The Battle of Gettysburg: The Turning Point of the War ( World War 1) - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Battle of Gettysburg: The Turning Point of the War ( World War 1)

 Gettysburg is often considered to be the turning point in World War I, occurring approximately 17 months after America entered and four years after it all started.

On July 1, Lee's southern army launched an assault into Gettysburg. Many soldiers died or were wounded and homes and public buildings became hospitals for treatment of wounded troops.

The Strategy

Many Americans consider Gettysburg the pivotal battle of the Civil War. Fought from July 1-3, 1863, this three-day engagement ended Confederate General Robert E. Lee's second attempt to invade Northern territory and brought swift resolution of conflict. As Lincoln famously noted during his Gettysburg Address, this battle claimed thousands of soldiers on both sides, prompting millions to visit its battlefield each year as tribute and reflection upon tragedy that unfolded there.

On June 28, Lee ordered his army to concentrate around Gettysburg. On July 1 morning, its advance elements collided with those of Meade's army west and north of town; two divisions from Lee's Second Corps marching in pursuit of Union cavalry under Brig. Gen. John Buford stopped along low ridges northwest of town which were quickly reinforced with infantry troops from Union I and XI Corps under Maj Gens John F Reynolds and Oliver O Howard respectively.

Heth's two brigades advanced toward the town the next day, encountering light resistance from Union cavalry vedettes. However, Heth, an experienced western theater veteran known for issuing peremptory orders like Stonewall Jackson did, decided that an assault on Cemetery Hill would not be practicable due to logistical considerations; historians consider this decision one of many missed opportunities from this battle.

Heth's men were eventually successful in seizing part of Culp's Hill, but failed to completely encircle and destroy the Union line. A large Confederate infantry charge on Cemetery Hill known as Pickett's Charge met with overwhelming rifle and artillery fire from Union troops and was consequently repulsed causing its collapse.

Gettysburg was the bloodiest single battle of the Civil War, shattering Confederacy hopes for quick victory and sealing Union victory with Lee surrendering his last army almost two years later.

The Key Figures

The Battle of Gettysburg stands as a pivotal moment during the American Civil War, drawing millions of Americans each year to pay their respects to those who gave their lives for a united nation. This powerful documentary delves into three bloody days which changed everything.

On July 1, two brigades of Heth's division moved forward along the Chambersburg Pike. Encountering only slight resistance from Union cavalry vedettes, they deployed in line, marking Lee's first attempt to advance with all his forces against an adversary army.

As the day wore on, Heth's I Corps advanced up Seminary Ridge while two divisions from Gen. Oliver O. Howard's XI Corps advanced up the Union approaches to Gettysburg; these defenses were heavily outnumbered.

Cemetery Hill and Culps Hill presented the Union army with vital defensive potential, so General Lee understood their value and ordered Ewell to take Cemetery Hill "if feasible."

Ewell, who had served under Stonewall Jackson and was known for issuing urgent orders, determined it would not be feasible for the Confederate army to seize control of Union positions on that particular day.

At 3:00 pm, cannon fire had subsided and 12,500 Confederate soldiers began moving downhill toward Cemetery Hill in what has since been known as Pickett's Charge. Federal infantry had been holding their fire to conserve ammunition but once within range began firing musket and canister bullets with deadly effect, unleashing an unforgettable firestorm of canister and musket fire into this fierce assault on Cemetery Hill.

Union defenders initially held firm, but as the day progressed, Confederate units advanced on both flanks of their army, breaking through both right flanks at Gettysburg with heavy attacks by Rodes' and Early's divisions; at the same time a part of Longstreet's Corps attacked on its left and also brought that sector down with them.

But the Union II Corps under Winfield Hancock were able to send in reinforcements quickly enough to stem Confederate advances; combined with protecting Cemetery Hill and Culps hill as high ground, this allowed them to remain intact throughout two days of bloody fighting.

The Lasting Impact

The Battle of Gettysburg marked the pivotal turning point in America's Civil War, ending Confederate General Robert E. Lee's second mission to invade and quickly end the conflict. Additionally, this event ultimately helped unite America as one nation and end slavery which had divided its citizens since its establishment.

After three days of fighting that resulted in 46,000-51,000 casualties--the highest total of any American battle ever before--Lee's army began dispersing to retreat, signalling its defeat and thus ending their campaign.

Union General George Meade had prepared his army to withstand any Confederate invasion and was prepared to fight regardless. Three divisions from I Corps were deployed on Seminary Ridge while Gen. Oliver O. Howard's XI Corps stationed three divisions at Cemetery Hill to protect Gettysburg's northern approaches.

Lee knew the Federal defense was strong, so to test its strength he initiated what became known as Pickett's Charge across open fields to the center of their line. Artillery fire and rifle fire dispersed this offensive quickly with heavy losses sustained by Lee and his commanders during this attack.

Gettysburg strengthened Union morale, postponing Confederate invasion for two more years while dashing Lee's hopes of forcible peace negotiations with the United States government.

Even as the war dragged on for another two years, with fighting and skirmishes taking place across both borders between Union and Confederate States, Union forces seemed to be making headway on most fronts. By May 1863, Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had captured Vicksburg in western theater and had begun closing in on major Confederacy ports along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine and Bowdoin College became one of the heroes at Gettysburg. While showing no enthusiasm for military life prior to joining up in 1861, Chamberlain quickly rose through the ranks from being a private to brigadier general and is today honored by monuments around the battlefield; millions visit annually to shed a tear or honor those lost at America's bloodiest battle.


Gettysburg witnessed three days of bloodshed that rankled as the bloodiest battle ever fought in American history. By July 2, an estimated 46,000-51,000 soldiers from both sides had fallen during battle; further, many more had been wounded or had fallen while being at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg was an immense Union victory, yet would not immediately end the war. Rather, its impact was felt in reinvigorating flagging Northern morale while General Ulysses Grant captured one last stronghold for southern troops near Mississippi - helping shift momentum away from Southern forces and away from Ulysses Grant's capture of that stronghold as well.

Confederates defeat was devastating and irreparable; losing 2nd Mississippi Volunteer Infantry proved particularly costly to their cause and manpower needs in general.

Following Gettysburg, President Lincoln gave an unforgettable speech that remains widely remembered today, declaring "...this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government by, for, and of the people shall not perish from the earth".

Gettysburg's opening day of battle was relatively calm as both sides assembled their forces for battle. An exception to this trend occurred on the Union right flank, where Abner Doubleday's XI Corps came under heavy fire from Heth's division on Seminary Ridge and Jubal Early's Division on Little Round Top which provided an outstanding view of all frontline defenses in front of town. Under such intense pressure, Chamberlain ordered his tired soldiers who had nearly run out of ammunition to fix bayonets at Little Round Top which proved crucially pivotal moment during battle.

Newspapers responded to battle in much the same manner as their readers did, offering their interpretations of what had occurred and its potential effects. This study examines newspaper responses to battle from two perspectives - geographically (i.e. published North or South) as well as politically (whether they supported Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis).

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