Gettysburg Essay, Research Paper
Gettysburg was the turning point in the American Civil War. More importantly Gettysburg was the climatic clash between the two major American cultures of their time: the North and the South. The victory on Gettysburg was brought by three different aspects within these three days: Buford’s defense, Picketts charge, and the defense of Lil’ Roundtop. A climax of a conflict between two cultures with such vastly different ideals that they could not coexist in “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The battle began on July 1, when some of General Ambrose Powell Hill’s advance brigades entered the town of small town Gettysburg, Pennsylvania looking for shoes. Because of General Stuart’s failure to complete his mission of tracking the Union army, Hill’s troops encountered a Union cavalry division commanded by Major General John Buford. During battle in front of Cemetery Hill, General Hill encountered stubborn resistance from the Union forces trying to hold until the rest of forces could arrive and dig in. The fighting went on until General Richard S. Ewell arrived and forced the federal troops to retreat to better ground southeast of Gettysburg. Although the Confederates won the day, Ewell made the mistake of not allowing General Hill to force the Union forces further back leaving the Union troops with the high ground.
On the following day, July 2, General George Gordon Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac arrived, along with the majority of the army. He formed his forces in the now widely recognized horseshoe, anchored at Big and Little Round Top on the west, and Culp’s Hill on the east, and dug in behind a stone wall along Cemetery Ridge. The numerically superior Union forces faced an ad-hoc deployment of Southern troops preparing for a “hasty attack” (as opposed to a deliberate attack). The Confederate forces roughly mirrored the Union line, commanded left to right (wet to east) by Longstreet, Hill, and Ewell. Determined to annihilate the Army of the Potomac once and for all, and end the war swiftly, General Lee ordered an attack over the protests of James Longstreet (who was a major proponent of defensive warfare combined with strategically offensive movement). The ill-fated attack was delayed time and time again, eventually kicking off just before noon and failing soon thereafter. Confederate gains were limited to the Peach Orchard and a sector of Culp’s Hill (soon to be lost to a Union counterattack), while major losses were incurred in personell, equipment, ammunition, and morale. The second day concluded with planning for the third and final day of this historic battle. General Meade and the federal forces believed an attack would come, but expected an attack in the same place as earlier that day. Ironically, given incredible losses to forces opposing Longstreet’s first attack, the troops under the command of Colonel Chamberlain were shifted to the center of the line, which, they were promised, was sure not to see much action July 3rd. General Lee, on the other hand, was determined to strike at the
center of the Union line in the belief that Meade would move most all of his forces to sure up the flanks that had been barely held on the 2nd.
The morning of July 3rd brought about little besides light shelling by both sides. Preperations for the South’s attack were delayed yet again, but the half-hearted attack (opposed by many of Lee’s officers) began around noon with the infamous Pickett’s Charge. Major General George Pickett, a division commander Longstreet, led roughly 13,000 men across hundreds of yards of open fields, across a road and a number of fences, and up the side of Cemetery Ridge, all the time under enormous volumes of fire from Union cannons and muskets. This assault and its achievements in the face of such overwhelming odds are an incredible tribute to the leadership of Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Pickett, among numerous others, as well as the incredible spirit of the Confederate troops. One must not neglect to mention, however, the heroic stand of the Union troops, from the first day and the dismounted calvary of John Buford to the third day and the combined effort of the entire Army of the Potomac. Even if no other factors
influenced the attack, due to the sheer number and firepower of the entrenched Union troops, the assault was destined to fail.
On the night of July 3rd, General Lee and the Confederate army began their retreat back to Virginia. Gettysburg had important psychological effects also, demoralizing the South and causing the North to celebrate a great victory with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Although the casualties seem pretty equal, the Battle of Gettysburg second and last great invasion of the North, for the South had neither the arms or the numbers to continue an assault, but the war dragged on for two more years.