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Essay/Term paper: Battle of gettysburg

Essay, term paper, research paper:  American Civil War

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Collin Greenwood

Mr. Baker

Honors History

24 April 2000

The Battle of Gettysburg " The Turning Point of the Civil War

Gettysburg was the turning point of the American Civil War. This is the most famous and important Civil War Battle that occurred over three hot summer days, July 3, 1863, around the small market town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. More importantly Gettysburg was the clash between the two major American Cultures of their time: the North and the South. The causes of the Civil War, and the Battle of Gettysburg, one must understand the differences between these two cultures. The Confederacy had an agricultural economy producing tobacco, corn, and cotton, with many large plantations owned by a few very rich white males. These owners lived off the labor of sharecroppers and slaves, charging high dues for use of their land. The Southern or Confederate Army was made up of a group of white males fighting for their independence from federal northern dictates (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 1).

The Union economy was based on manufacturing, and even the minorities in the North were better off than those in the South most of the time. The Northern politicians wanted tariffs, and a large army. The Southern plantation owners wanted the exact opposite.

The South was fighting against a government that they thought was treating them unfairly. They believed the Federal Government was overtaxing them, with tariffs and property taxes making their life styles even more expensive than they already had been. The North was fighting the Civil War for two reasons, first to keep the Nation unified, and second to abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the commander and chief of the Union or Northern forces along with many other Northerners believed that slavery was not only completely wrong, but it was a great humiliation to America. Once can see that with these differences a conflict would surely occur, but not many had predicted that a full-blown war would breakout. One did and after three bloody and costly years for both sides we come to the date of July 1, 1863.

Before the battle, major cities in the North such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and even Washington, were under threat of attack from General Robert E. Lee"s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia which had crossed the Potomac River and marched into Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday morning, June 30, an infantry brigade of Confederate soldiers searching for shoes headed toward Gettysburg (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 2). The Confederate commander looked through his field glasses and spotted a long column of Federal Cavalry heading toward the town. He withdrew his brigade and informed his superior, General Henry Heth, who in turn told his superior, A.P. Hill, he would go back the following morning for shoes that were desperately needed.

The battle began on July 1, 1863, when some of General Ambrose Powell Hill"s advance brigades entered the town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania looking for shoes (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 2). 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 (Microsoft Encarta Battle of Gettysburg 2). During battle in front of Cemetery Hill, General Hill was faced with stubborn resistance from the Union forces trying to hold until the rest of the forces could arrive and help out. The fighting went on until General Richard S. Ewell arrived and forced the federal troops to retreat to better ground Southeast of Gettyburg (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 2). Although the Confederates won the day, Ewell made the mistake of not allowing General Hill to force the Union forces back further leaving the Union troops with higher ground, and that is the conclusion of day one.

On the following day, July 2, General George Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac arrived, along with the majority of the army. He formed his forces in a widely recognizable horseshoe formation, anchored at Big and Little Round Top on the West, Culp"s Hill on the East, and got positioned in behind a stone wall along Cemetary Ridge (Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia Vol. 11 pg. 384). The large Union forces faced an ad-hoc formation of Southern Troops preparing for a hasty attack (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 2). The Confederate forces roughly mirrored the Union line, commanded left to right or East to West by James Longstreet, Amrose Powell Hill, and Richard Ewell.

Determined to destroy the Army of the Potomac, and end the war quickly Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered an attack over the protests of James Longstreet, who was a major force in defensive warfare mixed with strategic offensive movement (Microsoft Encarta Battle of Gettysburg 2). The ill-fated attack was delayed numerous times, eventually getting under way just before noon and failing once again in a short time period afterwards. Confederate gains of land were limited to a peach orchard and an area called Culp"s Hill, which was lost to a counter attack by Union forces (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 2). Major losses were suffered in personnel, equipment, ammunition, and morale. The second day ended with planning for the third and final day of this climatic battle. General Meade and the Federal forces believed an attack would come, but expected an attack to come in the same place as earlier that day (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 2). Oddly, given a large amount of losses to forces going against Longstreet"s first attack, the troops led under the command of Colonel Chamberlain were moved to the center of the line, which, they were promised, was sure not to see much action on July 3rd. General Lee was determined to strike at the center of the Union Line believing that Meade would move most of his forces to sure up the flanks that barely held on the 2nd, and so ending day two.

The morning of July 3rd was not filled with much action with the exception of light shelling by both sides (Funk &Wagnalls Encyclopedia Vol. 11 pg. 384). Preparing for Southern attacks were delayed, but the half-hearted attack began around noon with the infamous Pickett"s charge. Major General George Pickett, and division commander Longstreet, led about 30,000 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 fire from Union cannons and muskets (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 3). This onslaught and its achievements, which small portions did infact reach or even cross the wall in the face of such overwhelming odds are an incredible tribute to the leadership of General Lee, Longstreet, and Pickett, among a number of others, as well as the great spirit of the Confederate troops. One must not forget to mention, however, the heroic stand by the Union troops, from the first day and the Cavalry of John Buford to the third day and the combined effort of the entire Potomac Army (Microsoft Encarta Battle of Gettysburg 2). Even if not other factors influenced the attack, due to the number and firepower of the entrenched Union troops; the assault was going to fail and was destined to fail. On the night of July 3rd, General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army began their retreat back to Virginia. During the costly three days the Union casualties were 3,070 soldiers killed, 14,497 wounded, and 5,434 captured or missing (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 4). The Confederacy suffered 2,992 deaths, 12,706 wounded, and 5,l50 captured or missing (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 4). Gettysburg had important psychological effects, as well as, ruining the South"s morale and causing the North to celebrate a great victory. The night of July 3rd and into the next day, Saturday, July 4th, Confederate wounded was loaded aboard wagons that began the journey back toward the South. Lee was forced to abandon his dead and begin a long, slow withdrawal of his army back to Virginia. Union Commander Meade, out of fatigue and caution, did not immediately go after Lee, getting President Lincoln very angry who wrote a mad letter to Meade, which was never delivered, saying he missed an opportunity to end the war at this instance (The History Place Battle of Gettysburg 4). Although the casualties were basically equal, the Battle of Gettysburg was the second and last great invasion the of the North, for the South had neither arms nor numbers to continue an assault, but the War dragged on for two more years.

On November 19, President Lincoln went to the battlefield to dedicate it as a military cemetery. He spoke for a short period of time delivering what is called the Gettysburg Address, surprising many present in the audience with its shortness and leaving others quite unimpressed, but over time the speech has come to symbolize democracy as we know it today (Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia Vol. 11 385).

The Battle of Gettyssburg was a turning point because the South was desperately relying on that War for supplies and perhaps help from an outside source. They felt if they would have won that battle they would have been able to win the war when before they were just hoping to hang with the so-called well-prepared Union Army. The North needed a good, hard fought battle on their part because up until this point they had been men handled and out strategized. The Civil War was expected to be a quick battle easily won by the stronger northern army but had dragged on for years.


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