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The Battle Of Gettysburg Essay, Research Paper

The Battle Of Gettysburg

General William T. Sherman put it best when he said “War is Hell”( Foote 1 ). The Civil War was the largest war fought on American soil. Over a million lives were lost and millions more were affected. Billions of dollars were spent by the United States and billions were spent by the Confederate States to fund this war.

Three days were spent in the month of July of 1863 in pure “hell.” The largest battle of the Civil War was fought near a small town in Pennsylvania. Over 50,000 lives were lost on battle grounds like Round Top, Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard, and the Devil’s Den. Cannons volleyed shots from Cemetery Ridge to Seminary Ridge and back to Cemetery Ridge. It would be here, near this little Pennsylvania town, which the turning point war and was a great defeat for the Confederates in one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War. This paper is to tell of the inaccurate approaches to war by the Confederates and why they lost the battle.

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Two months earlier, the Confederates, with the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee, were victorious at the battle of Chancellorsville over the Army of the Potomac under Major General Joseph Hooker. The Federals outnumbered the Confederates two to one. The Army of the Potomac was heading toward the capital of the Confederacy which at this time was Richmond, Virginia. The Confederates turned the Federals around toward the North. Yet this was not a great win for the rebels. Major General Stonewall Jackson was shot and killed by one of his own men by mistake and Lee was still outnumbered by the Federals.

But the situation was not great all over the South. General U.S. Grant had taken the river city of Vicksburg under siege. If the Federals took Vicksburg, the Mississippi River would be theirs and so would be the South. Vicksburg needed help, but got none. Lee had a plan of his own, to invade Pennsylvania (The Civil War:Catton 206).

Lee thought that an invasion of the North would help in many ways. First is that the war was getting to the people in the North. The appearance of the Confederate Army would make that even worse. So much so that President Lincoln might have to recognize the independence of the Confederate States. It might also bring the recognition of the British. Lee also needed food for his army that could not be gained from the ravaged lands of Virginia. But the best reason for marching North was that the

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Army of the Potomac would probably march toward Richmond again. The drive north would disrupt their plans and postpone the march on Richmond. But in simple laymans terms, Lee’s army was going to fight somewhere that summer, why not fight north of the Mason-Dixon line than south of it (Leckie 69).

The Commander-in-Chief of the United States, President Lincoln knew that Lee’s advance would be an advantage for that Federals. So far the north has fought with more men but in the south. Now they will fight with more men and on their own ground.

Lee’s army began to march on June 3. Hooker began to move his men parallel to Lee’s, keeping his army between Lee’s and Washington, D.C. By the end of June, Lee had all his infantry and artillery north of the Potomac River. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, a bald,”peppery little man with a wooden leg,” had gone eastward and was threatening Harrisburg and York, Pennsylvania with Lieutenant General A.P. Hill behind him. Lieutenant General James Longstreet had his men in Chambersburg waiting for orders. Yet there was some concern about Lee’s cavalry, led by Major General J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart. He had not moved until June 25 where he immediately ran into trouble. Stuart had gotten himself into the largest cavalry battle on the North American Continent. Over 50,000 cavalry troops fought at Brandy Station and Lee would have to wait for his cavalry (Gettysburg:Catton 8-10).

Lee knew his army was dispersed across Pennsylvania so he had his couriers to gather the scattered legions together at

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Gettysburg and only at Gettysburg. Gettysburg was like Rome at

this time; all roads lead to Gettysburg (Frassanito 35).

Washington, June 27, 1863.

By direction of the President, Maj. Gen. Joseph

Hooker is relieved from command of the Army of the

Potomac, and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade is appointed to the command of that army, and of the troops temporarily assigned to duty with it.

By order of the Secretary of War:

E.D. Townsend

Assistant Adjutant-General

President Lincoln appointed his fifth commander of the Army of the Potomac before dawn June 28, 1863. Meade responded with a telegram saying: “As a soldier, I obey it, and to the utmost of my ability will execute it” (Pfanz 1).

