Gettysburg The Turning Point


Gettysburg: The Turning Point Essay, Research Paper

During 1863, the third year of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg occurred between two extremely divided factions. This dissension occurred between the Confederate States (the eleven southern states which had seceded from the Union in 1861), and the rest of the Union, mostly northern states. In the first two years of the Civil War, neither side had gained any real advantage. Yes, major battles occurred, but no side really had truly experienced progression. In 1863, the course of the Civil War was dramatically changed.Prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederates had gained the upper hand by defeating the Union in Chancellorsville, where General Thomas Hooker and the Union army barely escaped the Confederate army. Considered in terms of football, Hooker had lost the ball and Lee had recovered it; now the Union was on the defensive , (Catton 11). Even though the Union was bitterly defeated in Chancellorsville, Lee s most prized general, General Stonewall Jackson was killed during heavy fighting. If General Jackson had been alive for the Battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War result could have been different.In the first part of June, 1863, General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army were moving northward through Maryland and penetrating northern territory. This was the first element of Lee s strategic plan, which involved a decisive battle in the northern territory. The second element was winning independence from the Union. Thirty-three conflicts occurred leading up to Gettysburg, some major and some minor, but none had the effect that Gettysburg had on the course of the Civil War. This decisive battle occurred during the first three days of July 1863, which changed the course of the Civil War and determined the fate of United States. This battle is known as the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg was a small, market town of 2,400 at this time, in southern Pennsylvania, located at a spot where a number of small roads converged. Although neither commander of the armies was prepared for nor wanted to fight in this region, they did, and it was a pivotal point in the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point in the Civil War because it put the South on the defensive and ultimately ended in the defeat of the Confederate States. At the end of June, Lee was on the offensive due to the fact he had just recently defeated General Joseph Hooker and the Federal army at Chancellorsville, driving the Union troops farther north. General Lee and the Confederates were now as far north as ever. This point of the Civil War is deemed the Confederate high tide . General Ewell and his Confederate troops had already crossed over the Pennsylvania border and were moving north towards Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. General Lee ordered General J.E.B. Stuart and the Confederate cavalry to be physically present on the east side of the Union Army and to watch the movement of the troops so Lee would be aware every action of the Federal Army. Stuart was Lee s reliable Confederate cavalry commander who was credited with significant success in earlier conflicts. They also gathered more supplies and destroyed Union resources along the way. At this time, Hooker and the Federal Army were traveling north across the Potomac river to the town of Frederick, Maryland. While the Union army was at Frederick on June 27, a courier from Washington informed Hooker that he was being replaced by General George G. Meade. Meade quickly separated his troops into three groups and moved across the Maryland border into Pennsylvania. As the Union troops entered Pennsylvania, their morale and will to fight was quickly restored. It was soon after that the first engagements of the Battle of Gettysburg took place. On the evening of June 28, General Lee discovered that the situation was tenuous. A scout had found out that the Union army was closer in proximity than expected. Lee s army could be devastated in a matter of minutes. In danger of losing a battle, Lee decided that Ewell must withdraw from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and assemble near the town of Gettysburg. But General Lee had a significant problem, he had no idea where Stuart and the cavalry was; therefore, the Federal Army s strategy was unknown. With that exception, Lee was ready to fight the decisive battle. Even though Stuart was a great distance from Lee s planned route, on June 29 Stuart was engaged in a clash with Federal cavalry under Major NB Knight. This confrontation occurred just several miles from Hanover, Pennsylvania. On June 30, Stuart once again clashed with Federal cavalry, again in Hanover, Pennsylvania. In Gettysburg, the three day battle began as cavalry forces under Union general John Buford clashed with General A.P. Hill s confederate cavalry early July 1. Little did they know that this minor skirmish would lead to the greatest battle ever fought on American soil. General Buford knew he was significantly outnumbered, so he called for General John F. Reynolds support with the I Corps. These were the first encounters at Gettysburg. Since General J.E.B. Stuart and the Confederate cavalry were the eyes of the Confederate army and since Stuart had not yet reported to Lee s headquarters, Lee had to act on complete instinct. The clashes on July 1 were the determination by each army to discover each other s weakness. The fighting would greatly intensify in the following days. As July 1 came to a close, neither army had gained any real advantage except that the Federals had taken the large hills, including Big Round Top and Little Round Top, just south of Gettysburg in a fishhook pattern. On July 2, Lee s strategy was to attack both sides of the Union army, but he was delayed by General Longstreet. This postponement proved costly for the Confederate army because the longer the delay, the stronger the Federal army would be. Although Lee had gained some ground at Devils Den, Wheatfield, and Peach Orchard, what occurred at the end of the day was the onset of General Lee s troubles. Lee knew he was outnumbered and that they were fighting in Northern territory; therefore, the Union would have more supplies and more reinforcements. General Lee and the Confederates needed to strike fast and furious in order to successfully defeat the Union at Gettysburg. Lee had attempted to break the left flank of the Union army which would have led to the opportunity to ride around the Union troops and destroy them from behind (but due to efforts from the Union troops, Lee s company experience failure in battle at Little Round Top, which was the extreme left flank of the Union army). This downfall led Lee to one of the most important decisions he had made in the course of the Civil War.

