During the American Civil War, no single battle claimed more lives than the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle took place in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in early July of 1863 between the Union and Confederate Armies of the United States and claimed approximately 50,000 lives between the two armies. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Union General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee’s aggressive attacks in the north. President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address on the battle field of the Battle of Gettysburg that November to commemorate the dead and change the perception of the war.
General Lee had been generally successful in infiltrating the north, having claimed a victory over the Army of the Potomac in Chancellorsville a few months before the Battle of Gettysburg. He decided to pursue the northern invasion further, and the two armies collided in the small town of Gettysburg. On July 1, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg officially began, and the Confederate Army – having gained the high ground early -- left the Union Army reeling after a day of fighting. General Meade – who had replaced General Joseph Hooker only three days before – found himself in a defensive position during day two of the Battle of Gettysburg.
The second day of fighting found the Union Army in a fishhook pattern, its left flank longer than its right. Lee planned to attack the left flank first, using General Longstreet’s First Corps in a stealthy attack, but Lee’s plan had been based on faulty intelligence. Longstreet’s Corps ended up fighting a direct battle with a Union Corps they were not expecting. Longstreet’s onslaught forced Meade to send in reinforcements, with both sides taking on major casualties. The Union Army realized the importance of the high ground in the area –Little Round Top – and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s 20th Maine conducted a bayonet charge to defend the hill, propelling Chamberlain and the charge to fame following the conclusion of the war.
By day three of the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee wanted to use the same strategy to attack the Union Army despite mixed results on day two. However, the Union Army attacked before Longstreet was ready, forcing Lee to change his plans. After an intense volley of cannon fire from the Confederates, the union Army held their position. The volley had partially depleted the Confederate’s ammunition, but the Union Army had held their fire to preserve their own ammunition. At this point, Confederate forces began an attack later known at Pickett’s Charge; the Union Army flanked them and decimated nearly half the Confederate force. Other battles ensued shortly thereafter, with the Union Army repulsing the Confederates consistently.
The next day, the Confederate Army began their retreat, essentially ending the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle was seen as the turning point of the war, and Lincoln encouraged Meade to pursue Lee’s army to decimate it finally. He refused, and Lee’s army was allowed to regroup, but the Confederate Army had suffered greatly from the Battle of Gettysburg both militarily and politically, and the Confederate decline began shortly thereafter.