Gettysburg: High Watermark of the Confederacy

Robert Lee proposed to take the offensive, invade Pennsylvania, and defeat the Union Army in its own territory. Such a victory would undermine Lincoln’s reelection chances, relieve Virginia of the burden of war, and strengthen the Democrats in the North. Lee thought it would also reopen the possibility for European support that was closed at Antietam, and hopefully lead to peace.

The result of his vision was the biggest battle ever fought on the North American continent. This was Gettysburg, more than 170,000 fought and over 40, 000 were casualties.

Lee began his quest in mid-June 1863, leading 75,000 soldiers out of Virginia into South-central Pennsylvania. Forty miles to the south of Lee, the new commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, General George Meade, headed north with his 95,000 soldiers. Learning this, Lee sent couriers to his generals with orders to reunite near Gettysburg to do battle. On July 1, 1863, Confederate CSA General A.P. Hill sent one of his divisions to battle at Gettysburg.

By early afternoon 40,000 troops were on the battlefield. The Confederates drove the outnumbered Union troops to Cemetery Hill where Union artillery located on the hill halted the retreat. At noon on July 2, the second day of the battle, Lee ordered his divisions to attack, hoping to crumble both sides of the Union line and win the battle. The Big Round Top and Little Round Top were nearby hills that had been left unprotected. If the confederates took these positions, they could surround the Union Forces.

Union troops under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain arrived just in time to meet Confederate troops charging up the hill to Little Round Top, engaging in a battle that saved the Union from defeat.

Lee was determined to win. On the third day, he ordered a major assault against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Confederate batteries started to fire into the Union center. Under the command of General George Pickett, Confederate soldiers began their famous charge across three-quarters of a mile of open field to the Union line.

Lee’s attempt for a victory failed yet again. He lost 28,000 troops, one third of his army. A month later, he offered his resignation but Davis refused. Meade had lost 23,000 soldiers. The hope for Southern recognition by any foreign government had failed. The war continued for two more years, but Gettysburg marked the end of Lee's major offensives.

Source: Gettysburg: High Watermark of the Confederacy
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