Meade sent Major General John Buford’s Division of cavalry to find a suitable fragment of Lee’s army. On the last day of June, Buford got into Gettysburg and found a large number of Confederate infantries were a few miles to the west along the Chambersburg road. Buford sent scouts north to find other Confederates and sent a messenger back to his commander Major General John Reynolds. Reynolds received the news and marched on July 1st. Reynolds road ahead to check on Bufords situation. Fighting had already begun and artillery had gone into action also. Even though Buford was holding the rebels, his cavalry could not hold for long. Reynolds and Buford conferred a Lutheran Monastery and said that place would be a good place for a fight. The first Federal troops on the scene were that of Brigadier General James Wadsworth, know as the elite Iron Brigade. A.P. Hill’s Corps were the first rebels on the scene

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and they were ready for a fight. As Reynolds went to asset the situation, he was shot dead by a Confederate sharpshooter. Command was passed temporarily to Major General Abner Doubleday. The Federal Corps I was so badly hurt that it was never able to perform as a unit again and was broken up in the following winter (Bellah 12).

Major General Robert Rodes’s division of Ewell’s II Corps was heading toward the federals right flank.Major General Oliver Otis Howard(U.S.A.) took command over Doubleday by seniority and brought troops to meet Rodes’s troops. Major General Jubal Early and his men of Ewell’s II Corps came at the precise moment to attack Howard’s exposed right flank. Lee had rode to the field headquarters of Hill. Lee concluded that the battle must not go any farther at this moment. Not even half of his army was present and he had no idea where Meade’s army was.Yet Early’s division had caught the Federals right flank, Ewell’s division was not far away, and Longstreet’s troops were on their way and would be there in a few hours.(Foote 243) Lee had a decisive victory on his hands and he now took advantage of it. The Federals had begun to retreat from Seminary Ridge and ran through the battered town of Gettysburg. They made a stand with Howard’s men along Cemetery Hill. The messengers that Reynolds sent before his death finally reach Meade. Meade rushed Major General Winfield Hancock to assume general command. Hancock had a dispute over command with Howard who outranked him. Yet Hancock took the battered Federal divisions and

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positioned they the best that he could. He sent word to Meade that Gettysburg would be a suitable place to fight (Tucker 12-17). The most disputed question about the battle Of Gettysburg is: Why did Ewell not follow up the fighting with a sweep of the disorganized Federals. A lot of criticism was directed toward General Ewell over the years and not without justification. Ewell could have won the battle and even taken all the glory with it.In any case, when night fell, the town was in Confederate hands, the Federals were on the hills south of town and the rebels were north and west of town. The battle had begun, but it was not near an end (Tucker 23-29).

On the morning of July 2, Lee and Longstreet had a discursion on how the battle would be fought. Longstreet thought that attacking the left flank of the Federals and coming up behind them would be the best effort, but Lee knew better. Lee knew that Meade’s army was on their way and he did not know when. If he launched an attack on the left flank he could be caught by Meade’s approaching army. Lee said this in response to Longstreet’s advice: “No. The enemy is there and I am going to fight him here” (Gettysburg:Catton 34-36).

Lee finally came up with the plan of attacking at the Federals right and left flank simultaneously. The Federals right flank was on Culp’s Hill, held by Major General Henry W. Slocum. The next high ground was held by Doubleday, but was replaced by Major General John Newton. The next divisions are that of Howard, Hancock

The Battle of Gettysburg

Thesis: The battle of Gettysburg was the turning point and was a great defeat for the Confederates in one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War.

