of the three brigades he had taken on his ride around the Union Army (commanded by Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton, Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee and Col. John Chambliss) and the brigade of Col. Albert G. Jenkins (under the command of Col. Milton J. Ferguson following Jenkins' wounding on July 2). Although these four brigades should have amounted to approximately 5,000 men, it is likely that only 3,430 men and 13 guns saw action that day. [4] And following their nine-day ride around Maryland and Pennsylvania, they and their horses were weary and not in prime condition for battle. [5]

Union cavalry forces were from the corps of Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, who did not participate directly in the command of any cavalry actions during the Battle of Gettysburg. Since most of Buford's division had retired to Westminster, Maryland (with the exception of his reserve brigade under Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, which was deployed directly south of Gettysburg), only two divisions were ready for action. Stationed near the intersection of the Hanover Road and the Low Dutch Road—directly on Stuart's path—was the division of Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg. Gregg had two brigades present at Gettysburg, under Col. John B. McIntosh and Col. J. Irvin Gregg (David Gregg's cousin), but the latter was stationed on the Baltimore Pike. David Gregg's one-brigade command was supplemented by the newly formed "Michigan Brigade" of Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Custer was assigned to the division of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick but happened to be on loan to David Gregg and requested permission from Gregg to join his fight. Altogether, 3,250 Union troopers opposed Stuart. The other brigade from Kilpatrick's division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth, was stationed to the southwest of the Round Top mountain, the area now known informally as South Cavalry Field. [6]

Principal commanders of cavalry at Gettysburg, July 3 Edit

Union Edit

Confederate Edit

At about 11:00 a.m. on July 3, Stuart reached Cress Ridge, just north of what is now called East Cavalry Field, and signaled Lee that he was in position by ordering the firing of four guns, one in each direction of the compass. This was a foolish error because he also alerted Gregg to his presence. The brigades of McIntosh and Custer were positioned to block Stuart. As the Confederates approached, Gregg engaged them with an artillery duel and the superior skills of the Union horse artillerymen got the better of Stuart's guns. [7]

Stuart's plan had been to pin down McIntosh's and Custer's skirmishers around the Rummel farm and swing over Cress Ridge, around the left flank of the defenders, but the Federal skirmish line pushed back tenaciously the troopers from the 5th Michigan Cavalry were armed with Spencer repeating rifles, multiplying their firepower. Stuart decided on a direct cavalry charge to break their resistance. He ordered an assault by the 1st Virginia Cavalry, his own old regiment, now in Fitz Lee's brigade. The battle started in earnest at approximately 1:00 p.m., at the same time that Col. Edward Porter Alexander's Confederate artillery barrage opened up on Cemetery Ridge. Fitz Lee's troopers came pouring through the farm of John Rummel, scattering the Union skirmish line. [8]

Gregg ordered Custer to counterattack with the 7th Michigan. Custer personally led the regiment, shouting "Come on, you Wolverines!". Waves of horsemen collided in furious fighting along the fence line on Rummel's farm. Seven hundred men fought at point-blank range across the fence with carbines, pistols and sabers. Custer's horse was shot out from under him, and he commandeered a bugler's horse. Eventually enough of Custer's men were amassed to break down the fence, and they caused the Virginians to retreat. Stuart sent in reinforcements from all three of his brigades: the 9th and 13th Virginia (Chambliss' Brigade), the 1st North Carolina and Jeff Davis Legion (Hampton's) and squadrons from the 2nd Virginia (Lee's). Custer's pursuit was broken, and the 7th Michigan fell back in a disorderly retreat. [9]

Stuart tried again for a breakthrough by sending in the bulk of Wade Hampton's brigade, accelerating in formation from a walk to a gallop, sabers flashing, calling forth "murmurs of admiration" from their Union targets. Union horse artillery batteries attempted to block the advance with shell and canister, but the Confederates moved too quickly and were able to fill in for lost men, maintaining their momentum. Once again the cry "Come on, you Wolverines!" was heard as Custer and Col. Charles H. Town led the 1st Michigan Cavalry into the fray, also at a gallop. [10] A trooper from one of Gregg's Pennsylvania regiments observed,

As the two columns approached each other the pace of each increased, when suddenly a crash, like the falling of timber, betokened the crisis. So sudden and violent was the collision that many of the horses were turned end over end and crushed their riders beneath them. [11]

As the horsemen fought desperately in the center, McIntosh personally led his brigade against Hampton's right flank while the 3rd Pennsylvania under Captain William E. Miller and 1st New Jersey hit Hampton's left from north of the Lott house. Hampton received a serious saber wound to the head Custer lost his second horse of the day. Assaulted from three sides, the Confederates withdrew. The Union troopers were in no condition to pursue beyond the Rummel farmhouse. [12]

The losses from the 40 intense minutes of fighting on East Cavalry Field were relatively minor: 254 Union casualties--219 of them from Custer's brigade--and 181 Confederate. Although tactically inconclusive, the battle was a strategic loss for Stuart and Robert E. Lee, whose plans to drive into the Union rear were foiled. [13]

On the morning of July 3 Union Cavalry Corps commander Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton ordered two of his brigades to the left flank of the Union army. He ordered Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt's Reserve Brigade of Buford's division to move north from Emmitsburg to join Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick's division, moving from Two Taverns on the Baltimore Pike to the area southwest of Round Top. By this time the only brigade in Kilpatrick's division was that of Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth, Custer's brigade having been detached for service with David Gregg at East Cavalry Field. It is unclear what Pleasonton hoped to accomplish. There is no record that he performed any reconnaissance in this area. It has been speculated that Army of the Potomac commander George G. Meade was preparing for a possible counterattack to follow the repulse of Pickett's Charge, which he had anticipated since the night before. [14]

Farnsworth reached the area at approximately 1:00 p.m., about the time the massive Confederate artillery barrage started in preparation for Pickett's Charge, and his 1,925 troops took up a position in a line south of the George Bushman farm. From left to right, the regiments were the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, the 1st West Virginia and 1st Vermont. Battery E, 4th U.S. Artillery, occupied a small, rocky knoll in the rear and the 5th New York cavalry was placed in a nearby ravine to guard the artillery. Joined by Kilpatrick, they awaited Merritt's brigade, which arrived at about 3:00 p.m. and took up a position straddling the Emmitsburg Road, to Farnsworth's left. By this time the infantry portion of Pickett's Charge had begun, and Kilpatrick was eager to get his men into the fight. [15]

On the Confederate line to the east of the Emmitsburg Road, only infantry troops were involved. The four brigades of Hood's division, under the command of Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law, had occupied the area from Round Top, through Devil's Den and back to the road since the battle on July 2. Initially, Law had just the 1st Texas Infantry (from Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson's Texas Brigade) facing Farnsworth to the south, but he soon reinforced them with the 47th Alabama Infantry, the 1st South Carolina and artillery. To the west of the road, facing Merritt, was the Georgia brigade of Brig. Gen. George "Tige" Anderson. [16]

Young Kilpatrick had little experience in commanding cavalry, and he demonstrated that by attacking fortified infantry positions in a piecemeal fashion. West of the road Merritt went in first, with his 6th Pennsylvania cavalrymen fighting dismounted. Anderson's Georgians repulsed their attack easily. Farnsworth was to follow, but he was astonished to hear Kilpatrick's order for a mounted cavalry charge. The Confederate defenders were positioned behind a stone fence with wooden fence rails piled high above it, too high for horses to jump, which would require the attackers to dismount under fire and dismantle the fence. The terrain leading to it was broken, undulating ground, with large boulders, fences and woodlots, making it unsuitable for a cavalry charge. Accounts differ as to the details of the argument between Farnsworth and Kilpatrick, but it is generally believed that Kilpatrick dared or shamed Farnsworth into making the charge the latter knew would be suicidal. Farnsworth allegedly said, "General, if you order the charge I will lead it, but you must take the awful responsibility." [17]

First in the assault was the 1st West Virginia Cavalry, led by Col. Nathaniel P. Richmond. They rode in great confusion after coming under heavy fire from the 1st Texas, but they were able to breach the wall. Hand-to-hand fighting with sabers, rifles and even rocks ensued, but the attack was forced back. Of the 400 Federal cavalrymen in the attack, there were 98 casualties. The second wave came from the 18th Pennsylvania, supported by companies of the 5th New York, but they were also turned back under heavy rifle fire, with 20 casualties. [18]

It was finally the turn of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, about 400 officers and men, which Farnsworth divided into three battalions of four companies each under Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Maj. William Wells and Capt. Henry C. Parsons. Parsons' battalion led the charge, passing the Texans and riding north toward the John Slyder farm. Evander Law sent three Georgia regiments (the 9th, 11th and 59th) to move to the support of the Texans and the artillery batteries. A staff officer carrying the order encountered the 4th Alabama, which also joined in support. An Alabama lieutenant yelled, "Cavalry, boys, cavalry! This is no fight, only a frolic, give it to them!" And the infantrymen found many easy targets. [19]

All three battalion advances were turned back with great losses. The final group, led by Wells and Farnsworth, circled back toward Big Round Top, where they met a line of the 15th Alabama across their front. Farnsworth's party had dwindled to only ten troopers as they weaved back and forth, trying to avoid the murderous fire. Farnsworth fell from his horse, struck in the chest, abdomen and leg by five bullets. Postwar accounts by a Confederate soldier who claimed Farnsworth committed suicide with his pistol to avoid capture have been discounted. Maj. Wells received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in leading the rest of his men back to safety. The Vermont regiment suffered 65 casualties during the futile assault. [20]

Kilpatrick's ill-considered and poorly executed cavalry charges are remembered as a low point in the history of the U.S. cavalry and marked the final significant hostilities at the Battle of Gettysburg. Six miles (10 km) west of Gettysburg one of Merritt's regiments, the 6th U.S. Cavalry, was defeated that afternoon at Fairfield by Brig. Gen. William E. "Grumble" Jones' "Laurel Brigade," an action not considered to be a formal part of the Battle of Gettysburg but one that had a critical role in the retreat of Lee's army. [21]

All of Pleasonton's cavalry brigades were exercised for the remainder of the Gettysburg Campaign in the lackluster pursuit of Lee's army back across the Potomac River. [22]

Gettysburg: Day 1

On the morning of July 1, Major General Henry Heth, of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps, sent his 7,500-man division down the Chambersburg Pike toward Gettysburg. Encountering resistance, they initially assumed it was more of the hastily assembled Pennsylvania Emergency Militia that they’d been skirmishing with during the campaign.

In reality, Colonel John Buford had deployed part of two brigades of Union cavalry as skirmishers in the brush along Willoughby’s Run three miles west of town. Just two weeks previously, they’d been issued breech-loading carbines, and they used the guns’ fast-loading capability to create the impression of a much larger force, slowing the advance of Hill’s brigades for a time before falling back.