As July 3 arrived, Lee decided to try to destroy the Union center which was stationed on Cemetery Hill. Lee tried to make it easier for them by assembling a hundred cannons, bombarding Cemetery Hill for about an hour. Lee wanted the cannon fire to drive back the troops and destroy the Union s artillery. The artillery fire had some success but did not achieve what Lee wanted it to. Lee assembled nearly 15,000 troops including General Pickett s Virginia division, along Seminary Ridge. If this went according to plan, Confederates would break the Union center and cause chaos and confusion in the Union army. This would lead to Confederate victory and, ultimately, Southern Independence. Lee was overwhelmed in one of the greatest onslaughts ever witnessed in American history (Davis 390). As the Confederates stormed from the forest they were hit with firepower from the Union. The Confederates were making progress but had one problem: a fence, halfway between opposite sides that needed to be climbed over in order to reach the stone wall on Cemetery Hill. As the Confederates climbed over the stone wall, the constant fire slaughtered many of the Confederate troops. The remaining Confederates struggled to make it to the stone wall that surrounded Cemetery Hill and when they did Union forces crushed them. Lee s attempt ended in a dismal failure. More than two-thirds of the 15,000 troops were killed or badly wounded. When General Pickett hobbled back to Confederate lines and Lee said, Pickett, assemble your division as quickly as possible because the Federals are going to counterattack , Pickett replied, General Lee, I have no division now! (Champ 144). For the rest of his life, Pickett would grieve for his men lost that day and would blame Lee for the disaster. As with the slaughter of the Confederate troops, the chance for Confederate success was now gone. After three days of intense fighting, Lee was unable to strike again. His brilliant offensive, so shining with purpose, had been defeated in a quiet, little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Rawley 156). In heavy rain on the night of July 4, ironically the celebration of Independence Day, Lee and his remaining Confederate troops retreated back into Maryland. After the days of Gettysburg, Lee explained to everyone that it was all my fault , yet Southerners still chanted his name, Lee, Lee, Lee , with great pride and glory.There it was, one of the greatest battles ever fought. Of the nearly 150,000 men that fought in the Battle of Gettysburg, there were more than 50,000 casualties. Lee suffered nearly 27,000 casualties, while Meade suffered 23,049. Even though the casualties appear similar, several factors attributed to Lee s retreat. First, since the Union army was larger, the Union was weakened less than the smaller Confederate army. Second, Lee and the Confederates had used up most of their supplies and needed more. Lastly, the Union was reinforced more often than the Confederates; therefore, the Union army was gaining more and more men as the Confederates delayed their attack. As great as the actual battle was, the effect it had on the course of the Civil War and the Confederates was even greater. Pickett s Charge is actually very symbolic of the Confederacy in the Civil War. As in Pickett s Charge, Lee had gained momentum in prior battles leading up to the battle of Gettysburg, but Lee only had one chance for glory, in which he put up everything he had, which was Gettysburg. Yet, in consolation, Lee had disrupted any plans of the Union army in the East and had stemmed an invasion of the North. After Gettysburg, Lee and the Confederates retreated back to the south in hopes of replenishing supplies and troops. Although the Federals had achieved victory at Gettysburg, Lincoln was not pleased with the action taken by his troops. If Meade and the Union army had made any attempt at the Confederates as they were retreating, the Union troops would have most certainly crushed the Confederates, thus ending any further war between the two. Furious, Lincoln exclaimed, We had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours. And nothing I could say or do could make the army move (Champ 157). Lee and the Confederates were now on the defensive and would show that they still had plenty of fight and courage in them. Because of Lee s determination the bloody Civil War would rage on for two more horrible years. However, after Gettysburg, the Confederates did not give the North any more scares. Ultimately, in the end, on April 9, 1865, Lee and the Confederates surrendered at the Appomattox Court House. The year of 1863 proved to be the year of decision for the course of the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg occurred during the first three days in July. This phenomenal conflict which exhibited tremendous leadership and sacrifice. Lee and the Confederates had planned an aggressive attack in which the Union army would be swiftly defeated and the Confederacy would gain it s independence. But, as it would turn out, the Battle of Gettysburg showed the courageous fight in the Confederates and the resilience of the Union. Gettysburg is the bloodiest conflict ever fought on American soil. The conclusion was unfathomable suffering and the loss of over 50,000 lives. Gettysburg is recognized as the turning point in the war that changed American history. It is a battle that will be glorified and remembered forever.

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