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Battle of Gettysburg: Summary & Outcome

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  • 0:01 Lee's Army Marches North
  • 1:22 Day 1 - The Battle…
  • 2:16 Day 2 - Multiple Fronts
  • 3:50 Day 3 - A Valiant Charge
  • 5:21 Gettysburg Wrapped Up
  • 6:27 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will study the famous 3-day battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We will briefly examine the battle's beginnings, each of its three days, and its aftermath.

Lee's Army Marches North

After the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville in May of 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to make a daring move. He would invade the North for a second time. He had pushed into Maryland the year before, but now his target was even farther north. He would go to Pennsylvania.

Lee chose this path for several reasons. First, he needed supplies, and Pennsylvania's farmland offered an abundance of food. Second, he wanted to bring the war home to the North and weaken its already shaky morale and support for the war. Third, Lee figured that if he could win a major battle on Northern soil, the North might just agree to a peace settlement that would give the Confederacy its independence. It was a risk he was willing to take.

Lee's army began its northward march on June 10. As the month progressed, so did the army. The Union army, led by General George Meade, was slow to give chase, not heading north until June 25. By June 30, however, the stage was set for battle around the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Ironically, the Confederates were approaching the town from the north and west, while Union forces were closing in from the south.

Day 1 - The Battle Begins & Intensifies

On July 1, 1863, a group of Confederate infantry trying to occupy Gettysburg met up with a division of Union cavalry. The outnumbered Union horsemen put up a sharp defense but were relieved when infantry reinforcements arrived.

Most of the first day's fighting centered around an area northwest of the town as more and more soldiers on both sides joined the battle. In the afternoon, Confederates carried out several uncoordinated, messy charges that led to heavy casualties. Finally, they managed to push the Union back through Gettysburg and south to Cemetery Hill. The Confederates had won the day and were hopeful that perhaps the war would end right in that little Pennsylvania town. Perhaps it may have, but the Confederates hesitated to attack the fleeing Union army and missed a major opportunity for victory.

Day 2 - Multiple Fronts

When July 2, 1863, dawned, the Union army had formed a fishhook-shaped battle line from Big Round Top in the south up along Cemetery Ridge to Cemetery Hill in the north and Culp's Hill just to the east. Noticing this, General Lee planned an echelon attack. His troops would hit the Union line in a series of blows from south to north.

Difficulties in Confederate troop movement delayed Lee's plan all morning and much of the afternoon, giving the Union forces a chance to fortify their position. Finally, at 3:30 p.m., the Confederates attacked the South end of the Union line. The battle quickly heated up as fighting broke out in the following locations:

  • Little Round Top, where the Confederates charged repeatedly but were held off by Union defenders and the brave but costly charge by the 20th Maine
  • Devil's Den, where bloody hand-to-hand combat among boulders ended in Confederate possession of the area
  • The Peach Orchard, where the Union fought heroically but was swept back out of the area
  • The Wheat Field, which changed hands six times that afternoon
  • Cemetery Ridge, where Confederates nearly overran a gap in the Union line only to be stopped by the 1st Minnesota, which lost over 80% of its soldiers in the charge
  • Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill, where the Confederates finally attacked about 6:30 p.m. and continued their unsuccessful offensive until 10:30, when the battle ended for the night.

Day 3 - A Valiant Charge

Lee had a new plan for July 3, 1863. He would mount one large-scale attack up and down the Union line, hitting hard and in several places all at once. His scheme was foiled, however, when Union soldiers on the Northern end of the line attacked the Confederates, pushed them back, and ended the fight on that section of the battlefield.

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