The Confederates followed them across the stream, only to meet a line of Union infantry on McPherson’s Ridge. The Army of the Potomac was arriving piecemeal, and among the first to arrive was a brigade of Western regiments that had earned the nickname “Iron Brigade of the West.” Confederates recognized these “fellows in the black hats” and realized they were in for a rougher day than expected.

Union major general John Reynolds, commander of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac (I, III and XI corps), arrived and took charge of the defense. His men fought tenaciously, and Reynolds was shot dead during the fighting.

From his headquarters at Taneytown, Meade dispatched Major General Winfield Scott Hancock to take command at Gettysburg—although Major General O. O. Howard was already on the field—and assess whether or not the battle should be fought there. Hancock, seeing the strong defensive position offered by the hills near Gettysburg, chose to stand, and Meade ordered the other corps to the little crossroads town.

By afternoon, Confederate reinforcements had also arrived, and the general engagement Lee hadn’t wanted at this stage of the campaign was a fait accompli.

The Union’s XI Corps was driven back through the town of Gettysburg, losing 4,000 men, and by evening was entrenching on Culp’s and Cemetery hills south of town.

Lee expressed a desire for General Ewell to assault the hills without waiting for further reinforcement, but he failed to make it an express order. Ewell did not press his tired men forward, giving Meade time to reinforce the troops on the hills.


Military situation Edit

Union Edit

Confederate Edit

Defense by Buford's cavalry Edit

On the morning of July 1, Union cavalry in the division of Brigadier General John Buford were awaiting the approach of Confederate infantry forces from the direction of Cashtown, to the northwest. Confederate forces from the brigade of Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew had briefly clashed with Union forces the day before but believed they were Pennsylvania militia of little consequence, not the regular army cavalry that was screening the approach of the Army of the Potomac. [1]

General Buford recognized the importance of the high ground directly to the south of Gettysburg. He knew that if the Confederates could gain control of the heights, Meade's army would have a hard time dislodging them. [a] He decided to utilize three ridges west of Gettysburg: Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge, and Seminary Ridge (proceeding west to east toward the town). These were appropriate terrain for a delaying action by his small division against superior Confederate infantry forces, meant to buy time awaiting the arrival of Union infantrymen who could occupy the strong defensive positions south of town, Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Culp's Hill. [3] Early that morning, Reynolds, who was commanding the Left Wing of the Army of the Potomac, ordered his corps to march to Buford's location, with the XI Corps (Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard) to follow closely behind. [4]

Confederate Maj. Gen. Henry Heth's division, from Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill's Third Corps, advanced towards Gettysburg. Heth deployed no cavalry and led, unconventionally, with the artillery battalion of Major William J. Pegram. [5] Two infantry brigades followed, commanded by Brig. Gens. James J. Archer and Joseph R. Davis, proceeding easterly in columns along the Chambersburg Pike. Three miles (5 km) west of town, about 7:30 a.m., Heth's two brigades met light resistance from cavalry vedettes and deployed into line. Eventually, they reached dismounted troopers from Col. William Gamble's cavalry brigade. The first shot of the battle was claimed to be fired by Lieutenant Marcellus E. Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, fired at an unidentified man on a gray horse over a half-mile away the act was merely symbolic. [6] Buford's 2,748 troopers would soon be faced with 7,600 Confederate infantrymen, deploying from columns into line of battle. [7]

Gamble's men mounted determined resistance and delaying tactics from behind fence posts with rapid fire from their breech-loading carbines. [b] It is a modern myth that they were armed with multi-shot repeating carbines. Nevertheless, they were able to fire two or three times faster than a muzzle-loaded carbine or rifle. Also, the breech-loading design meant that Union troops did not have to stand to reload and could do so safely behind cover. This was a great advantage over the Confederates, who still had to stand to reload, thus providing an easier target. But this was so far a relatively bloodless affair. By 10:20 a.m., the Confederates had reached Herr Ridge and had pushed the Federal cavalrymen east to McPherson Ridge, when the vanguard of the I Corps finally arrived, the division of Maj. Gen. James S. Wadsworth. The troops were led personally by Gen. Reynolds, who conferred briefly with Buford and hurried back to bring more men forward. [9]

Davis versus Cutler Edit

The morning infantry fighting occurred on either side of the Chambersburg Pike, mostly on McPherson Ridge. To the north, an unfinished railroad bed opened three shallow cuts in the ridges. To the south, the dominant features were Willoughby Run and Herbst Woods (sometimes called McPherson Woods, but they were the property of John Herbst). Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler's Union brigade opposed Davis's brigade three of Cutler's regiments were north of the Pike, two to the south. To the left of Cutler, Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith's Iron Brigade opposed Archer. [10]

General Reynolds directed both brigades into position and placed guns from the Maine battery of Capt. James A. Hall where Calef's had stood earlier. [11] While the general rode his horse along the east end of Herbst Woods, shouting "Forward men! Forward for God's sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods," he fell from his horse, killed instantly by a bullet striking him behind the ear. (Some historians believe Reynolds was felled by a sharpshooter, but it is more likely that he was killed by random shot in a volley of rifle fire directed at the 2nd Wisconsin.) Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday assumed command of the I Corps. [12]

On the right of the Union line, three regiments of Cutler's brigade were fired on by Davis's brigade before they could get into position on the ridge. Davis's line overlapped the right of Cutler's, making the Union position untenable, and Wadsworth ordered Cutler's regiments back to Seminary Ridge. The commander of the 147th New York, Lt. Col. Francis C. Miller, was shot before he could inform his troops of the withdrawal, and they remained to fight under heavy pressure until a second order came. In under 30 minutes, 45% of Gen. Cutler's 1,007 men became casualties, with the 147th losing 207 of its 380 officers and men. [13] Some of Davis's victorious men turned toward the Union positions south of the railroad bed while others drove east toward Seminary Ridge. This defocused the Confederate effort north of the pike. [14]

Archer versus Meredith Edit

South of the pike, Archer's men were expecting an easy fight against dismounted cavalrymen and were astonished to recognize the black Hardee hats worn by the men facing them through the woods: the famous Iron Brigade, formed from regiments in the Western states of Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, had a reputation as fierce, tenacious fighters. As the Confederates crossed Willoughby Run and climbed the slope into Herbst Woods, they were enveloped on their right by the longer Union line, the reverse of the situation north of the pike. [15]

Brig. Gen. Archer was captured in the fighting, the first general officer in Robert E. Lee's army to suffer that fate. Archer was most likely positioned around the 14th Tennessee when he was captured by Private Patrick Moloney of Company G., 2nd Wisconsin, "a brave patriotic and fervent young Irishman." Archer resisted capture, but Moloney overpowered him. Moloney was killed later that day, but he received the Medal of Honor for his exploit. When Archer was taken to the rear, he encountered his former Army colleague Gen. Doubleday, who greeted him good-naturedly, "Good morning, Archer! How are you? I am glad to see you!" Archer replied, "Well, I am not glad to see you by a damn sight!" [16]

Railroad cut Edit

At around 11 a.m., Doubleday sent his reserve regiment, the 6th Wisconsin, an Iron Brigade regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Rufus R. Dawes, north in the direction of Davis's disorganized brigade. The Wisconsin men paused at the fence along the pike and fired, which halted Davis's attack on Cutler's men and caused many of them to seek cover in the unfinished railroad cut. The 6th joined the 95th New York and the 84th New York (also known as the 14th Brooklyn), a "demi-brigade" commanded by Col. E.B. Fowler, along the pike. [13] The three regiments charged to the railroad cut, where Davis's men were seeking cover. The majority of the 600-foot (180 m) cut (shown on the map as the center cut of three) was too deep to be an effective firing position—as deep as 15 feet (4.5 m). [17] Making the situation more difficult was the absence of their overall commander, General Davis, whose location was unknown. [18]

The men of the three regiments nevertheless faced daunting fire as they charged toward the cut. The 6th Wisconsin's American flag went down at least three times during the charge. At one point Dawes took up the fallen flag before it was seized from him by a corporal of the color guard. As the Union line neared the Confederates, its flanks became folded back and it took on the appearance of an inverted V. When the Union men reached the railroad cut, vicious hand-to-hand and bayonet fighting broke out. They were able to pour enfilading fire from both ends of the cut, and many Confederates considered surrender. Colonel Dawes took the initiative by shouting "Where is the colonel of this regiment?" Major John Blair of the 2nd Mississippi stood up and responded, "Who are you?" Dawes replied, "I command this regiment. Surrender or I will fire." [19] Dawes later described what happened next: [20]

The officer replied not a word, but promptly handed me his sword, and his men, who still held them, threw down their muskets. The coolness, self possession, and discipline which held back our men from pouring a general volley saved a hundred lives of the enemy, and as my mind goes back to the fearful excitement of the moment, I marvel at it.

Despite this surrender, leaving Dawes standing awkwardly holding seven swords, the fighting continued for minutes more and numerous Confederates were able to escape back to Herr Ridge. The three Union regiments lost 390–440 of 1,184 engaged, but they had blunted Davis's attack, prevented them from striking the rear of the Iron Brigade, and so overwhelmed the Confederate brigade that it was unable to participate significantly in combat for the rest of the day. The Confederate losses were about 500 killed and wounded and over 200 prisoners out of 1,707 engaged. [21]

By 11:30 a.m., the battlefield was temporarily quiet. On the Confederate side, Henry Heth faced an embarrassing situation. He had been under orders from General Lee to avoid a general engagement until the full Army of Northern Virginia had concentrated in the area. But his excursion to Gettysburg, ostensibly to find shoes, was essentially a reconnaissance in force conducted by a full infantry division. This indeed had started a general engagement and Heth was on the losing side so far. By 12:30 p.m., his remaining two brigades, under Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew and Col. John M. Brockenbrough, had arrived on the scene, as had the division (four brigades) of Maj. Gen. Dorsey Pender, also from Hill's Corps. Hill's remaining division (Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson) did not arrive until late in the day. [22]

Considerably more Confederate forces were on the way, however. Two divisions of the Second Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, were approaching Gettysburg from the north, from the towns of Carlisle and York. The five brigades of Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes marched down the Carlisle Road but left it before reaching town to advance down the wooded crest of Oak Ridge, where they could link up with the left flank of Hill's Corps. The four brigades under Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early approached on the Harrisburg Road. Union cavalry outposts north of the town detected both movements. Ewell's remaining division (Maj. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson) did not arrive until late in the day. [23]