I. Overview of the war

A. Generals

B. Invasion

II. Collision

A. Lee’s Response

B. Meade’s Response

III. July 2, 1863(Day Two)

A. Round Tops

B. Culp’s Hill

C. Center Line

IV. July 3, 1863(Day Three)

A. Ewell

B. Pickett’s Charge

V. Aftermath

A. Lee’s Retreat

B. Gettysburg Address


Bellah, James Warner. Soldiers’ Battle: Gettysburg. David Mckay Company, Inc.: New York, New York. 1962.

Catton, Bruce. The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. American Heritage Publishing Company: New York, New York. 1960.

Catton, Bruce. Gettysburg: The Final Fury. Doubleday &

Company, Inc.: Garden City, New York. 1974.

Frassanito, William A. Gettysburg: A Journey in Time.

Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, New York. 1975.

Shelby, Foote. The Civil War: A Narrative. Random House: New York, New York. 1963.

Leckie, Robert. None Died in Vain. Harper Collins Publishing: Toronto, Ontario, Canada. !990.

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: The Second Day. The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, North Carolina.


Tucker, Glenn. Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg. Bobbs Merrill Company Inc.: New York, New York. 1968

Ward, Geoffrey C., Ric Burns and Ken Burns. The Civil War.

Alfred A. Knoff, Inc. New York, New York. 1990.


and General Dan Sickles along Cemetery Ridge. Major General George Sykes and Major General John Sedgwick were in immediate backup. Longstreet attacked with his divisions under Major Generals Lafayette McLaws, John B. Hood, and George Pickett’s division would be ready by tomorrow. Hood and McLaw’s men were fighting Sickle’s men on three sides. Meade ordered Hancocks division to come to the rescue. The Federals were driven out of the wheatfield and peach orchard into a rocky area known to the men as “the Devil’s Den.” Meade ordered Sykes men into action around “the Devil’s Den.” General Hood’s troops occupied “the Devil’s Den” and were pushing forward. Sykes men moved into position on a hill called Little Round Top. With the advancing Union troops, the Confederates were overwhelmed by their power and were beaten off. Syles ordered some of his men to head a little south to a larger hill called Round Top (Pfanz 45-47,53)

At the other end of the Union line was Culp’s Hill held by General Slocum, His men of the XI Corps held off four consecutive attacks from the men of Ewewll’s. But, when nightfall came, the Confederates were in perfect position halfway up the hill (Pfanz 56-58,60).

Between Culp’s Hill and the Round Tops was the men of Hancock. They had been doing the most desperate fighting here.

General Early and his Louisiana regiments broke through Hancock’s line of artillery on Cemetery Hill, and beginning to break Meade’s line in half. Now in full darkness, Hancock sent a


brigade over to drive the Confederates back and restor the line for Meade (Pfanz 65-69, 73-75).

Meade had a meeting with his generals and got their reports. They knew that they could hold off another attack if Lee pursued

one the next day. Meade lost 20,000 men this day and Lee lost about the same. Meade knew that Lee would attack the Unions center on July 3 and strengthened his force there. When asked how he knew Lee would do this Meade said that he tried both flanks and failed and the center was the only objective left (Ward 216-222, 225).

Lee had one day of battle left in him. Pickett’s division had arrived and Ewell’s men on Culp’s Hill were able for more fighting. If Pickett assaulted the center then Ewell’s men could take Culp’s Hill and the day might be won (Ward 225-230, 239)

Lee had sent the fife and drum corps to the head to play the men into their last great fight. The battle which began on July 1, became harder and bloodier on July 2, and was to be the worst fighting at it’s climax on July 3. Pickett’s men needed time to get ready and Ewell was getting impatient on Culp’s Hill. He cold no longer wait. General Slocum had been reinforced in the morning and was ready for any attack. The fighting was ruthless and brutal all morning. But before morning was over, the strong defensive line of the Union forced the Confederates back to the plane below Culp’s Hill. The attack was over even before Pickett’s men began.


