Monday, July 1, 2013

150 Year Ago Today

It was 150 years ago today the 3 day battle that determined the fate of the Union and Confederacy began.  3 days of fire, gunpowder. bloodshed and death.  3 days in which both nations seemed to hold their breaths.  The dates July 1-3 should be enshrined into our hearts.

This was a clash between Major General George Mead's "Army of the Potomac" vs. General Robert E. Lee's "Army of Northern Virginia".  While General Lee was one of the best tactical minds in the world, General Mead had some very fine officers under him who could and did change tactic as the battlefield changed.

On June 30, while part of Hill's Corps was in Cashtown, one of Hill's brigades, North Carolinians under Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew, ventured toward Gettysburg. In his memoirs, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth, Pettigrew's division commander, claimed that he sent Pettigrew to search for supplies in town—especially shoes.

When Pettigrew's troops approached Gettysburg on June 30, they noticed Union cavalry under Brig. Gen. John Buford arriving south of town, and Pettigrew returned to Cashtown without engaging them. When Pettigrew told Hill and Heth what he had seen, neither general believed that there was a substantial Federal force in or near the town, suspecting that it had been only Pennsylvania militia. Despite General Lee's order to avoid a general engagement until his entire army was concentrated, Hill decided to mount a significant reconnaissance in force the following morning to determine the size and strength of the enemy force in his front. Around 5 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1, two brigades of Heth's division advanced to Gettysburg.

Day 1, July 1, 1863

Anticipating that the Confederates would march on Gettysburg from the west on the morning of July 1, Buford laid out his defenses on three ridges west of the town: Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge, and Seminary Ridge. These were appropriate terrain for a delaying action by his small cavalry division against superior Confederate infantry forces, meant to buy time awaiting the arrival of Union infantrymen who could occupy the strong defensive positions south of town at Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Culp's Hill. Buford understood that if the Confederates could gain control of these heights, Meade's army would have difficulty dislodging them.

The South entered Gettysburg from the North and the North entered from the South.

Read more about that day here.

Day 2, July 2, 1863

The Union line ran from Culp's Hill southeast of the town, northwest to Cemetery Hill just south of town, then south for nearly two miles (3 km) along Cemetery Ridge, terminating just north of Little Round Top. Most of the XII Corps was on Culp's Hill; the remnants of I and XI Corps defended Cemetery Hill; II Corps covered most of the northern half of Cemetery Ridge; and III Corps was ordered to take up a position to its flank. The shape of the Union line is popularly described as a "fishhook" formation. The Confederate line paralleled the Union line about a mile (1,600 m) to the west on Seminary Ridge, ran east through the town, then curved southeast to a point opposite Culp's Hill. Thus, the Federal army had interior lines, while the Confederate line was nearly five miles (8 km) long.

Lee's battle plan for July 2 called for Longstreet's First Corps to position itself stealthily to attack the Union left flank, facing northeast astraddle the Emmitsburg Road, and to roll up the Federal line. The attack sequence was to begin with Maj. Gens. John Bell Hood's and Lafayette McLaws's divisions, followed by Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson's division of Hill's Third Corps. The progressive en echelon sequence of this attack would prevent Meade from shifting troops from his center to bolster his left. At the same time, Maj. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson's and Jubal Early's Second Corps divisions were to make a demonstration against Culp's and Cemetery Hills (again, to prevent the shifting of Federal troops), and to turn the demonstration into a full-scale attack if a favorable opportunity presented itself.

Read more about that day here.

Day 3, July 3, 1863

General Lee wished to renew the attack on Friday, July 3, using the same basic plan as the previous day: Longstreet would attack the Federal left, while Ewell attacked Culp's Hill. However, before Longstreet was ready, Union XII Corps troops started a dawn artillery bombardment against the Confederates on Culp's Hill in an effort to regain a portion of their lost works. The Confederates attacked, and the second fight for Culp's Hill ended around 11 a.m. Harry Pfanz judged that, after some seven hours of bitter combat, "the Union line was intact and held more strongly than before."

Lee was forced to change his plans. Longstreet would command Pickett's Virginia division of his own First Corps, plus six brigades from Hill's Corps, in an attack on the Federal II Corps position at the right center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Prior to the attack, all the artillery the Confederacy could bring to bear on the Federal positions would bombard and weaken the enemy's line.

Read more about that day here.

The Aftermath

It was a bloodbath.  46,286 American were killed, wounded, missing or captured.


Killed:  3,155  Wounded: 14,531  Missing or Captured:  5,369
Total:  23,055


Killed:  4,700  Wounded:  12,693  Missing or Captured:  5,830
Total:  23,231
A Third of Lee's general officers were either killed, wounded or captured.

Before the Battle of Gettysburg the Union capital of Washington DC was in danger from the armies of the Confederacy.  After the battle no Confederate Army ever was able to invade the Union.  And Union armies not only invaded the Confederacy, but destroyed it.

The Gettysburg National Cemetery within the Gettysburg National Military Park is the final resting place for over 3,500 Union soldiers who died at the epic Battle. Originating as an 1863 state-owned "national cemetery" with reinterments from battlefield graves, the cemetery has subsequent sections for Spanish-American War, World War I, and other wars' soldiers and their spouses and children. The cemetery's historic district contributing structures include the stone walls, iron fences and gates, burial and section markers, the brick sidewalk, and various battlefield monuments, memorials, and exhibits.

It was the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery the Abraham Lincoln delivered The Gettysburg Address.

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