On the Union side, Doubleday reorganized his lines as more units of the I Corps arrived. First on hand was the Corps Artillery under Col. Charles S. Wainwright, followed by two brigades from Doubleday's division, now commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Rowley, which Doubleday placed on either end of his line. The XI Corps arrived from the south before noon, moving up the Taneytown and Emmitsburg Roads. Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard was surveying the area from the roof of the Fahnestock Brothers' dry-goods store downtown at about 11:30 [24] [c] when he heard that Reynolds had been killed and that he was now in command of all Union forces on the field. He recalled: "My heart was heavy and the situation was grave indeed, but surely I did not hesitate a moment. God helping us, we will stay here till the Army comes. I assumed the command of the field." [26]

Howard immediately sent messengers to summon reinforcements from the III Corps (Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles) and the XII Corps (Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum). Howard's first XI Corps division to arrive, under Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz, was sent north to take a position on Oak Ridge and link up with the right of the I Corps. (The division was commanded temporarily by Brig. Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig while Schurz filled in for Howard as XI Corps commander.) The division of Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow was placed on Schurz's right to support him. The third division to arrive, under Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr, was placed on Cemetery Hill along with two batteries of artillery to hold the hill as a rallying point if the Union troops could not hold their positions this placement on the hill corresponded with orders sent earlier in the day to Howard by Reynolds just before he was killed. [27]

However, Rodes beat Schurz to Oak Hill, so the XI Corps division was forced to take up positions in the broad plain north of the town, below and to the east of Oak Hill. [28] They linked up with the I Corps reserve division of Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson, whose two brigades had been sent forward by Doubleday when he heard about Ewell's arrival. [29] Howard's defensive line was not a particularly strong one in the north. [30] He was soon outnumbered (his XI Corps, still suffering the effects of their defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville, had only 8,700 effectives), and the terrain his men occupied in the north was poorly selected for defense. He held out some hope that reinforcements from Slocum's XII Corps would arrive up the Baltimore Pike in time to make a difference. [31]

In the afternoon, there was fighting both west (Hill's Corps renewing their attacks on the I Corps) and north (Ewell's Corps attacking the I and XI Corps) of Gettysburg. Ewell, on Oak Hill with Rodes, saw Howard's troops deploying before him, and he interpreted this as the start of an attack and implicit permission to set aside Gen. Lee's order not to bring about a general engagement. [32]

Rodes attacks from Oak Hill Edit

Rodes initially sent three brigades south against Union troops that represented the right flank of the I Corps and the left flank of the XI Corps: from east to west, Brig. Gen. George P. Doles, Col. Edward A. O'Neal, and Brig. Gen. Alfred Iverson. Doles's Georgia brigade stood guarding the flank, awaiting the arrival of Early's division. Both O'Neal's and Iverson's attacks fared poorly against the six veteran regiments in the brigade of Brig. Gen. Henry Baxter, manning a line in a shallow inverted V, facing north on the ridge behind the Mummasburg Road. O'Neal's men were sent forward without coordinating with Iverson on their flank and fell back under heavy fire from the I Corps troops. [33]

Iverson failed to perform even a rudimentary reconnaissance and sent his men forward blindly while he stayed in the rear (as had O'Neal, minutes earlier). More of Baxter's men were concealed in woods behind a stone wall and rose to fire withering volleys from less than 100 yards (91 m) away, creating over 800 casualties among the 1,350 North Carolinians. Stories are told about groups of dead bodies lying in almost parade-ground formations, heels of their boots perfectly aligned. (The bodies were later buried on the scene, and this area is today known as "Iverson's Pits", source of many local tales of supernatural phenomena.) [34]

Baxter's brigade was worn down and out of ammunition. At 3:00 p.m. he withdrew his brigade, and Gen. Robinson replaced it with the brigade of Brig. Gen. Gabriel R. Paul. Rodes then committed his two reserve brigades: Brig. Gens. Junius Daniel and Dodson Ramseur. Ramseur attacked first, but Paul's brigade held its crucial position. Paul had a bullet go in one temple and out the other, blinding him permanently (he survived the wound and lived 20 more years after the battle). Before the end of the day, three other commanders of that brigade were wounded. [35]

Daniel's North Carolina brigade then attempted to break the I Corps line to the southwest along the Chambersburg Pike. They ran into stiff resistance from Col. Roy Stone's Pennsylvania "Bucktail Brigade" in the same area around the railroad cut as the morning's battle. Fierce fighting eventually ground to a standstill. [36]

Heth renews his attack Edit

Gen. Lee arrived on the battlefield at about 2:30 p.m., as Rodes's men were in mid-attack. Seeing that a major assault was underway, he lifted his restriction on a general engagement and gave permission to Hill to resume his attacks from the morning. First in line was Heth's division again, with two fresh brigades: Pettigrew's North Carolinians and Col. John M. Brockenbrough's Virginians. [37]

Pettigrew's Brigade was deployed in a line that extended south beyond the ground defended by the Iron Brigade. Enveloping the left flank of the 19th Indiana, Pettigrew's North Carolinians, the largest brigade in the army, drove back the Iron Brigade in some of the fiercest fighting of the war. The Iron Brigade was pushed out of the woods, made three temporary stands in the open ground to the east, but then had to fall back toward the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Gen. Meredith was downed with a head wound, made all the worse when his horse fell on him. To the left of the Iron Brigade was the brigade of Col. Chapman Biddle, defending open ground on McPherson Ridge, but they were outflanked and decimated. To the right, Stone's Bucktails, facing both west and north along the Chambersburg Pike, were attacked by both Brockenbrough and Daniel. [38]

Casualties were severe that afternoon. The 26th North Carolina (the largest regiment of the army with 839 men) lost heavily, leaving the first day's fight with around 212 men. Their commander, Colonel Henry K. Burgwyn, was fatally wounded by a bullet through his chest. By the end of the three-day battle, they had about 152 men standing, the highest casualty percentage for one battle of any regiment, North or South. [39] One of the Union regiments, the 24th Michigan, lost 399 of 496. [40] It had nine color bearers shot down, and its commander, Col. Henry A. Morrow, was wounded in the head and captured. The 151st Pennsylvania of Biddle's brigade lost 337 of 467. [41]

The highest ranking casualty of this engagement was Gen. Heth, who was struck by a bullet in the head. He was apparently saved because he had stuffed wads of paper into a new hat, which was otherwise too large for his head. [42] But there were two consequences to this glancing blow. Heth was unconscious for over 24 hours and had no further command involvement in the three-day battle. He was also unable to urge Pender's division to move forward and supplement his struggling assault. Pender was oddly passive during this phase of the battle the typically more aggressive tendencies of a young general in Lee's army would have seen him move forward on his own accord. Hill shared the blame for failing to order him forward as well, but he claimed illness. History cannot know Pender's motivations he was mortally wounded the next day and left no report. [43]

Early attacks XI Corps Edit

Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard of the XI Corps had a difficult defensive problem. He had only two divisions (four brigades) to cover the wide expanse of featureless farmland north of town. He and Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz, temporarily in command of the corps while Howard was in overall command on the field, deployed the division of Brig. Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig on the left and Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow on the right. From the left, the brigades were Schimmelfennig's (under Col. George von Amsberg), Col. Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski, Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames, and Col. Leopold von Gilsa. Howard recalled that he selected this line as a logical continuation of the I Corps line formed on his left. This decision has been criticized by historians, such as Edwin B. Coddington, as being too far forward, with a right flank vulnerable to envelopment by the enemy. (Coddington suggests that a more defensible line would have been along Stevens Run, about 600 feet north of the railroad, a shorter line to defend, with better fields of fire, and with a more secure right flank.) [44]

Making the Federal defense more difficult, Barlow advanced farther north than Schimmelfennig's division, occupying a 50-foot (15 m) elevation above Rock Creek named Blocher's Knoll (known today as Barlow's Knoll). [45] Barlow's justification was that he wanted to prevent Doles's Brigade, of Rodes's division, from occupying it and using it as an artillery platform against him. General Schurz claimed afterward that Barlow had misunderstood his orders by taking this position. (In Schurz's official report, however, although he also states that Barlow misunderstood his order, he further states that Barlow "had been directing the movements of his troops with the most praiseworthy coolness and intrepidity, unmindful of the shower of bullets around," and "was severely wounded, and had to be carried off the battle-field." [46] ) By taking the knoll, Barlow was following Howard's directive to obstruct the advance of Early's division, and in doing so, deprive him of an artillery platform, as von Steinwehr fortified the position on Cemetery Hill. The position on the knoll turned out to be unfortunate, as it created a salient in the line that could be assaulted from multiple sides. Schurz ordered Krzyżanowski's brigade, which had heretofore been sitting en masse at the north end of town (without further order to position from Schurz) forward to assist Barlow's two brigades on the knoll, but they arrived too late and in insufficient numbers to help. Historian Harry W. Pfanz judges Barlow's decision to be a "blunder" that "ensured the defeat of the corps." [47]

Richard Ewell's second division, under Jubal Early, swept down the Harrisburg Road, deployed in a battle line three brigades wide, almost a mile across (1,600 m) and almost half a mile (800 m) wider than the Union defensive line. Early started with a large-scale artillery bombardment. The Georgia brigade of Brigadier-General John B. Gordon was then directed for a frontal attack against Barlow's Knoll, pinning down the defenders, while the brigades of Brigadier-General Harry T. Hays and Colonel Isaac E. Avery swung around their exposed flank. At the same time the Georgians under Doles launched a synchronized assault with Gordon. The defenders of Barlow's Knoll targeted by Gordon were 900 men of von Gilsa's brigade in May, two of his regiments had been the initial target of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's flanking attack at Chancellorsville. The men of the 54th and 68th New York held out as long as they could, but they were overwhelmed. Then the 153rd Pennsylvania succumbed. Barlow, attempting to rally his troops, was shot in the side and captured. Barlow's second brigade, under Ames, came under attack by Doles and Gordon. Both Union brigades conducted a disorderly retreat to the south. [48]

The left flank of the XI Corps was held by Gen. Schimmelfennig's division. They were subjected to a deadly artillery crossfire from Rodes' and Early's batteries, and as they deployed they were attacked by Doles' infantry. Doles' and Early's troops were able to employ a flanking attack and roll up three brigade of the corps from the right, and they fell back in confusion toward the town. A desperate counterattack by the 157th New York from von Amsberg's brigade was surrounded on three sides, causing it to suffer 307 casualties (75%). [49]

Gen. Howard, witnessing this disaster, sent forward an artillery battery and an infantry brigade from von Steinwehr's reserve force, under Col. Charles Coster. Coster's battle line just north of the town in Kuhn's brickyard was overwhelmed by Hays and Avery. He provided valuable cover for the retreating soldiers, but at a high price: of Coster's 800 men, 313 were captured, as were two of the four guns from the battery. [50]

