General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army approached Gettysburg from the north and west on July 1, 1863. Awaiting Gettysburg, was the Union Army, commanded that day by General George Meade. The battle covered three days and would be forever known as the Battle of Gettysburg.
Fierce fighting commenced that would last three days, with over 46,000 combined casualties. It would be the high water mark for the Confederacy. It would be its second and last attempt to bring the war onto northern soil. And the plan would fail.
Fighting began on the western edge of Gettysburg along Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge and Seminary Ridge, near the site of the Lutheran Seminary. Union forces tried to hold the high ground but were overrun by the Confederate invaders with about one fourth of General Meade’s army (22,000 soldiers) and one third of General Lee’s army (27,000 soldiers) involved.
On the second day fighting moved to the south and west of Gettysburg, with Union forces extending in a line from Cemetery Ridge to Little Roundtop. Lee’s orders were to roll up the Union’s left flank. After a long day of fighting, the Union lines held and the Confederate army had to fall back.
The final day, July 3, saw the Confederates mass their forces and bring everything they had across the field at what is known as Picket’s Charge. Over 12,500 soldiers of Lee’s army marched across the field and straight into the center of the Union lines. Nearly half the men did not make it. It was the South’s last hurrah.
On November 19, that same year, President Abraham Lincoln proceeded to speak at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, a speech know today as the Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon 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 here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it 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 cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot 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 can never forget what they did here.
It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. 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 here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “Killer Angels”, made into the movie “Gettysburg” is the account of the battle in historical fiction form.
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