Gettysburg During the Civil War Essay

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In a long war of attrition, which the Civil War became after 1861, all of the economic, financial and population advantages would favor the North since the South was a mostly agrarian region that imported its manufactured goods. Initially, both sides had expected that the war would be short and decisive, although by 1862 it was clear that it might drag on indefinitely. Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and the other Southern leaders realized that their best chance would be to win a series of rapid military victories early in the war then appeal to Britain, France and other European nations for diplomatic recognition. They did not wish to conquer the North nor did they ever imagine that they had the capacity to do so. Their only goal was to gain independence and force the other side to end the war, but the longer it lasted, the more the Union's advantages in population, money, ideology and resources would grind the Confederacy down. They came very close to achieving this is 1861-63, when one Northern general after another was defeated in Virginia in vain attempts to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. In retrospect, though, this was as close as they would ever come to victory.

After his victory at Chancellorsville in May 1863, where Stonewall Jackson was killed in error by his own men, Robert E. Lee decided on another invasion of the North. His goal was to divert enemy forces from the siege of Vicksburg, the last major Confederate bastion on the Mississippi River, to gather supplies, and threaten Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore, which might damage the Lincoln administration and its supporters politically. Gen. Joseph Hoover was stunned and shattered by his recent defeat in Virginia, and Lincoln placed him with George Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac. In the middle of June, Lee marched the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac, capturing Winchester and Martinsburg, paying disgruntled Northern civilians with worthless Confederate money when they took supplies. Confederate forces under Jubal Early occupied Gettysburg briefly on June 26th and then withdrew. Lee's army was spread out all over this part of southern Pennsylvania at this time, but before the great battle of July 1-3, 1863, the town had no special significance to either side. It was just another small town, but when the Confederates were defeated there, they were never willing or able to attack the North again.

The First Day: The Unintended Battle

Neither side ever intended to fight a major battle at Gettysburg and James Longstreet, one of Lee's best commanders, would have bypassed the town completely as having no military or strategic significance. Fighting only began there because North Carolina troops under Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew were ordered to raid the town for supplies, particularly shoes, which the Confederates always lacked. Longstreet's preference would have been to advance on Washington or Philadelphia, but Lee overruled him, saying that if the enemy armies were there than that was where he intended to attack. He later admitted to Jefferson Davis that he had made a major error by fighting a battle at Gettysburg at all, and described it as his worst mistake of the war. The key development on the first day was that the Army of the Potomac under Gen. George Meade seized almost all of the high ground, including Cemetery Ridge, Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. In the afternoon, Confederate Gens. Jubal Early and Robert Rodes defeated the Union forces north of Gettysburg, causing them to retreat to Cemetery Hill. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock advised Gen. George Meade that Gettysburg was some of the best defensive ground he had ever seen, and advised that he bring up all his forces to hold off the enemy here. Lee's forces missed opportunities to capture this high ground on the first day, and this is what really decided the battle.

The Second Day: Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill and the Devil's Den

At the start of the second day of battle, the Northern armies held the high ground at Culp's Hill, Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge and Cemetery Hill, while Lee had his headquarters on Seminary Ridge. Lee ordered Longstreet to attack the Union left at Emmitsburg Road, while Jubal Early was to be prepared to attack Culp's and Cemetery Hills.…[continue]

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