The collapse of the XI Corps was completed by 4 p.m., after a fight of less than an hour. They suffered 3,200 casualties (1,400 of them prisoners), about half the number sent forward from Cemetery Hill. The losses in Gordon's and Doles's brigades were under 750. [51]

Rodes and Pender break through Edit

Rodes's original faulty attack at 2:00 had stalled, but he launched his reserve brigade, under Ramseur, against Paul's Brigade in the salient on the Mummasburg Road, with Doles's Brigade against the left flank of the XI Corps. Daniel's Brigade resumed its attack, now to the east against Baxter on Oak Ridge. This time Rodes was more successful, mostly because Early coordinated an attack on his flank. [52]

In the west, the Union troops had fallen back to the Seminary and built hasty breastworks running 600 yards (550 m) north-south before the western face of Schmucker Hall, bolstered by 20 guns of Wainwright's battalion. Dorsey Pender's division of Hill's Corps stepped through the exhausted lines of Heth's men at about 4:00 p.m. to finish off the I Corps survivors. The brigade of Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Scales attacked first, on the northern flank. His five regiments of 1,400 North Carolinians were virtually annihilated in one of the fiercest artillery barrages of the war, rivaling Pickett's Charge to come, but on a more concentrated scale. Twenty guns spaced only 5 yards (4.6 m) apart fired spherical case, explosive shells, canister, and double canister rounds into the approaching brigade, which emerged from the fight with only 500 men standing and a single lieutenant in command. Scales wrote afterwards that he found "only a squad here and there marked the place where regiments had rested." [53]

The attack continued in the southern-central area, where Col. Abner M. Perrin ordered his South Carolina brigade (four regiments of 1,500 men) to advance rapidly without pausing to fire. Perrin was prominently on horseback leading his men but miraculously was untouched. He directed his men to a weak point in the breastworks on the Union left, a 50-yard (46 m) gap between Biddle's left-hand regiment, the 121st Pennsylvania, and Gamble's cavalrymen, attempting to guard the flank. They broke through, enveloping the Union line and rolling it up to the north as Scales's men continued to pin down the right flank. By 4:30 p.m., the Union position was untenable, and the men could see the XI Corps retreating from the northern battle, pursued by masses of Confederates. Doubleday ordered a withdrawal east to Cemetery Hill. [54]

On the southern flank, the North Carolina brigade of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane contributed little to the assault he was kept busy by a clash with Union cavalry on the Hagerstown Road. Brig. Gen. Edward L. Thomas's Georgia Brigade was in reserve well to the rear, not summoned by Pender or Hill to assist or exploit the breakthrough. [55]


The Battle of Gettysburg marked the turning point of the Civil War. With more than 50,000 estimated casualties, the three-day engagement was the bloodiest single battle of the conflict.

How it ended

Union victory. Gettysburg ended Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s ambitious second quest to invade the North and bring the Civil War to a swift end. The loss there dashed the hopes of the Confederate States of America to become an independent nation.

In context

After a year of defensive victories in Virginia, Lee’s objective was to win a battle north of the Mason-Dixon line in the hopes of forcing a negotiated end to the fighting. His loss at Gettysburg prevented him from realizing that goal. Instead, the defeated general fled south with a wagon train of wounded soldiers straining toward the Potomac. Union general Meade failed to pursue the retreating army, missing a critical opportunity to trap Lee and force a Confederate surrender. The bitterly divisive war raged on for another two years.

On June 3, soon after his celebrated victory over Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Gen. Robert E. Lee leads his troops north in his second invasion of enemy territory. The 75,000-man Army of Northern Virginia is in high spirits. In addition to seeking fresh supplies, the depleted soldiers look forward to availing themselves of food from the bountiful fields in Pennsylvania farm country, sustenance the war-ravaged landscape of Virginia can no longer provide.

Hooker also heads north, but he is reluctant to engage with Lee directly after the Union’s humiliating defeat at Chancellorsville. This evasiveness is of increasing concern to President Abraham Lincoln. Hooker is ultimately relieved of command in late June. His successor, Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, continues to move the 90,000-man Army of the Potomac northward, following orders to keep his army between Lee and Washington, D.C. Meade prepares to defend the routes to the nation’s capital, if necessary, but he also pursues Lee.

On June 15, three corps of Lee’s army cross the Potomac, and by June 28 they reach the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. While Lee loses precious time awaiting intelligence on Union troop positions from his errant calvary commander, Gen. Jeb Stuart, a spy informs him that Meade is actually very close. Taking advantage of major local roads, which conveniently converge at the county seat, Lee orders his army to Gettysburg.

July 1. Early that morning a Confederate division under Maj. Gen. Henry Heth marches toward Gettysburg to seize supplies. In an unplanned engagement, they confront Union calvary. Brig. Gen. John Buford slows the Confederate advance until the infantry of the Union I and XI Corps under Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds arrives. Reynolds is killed in action. Soon Confederate reinforcements under generals A.P. Hill and Richard Ewell reach the scene. By late afternoon, the wool-clad troops are battling ferociously in the sweltering heat. Thirty thousand Confederates overwhelm 20,000 Federals, who fall back through Gettysburg and fortify Cemetery Hill south of town.

July 2. On the second day of battle, the Union defends a fishhook-shaped range of hills and ridges south of Gettysburg. The Confederates wrap around the Union position in a longer line. That afternoon Lee launches a heavy assault commanded by Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet on the Union left flank. Fierce fighting rages at Devil's Den, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and Cemetery Ridge as Longstreet’s men close in on the Union position. Using their shorter interior lines, Union II Corps commander Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock and others move reinforcements quickly to blunt Confederate advances. On the Federal right, Confederate demonstrations escalate into full-scale assaults on East Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. Although the Confederates gain ground on both ends of their line, the Union defenders hold strong positions as darkness falls.

July 3. Believing his enemy to be weakened, Lee seeks to capitalize on the previous day’s gains with renewed attacks on the Union line. Heavy fighting resumes on Culp's Hill as Union troops attempt to recapture ground lost the previous day. Cavalry battles flare to the east and south, but the main event is a dramatic infantry assault by 12,500 Confederates commanded by Longstreet against the center of the Union position on Cemetery Ridge. Though undermanned, the Virginia infantry division of Brig. Gen. George E. Pickett constitutes about half of the attacking force. Pickett, ordered by Lee to advance his division toward the enemy through a mile of unprotected farmland, replies, “General, I have no division,” but the order stands. During Pickett’s Charge, as it is famously known, only one Confederate brigade temporarily reaches the top of the ridge—afterwards referred to as the High Watermark of the Confederacy. This daring strategy ultimately proves a disastrous sacrifice for the Confederates, with casualties approaching 60 percent. Repulsed by close-range Union rifle and artillery fire, the Confederates retreat. Lee withdraws his army from Gettysburg late on the rainy afternoon of July 4 and trudges back to Virginia with severely reduced ranks of wasted and battle-scarred men.

Battle History

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee's attempt to invade the North.

After his success at Chancellorsville in Virginia in May 1863, Lee led his army through the Shenandoah Valley to begin his second invasion of the North—the Gettysburg Campaign. With his army in high spirits, Lee intended to shift the focus of the summer campaign from war-ravaged northern Virginia and hoped to influence Northern politicians to give up their prosecution of the war by penetrating as far as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or even Philadelphia. Prodded by President Abraham Lincoln, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker moved his army in pursuit, but was relieved of command just three days before the battle and replaced by Meade.

Elements of the two armies initially collided at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, as Lee urgently concentrated his forces there, his objective being to engage the Union army and destroy it. Low ridges to the northwest of town were defended initially by a Union cavalry division under Brig. Gen. John Buford, and soon reinforced with two corps of Union infantry. However, two large Confederate corps assaulted them from the northwest and north, collapsing the hastily developed Union lines, sending the defenders retreating through the streets of town to the hills just to the south.

On the second day of battle, most of both armies had assembled. The Union line was laid out in a defensive formation resembling a fishhook. In the late afternoon of July 2, Lee launched a heavy assault on the Union left flank, and fierce fighting raged at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, and the Peach Orchard. On the Union right, Confederate demonstrations escalated into full-scale assaults on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. All across the battlefield, despite significant losses, the Union defenders held their lines.

On the third day of battle, fighting resumed on Culp's Hill, and cavalry battles raged to the east and south, but the main event was a dramatic infantry assault by 12,500 Confederates against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, known as Pickett's Charge. The charge was repulsed by Union rifle and artillery fire, at great loss to the Confederate army.

Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia. Between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in the three-day battle, the most costly in US history.

On November 19, President Abraham Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

Military Situation

Shortly after the Army of Northern Virginia won a major victory over the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30 – May 6, 1863), Robert E. Lee decided upon a second invasion of the North (the first was the unsuccessful Maryland Campaign of September 1862, which ended in the bloody Battle of Antietam). Such a move would upset U.S. plans for the summer campaigning season and possibly reduce the pressure on the besieged Confederate garrison at Vicksburg. The invasion would allow the Confederates to live off the bounty of the rich Northern farms while giving war-ravaged Virginia a much-needed rest. In addition, Lee's 72,000-man army could threaten Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and possibly strengthen the growing peace movement in the North.

Initial Movements to Battle

Thus, on June 3, Lee's army began to shift northward from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Following the death of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Lee reorganized his two large corps into three new corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet (First Corps), Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell (Second), and Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill (Third) both Ewell and Hill, who had formerly reported to Jackson as division commanders, were new to this level of responsibility. The Cavalry Division remained under the command of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.

The Union Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, consisted of seven infantry corps, a cavalry corps, and an Artillery Reserve, for a combined strength of more than 100,000 men.

The first major action of the campaign took place on June 9 between cavalry forces at Brandy Station, near Culpeper, Virginia. The 9,500 Confederate cavalrymen under Stuart were surprised by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton's combined arms force of two cavalry divisions (8,000 troopers) and 3,000 infantry, but Stuart eventually repulsed the Union attack. The inconclusive battle, the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the war, proved for the first time that the Union horse soldier was equal to his Southern counterpart.

By mid-June, the Army of Northern Virginia was poised to cross the Potomac River and enter Maryland. After defeating the U.S. garrisons at Winchester and Martinsburg, Ewell's Second Corps began crossing the river on June 15. Hill's and Longstreet's corps followed on June 24 and 25. Hooker's army pursued, keeping between the U.S. capital and Lee's army. The U.S. crossed the Potomac from June 25 to 27.

Lee gave strict orders for his army to minimize any negative impacts on the civilian population. Food, horses, and other supplies were generally not seized outright, although quartermasters reimbursing Northern farmers and merchants with Confederate money were not well received. Various towns, most notably York, Pennsylvania, were required to pay indemnities in lieu of supplies, under threat of destruction. During the invasion, the Confederates seized some 40 northern African Americans. A few of them were escaped fugitive slaves, but most were freemen all were sent south into slavery under guard.

