The Battle of Gettysburg

This timeline is series of events that happened over the 3 day battle of this civil war, called the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Battle of Gettysburg was a battle between the Union and Confederate forces. This battle is important because it is often believed to be the turning point of the Civil War.

1863-04-12 00:00:00

The War Begins

The decades leading up the American Civil War were characterized by strong efforts to prevent the breakup of the country. By the 1850s, it was apparent that things were tense and that conflict was likely. An event that served as a catalyst to this process was the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States in November of 1860. Before he took office in February, 1861, seven southern states had already seceded from the Union. Tensions rose and eventually someone touched a flame to the tinderbox. When the federal government’s facility of Fort Sumter was attacked by the military forces of the new Confederate States of America on April 12, 1861, the federal troops fired back and the war began in earnest. Whether this war was fought over slavery is a point that has been long argued. President Lincoln himself argued that his goal was to preserve the Union. If abolition of slavery was needed to preserve it, then he would move to abolish it. But if preservation of slavery in the South could re-unite the Union, then he would follow that course of action. Indeed, Lincoln’s purpose in the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation was more strategic than moralistic. Its intention was to disrupt the Confederacy and it was successful in this goal.

1863-06-03 00:00:00

Lee Starts His Move North

In early May, Lee’s forces won a victory over the Union Army at Chancellorsville, Virginia. Encouraged by this success, Lee decided to take another stab at the North, and began moving north though Virginia, across Maryland and on into Pennsylvania. By June 15th, he was at Sharpsburg, about 2/3 of the way through Maryland to Pennsylvania. By June 29th, Confederate forces were nearing Harrisburg, the state capitol of Pennsylvania. All along, the Southern army had been trailed by Union forces that had also been in Virginia at the time. In essence, the Confederate army set the pace and direction, and the Union army followed, typically several days behind. As the Northern forces approached the Gettysburg area from the south, the Confederate Army turned back from their position at Harrisburg to confront their opponents at Gettysburg. All along the South had been in charge. They would lead and the North would follow. Such a pattern could certainly be the basis of a guess that the advantage on the field of battle would go to the Confederacy.

1863-06-28 00:00:00

General George Meade is the New Commander

Only three days before the Battle of Gettysburg actively begun, as the opposing forces were gathering and positioning themselves, get ready for the conflict, President Lincoln -- once again – relieved his Commanding General of his authority. General Hooker had offered his resignation and it was accepted by the President and by General-in-Chief Henry Halleck. This was not the first time in the then two-year-old conflict that a change in command had been made. In contrast, the Confederacy remained constant in its devotion to and trust in General Robert E. Lee as its commander for the War Between the States. As a newly appointed commanding general, Meade found himself in the uncomfortable position of playing catch-up. He also embarked on the field of battle perhaps somewhat insecure in the duration of his tenure. He was the replacement for General Hooker, so why could not some other military man be his replacement sometime in the future. Neither of these circumstances could have been a plus in allowing General Meade to wage the Battle of Gettysburg without distraction.

1863-07-01 00:00:00

First Shot Fired

7:30 am: The first shot is fired by a Union officer against advancing CSA forces. At this early stage, the Union forces are significantly outnumbered. Within two hours, the Confederate forces mobilize to advance further against dismounted Union cavalry. Union General Reynolds moves his troops into position a bit later to support the Union cavalry unit from the more than 13,000 advancing Confederate soldiers. By 10:30, General Reynolds has been hit in the head by a Confederate bullet and dies instantly. At this early point, it seems possible that the Confederate States could win this crucial battle and continue their march into the North.

1863-07-01 00:00:00

Seminary Ridge

The battle is still going in the South’s favor, and Union soldiers have been retreating from the advancing Confederate troops. At 4 p.m., they reform a defensive line at Seminary Ridge, and await the coming onslaught. Within 15 minutes, they have been pushed back into the town of Gettysburg. Colonel Coster’s brigade comes down from Cemetery Hill into town in order to protect the Union retreat. The brigade is soundly defeated and need to retreat back to Cemetery Hill, with more than half of the soldiers not making it back. The day ends with Union troops reforming their defensive lines. General Ewell of the Confederacy considered attacking their weak positions but decided not to do so. It is unclear if such an attack could have been successful, but the day ends in favor of the Confederacy.

1863-07-02 04:30:00

A Confederate Attack On Several Fronts

Fighting goes on for several hours in various locations, including Big Round Top, Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, and Culp’s Hill. The early going favors the Confederacy, but as time progresses, the Union begins to gain advantage or at least counter the South’s military thrusts. The battle at Culp’s Hill started latest and continued on until midnight. At that time, the Confederate troops retreated back down Culp’s Hill. While it could not be argued definitively that the Union was winning at this point, it equally could not suggested that the advantage which the South seemed to have 24 hours earlier had been maintained.

1863-07-02 12:15:00

Decision Time

The commanding general of the Union Army, General Meade confers with his generals in order to decide whether it is worth continuing the fight or retreating from the Gettysburg vicinity. Based on favorable reassurances from his subordinates, he decides to stay and fight on. Who knows what might have happened had he decided to give up at that point and allow the South a strategically important victory, followed by proceeding further north into the heart of the Union. Several hours later (at dawn), Confederate General Longstreet sets up a plan to begin the attack against the Union forces once again, with the goal of breaking their line. Interestingly, however, this attack does not start until twelve hours later, around 4:30 p.m.

