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Gettysburg: A Turning Point in the Civil War

Had the Confederacy won at Gettysburg, the Civil War may have ended differently.

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“Four score 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.”

~ Gettysburg Address / Abraham Lincoln

The Battle of Gettysburg is considered one of the most important engagements of the Civil War. Not only do scholars believe it was the turning point in the war, but it was also one of the bloodiest skirmishes of the time, and it is what inspired President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.

Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had just defeated the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville, filling him with confidence and the urge to push forward and go on the offensive by invading the North. The idea was to try and attract international attention so that the Confederacy would be officially recognized by Great Britain and France while also moving the battles away from the South and into Yankee territory.

Lincoln appointed Major General George Gordon Meade as the Army of the Potomac’s commander on June 28, 1863, and the general immediately decided to go after Lee’s army of 75,000 soldiers. Lee became aware of the plan and marched his men to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On July 1, one of the Confederate divisions went into the town in search of supplies only to realize Meade’s Union cavalry brigades had already arrived a day before. The southern troops were able to push the northern soldiers out of town to Cemetery Hill, about a half-mile to the south.

Lee wanted to take advantage and attack before more Union forces could arrive and he gave the order to do so to his Lieutenant General Richard Ewell. The general, however, felt the Union’s position was too strong and declined to attack which many experts say could have been the deciding factor to the defeat of the Confederacy.

Winfield Scott Hancock arrived and set up a strong defensive line along the Cemetery Ridge, also known as Little Round Top, while more Union corps came in overnight. Still determined to try and press the advantage the next day, Lee ordered his army to attack the Federal troops. The battle that ensued throughout most of the day resulted in about 9,000 deaths on both sides, bringing the total to 35,000 in just two days.

Residents of the small town hid in cellars while artillery shells were shot overhead. Confederate snipers hid in homes, exchanging fire with the Union snipers around Cemetery Hill. Wounded soldiers from both sides filled churches, homes, the train station, and even the courthouse. A carpenter’s workshop was used as an operating room while the battle continued to rage.

On July 3, the final day of the battle, Lee pressed on. He sent George Pickett, with less than 15,000 troops, to attack the Union infantry. The troops marched in open fields while the northern armies fired at them from behind the protection of stone walls.  The march, known as “Pickett’s Charge,” ended with the loss of nearly two-thirds of the men from Pickett’s troops and a staggering half of the Confederate Army. On July 4, Lee expected the Union troops to attack, but they never did so he and his remaining army left the area in defeat.

On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln delivered one of the most powerful speeches in history in only 272 words:

The Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

“Four score 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 battle-field 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 can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not 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, under God, 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.”

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at LibertyNation.com and LNGenZ.com. Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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