Quite had fallen over the battlefield. The muskets over at Culp’s Hill had ceased, the firing at the Round Tops and peach orchard had died, and fighting began around where the national cemetery is today. Artillery fire began around the peach orchard. It was the signal Lee’s army was waiting for. Every man under Lee’s command jumped into action and was ready to fight. 140 cannons fired to begin the most fierce fighting yet. When the Confederate line was established, every musket went off. The loudest noise you ever heard. The bombardment had begun. Yet this was a massive bombardment, it was not what Lee had expected. The Confederate guns shot too high and the Federal infantry suffered little. The cannons stopped after and hour due to lack of ammunition. The great smoke in the valley was lifted and the sight of men appeared again (The Civil War:Catton 222-231, 239-242, 247).

Hancock’s line was ready when he saw the Confederates attacking from the west. Then there it was. Lee’s 15,000 men in perfect double and triple ranks running for a mile from the Round Tops to Culp’s Hill, with Picketts division as the head. All guns were silent to watch this grandeur of war. Brigadier General Lewis Aristead was leading Pickett’s charge. Their designation was a “little clump of trees” on Cemetery Ridge. When the rebels got within range, the Federal muskets went off. The right end of the assaulting rebels was crushed to pieces before they were even close enough to fire. The same happened to the northern end of

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the line (Foote 74-83). Then the Union Artillery got into the

action filled with canister. Men fell in hundreds. Longstreet remarked to a British observer that the charge would fail. When finally in range around the clump of trees, the Confederates began their fire. The fighting raged furiously. Confederates jumped the stone wall and were fighting hand-to-hand. At this moment it looked as though the Union line had been broken. Longstreet had sent a brigade to reinforce Pickett, but due to the heavy cloud of smoke they could not see their objective and drifted off right and fell in the hands of some spirited Vermonters (Frassanito 187-190, 196, 199-203, 210).

For a brief time the Confederates had the advantage, but could not hold it. More Federal Regiments came to the aid. General Hancock rode up to the action and was shot off his horse. General Gibbon was also severely shot but this had no relevance because this had turned into an infantrymen fight. Armistead was leading his men to victory, or so he thought, when he was fatally shot and killed (Gettysburg:Catton 67-69, 72-80, 83).

Lee watched the charge fail from his post. He watched as his men slowly but shurly backed away from the fighting and head back. The Federals were in no need to pursue them. Meade rode forward to the battle and saw that he had one rejoiced and said “Thank God” (Gettysburg:Catton 93). That night, Lee ordered a wagon trail to carry the wounded back to Virginia. Later Lee and his army would follow. The battle was over. The invasion of he


north had failed, once and for all (Foote 245,249, 253, 255, 261-267).

General John Pemberton had surrendered 30,000 men at Vicksburg to U.S. Grant and the Mississippi was in the hands of the Union. The Confederacy had been cut in half. Gettysburg could have given the Confederates their independence and British recognition. But instead it took 28,000 men, many more wounded and their spirit to fight from them. Gettysburg was a failure (Ward 225-230, 233-239, 244, 246-251).

Months later President Lincoln was invited to open a cemetery for the soldiers who were killed in the battle. The president’s speech was to follow an oration by Edward Everett. Everett spoke for two hours before Lincoln took the stand. Lincoln’s words were precise and to the point, and is one of the most remembered speeches in American history, known as “The Gettysburg Address.”

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedication to the proposition that all me are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation- or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated- can long endure.

We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of those who have given their lives that that nation might


It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a large sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hollow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our power to add or to detract.


The world will very little note nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated, here, to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln

November 19, 1863

(Foote 253)

Fifty thousand people died in that hot July, near the town of Gettysburg. The Confederacy had many chances to end the battle, to defeat the Union and become “free and independent states”, and to save many of thousands of lives. But that never happened. Due to careless leadership and planning, those men did die and the Confederacy did lose the battle and eventual the war. If the battle of Gettysburg had been won by the Confederacy, we could be living in large plantation houses surrounded by servants and slaves with Jimmy Carter as our president.


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