On June 26, elements of Maj. Gen. Jubal Early's division of Ewell's Corps occupied the town of Gettysburg after chasing off newly raised Pennsylvania militia in a series of minor skirmishes. Early laid the borough under tribute but did not collect any significant supplies. Soldiers burned several railroad cars and a covered bridge, and destroyed nearby rails and telegraph lines. The following morning, Early departed for adjacent York County.

Meanwhile, in a controversial move, Lee allowed Jeb Stuart to take a portion of the army's cavalry and ride around the east flank of the Union army. Lee's orders gave Stuart much latitude, and both generals share the blame for the long absence of Stuart's cavalry, as well as for the failure to assign a more active role to the cavalry left with the army. Stuart and his three best brigades were absent from the army during the crucial phase of the approach to Gettysburg and the first two days of battle. By June 29, Lee's army was strung out in an arc from Chambersburg (28 miles (45 km) northwest of Gettysburg) to Carlisle (30 miles (48 km) north of Gettysburg) to near Harrisburg and Wrightsville on the Susquehanna River.

In a dispute over the use of the forces defending the Harpers Ferry garrison, Hooker offered his resignation, and Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who were looking for an excuse to get rid of him, immediately accepted. They replaced Hooker early on the morning of June 28 with Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, then commander of the V Corps.

On June 29, when Lee learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac River, he ordered a concentration of his forces around Cashtown, located at the eastern base of South Mountain and eight miles (13 km) west of Gettysburg. On June 30, while part of Hill's Corps was in Cashtown, one of Hill's brigades, North Carolinians under Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew, ventured toward Gettysburg. In his memoirs, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth, Pettigrew's division commander, claimed that he sent Pettigrew to search for supplies in town—especially shoes.

When Pettigrew's troops approached Gettysburg on June 30, they noticed Union cavalry under Brig. Gen. John Buford arriving south of town, and Pettigrew returned to Cashtown without engaging them. When Pettigrew told Hill and Heth what he had seen, neither general believed that there was a substantial U.S. force in or near the town, suspecting that it had been only Pennsylvania militia. Despite General Lee's order to avoid a general engagement until his entire army was concentrated, Hill decided to mount a significant reconnaissance in force the following morning to determine the size and strength of the enemy force in his front. Around 5 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1, two brigades of Heth's division advanced to Gettysburg.

Opposing Forces

The Army of the Potomac, initially under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker (Maj. Gen. George G. Meade replaced Hooker in command on June 28), consisted of more than 100,000 men in the following organization:

  • I Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gen. James S. Wadsworth, Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson, and Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday.
  • II Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. John C. Caldwell, John Gibbon, and Alexander Hays.
  • III Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, with divisions commanded by Maj. Gen. David B. Birney and Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys.
  • V Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. George Sykes (George G. Meade until June 28), with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. James Barnes, Romeyn B. Ayres, and Samuel W. Crawford.
  • VI Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gen. Horatio G. Wright, Brig. Gen. Albion P. Howe, and Maj. Gen. John Newton.
  • XI Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr, and Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz.
  • XII Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. Alpheus S. Williams and John W. Geary.
  • Cavalry Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. John Buford, David McM. Gregg, and H. Judson Kilpatrick.
  • Artillery Reserve, commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert O. Tyler. (The preeminent artillery officer at Gettysburg was Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, chief of artillery on Meade's staff.)

During the advance on Gettysburg, Maj. Gen. Reynolds was in operational command of the left, or advanced, wing of the Army, consisting of the I, III, and XI Corps. Note that many other Union units (not part of the Army of the Potomac) were actively involved in the Gettysburg Campaign, but not directly involved in the Battle of Gettysburg. These included portions of the Union IV Corps, the militia and state troops of the Department of the Susquehanna, and various garrisons, including that at Harpers Ferry.

In reaction to the death of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson after Chancellorsville, Lee reorganized his Army of Northern Virginia (75,000 men) from two infantry corps into three.

  • First Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, with divisions commanded by Maj. Gens. Lafayette McLaws, George E. Pickett, and John Bell Hood.
  • Second Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, with divisions commanded by Maj. Gens. Jubal A. Early, Edward "Allegheny" Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes.
  • Third Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, with divisions commanded by Maj. Gens. Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and W. Dorsey Pender.
  • Cavalry division, commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, with brigades commanded by Brig. Gens. Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, Beverly H. Robertson, Albert G. Jenkins, William E. "Grumble" Jones, and John D. Imboden, and Col. John R. Chambliss.

First Day of Battle (July 1, 1863)

Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge and Seminary Ridge

Anticipating that the Confederates would march on Gettysburg from the west on the morning of July 1, Buford laid out his defenses on three ridges west of the town: Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge and Seminary Ridge. These were appropriate terrain for a delaying action by his small cavalry division against superior Confederate infantry forces, meant to buy time awaiting the arrival of Union infantrymen who could occupy the strong defensive positions south of town at Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Culp's Hill. Buford understood that if the Confederates could gain control of these heights, Meade's army would have difficulty dislodging them.

Heth's division advanced with two brigades forward, commanded by Brig. Gens. James J. Archer and Joseph R. Davis. They proceeded easterly in columns along the Chambersburg Pike. Three miles (5 km) west of town, about 7:30 a.m. on July 1, the two brigades met light resistance from vedettes of Union cavalry, and deployed into line. According to lore, the Union soldier to fire the first shot of the battle was Lt. Marcellus Jones. In 1886 Lt. Jones returned to Gettysburg to mark the spot where he fired the first shot with a monument. Eventually, Heth's men reached dismounted troopers of Col. William Gamble's cavalry brigade, who raised determined resistance and delaying tactics from behind fence posts with fire from their breechloading carbines. Still, by 10:20 a.m., the Confederates had pushed the Union cavalrymen east to McPherson Ridge, when the vanguard of the I Corps (Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds) finally arrived.

North of the pike, Davis gained a temporary success against Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler's brigade but was repulsed with heavy losses in an action around an unfinished railroad bed cut in the ridge. South of the pike, Archer's brigade assaulted through Herbst (also known as McPherson's) Woods. The U.S. Iron Brigade under Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith enjoyed initial success against Archer, capturing several hundred men, including Archer himself.

General Reynolds was shot and killed early in the fighting while directing troop and artillery placements just to the east of the woods. Shelby Foote wrote that the Union cause lost a man considered by many to be "the best general in the army." Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday assumed command. Fighting in the Chambersburg Pike area lasted until about 12:30 p.m. It resumed around 2:30 p.m., when Heth's entire division engaged, adding the brigades of Pettigrew and Col. John M. Brockenbrough.

As Pettigrew's North Carolina Brigade came on line, they flanked the 19th Indiana and drove the Iron Brigade back. The 26th North Carolina (the largest regiment in the army with 839 men) lost heavily, leaving the first day's fight with around 212 men. By the end of the three-day battle, they had about 152 men standing, the highest casualty percentage for one battle of any regiment, North or South. Slowly the Iron Brigade was pushed out of the woods toward Seminary Ridge. Hill added Maj. Gen. William Dorsey Pender's division to the assault, and the I Corps was driven back through the grounds of the Lutheran Seminary and Gettysburg streets.

As the fighting to the west proceeded, two divisions of Ewell's Second Corps, marching west toward Cashtown in accordance with Lee's order for the army to concentrate in that vicinity, turned south on the Carlisle and Harrisburg roads toward Gettysburg, while the Union XI Corps (Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard) raced north on the Baltimore Pike and Taneytown Road. By early afternoon, the U.S. line ran in a semicircle west, north, and northeast of Gettysburg.

However, the U.S. did not have enough troops Cutler, who was deployed north of the Chambersburg Pike, had his right flank in the air. The leftmost division of the XI Corps was unable to deploy in time to strengthen the line, so Doubleday was forced to throw in reserve brigades to salvage his line.

Around 2 p.m., the Confederate Second Corps divisions of Maj. Gens. Robert E. Rodes and Jubal Early assaulted and out-flanked the Union I and XI Corps positions north and northwest of town. The Confederate brigades of Col. Edward A. O'Neal and Brig. Gen. Alfred Iverson suffered severe losses assaulting the I Corps division of Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson south of Oak Hill. Early's division profited from a blunder by Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, when he advanced his XI Corps division to Blocher's Knoll (directly north of town and now known as Barlow's Knoll) this represented a salient in the corps line, susceptible to attack from multiple sides, and Early's troops overran Barlow's division, which constituted the right flank of the Union Army's position. Barlow was wounded and captured in the attack.

As U.S. positions collapsed both north and west of town, Gen. Howard ordered a retreat to the high ground south of town at Cemetery Hill, where he had left the division of Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr in reserve. Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock assumed command of the battlefield, sent by Meade when he heard that Reynolds had been killed. Hancock, commander of the II Corps and Meade's most trusted subordinate, was ordered to take command of the field and to determine whether Gettysburg was an appropriate place for a major battle. Hancock told Howard, "I think this the strongest position by nature upon which to fight a battle that I ever saw." When Howard agreed, Hancock concluded the discussion: "Very well, sir, I select this as the battle-field." Hancock's determination had a morale-boosting effect on the retreating Union soldiers, but he played no direct tactical role on the first day.

General Lee understood the defensive potential to the Union if they held this high ground. He sent orders to Ewell that Cemetery Hill be taken "if practicable." Ewell, who had previously served under Stonewall Jackson, a general well known for issuing peremptory orders, determined such an assault was not practicable and, thus, did not attempt it this decision is considered by historians to be a great missed opportunity.

The first day at Gettysburg, more significant than simply a prelude to the bloody second and third days, ranks as the 23rd biggest battle of the war by number of troops engaged. About one quarter of Meade's army (22,000 men) and one third of Lee's army (27,000) were engaged.

Second Day of Battle (July 2, 1863)

Little Round Top, Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill

Plans and Movement to Battle

Throughout the evening of July 1 and morning of July 2, most of the remaining infantry of both armies arrived on the field, including the Union II, III, V, VI, and XII Corps. Longstreet's third division, commanded by Maj. Gen. George Pickett, had begun the march from Chambersburg early in the morning it did not arrive until late on July 2.

The Union line ran from Culp's Hill southeast of the town, northwest to Cemetery Hill just south of town, then south for nearly two miles (3 km) along Cemetery Ridge, terminating just north of Little Round Top. Most of the XII Corps was on Culp's Hill the remnants of I and XI Corps defended Cemetery Hill II Corps covered most of the northern half of Cemetery Ridge and III Corps was ordered to take up a position to its flank. The shape of the Union line is popularly described as a "fishhook" formation. The Confederate line paralleled the Union line about a mile (1,600 m) to the west on Seminary Ridge, ran east through the town, then curved southeast to a point opposite Culp's Hill. Thus, the Union army had interior lines, while the Confederate line was nearly five miles (8 km) long.

