Battle of Gettysburg summary
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was the battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War and is considered as the war's turning point. In this battle Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee's invasion of the North.
- Elements of the two armies initially collided at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, as Lee urgently concentrated his forces there with the intention of destroing the Union army.
- Low ridges to the northwest of town were defended initially by a Union cavalry division under Brig. Gen. John Buford, and soon reinforced with two corps of Union infantry. Two large Confederate corps assaulted them from the northwest and north, collapsing the hastily developed Union lines, sending the defenders retreating through the streets of town to the hills just to the south.
- On the second day of battle, most of both armies had assembled. In the late afternoon of July 2, Lee launched a heavy assault on the Union left flank. Longstreet's divisions slammed into the Union III Corps and Meade was forced to send 20,000 reinforcements[
- At about 7:00 p.m., the Second Confederate Corps attacked with Johnson's division on the right Union flank. Most of the defenders, the Union XII Corps, had been sent to the left to defend against Longstreet's attacks, and the only portion of the corps remaining on the hill was a brigade of New Yorkers under Brig. Gen. George S. Greene. Because of Greene's insistence on constructing strong defensive works, and with reinforcements from the I and XI Corps, Greene's men held off the Confederate attackers. However the Southerners captured a portion of the abandoned Federal works on the lower part of Culp's Hill.
- Jeb Stuart and his three confederate cavalry brigades arrived in Gettysburg around noon but had no role in the second day's battle.
- General Lee wished to renew the attack on Friday, July 3, using the same basic plan as the previous day: Longstreet would attack the Federal left, while Ewell attacked Culp's Hill. However, before Longstreet was ready, Union XII Corps troops started a dawn artillery bombardment against the Confederates on Culp's Hill in an effort to regain a portion of their lost works.
- The Confederates attacked, and the second fight for Culp's Hill ended around 11 a.m. after some seven hours of bitter combat with the Union line intact.
- Lee was forced to change his plans. Longstreet would command Pickett's Virginia division of his own First Corps, plus six brigades from Hill's Corps, in an attack on the Federal II Corps position at the right center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Prior to the attack, all the artillery the Confederacy could bring to bear on the Federal positions would bombard and weaken the enemy's line.
- The artillery bombardment that was probably the largest of the war. Although the Federal line wavered and broke temporarily, reinforcements rushed into the breach, and the Confederate attack was repulsed. Nearly one half of the attackers did not return to their own lines.
- Three miles (5 km) east of Gettysburg, Stuart's forces collided with Federal cavalry including Gen. Custer's brigade. A lengthy mounted battle, including hand-to-hand sabre combat, ensued. Custer's charge, leading the 1st Michigan Cavalry, blunted the attack by Wade Hampton's brigade, blocking Stuart from achieving his objectives in the Federal rear. During this time, after hearing news of the day's victory, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick launched a cavalry attack against the infantry positions of Longstreet's Corps on the southwest. It suffered significant losses and the attack failed.
- The armies stared at one another in a heavy rain across the bloody fields on July 4. Lee reformed his lines into a defensive position and evacuated the town of Gettysburg. Lee hoped that Meade would attack, but the cautious Union commander decided against the risk.
- Lee started his Army of Northern Virginia in motion late the evening of July 4 towards Fairfield and Chambersburg. Meade's army followed, although the pursuit was half-spirited.