Battle Of Gettysburg

Background: Battle of Gettysburg was a civil war battle fought between Union Army of Potomac commanded by General George Meade and Confederate Army of Northern Virginia led by Robert E Lee. The three day battle was fought from July 1 to 3, 1863 near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Battle of Gettysburg is the bloodiest battle of US military history.

A total of more than 8000 men were killed in the three day battle. After his success in Battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee decided to launch his second offensive against Union. His first offensive campaign (Maryland Campaign) had failed after his forces were defeated in Battle of Antietam, the previous year. The aims of the second offensive were to ease of pressure from Virginia by opening a front inside Union territory and to force Union to hasten proceedings of peace as a result of a successful invasion by Confederate forces.

Lee Launches his Offensive: Lee and his army started their offensive campaign in mid June, 1863. They had minor skirmishes with Union garrisons and local militias on their way and by the end of June had reached the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, President Lincoln had appointed Major General George Meade as commander of Army of Potomac and assigned him the job to counter Lee’s offensive. Meade and his men crossed the Potomac River on June 29, 1863 and approached Gettysburg.

First Day of the Battle: On the first day of battle, both sides had incomplete forces. Union army had reached Gettysburg in parts and was still reforming. So was the case with Confederate army. However, on the first day, Confederate forces outnumbered the Union forces. Hostilities started on July 1, 1863 and Lee and his men fought well. Union forces retreated through the town towards the south and dug in a defensive position. Lee wanted his men to keep the pressure on Union troops and finish them off. However, his men relented and it provided Union army a chance to strengthen their defensive position.

Second Day of the Battle: By the second day of the battle, both armies were at full strength. Union numbers had swelled to 94,000 against 72,000 of Confederate army. Union lines resembled a fish hook in a defensive position. The second day marked very fierce fighting between the two sides. Heavy casualties were suffered by both sides. Despite Lee and his men applying enormous pressure, Union defensive lines withstood his onslaught.

Final Day: By the third day, lee had grown restive. He wanted to finish off the Union forces. In a very bold move he assigned one of his subordinate General Pickett to launch a direct charge against the very heart of Union defensive line. Pickett’s force had strength of 12,500 men. Unfortunately, this charge did not succeed and most of Pickett’s men were either killed or wounded.

This convinced Lee of the futility of effort and he decided to retreat back to Virginia. Although Union forces had survived the battle, they had also suffered a high number of casualties. General Meade decided against pursuing Lee’s army. President Lincoln was disappointed by Meade’s decision, as he felt that Meade could have effectively ended the war by finishing off Army of Northern Virginia.

Gettysburg Address: Four and a half months after the battle on November 19, 1863 President Lincoln visited the site of battle to attend dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery. There he delivered his historic address that came to be known as Gettysburg Address. He eulogized the civil war as a war for the cause of human equality.