Lee's battle plan for July 2 called for Longstreet's First Corps to position itself stealthily to attack the Union left flank, facing northeast astraddle the Emmitsburg Road, and to roll up the U.S.line. The attack sequence was to begin with Maj. Gens. John Bell Hood's and Lafayette McLaws's divisions, followed by Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson's division of Hill's Third Corps. The progressive en echelon sequence of this attack would prevent Meade from shifting troops from his center to bolster his left. At the same time, Maj. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson's and Jubal Early's Second Corps divisions were to make a demonstration against Culp's and Cemetery Hills (again, to prevent the shifting of U.S. troops), and to turn the demonstration into a full-scale attack if a favorable opportunity presented itself.

Lee's plan, however, was based on faulty intelligence, exacerbated by Stuart's continued absence from the battlefield. Instead of moving beyond the U.S. left and attacking their flank, Longstreet's left division, under McLaws, would face Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles's III Corps directly in their path. Sickles had been dissatisfied with the position assigned him on the southern end of Cemetery Ridge. Seeing higher ground more favorable to artillery positions a half mile (800 m) to the west, he advanced his corps—without orders—to the slightly higher ground along the Emmitsburg Road. The new line ran from Devil's Den, northwest to the Sherfy farm's Peach Orchard, then northeast along the Emmitsburg Road to south of the Codori farm. This created an untenable salient at the Peach Orchard Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys's division (in position along the Emmitsburg Road) and Maj. Gen. David B. Birney's division (to the south) were subject to attacks from two sides and were spread out over a longer front than their small corps could defend effectively.

Attacks on the Union Right Flank

About 7:00 p.m., the Second Corps' attack by Johnson's division on Culp's Hill got off to a late start. Most of the hill's defenders, the Union XII Corps, had been sent to the left to defend against Longstreet's attacks, and the only portion of the corps remaining on the hill was a brigade of New Yorkers under Brig. Gen. George S. Greene. Because of Greene's insistence on constructing strong defensive works, and with reinforcements from the I and XI Corps, Greene's men held off the Confederate attackers, although the Southerners did capture a portion of the abandoned U.S. works on the lower part of Culp's Hill.

Just at dark, two of Jubal Early's brigades attacked the Union XI Corps positions on East Cemetery Hill where Col. Andrew L. Harris of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, came under a withering attack, losing half his men however, Early failed to support his brigades in their attack, and Ewell's remaining division, that of Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes, failed to aid Early's attack by moving against Cemetery Hill from the west. The Union army's interior lines enabled its commanders to shift troops quickly to critical areas, and with reinforcements from II Corps, the U.S. troops retained possession of East Cemetery Hill, and Early's brigades were forced to withdraw.

Jeb Stuart and his three cavalry brigades arrived in Gettysburg around noon but had no role in the second day's battle. Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton's brigade fought a minor engagement with newly promoted 23-year-old Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer's Michigan cavalry near Hunterstown to the northeast of Gettysburg.

Longstreet's attack was to be made as early as practicable however, Longstreet got permission from Lee to await the arrival of one of his brigades, and while marching to the assigned position, his men came within sight of a Union signal station on Little Round Top. Countermarching to avoid detection wasted much time, and Hood's and McLaws's divisions did not launch their attacks until just after 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively.

Third Day of Battle (July 3, 1863)

Culp's Hill, Pickett's Charge and Cavalry Battles

Lee's Plan

General Lee wished to renew the attack on Friday, July 3, using the same basic plan as the previous day: Longstreet would attack the U.S. left, while Ewell attacked Culp's Hill. However, before Longstreet was ready, Union XII Corps troops started a dawn artillery bombardment against the Confederates on Culp's Hill in an effort to regain a portion of their lost works. The Confederates attacked, and the second fight for Culp's Hill ended around 11 a.m. Harry Pfanz judged that, after some seven hours of bitter combat, "the Union line was intact and held more strongly than before."

Lee was forced to change his plans. Longstreet would command Pickett's Virginia division of his own First Corps, plus six brigades from Hill's Corps, in an attack on the U.S. II Corps position at the right center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Prior to the attack, all the artillery the Confederacy could bring to bear on the U.S. positions would bombard and weaken the enemy's line.

Largest Artillery Bombardment of the War

Around 1 p.m., from 150 to 170 Confederate guns began an artillery bombardment that was probably the largest of the war. In order to save valuable ammunition for the infantry attack that they knew would follow, the Army of the Potomac's artillery, under the command of Brig. Gen. Henry Jackson Hunt, at first did not return the enemy's fire. After waiting about 15 minutes, about 80 U.S. cannons added to the din. The Army of Northern Virginia was critically low on artillery ammunition, and the cannonade did not significantly affect the Union position.

Pickett's Charge

Around 3 p.m., the cannon fire subsided, and 12,500 Southern soldiers stepped from the ridgeline and advanced the three-quarters of a mile (1,200 m) to Cemetery Ridge in what is known to history as "Pickett's Charge". As the Confederates approached, there was fierce flanking artillery fire from Union positions on Cemetery Hill and north of Little Round Top, and musket and canister fire from Hancock's II Corps. In the Union center, the commander of artillery had held fire during the Confederate bombardment (in order to save it for the infantry assault, which Meade had correctly predicted the day before), leading Southern commanders to believe the Northern cannon batteries had been knocked out. However, they opened fire on the Confederate infantry during their approach with devastating results. Nearly one half of the attackers did not return to their own lines. Although the U.S. line wavered and broke temporarily at a jog called the "Angle" in a low stone fence, just north of a patch of vegetation called the Copse of Trees, reinforcements rushed into the breach, and the Confederate attack was repulsed. The farthest advance of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead's brigade of Maj. Gen. George Pickett's division at the Angle is referred to as the "High-water mark of the Confederacy", arguably representing the closest the South ever came to its goal of achieving independence from the Union via military victory. Union and Confederate soldiers locked in hand-to-hand combat, attacking with their rifles, bayonets, rocks and even their bare hands. Armistead ordered his Confederates to turn two captured cannons against Union troops, but discovered that there was no ammunition left, the last double canister shots having been used against the charging Confederates. Armistead was shortly after wounded three times.

There were two significant cavalry engagements on July 3. Stuart was sent to guard the Confederate left flank and was to be prepared to exploit any success the infantry might achieve on Cemetery Hill by flanking the U.S. right and hitting their trains and lines of communications. Three miles (5 km) east of Gettysburg, in what is now called "East Cavalry Field" (not shown on the accompanying map, but between the York and Hanover Roads), Stuart's forces collided with U.S. cavalry: Brig. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg's division and Brig. Gen. Custer's brigade. A lengthy mounted battle, including hand-to-hand sabre combat, ensued. Custer's charge, leading the 1st Michigan Cavalry, blunted the attack by Wade Hampton's brigade, blocking Stuart from achieving his objectives in the U.S. rear. Meanwhile, after hearing news of the day's victory, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick launched a cavalry attack against the infantry positions of Longstreet's Corps southwest of Big Round Top. Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth protested against the futility of such a move, but obeyed orders. Farnsworth was killed in the attack, and his brigade suffered significant losses.


The two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties. Union casualties were 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured or missing), while Confederate casualties are more difficult to estimate. Many authors have referred to as many as 28,000 Confederate casualties, and Busey and Martin's more recent 2005 work, Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg, documents 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured or missing). Nearly a third of Lee's general officers were killed, wounded, or captured. The casualties for both sides during the entire campaign were 57,225.

The following tables summarize casualties by corps for the Union and Confederate forces during the three-day battle.

Confederate Casualties
Confederate CorpsKilledWoundedMissing
First Corps161742051843
Second Corps130136291756
Third Corps172446832088
Cavalry Corps66174140
Union Casualties
Union CorpsKilledWoundedMissing
I Corps66632312162
II Corps7973194378
III Corps5933029589
V Corps3651611211
VI Corps2718530
XI Corps36919241514
XII Corps20481266
Cavalry Corps91354407
Artillery Reserve4318712

Confederate Retreat

The armies stared at one another in a heavy rain across the bloody fields on July 4, the same day that the Vicksburg garrison surrendered to Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Lee had reformed his lines into a defensive position on Seminary Ridge the night of July 3, evacuating the town of Gettysburg. The Confederates remained on the battlefield, hoping that Meade would attack, but the cautious Union commander decided against the risk, a decision for which he would later be criticized. Both armies began to collect their remaining wounded and bury some of the dead. A proposal by Lee for a prisoner exchange was rejected by Meade.

Lee started his Army of Northern Virginia in motion late the evening of July 4 towards Fairfield and Chambersburg. Cavalry under Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden was entrusted to escort the miles-long wagon train of supplies and wounded men that Lee wanted to take back to Virginia with him, using the route through Cashtown and Hagerstown to Williamsport, Maryland. Meade's army followed, although the pursuit was half-spirited. The recently rain-swollen Potomac trapped Lee's army on the north bank of the river for a time, but when the Union troops finally caught up, the Confederates had forded the river. The rear-guard action at Falling Waters on July 14 added some more names to the long casualty lists, including General Pettigrew, who was mortally wounded.

In a brief letter to Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck written on July 7, Lincoln remarked on the two major Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. He continued:

Now, if Gen. Meade can complete his work so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee's army, the rebellion will be over.

Halleck then relayed the contents of Lincoln's letter to Meade in a telegram. Despite repeated pleas from Lincoln and Halleck, which continued over the next week, Meade did not pursue Lee's army aggressively enough to destroy it before it crossed back over the Potomac River to safety in the South. The campaign continued into Virginia with light engagements until July 23, in the minor Battle of Manassas Gap, after which Meade abandoned any attempts at pursuit and the two armies took up positions across from each other on the Rappahannock River.

The news of the Union victory electrified the North. A headline in The Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed "VICTORY! WATERLOO ECLIPSED!" New York diarist George Templeton Strong wrote:

The results of this victory are priceless. . The charm of Robert E. Lee's invincibility is broken. The Army of the Potomac has at last found a general that can handle it, and has stood nobly up to its terrible work in spite of its long disheartening list of hard-fought failures. . Copperheads are palsied and dumb for the moment at least. . Government is strengthened four-fold at home and abroad.

— George Templeton Strong, Diary, p. 330.

However, the Union enthusiasm soon dissipated as the public realized that Lee's army had escaped destruction and the war would continue. Lincoln complained to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that "Our army held the war in the hollow of their hand and they would not close it!" Brig. Gen. Alexander S. Webb wrote to his father on July 17, stating that such Washington politicians as "Chase, Seward and others," disgusted with Meade, "write to me that Lee really won that Battle!"

