Battle of Gettysburg
During the early 1800's, in the United States, many differences developed between people who lived in the North and those who lived in the South. The southern states wanted states to have more rights than the federal government. They didn't want the federal government to tell them what to do. They wanted to continue to own slaves. They wanted new territories to be made slave states. Northerners wanted to abolish slavery and wanted the federal government to make laws for the whole country. For the Southerners, the matter of slavery was a political as well as an economic problem.
The southern states decided that they had no alternative but to secede or withdraw from the union and form their own government called the Confederate States of America. After seven states had seceded, the South fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April 1861 and finally forced the United States army to evacuate. This was the first battle of the Civil War. A civil war is a war fought between citizens of the same country.
Two years of fighting went on, mainly in the southern states. In May 1963, Robert E. Lee, commander of the southern troops, won a great victory at Chancellorsville, in Spotsylvania, Virginia. He felt that a trip to the North would allow southern troops to get supplies from residents there instead of constantly depleting all the supplies in Virginia. He believed that a victory by the South in the North might make Lincoln think about having negotiations about stopping the war and might also assist the Confederacy to get help from England or France. Lee decided to lead his army north into enemy territory, through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. President Lincoln had just appointed General George Meade to head his army, called the Army of the Potomac.
General Lee wanted to meet Meade and the northern troops near Gettysburg, southwest of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. On July 1, 1863, several Confederate divisions reached Gettysburg and could drive back some northern soldiers who had arrived there to Cemetery Hill, south of the town. Although General Lee ordered Major General Richard Ewell to lead an attack on the hill, he didn't because he thought the federal forces were too many. On July 2, Lee ordered Lt. General Longstreet to go to the left and Ewell to the right to strike the enemy. He wanted this attack to be led early in the morning, but Longstreet was slow in getting into position, so the battle didn't begin until 4 in the afternoon. The fighting was bloody. 35,000 men died on both days.
On July 3, Lee sent a division of less than 15,000 troops under George Pickett against the Union soldiers on Cemetery Ridge. The men had to travel across an open field for 3/4 of a mile. Longstreet objected to this tactic, but, at around 3 p. m., 'Pickett's Charge' began. Union regiments fired on them from behind stone walls, and units from Ohio, Vermont and New York came around to their rear. Pickett's division lost 2/3 of its men. Over 1/2 of the Confederates died.
General Lee waited for the Union army to attack them on July 4, but no attack came. He pulled his army back toward Virginia in driving rain that evening. General Meade was criticized for not following the Confederates that night. The battle was a defeat for the Confederacy. They lost 28,000 men, about 1/3 of their army. The Union army lost 23,000 men.
The South was very disheartened by this loss. Lee offered his resignation to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. Davis refused to accept it. Lee went on to win other battles during the next two years, but this defeat, together with General Grant's victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, the same day, July 4, began the slide to the end of the war, even though the war lasted two more years.
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