The turning point of
the American Civil War occurred at the Battle of Gettysburg in
July of 1863. It was here that General Robert E. Lee's
Confederate army of 75,000 men and the 87,000 man Northern
army of General George G. Meade met, by chance, when a
Confederate brigade sent there for supplies observed a forward
column of Meade's cavalry.
Of the more than 2,000
land engagements of the Civil War, Gettysburg ranks supreme.
Although the Battle of Gettysburg did not end the war, not
attain any major war aim for the North or the South, it
remains the great battle of the war.
Here at Gettysburg on
July 1, 2 and 3, 1863, more men actually fought and more men
died than in any other battle before or since on North
On July 1, the great
Battle of Gettysburg began with Confederate troops attacking
Union troops on McPherson Ridge, west of town. Outnumbered,
the Union forces managed to hold until afternoon when they
were overpowered and driven back through town. In the
confusion, thousands of Union soldiers were captured before
they could rally on Cemetery Hill, south of town. Long into
the night Union troops labored over their defenses while the
bulk of Meade's army arrived and took positions.
On July 2, the battle
lines were drawn up in two sweeping arcs. The main portions of
both armies were nearly a mile apart on two parallel ridges;
Union forces on Cemetery Ridge facing Confederate forces on
Seminary Ridge to the west. Lee ordered an attack against both
Union flanks. James Longstreet's thrust on the Union left
broke through D.E. Sickles' advance lines at the Peach
Orchard, left the wheatfield strewn with dead and wounded, and
turned the base of Little Round Top into a shambles. R.S.
Ewell's attack proved futile against the entrenched Union
right on East Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill.
On July 3, Lee's
artillery opened a bombardment that for a time engaged the
massed guns of both sides in a thundering duel for supremacy,
but did little to soften up the Union center on Cemetery
The climax of the
Battle of Gettysburg came when Major General George E.
Pickett, in a desperate attempt to recapture the partial
success of the preceding day, spearheaded a massed infantry of
some 12,000 Confederate troops across the open field toward
the Union center on Cemetery Ridge.
Raked by artillery and
rifle fire, Pickett's men reached but failed to break the
Union line, and the magnificent effort ended in disaster. In
50 minutes, 10,000 in the assault had become casualties, and
the attack - forever to be known as Pickett's Charge - was now
With the failure of
the Charge the battle was over - the Union was saved. There
were 51,000 casualties making Gettysburg the bloodiest battle
of American history.
Over 172,000 men and
634 cannon were positioned in an area encompassing 26 square
miles. Additionally, an estimated 567 tons of ammunition was
expended and, when the battle had ended, 5,000 dead horses and
the other wreckage of war presented a scene of terrible
The Confederate army
that staggered back from the fight at Gettysburg was
physically and spiritually exhausted. Lee would never again
attempt an offensive operation of such proportions. Meade,
though he was criticized for not immediately pursuing Lee's
army, had carried the day in the battle that has become known
as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.
The war was to rage
for two more terrible and tormenting years but the Confederacy
never recovered from the losses of Gettysburg. And through the
deepening twilight of Confederate military might, all who had
been to Gettysburg, would remember.