1863-07-03 01:30:00

General Lee's Fault

Commanding Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched an attack of 12,000 troops across a mile of open ground. Before doing so, artillery barrage was aimed at the Union forces in order to loosen up their defenses. At first this seemed to be successful, but then Union long-distance artillery had a devastating effect, slowing and thinning out the Confederate advance. In a move of desperation and daring, General Pickett’s charge, although at first moving across the field, eventually stalled, and the cause was lost by 4 p.m.. Confederate casualties were greater than 50%, and many of their ranks were captured. The CSA army retreated and was met by General Lee, who sorrowfully admitted to them that the fault was entirely his. They had fought gallantly, but their commander had erred.

1863-07-03 05:30:00

Lost Opportunities for the Confederacy

Confederate General Johnson planned to renew the attack as soon as reinforcements could arrive. He waited for their support because he believed – erroneously – that he still face larger numbers of Union soldiers than in actuality awaited him. While he waited, the Union artillery and infantry launched attacks down Culp’s Hill. In response, General Johnson attempted to charge up the hill several times, but failed. In truth, the Union forces were not sizable but rotated troops effectively so that a continuous rain of fire could be maintained.

1863-07-04 00:00:00

Waiting For Meade to Attack Again

At Dawn: General Lee had formed his troops into a defensive position on Seminary Ridge on the evening of July 3rd, and awoke to stare across the rain swept battlefield at the Union Army. It was on this day, coincidentally, that the Confederate troops at Vicksburg, Mississippi had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. As the morning progressed, Lee waited for Meade to press his advantage and attack again. But it became apparent after some time that a renewed Union assault – and thus a new chance for the South to gain victory (or be defeated even more awfully) – was not in the cards.

1863-07-04 00:00:00

Evening: Beginning the Long Trek Back Home To Dixie

General Lee set his army into motion on the evening of July 4th, beginning the retreat that would take them back to the South. Cavalry troops protected the long wagon train of supplies and wounded. This caravan of wagons, sometimes several miles long, also took with it captured black men, women and children, who the Confederate troops had taken it upon themselves to gather up and take south with them. Some of these individuals were indeed escaped slaves, but also included in their ranks were free blacks. General Meade was hesitant to aggressively pursue the retreating Confederate Army, and did not follow them closely as they left during the evening of July 4th. He seemed pretty hard hearted when he refused a proposed prisoner exchange that General Lee had offered. But he perhaps was not hard headed enough to follow the retreat of his opponent and possibly put an end not only to the battle but to the war itself.

1863-07-13 00:00:00

Crossing the Potomac

As the retreat of the Confederate Army moved its way south, crossing over from Pennsylvania and through Maryland, various skirmishes and small battles occurred. Hagerstown, Boonsboro and Funkstown were three of the locales for these encounters. A long-running clash transpired over the course of a week at Falling Water. But the Union Army pursued without enthusiasm and in insufficient numbers to complete the ultimate defeat of Lee’s army and the Southern forces. If Meade had pursued in earnest, then perhaps he could have caught up with Lee and his men before they crossed the Potomac into their home territory of Virginia. This was not to be and although Lee’s army was delayed from crossing the Potomac because of bridges destroyed by rising water levels, they had time enough to ford the river, rebuild the pontoon bridges and cross over the river on the night of July 13-14, 1863. The Union’s advantage had been lost, and the opportunity to possibly capture General Lee and perhaps end the war once and for all was squandered.

1863-07-23 00:00:00

End of Pursuit

Once the Confederate Army crossed the Potomac River into Virginia, General Meade’s Union troops followed them across but, as before, lacked the inspiration, fortitude and determination to complete the work started at Gettysburg. On July 7, 1863, President Lincoln had urged General Meade to finish the job, to destroy Lee’s army and, in so doing, causing the rebellion to be over. General Meade never followed this suggestion, although he did pursue Lee’s retreat half-heartedly, resulting in a limited number of additional casualties. The last skirmish of the retreat occurred on July 23, 1863 in the Battle of Manassas Gap. There was to be no great conflict-ending victory for the North here, and the Union and Confederate forces took up positions facing each other across the Rappahonnock River in Virginia. The aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg was finished. The battle had been won, but the war would still ensue until two years later.

1863-11-19 00:00:00

Four Score and Seven Years Ago...

As summer turned to autumn in the year of 1863, the Civil War – or the War Between the States as it was called in the South (they could not even agree on what to call it!) – continued on, leaving death and destruction in its path. Although more assertive pursuit of the retreating Confederate Army by General Meade might have put the war to an end in July, that did not happen. Four months later, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery was dedicated at Gettysburg. The central speech on that day was not the brief remarks of President Lincoln but, rather, the two-hour long Oration delivered by Edward Everett. The President was asked to provide dedicatory remarks, and he did so in the still-remembered Gettysburg Address, as we now know this two minute speech. President Lincoln expressed the hope that “these dead shall not have died in vain.” Perhaps they did not, but their deaths did not prevent more death and destruction over the course of the remainder of 1863, all of 1864 and on into 1865.

1865-05-09 00:00:00

Word of Lee’s Surrender Spreads and the War is Over

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox in Virginia. In modern times with rapid if not immediate communication of news, the conflict would have ended on that very day. But it took weeks for the news of Lee’s surrender to diffuse through the Southern countryside. Until it did, some of the Confederate generals still thought the war was in progress and continued to soldier on. Five days after Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14th, and the Vice President, Andrew Johnson, became the new President of the United States. It was the newly installed President Johnson who declared an end to the conflict on May 9, 1865. It is interesting to speculate as to what might have happened if the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg had led to a decisive victory for either of the combatants. If the South had won at Gettysburg and kept moving north to threaten Philadelphia, or if General Meade had aggressively pursued Lee’s retreat and captured him in July of 1863, then the almost two more years of turmoil and the continuing toll of death and destruction could have been avoided.

The Battle of Gettysburg

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