Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1 to July 3, 1863, is considered the most important engagement of the American Civil War.
After a great victory over Union forces at Chancellorsville, Gen. Robert E. Lee marched his Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania in late June 1863. On July 1, the advancing Confederates clashed with the Union’s Army of the Potomac, commanded by Gen. George G. Meade, at the crossroads town of Gettysburg.
The next day saw even heavier fighting as the Confederates attacked the Federals on both left and right. On July 3, Lee ordered an attack by fewer than 15,000 troops on the enemy’s center at Cemetery Ridge. The assault, known as “Pickett’s Charge,” managed to pierce the Union lines but eventually failed at the cost of thousands of rebel casualties. Lee was forced to withdraw his battered army toward Virginia on July 4.
The Union had won in a major turning point, stopping Lee’s invasion of the North. It inspired Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” which became one of the most famous speeches of all time.
Battle of Gettysburg: Aftermath and Impact
His hopes of a victorious invasion of the North dashed, Lee waited for a Union counterattack on July 4, but it never came. That night, in heavy rain, the Confederate general withdrew his decimated army toward Virginia. The Union had won the Battle of Gettysburg. Though the cautious Meade would be criticized for not pursuing the enemy after Gettysburg, the battle was a crushing defeat for the Confederacy. Union casualties in the battle numbered 23,000, while the Confederates had lost some 28,000 men–more than a third of Lee’s army. The North rejoiced while the South mourned, its hopes for foreign recognition of the Confederacy erased. Demoralized by the defeat at Gettysburg, Lee offered his resignation to President Jefferson Davis, but was refused. Though the great Confederate general would go on to win other victories, the Battle of Gettysburg (combined with Ulysses S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, also on July 4) irrevocably turned the tide of the Civil War in the Union’s favor.
On Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg.
The Gettysburg Address
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men 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 have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will 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 which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. 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 gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.