American Civil War

Please note: The audio information from the video is included in the text below.

The Battle of Gettysburg took place on July 1-3, 1863 in and near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This battle was one of the most important battles of the Civil War for the North. Robert E. Lee had invaded the North and was trying to defeat the Union Army once and for all. However, the Union Army held him off and sent him retreating. This was a major turning point in the war.

The Confederate Army was led by General Robert E. Lee along with General's Longstreet and Pickett. The Union Army was led by General George Meade.

The Battle took place over three days. On the first day the armies were still coming together. The Confederates outnumbered the Union the first day and caused them to retreat through the town of Gettysburg to the south side of town. General Lee wanted his men to continue the attack and finish off the Union troops. However, his men delayed and the Union had the opportunity to dig in and set up their defenses.

By the second day, the armies from both sides were now at full force. The Union had around 94,000 soldiers and the Confederates around 72,000. Lee attacked and there was fierce fighting throughout the day with both sides taking heavy losses. The Union lines held.

First page of John Hay's
draft of the Gettysburg Address

from the Library of Congress

The third day, General Lee decided to make an all or nothing attack. He felt if he could win this battle, the South would win the war. He sent General Pickett, with 12,500 men, on a direct charge at the heart of the Union Army. This famous attack is called Pickett's Charge. Pickett's men were defeated with over half of them injured or killed. General Lee and the Confederate Army retreated.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the deadliest battle of the Civil War. There were around 46,000 casualties including nearly 8,000 deaths.

General Meade and the Union Army were exhausted and had many casualties and deaths of their own to deal with. They did not pursue Lee's Army. President Lincoln was disappointed that Meade did not pursue General Lee as he felt the entire Confederate army could have been defeated and the war ended that day.

Later that year, on November 19, 1863, President Lincoln attended the dedication of the Soldier's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His speech was short and lasted only two minutes. Not much was thought of the speech at the time, but today it is considered one of the greatest speeches ever given.

The Battle of Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863: Personalities, Heroics, and a Much-Needed Union Victory

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain / Unidentified Artist / Albumen silver print on paper, c. 1866 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

A Confederate victory at Gettysburg would have certainly changed the course of the Civil War. Many in the North were growing tired of the fight by the summer of 1863, and Robert E. Lee firmly believed that there were those in the North with political sway who would happily capitulate and bring the bloody affair to a close. Of course, the Union victory firmly denied any opportunity to prove or to disprove that notion.

At Fredericksburg and at Chancellorsville, Lee outgeneraled his Union counterparts. At Gettysburg, the opposite was true. Though the Confederate army was outnumbered at Gettysburg, Lee had fought against long odds before. He should have known the lesson of Gettysburg instinctively, having fought hard to protect Virginia: a man fights hardest protecting his own home, and no small number of Pennsylvania’s men showed up in force to illustrate that dictum to the invading army. Also, Union General George Meade wisely chose the hilly surroundings of Gettysburg to mask his army’s positions, and many of Meade’s officers made brave and excellent decisions during those three days of fighting.

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning work, The Civil War, historian Bruce Catton notes simply that “On July 1, 2, and 3, there was fought the greatest single battle of the war—Gettysburg, a terrible and spectacular drama which, properly or not, is usually looked upon as the great moment of decision.”

Indeed, Gettysburg changed everything. The North began to see Robert E. Lee as a mortal, a flawed individual capable of being defeated. Also, coupled with General Ulysses Grant’s vanquishing of the last southern stronghold on the Mississippi—Vicksburg fell on July 4, the day after the conclusion of Gettysburg—the North believed that the Union cause had finally acquired military leaders capable of prosecuting the war.

The battlefield stories of the men involved in the fight at Gettysburg fill volumes the personal histories of these men are no less interesting. Perhaps no conflict since the Trojan War is so full of tales of valor, inspiration, and, at times, lunacy. Though some stories are mythologized—and became so the moment the battle began to be recorded in notes, journals, and the press—the veracity of many of the episodes is established by testimonies in multiple accounts, many from the perspectives of eyewitnesses. Soon after the battle, the scriveners jotted down the tales. Both heroes and scapegoats emerged from those writings.

Abner Doubleday, Union General. Monument at Gettysburg, photo by Warren Perry.

Union General Abner Doubleday is one of those figures cloaked in myth, though not necessarily myth concerning his performance at Gettysburg. It is generally agreed that Doubleday, an officer who had experienced the war from the first fire at Fort Sumter, was a competent officer who served well in the early skirmishes at Gettysburg. A monument to Doubleday on the field at Gettysburg honors his contributions in establishing the early Union position, a task that fell to him upon the death of General John F. Reynolds. However, General George Meade refused to allow Doubleday to remain in command of Reynolds’s corps for the duration of the war.

Doubleday left for Washington after Gettysburg he would spend the remainder of the war mostly attached to desk duty. Though many believe Abner Doubleday to be the inventor of baseball, that is not the case. Doubleday did, however, patent the San Francisco cable car, so the general was not without some spirit of enterprise.

Daniel Edgar Sickles / Mathew Brady Studio / Modern albumen print from wet collodion negative, c. 1861 (printed 2011) / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution Frederick Hill Meserve Collection

Another Union general, Daniel E. Sickles, was almost larger than life. He was a man who fell from grace before the war and achieved great deeds after the war. Sickles was a passionate man, an individual who aptly fits Gertrude’s description of Hamlet—mad as the sea and the wind when both contend which is the mightier.

Sickles was truly mad, and a court decision affirms as much. In a jealous rage only two years before the war’s commencement, Sickles shot and killed the son of Francis Scott Key, Philip Barton Key, in a crime of passion. The murder took place in a place of prominence—Sickles shot Key in Lafayette Square, almost directly in front of the White House doors. In our nation’s first insanity defense, Sickles was declared innocent, and he later determined to ameliorate his suffering social position by raising troops for the Union cause. At Gettysburg, per historian Webb Garrison:

Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles took a direct hit from a Confederate shell. Within thirty minutes a surgeon had finished amputating his mangled leg. Sickles loudly demanded that it be preserved in alcohol, but he soon became tired of it and donated it to the U. S. Army Medical Museum. Tradition says he visited his leg several times during the postwar years but never remained with it more than a few minutes.

Sickles’s amputated leg can still be viewed in the collection of the United States Army Medical Museum in Washington, DC. More than anyone or any agency, Sickles was responsible in the postwar years for establishing Gettysburg as a National Military Park. Today the site of the battle is the world’s largest sculpture garden. Gettysburg has memorials to troops and individuals from both sides commemorated in more than thirteen hundred works of stone, steel, iron, and bronze on the preserved grounds.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was an unlikely hero. Chamberlain graduated from Bowdoin College in 1852 and was well into his career as a professor of modern languages at Bowdoin when the Civil War began. He felt compelled to join the Union cause and entered the war as an officer. His wisdom might have been evident in the classroom, but Chamberlain’s courage was battle-tested many times, the most brilliant performance of which was at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Civil War historian Shelby Foote describes the situation at Little Round Top:

The fighting was particularly desperate on the far left, where the 20th Maine, made up of lumberjacks and fishermen under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, a former minister and Bowdoin professor, opposed the 15th Alabama . . . composed for the most part of farmers. Equally far from home—Presque Isle and Talladega were each 650 crowflight miles from Little Round Top, which lay practically on the line connecting them—the men of these two outfits fought as if the outcome of the battle, and with it the war, depended on their valor: as indeed perhaps it did, since whoever had possession of this craggy height on the Union left would dominate the whole fishhook position.

Little Round Top held a view of the entire line of northern defense. So when Chamberlain ordered his men—tired and mostly depleted of ammunition—to fix bayonets late in the day, it is not too much to say that his order saved the Union a terrible loss. A southern victory at Gettysburg would have quite possibly resulted in a speedy march by Robert E. Lee’s army to Washington. Tactically, Colonel Chamberlain was not left many choices in the military playbook choosing a bayonet assault against an equally tired foe, however, won the field and the day for him.

Chamberlain would later serve as governor of Maine, and later still as president of Bowdoin College, which numbers among its alumni many famous Americans, including Franklin Pierce, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

George Edward Pickett / Albumen silver print, c. 1863 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Another name that would carry great resonance into history was that of General George Pickett. When Robert E. Lee decided that outcome of Gettysburg was going to determine much of the war to come, he chose Pickett to lead a defining charge, this occurring on the third day of the battle, July 3, 1863. Pickett’s charge was put down severely by Meade’s superior force, and suddenly the war became winnable for the Union. Although the political reasons for the Civil War are complex, the two words “Pickett’s charge” go a long way toward explaining the southern defeat.

Decades later, William Faulkner, in his novel Intruder in the Dust, describes the fall of the southern dream encapsulated in that moment just before Pickett’s charge into the ready and resilient Union lines:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin. . . Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the world—the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago or to anyone who ever sailed even a skiff under a quilt sail, the moment in 1492 when somebody thought This is it: the absolute edge of no return, to turn back now and make home or sail irrevocably on and either find land or plunge over the world's roaring rim.

That “cast made two years ago” was, of course, the moment when the South made its poor gamble and decided to go to war against the North. Faulkner’s South is one which has failed in the glorious fight. After that July afternoon in 1863, the midnight of the war began to approach more rapidly.


Lee's army won an important battle at Chancellorsville in Virginia in May 1863. [10] Afterwards, he led his army north through the Shenandoah Valley. His plan was to start his second invasion of the North (called the Gettysburg Campaign). [10] Lee had several objectives in mind. [10] He intended to take Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state capital. [10] This, he hoped, would embarrass the Lincoln administration [10] and force Northern politicians to give up the war. At this point, Lee was playing politics. [10] He knew that if he was successful in Pennsylvania it would encourage the Northern peace movement. He hoped it would get foreign recognition for the Confederacy. [10] It could also force the Union to negotiate for peace, allowing the Confederate states to become an independent country. [10] Lee badly needed supplies and intended to get them in Pennsylvania. [b] In addition to being the state capital, Harrisburg was also the site of Camp Curtin, the largest training camp for Union soldiers. [13] It was a major railroad center. [13] More importantly it was a major supply depot and also a prisoner of war camp. [14]

In the North, Lincoln told Major General Joseph Hooker to have the Union army follow Lee's army. [9] But Hooker was very reluctant to go after the Confederates. Finally, Lincoln lost all confidence in him. [9] On June 28, three days before the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln appointed General Meade to replace Hooker. [9] Had the Confederacy won, confederate force would have had access to Philadelphia or Baltimore. [15] Vice President Hannibal Hamlin went to Lincoln to discuss a prisoner of war trade five days before the Battle of Gettysburg. [15]

Neither Lee nor Meade intended a battle take place at Gettysburg and neither were there when the battle started. [16] On June 30, 1863, Confederate General Henry Heth had a division at Cashtown, Pennsylvania, Lee's gathering place before moving on to Harrisburg. Heth sent his division to nearby Gettysburg to look for, as he later wrote in his report, "army supplies (shoes especially), and return the same day." [17] This started the myth that the Battle of Gettysburg started over shoes. [c] [17] Heth did this without scouting ahead to see what was at Gettysburg. The job of scouting belonged to the Confederate cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart. [17] But they had been gone for over a week. [17] So, blind to what was ahead of them, his soldiers ran directly into a Union cavalry division commanded by General John Buford. [16] This started the fighting even though Heth and other commanders were under orders from Lee not to start a battle. [17] But, as each side brought in more troops, it became a full-scale battle. [16] Lee started moving much of his army there. One of his goals was to fight the Union army and destroy it. Now, he would have to do it at Gettysburg.

