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Battle Of Gettysburg

July 1-3, 1863

Union victory, Maj. General George G. Meade versus General Robert E. Lee.

Forces Engaged: 158,300 total - US 83,289 and CS 75,054.

Estimated Casualties: 51,000 total US 23,000 and CS 28,000.

 

Stuart, in command of the cavalry, had been left to observe the enemy, with orders to cross the river and place himself on Ewell's right as soon as possible after the National army should have left Virginia. Some discretion was given to him, however, and in the exercise of it he made a successful march around the National army, but meantime left Lee without cavalry in an enemy's country, and without that information of the enemy's movements which was indispensable to the wise ordering of his own. Moreover, Stuart's absence misled Lee. Confident that his cavalry commander, who was a marvel of alertness and promptitude, would not delay to join him after the passage of the river by the adversary, Lee argued from his absence that the main body of the enemy was still south of the river, and perhaps planning a counter-operation against Richmond, while in fact the entire army under Meade was hastening toward Gettysburg, where Lee encountered its advance on 1 July, unexpectedly and under a complete misapprehension as to its strength, which constituted Lee's advance, met the enemy first, and was directed to ascertain his strength, with orders to avoid a general engagement if he should find anything more than cavalry present. He then undertook to feel of the force in his front, and, as it consisted of infantry and artillery in large bodies, he was soon hotly engaged in spite of his endeavor to confine his operation to a reconnaissance. When Lee arrived on the field, it was evident that a general engagement was not to be avoided, and he ordered up such re-enforcements as were at hand, at the same time sending directions for the remainder of his forces to hasten forward. Two divisions of Hill's corps and two of Ewell's were brought into action, and during the afternoon, after a sharp contest, the enemy was driven to a position south of the town, where he occupied a line of hills and awaited a renewal of the attack. .

In the absence of his cavalry, Lee was without any other information as to the strength or the purposes of his enemy than that which he could get from the prisoners taken, from whom he learned that Meade's entire army was approaching. It was important, if possible, to seize the position held by the enemy before further bodies of Meade's troops should arrive, as the line of hills afforded many advantages to the commander who could occupy it, and Lee directed Ewell to gain possession of it if possible, leaving him certain discretion, however, in the exercise of which Ewell delayed the attempt, to await the arrival of his remaining division, and so the opportunity was lost. It was Lee's intention to attack with his whole available force on the morning of the 2d, but it was not until late in the afternoon that Longstreet, whose troops had been some miles in the rear, was ready to bear his important part in the assault, and in the mean time the greater part of Meade's force had arrived and taken position. The assault was made at four o'clock, with Ewell on the left, Hill in the centre, and Longstreet on the right. The plan was for Longstreet to carry the position occupied by the enemy's left, Ewell and Hill making demonstrations on the left and centre, but converting their operations into a real attack should it appear that troops from their front were withdrawn to aid in opposing Longstreet. This was done, and a part of the enemy's works was carried by the Confederate left, but relinquished because of Rhodes's inability to render support to Early as promptly as had been intended. Meantime Longstreet had forced back the enemy's left for some distance, and gained a favorable position for further operations. The day came to an end with no decisive result, but Lee was encouraged to believe that by a carefully concerted assault on the next day he might win a victory that would go far to decide the issue of the war in favor of the Confederates, or at any rate to compensate for the continued disasters suffered by the Confederate arms in the west, and perhaps compel the withdrawal of the National forces from that quarter for the defense of the middle and eastern states. The value of such a victory, if he could achieve it, would be incalculable, and, as Longstreet has declared, the army under Lee's command at that time "was in condition to undertake anything." 

It was therefore decided to make a supreme effort on the next day to carry the enemy's position and put him to rout. Longstreet, strengthened by three brigades under Pickett, and additionally re-enforced from Hill's corps, was to make the main assault upon the enemy's right, while Ewell should attack his left and Hill menace his centre. There was some slight miscarriage in preparation, however, which resulted in Ewell's becoming engaged before Longstreet advanced to the assault. Moreover, for reasons that have since been the subject of somewhat acrimonious controversy, and the discussion of which would be manifestly improper in this place, Longstreet's attack was not made with his entire force, as had been intended; and although by that charge, which has become historically famous as perhaps the most brilliant feat of arms performed by Confederates on any field, Pickett's division succeeded in carrying the hill in their front and entering the enemy's lines, it was left without adequate support and was quickly hurled back, broken, and almost annihilated. This in effect ended the battle of Gettysburg. As at Antietam, so on this field, no decisive victory had been won by either army, but Lee's supreme effort had ended in a repulse, and the advantage rested with the National arms. "It is with an invading army as with an insurrection: an indecisive action is equivalent to a defeat."

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