Driving through Gettysburg people see statues and marking at different sites, if youre do not know much history you would still know that these markings are a symbols of fallen soldiers. These soldiers never really needed to die but the North and South could not work out their differences peacefully which caused a great war in U.S. history, The Civil War. One of the biggest battles fought during the Civil war took place in the small city of Gettysburg. The battle of Gettysburg was the biggest and bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Gettysburg is also known as the turning point in the war.
Taking away the statues and most of the new development in the city we can see what Gettysburg looked liked to the soldiers that fought there. Stepping back through time, Gettysburg was a calm city never expecting a great battle to be fought there.
Gettysburg was not even supposed to happen; it happened by mistake. An infantry of officer under General Richard Ewells command led a few soldiers into Gettysburg to retrieve shoes for the war beaten Confederate soldiers. The Confederate advance guard ran headlong into General John Bulfords Union Cavalry. While both sides sent couriers pounding off for reinforcements, Bulford tried desperately to hold his ground (Ward, 216).
By now, both sides were converging in Gettysburg. The Confederates were coming from the north and the Union was coming from the south. The Confederates were the closet and assemble faster. Union forces were slowly in gathering. The rebels pushed them back through the town until General Winfield Scott Hancock rallied the retreating troops into defensives positions on Culps Hill and Cemetery Hill (Ward, 216).
General Robert E. Lee, head of the Conferdate army, was unsure of where excatly the Union was. He had heard through the grape vine that there was some Union cavalry heading into Gettysburg but he was not sure (Shaara, 74). He had not yet heard anything from General Stuart. Lee had heard that the Union might be going into Gettysburg from what Longstreets spy have said.
Lee arrived in the middle of the afternoon and ordered General Richard Ewell to renew the attack on the high ground before nightfall. Ewell chose not to follow the order; his men needed a rest (Ward, 216).
Fighting at night was not respectful for the two sides, but the armies still gathered through out the night. In the morning, 65,000 Confederates faced 85,000 Union troops.
The Union lined Cemetery Hill on the right and Big and Little Round Tops at the left. Lee wanted the heights taken (Ward, 216). Ewells troops were sent to capture Culps Hill; while General James Longstreet went after the Round tops (Rhoads, 673). The Union forces assigned to hold off Longstreet was the 3rd Corps, under General Daniel Sickles, a turbulent ex-Tammany politician best know for having shot his wife before the war. Sickles disobey orders by shifting his troops from the lower positions on Cemetery Ridge onto the Peach Orchard leaving the Round top troops and the left flank open and undefended. Before General Meade could ordered him back, Longstreet started his attack around four o clock in the afternoon (Ward, 218).
The 15th Alabama Confederate corps scrambled up Big Round Top to come in on top of the Union forces on Little Round top. From Big Round Tops summit, Colonel William C. Oates saw his chance to try to have guns brought up to the summit of Little Round top, where the Federal lines could be blown apart (Ward, 218). Meade not sure what was going on at the Round Tops, he sent General Gouverneur K. Warren, the Unions chief engineer, and a young lieutenant of engineers, Washington Roebling, to the top of Little Round top. Only a handful of signalmen held the hill. Longstreets corps were moving down and around the Unions left. Sickles was pinned down in the Peach Orchard below. Warren sent out an order to keep Little Round Top at all Hazards. The Union brought in the 20th Maine corps to help hold the hill. IN charge of the 20th Maine was Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The 350 men moved up the south slope using boulders as cover. They had only ten minutes to spare until the Confederates were upon them. To keep the Confederates from slipping behind the Unions left, Chamberlain ordered the companys B-wing to drop back, reforming right angles around the rest of the regiment, firing non-stop (Ward, 219). The fighting on Little Round Top went on for about an hour and a half. Neither side was really making any progress. Chamberlain knew that if he did not decide soon on to either retreat or charge, his men would all die because they were running out of ammunition. To all of Chamberlains men surprise, he decided to charge right into the Confederate line. The men fixed their bayonets and charged into the lines. This move caught the Confederates off guard causing some soldiers to drop their weapons or run in complete terror. Those Confederates who decide to run ran right into Union sharp shooters hiding behind a stone wall (Shaara, 187).
Far our in front of the Union lines Sickles and his men were in desperate need of help. The Confederates were blasting Peach Orchard, tearing branches from tree and bounding the Union troops. General Sickles, wounded by a Confederate shell, had to be taken off the battle and have his leg amputated (Ward, 224). Now reinforced, Sickless men counter attacked, fell back, held, and pushed the Confederates back, retreated again, through places still remembered for ferocity of the fighting that took place there: the Wheat field, Devils Den, and the Valley of Death (Ward, 225).
Trying to keep the Union corps in the Wheat field, left a huge gap on Cemetery Ridge; which an Alabama brigade tried to race through. Winfield Scott Hancock spotted the trouble and ordered a, small regiment, the 1st Minnesota corps, to counter charge and stop them. The tiny Minnesota force, just 262 men, raced down the slope into the oncoming 1,600 Confederates with fixed bayonets. The astonished southerners fell back and the gap in the Union line closed but the Union suffered high casualties. Out of the 262 men only 47 men came out of this skirmish. At sun set, the Union still held its right and left flanks. The Confederates thought an attack would on the center of the union army would be the only way to take Gettysburg (Shaara, 211).