About 5.30 a.m. on the morning of July 1, the battle started. Heth probed ahead cautiously to a point about two miles west of Gettysburg. [20] Buford's cavalry was deliberately slowing his progress. At about 10 a.m. the Union I Corps arrived commanded by General John F. Reynolds. [20] They set themselves up along McPherson's Ridge to oppose Heth's Confederates. During the fighting Reynolds was killed but the Confederates were driven back. Meanwhile, both sides brought up reinforcements. [20] The Union set up defenses of the town with I Corps defending the western approaches with XI Corps to the north. The flanks were covered by Buford's cavalry. One Union division was held in reserve on Cemetery Ridge. In the afternoon, when Lee arrived, the Confederates still did not know the strength of the Union forces they were facing. [20] They also had not scouted the terrain. [20] One division of Ewell's Corps had attacked the Union I Corps just after noon. [20] At about 2 p.m. Heth's division joined Ewell's troops in the attack on I Corps. [20] At about 3 p.m., another of Ewell's Confederate divisions, commanded by General Jubal Early, attacked the flank of the Union XI Corps. [20] By 4 p.m., both of the Union corps retreated through Gettysburg and took up positions on Cemetery Ridge. [20] So far, the Union had lost about 9,000 men including about 3,000 who had been captured. [20] The Confederates had lost about 6,500 men by this point. [20] So the first day of battle was technically a Confederate victory numbers-wise. But Federal troops held the high ground as more reinforcements were still arriving. [20] Based on the first day's fighting, Lee was convinced he could defeat Meade at Gettysburg. [20]

Late in the day, Lee sent the famous order to Confederate General Richard S. Ewell to take cemetery ridge "if practicable.” [d] [10] While he had been awaiting orders from Lee, Ewell had ridden out to take a closer look at Cemetery Ridge. [23] Based on what he saw and the confusing order, he decided it was not practicable to take the hill and set up camp. [22] Instead, he decided to leave the assault for the next day. This was the first major mistake of the battle for the South. The Army of the Potomac would end the day with around 21,900 men strongly positioned on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge. The Army of Northern Virginia would have around 27,000 men from Benner's Hill to Seminary Ridge.

On the second day of battle, most of both armies had arrived. The Union line held the high ground in a defensive formation that looked like a fishhook. On July 2, Lee ordered General James Longstreet, commander of the Confederate I Corps, to attack the Union left flank as early in the day as possible. [24] At the same time General A. P. Hill's corps was to attack the Union center. [24] General Ewell was to make diversionary attacks and "if practicable" attack the Union Army's right flank. [24] Lee felt that if everything went according to his plan and the Union line was destroyed, the battle, and possibly the war, would be won on the second day. [24] Lee's coordinated attack required getting all the infantry into position and moving up artillery to support them. [25] Longstreet had the furthest to go and midway in their march realized the Union lines could see them. They went back and had to take a different route. [25] Longstreet could not get his corps into position until about 4 p.m. when he began his attack. [25] His attack on the Union line lasted for over three hours but could not break the Union line. [25] Hill's Corps failed to be effective in the center. [25] Ewell did not attack Cemetery Ridge as instructed in Lee's confusing order, but made some progress in taking Culp's Hill. [25]

Union Major General Daniel Sickles, a political general commanding III Corps, disobeyed Meade's orders and moved his troops forward to the Peach Orchard. [26] He had been ordered to take up a position on Little Round Top connecting with Union forces on both his right and left. By doing this he left a large hole in the Union line. He marched to a position nearly 1 mile (1.6 km) in front of the Union line with no support on either side. [27] Within an hour, his entire III Corps was nearly wiped out by Longstreet. [27] Sickles was badly wounded by a cannonball and lost a leg. Being wounded was all that saved him from a court-martial. [27] Sickles' blunder nearly lost the entire battle for the Union. [28]

On the night of July 2, Longstreet's largest division commanded by General George Pickett arrived and was placed in the center of the Confederate line. Lee's plan for the next day was to attack on both the Union right and left, just as he had done the day before. [29] Lee was still certain he could break the Union line and win the battle. [29] That day Stuart's cavalry had caught up with Lee's army and Lee ordered Stuart to ride around the East side of Gettysburg and attack the Union rear. [29] Ewell had also been reinforced and was ordered to take Culp's Hill the next morning. [29]

Meade ordered the Union XII Corps to drive Ewell's forces off the captured trenches on Culp's Hill. [29] They were to move at daylight the next morning. [29] He was determined the remainder of the Union Army would hold its position and wait for Lee to attack. [29]

Ewell began fighting on Culp's Hill at first light. [29] Lee rode to Longstreet's headquarters only to find Longstreet had misunderstood his orders. [29] He was planning a turning movement against the Union left. Now, with no hope of a coordinated attack, Lee changed the plan. Longstreet was to attack the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. Ewell's forces failed in their counterattacks and were forced to withdraw from Culp's Hill by about 11:00 a.m. [29] Lee pinned all his hopes on Longstreet's attack on the center. [30] Longstreet had the last fresh division in Lee's army. [30] It was made up of three brigades, commanded by generals James L. Kemper, Richard B. Garnett, and Lewis A. Armistead, led by Pickett. [30]

Cannons Edit

First, a bombardment by about 140 Confederate cannons on the Union lines was ordered. [29] The bombardment started about 1 p.m. [31] About 80 Union cannons returned fire. [32] The cannons duel lasted for between one and two hours, depending on the source (most say about an hour). [31] The Confederate artillery chief, General Edward Porter Alexander, had only intended it to last for about 25 minutes. [31] But he then realized it had done little damage to the Union line so he continued. [31] But he also had to worry about running out of ammunition and not have enough to support the charge that was Pickett was about to make. [31] When the Union guns fell silent, Porter thought he had knocked them out. [31] But it was a trick by the Union artillery chief. [31] His guns were waiting for the charge the Union forces knew was coming. Alexander sent word to Pickett he could start his attack.

The cannonade could be heard as far away as Philadelphia. [33] The noise was so loud the gunner's ears bled. [34] It was probably the loudest noise that had ever been heard on the North American continent up to that time. [33] In the end the Confederate cannons may have killed as many as 200 Union soldiers in the area that would later become known as the "bloody angle". [31] But the Union guns may have killed more Confederate troops. [31]

Pickett's Charge Edit

Calling the Confederate attack on the Union center "Pickett's Charge" is misleading for two reasons. [35] First, Pickett commanded only one of the three units in the assault. [35] Second, it was not a charge, which is a rapid advance towards the enemy, it was an attack which moved forward more slowly and over a longer distance. [35] These Virginia units were joined by several smaller units of Confederates (some from North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama) whose numbers had been reduced by the fighting over the first two days. [30] When the cannons stopped, Pickett went to Longstreet to ask permission to begin the attack. [34] Longstreet, sure the attack would fail, silently nodded his head and gave a wave of his hand. [34] Longstreet had tried to get Lee to call off the attack, but Lee would not listen. [34]

Over 12,000 Confederates stepped out from the trees and formed up for the long march forward. [34] Waiting for them behind a low stone fence on Cemetery Ridge were about 5,000 Union troops, most of whom belonged to General Winfield Scott Hancock's II Corps. [30] Depending on the source, this was between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. [30] As they marched forward across the 1 mile (1.6 km) distance, Union artillery killed large numbers of troops. [36] Rifle fire from the Union line was intense. The Union troops used four lines of soldiers. [35] As the line in front fired, they moved back to reload while the next line moved up to fire. [35] Only a few hundred of the Virginians reached the Union line. Within minutes they were dead or dying. [36] Some were captured. The attack lasted about an hour with over 7,000 Confederate soldiers killed. [36] As the remaining Confederate troops retreated, Lee was seen riding his horse saying "this was all my fault". [37] He then told Pickett to rally his division. Pickett famously replied, "General, I have no division." [37]

At about the same time as the main attack, Stuart's cavalry attacked the Union rear but the attack also failed. [38]

Lee brought an army into Pennsylvania that numbered 75,054 men and lost 22,638 casualties or about 30% of his army. [39] Meade lost so many field grade officers that the Army of the Potomac would not recover for the rest of the war. [39] Both the Union I Corps and III Corps lost so many men they had to be combined with II Corps. [39] The battle took more American lives than any other battle in United States history. Gettysburg is still the largest battle to ever be fought on American soil. The Union victory over the Confederacy ended Lee's invasion of the north. Lee would never try to invade the Union again. The Army of Northern Virginia would never get their strength back. However the supplies taken during their time in Pennsylvania would keep the Confederate army going. [40] The wagon train of supply wagons and ambulances for the wounded was over 17 miles (27 km) long. [40] Lee never had more than 51,000 men the rest of the war. Numbers from the Union forces wore down Lee and his army. This is why Gettysburg is said to be the turning point of the American Civil War. After the battle the confederates figured out that there was a slave spy. [41]

Meade was severely criticized for not counterattacking Lee after the third day of battle. The next day Meade sent out skirmishers, but did not attack. [42] Lee had his army hold its position on Seminary Ridge all day on July 4. The more than 10,000 wounded men would be moved by wagon train 40 miles (64 km) to Williamsport and cross the Potomac to Virginia. The rest of Lee's army followed on the night of July 4–5, screened by Jeb Stuart's cavalry. [42] The next day, on discovering the Confederates had left the battlefield, the Union army cautiously followed. At the Battle of Falling Waters, Lee's army was waiting for the flooded Potomac River to go down so his army could cross. Meade's forces caught up with them there but the battle had no clear victor. The Battle of Falling Waters was the last battle in the Gettysburg Campaign. [43]

Watch the video: The Battle of Gettysburg. July 13, 1863