Battle of Gettysburg: Summary

Setup - Robert E. Lee marched his army into the North.

Battle Day 1 of 3 – A fraction of the total soldiers had arrived. Union defenders eventually retreat through the streets of town to the hills just to the south. Confederates win day 1.

Battle Day 2 of 3 – Fierce fighting raged in four separate areas:

  • Little Round Top
    • The smaller of two rocky hills
    • Exhausted confederates are unable to take the hill and are defeated by a Union bayonet charge.
  • The Wheatfield
    • Nicknamed “Bloody Wheatfield.” Bordering river, Plum Run, “ran red with blood.”
    • Union brigades outnumbered Confederates by 2:1. Northerners successfully delayed the Confederate assault with “vicious hand-to-hand combat.”
  • Devil’s Den
    • A modest elevation made distinctive by piles of huge boulders.
    • Tremendous loss of life in the first 30 minutes (including commanders on horseback). Union retreated and Confederate men spent the next 22 hours firing across the “Valley of Death” on Union troops.
  • Peach Orchard
    • Orchard Northwest of the other battlegrounds
    • Union General Sickles insubordinately moved his men to where they were “virtually destroyed” and Confederate General Barksdale “led the charge on horseback, long hair flowing in the wind, sword waving in the air.” Confederates win this one.

Battle Day 3 of 3 – The Union forces a Confederate retreat from Gettysburg.

  • Before Confederates were ready, Union troops started a dawn artillery bombardment against the Confederates on Culp’s Hill. Seven hours of bitter combat followed.
  • Three miles east of Gettysburg a significant cavalry engagement occurred in which lengthy mounted battle included hand-to-hand saber combat.
  • Confederate leader Robert E. Lee ordered “Pickett’s Charge”, arguably an avoidable mistake from which the South never recovered. After enticing the South to waste ammunition the Union opened fire during the approach of the Confederate infantry. The result was devastating to the South.

Post Battle

  • On July 4, 1863, on the day of the Southern Gettysburg surrender, armies stared at one another in a heavy rain across the bloody fields. Late that evening Lee started his army in motion.
  • Nearly 8,000 had been killed outright; these bodies lying in the hot summer sun. Over 3,000 horse carcasses were burned in a series of piles south of town.
  • The news of the Union victory electrified the North in newspaper headlines including the Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • The Confederates had lost politically as well as militarily.
  • That November, President 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.

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