The third day began badly for Lee. Ewells men were driven back from Culps Hill. Jeb Stuart was to get behind the Union troops and attack, but Union cavalry stopped and held them back; thanks to a young General named George Armstrong Custer (Ward, 226).
Now everything depended on the assault on the center of the Union troops at Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet was opposed to attacking head on. Meade saw it coming. General John Gibbon, commander of the 2nd Corps at the center, was alerted to expect the days major blow (Ward, 227).
The man Lee chose to organize the assault was a fellow Virginian and special favorite of Longstreet, General George E. Pickett. At thirty-eight, Pickett was about to marry a teen-age sweetheart. Picketts men filed into the woods and waited, leaning on their rifles. They knew what was about to be required of them, and to relieve the tension some of the men pelted each other with green apples (Ward, 227).
A massive artillery barrage began at one o clock, intended to soften the Union defenses. The earth shook from all the blast and shelling coming from the Confederate cannons and guns. General Meade had just left his commanders finishing their lunches when the barrage began; as an orderly served them butter, a shell tore him in two. To keep up the mens courage General Hancock rode up and down the lines without flinching at the screaming shells (Ward, 226).
Answering Union shells took a fierce toll of the confederate infantry, still waiting in the woods for the signal to move forward. Two hundred and fifty guns and cannons were firing at once. But after an hour, the Federal guns fell silent, to conserve ammunition for the attack Meade was sure coming-and to lure the enemy out onto the open fields between the lines. It worked. The Confederates believed they had destroyed the Union batteries. Should his men now go forward? Pickett asked. Longstreet, nable to bring himself to speak, nodded. Pickett scribbled a final note to his fiance and handed it to Longstreet to mail (Ward, 228).
At last the order came for the soldiers to advanced. The order came a little after three. Three divisions- 13,000 men-started out of the woods toward the stone wall at a brisk, steady pace, overing about one hundred yards a minute. They ere silent as they marched, forbidden this time to fire or give the rebel yell until they were on top of the enemy. Union guns on Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top opened fire on the right of the advancing Confederate line. As many as ten man at a time were destroyed by a single bursting shell. The Confederates still kept moving towards the Ridge. Behind the stone wall Union officers continued to hold their fire. Union General Alexander Hays told them they were about to see some fun. Finally, he ordered them to fire: eleven cannon and seventeen hundred muskets went off at once (Ward, 232).
The Confederates reached the Union line at one place, a crook in the wall that became known as the angle. The soldiers were led by General Lewis A. Armistead, who jumped over the wall, waving his hat on his sword, and seized a union battery before he was shot down. Hancock was in command at the Angle, and he and Armistead had known each other well before the war; now it was Armistead dying wish that his old friend sends his personal effects home to his family (Shaara, 320). When it seemed possible that the Union lines would break, officers rallied their men (Ward, 232).
One Vermont regiment performed a dazzling drill field maneuver, company after company firing as they wheeled in line to enfilade the Conferdeates, first one side, then the other. The fighting was furious as any seen during the war. All Confederates who breech the wall were killed or captured. The gap in the union line closed. Thirty eight Confederate battle flags had been. Union officers tied them behind their horses and dragged them into the dust to taunt the fleeing southerners. Lee rode out among his men, now staggering back to Seminary Ridge, uring them to re-group. There was nothing more he could say or they could do that day (Ward, 235).
Pickett had watched it all in horror: 6,500 men had fallen or been caputered, half those who marched out of the woods. All fifteen regimental commanders had been hit; so had sixteen of seventeen field officers, three brigadier generals and eight colonels. Every single man in the University Greys, a Mississippi company made up of entirely of students from the University of Mississippi, had been killed or wounded. When told to rally his divisions for a possible counterattack, Pickett answered, Lee, I have no division now. He never forgave Lee for what happened to his men (Ward, 236).
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war. Almost a third of those engaged- 51,000 men-were lost. The north suffered 23,000 casalties; the only suffered 28,000. The 2,400 inhabitants of Gettysburg were left with ten times as many dead and wounded to attend to. The Confederacy could not afford such sacrifices. All hope of invading the North ended. The next afternoon, Lee began the long limping retreat to Virginia through a summer down pour that washed all the blood from the grass and pelted the wounded Confederates riding in the wagon train that stretch for seventeen miles. Despite urgings from Washington, Meade was still too weary of Lee to attack his retreating army. Another opportunity to destroy the Army of the Northern Virginia was lost and Lincoln was again disappointed (Ward, 236).
Lee wrote Jefferson Davis, offering to resign. He had been ill earlier in the year, still felt feeble, and feared he had lost the confidence of his men. The offer was not accepted. To find another commander better than Lee was impossible, Davis responded (Ward, 236).
Gettysburg never had to happen and could have been solved without all the blood shed that occurred. We had too many families and friends fighting against each other for a cause which was not really that big. Its hard to say that if none of this ever happened what it would be like today but we will never. All we can do now is to learn from the past and try not to let anything like this happen again. The statues and markings are up not just to mark important battles during Gettysburg but also to remind us of what happened there; so we can try not to let it happen again. Walking the battlefield you can get a great feel of what they must have gone through. Its a sacred place that had a lot of respect and culture to it.
Rhoads, James F. The Battle Of Gettysburg. The American HistoricalReview.
Volume 4, Issue, July 1899. pgs. 665-667. (JSTOR).
Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. Ballantine Books. New York. 1974.
Ward, Geoffrey C. The Civil War. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, NY. 1990.