12/15/2017

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The Battle of Gettysburg

One of the deadliest battles ever fought by American soldiers.

In September 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which changed the American Civil War from one that would, not only preserve the Union, but would also put an end to slavery. Until that time, the war was not going well for Union forces and the North was becoming weary of the fighting.

Emboldened by his stunning victories over Union forces at Fredericksburg in December 1862 and Chancellorsville in May 1863, in a meeting with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee proposed a plan to mount an offensive that would take the war out of Virginia and into the northern states.

Lee's plan was to invade the north by marching his army across the Blue Ridge Mountains, through the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia and the panhandle of West Virginia, and on into Pennsylvania. He knew that the Confederacy did not have the resources or manpower to fight a long war so his objective was to mount an offensive that would give the South another major victory that would further demoralize his northern opponents.

General Lee felt that the North was not ready for a prolonged war, especially if they thought it was unwinnable and could cause large numbers of fatalities. If the war was fought on northern soil, the people of the North would think it wise to let the South go it's own way. He hoped to carry the war as far as Harrisburg or maybe to Philadelphia.

On June 3, 1863, Lee skillfully began moving his 75,000 man army, called the Army of Northern Virginia, towards the Blue Ride Mountains without much notice from Union troops under the command of Major General Joseph Hooker. When Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac, realized that Lee was on the move, he force marched his troops across Virginia, Maryland and into Pennsylvania in an effort to cut off Confederate forces and stop them from making further advances into the northern states.

President Lincoln, disillusioned with the way General Hooker was conducting the war, relieved him of his command three days before the Battle of Gettysburg began and replaced him with Major General George Meade, commander of the 5th Corps.

General Meade was a tough, no nonsense officer who took command under the most harrowing of circumstances. First of all, he had conflicting information about where General Lee's main army was located so he had to quickly prepare for all the different possibilities.

Most roads in south-central Pennsylvania intersected in or around Gettysburg and the army that controlled the roads had a distinct advantage over the other. On June 30, Union cavalry officer, General John Buford was sent to take control of the cross roads and to learn where the Confederate main army was located.

General Lee, who had information that the Union Army was still over 20 miles away, was baffled to learn that Union forces were at Gettysburg. He decided to send a strong force to defeat Union forces and take control of the town.

At around 7:30 am on July 1, advancing Confederate troops encountered General Buford's cavalry and thus began the Battle of Gettysburg. The battles raged throughout the day and into the night. At first, the Confederate forces inflicted heavy losses on Union soldiers but the Union Army retreated to higher ground, regrouped, and made a stand that stopped Confederate advances in and around Gettysburg.

When General Meade reached the battlefield around midnight, he sent orders to all elements of his command to begin marching towards Gettysburg. In the early morning hours of July 2, the Armies of the United States of America and the Confederate States of America met in a head to head confrontation at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and fought one of the bloodiest battles in American history.

After 3 days of relentless fighting and many casualties on both sides, the Confederate army retreated back to Virginia in what most historians consider the turning point of the war in favor of the United States of America.

During the campaign, an estimated combined total of 51,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, along with one civilian, were either killed, wounded, or went missing in action. Although the battle inflicted, almost equally, a heavy toll in terms of manpower on both sides of the battle, it was considered a major loss for the Confederacy.

The battle of Gettysburg ended Confederate attempts to invade the North and although the fighting would go on for three more years, the defeat set in motion the battles that would be fought on Southern soil that would eventually lead to end to the Civil War and the freedom of slaves in all U.S. states and territories.

On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln visited Gettysburg to help dedicate this historical site as the Gettysburg National Cemetery. This is where he gave his famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln gave homage to all, on both sides, who fought and died in this horrific battle.

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