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Gettysburg: Turning Point Of The War

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Gettysburg: The Turning Point of the War

On July 1, 1863, the Union Army of the Potomac engaged the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia which had advance into the north. This would be the battle of all battles; it would be the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Three days of warfare resulted in a Union victory at the cost was 51,000 American casualties. The Southern reason for rebellion was to break away from the Union and become a separate country, the Confederate States of America. Up to this point the rebels were winning battles with the successful leadership of their Southern generals. The Union was in trouble; their armies were getting beaten even while out numbering and being better supplied than their foes. The North, by winning this battle, had crushed the rebel's spirits and had stopped the seemingly invincible Army of Northern Virginia, and had ended the Confederate army terrorizing of the Union. Now history tells that Gettysburg was an important battle, but many people do not know the significance of the end results of this massive battle. Gettysburg was the major turning point in the Civil War.

Some historians argue that Vicksburg and Sherman's march to the sea also were major turning points of the war; they were. The loss of Vicksburg meant losing the Mississippi River. Having the Union in control of the river split the CSA and stopped the flow of men and supplies to needed places in the Southern struggle. The North's control of the river allowed for an increase in Union war resources. Sherman's march to the sea was extremely demoralizing to the South's will to continue fighting. Sherman and his men carved a sixty-mile wide swath of destruction in the Confederacy's heartland. Later, this hurt the Confederacy greatly, but up to this point the South was at its high tide and thinking a great push into the North would break the Union's will to fight and a peace treaty would come soon.

The Confederate army had been doing what was needed. By repelling the Union armies out of the South the Confederacy lived. After two years the South had been doing a good job. President Lincoln and the American people loyal to the Union were not happy about how the war to restore the Union was going. Lincoln did not know what to do. He had already gone through many generals because they could not get the results the country needed. As the years of war continued, the Northern people were tired of the fighting and showed it; the enlistment numbers were getting lower every day. Many working-class men raised the slogan, "It's a rich man's war but a poor man fight." (Davis p.231) Lincoln and the Union were in a bad situation. Now Lincoln replaced the commanding general, Joseph Hooker, with General George Meade. Lincoln was not pleased with the ground that Hooker had attempted to gain. Meade had "been long enough in the war to want to give the Confederates one thorough licking before any peace is made." (Beringer p. 261) Lincoln on Meade. General Meade might be a solution to Hooker's disappointment. The President still had a problem with the manpower needed to fight the war. The Enrollment Act of Conscription passed on March 3, 1863. This resulted in anger and protests; few wanted to fight an endless war. The Union's prospects looked grim in its ability to win the war. Something major needed to happen in order to turn the war around.

General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, had once previously tried to invade the north but was forced to retreat. "If successful, the campaign would have baffled Union designs in the east for the entire campaigning season and would have forwarded political objectives by helping "to repress the war feeling in the Federal States."(Hattaway p.398) Lee intended to bring the war to the North. The Confederacy was winning and spirits were high, but Lee wanted to make them higher. By bringing the fight to the North Lee could reap the resources of the enemy to better equip his men who were in need of food and supplies. Winning battles in the North would show the southern and northern people that the CSA was powerful and could invade and strike a blow into the heart of the Union. Lee believed a successful campaign in the North might bring peace swiftly. "The war would no longer be supported in the North and that, after all, is what we are interested in bringing about?"(Hattaway p.398). Lee wanted the war to be over with, but so did almost everyone on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lee's armies gathered and started their push North on June 15. The army started off well by capturing supplies and gaining ground quickly. Within a few weeks the Confederate army converged on the small town of Gettysburg in search of shoes. There, the rebels were met by Union cavalry and the battle of Gettysburg had begun. "The turning point of the whole war seems to be crowding itself into the present," (Goodwin p.531) wrote John Nicolay, Lincoln's personal secretary. The Confederates won the first day of fighting by gaining ground and killing General John Reynolds one of the finest soldiers in the Union (Shaara). But on the second day the Federal troops had a good defensive position on the high ground. The deciding battle of that day was the battle of Little Round Top. Little Round Top was a small rocky hill that was vital to winning the battle. If rebel artillery batteries were positioned on the hill they could inflict massive damage on Union troops. The Confederate rushed the hill and were repelled three times by Union troops under the command of Colonel Chamberlain. Confederate counterattacks failed to push the Union soldiers back. The Third day a desperation move was made. Lee ordered General George Pickett to attack the center of the Union lines. The attacked called for nearly 12,000 men to march over 1,000 yards across a wide and open field. They were easy targets for cannon and rifle fire. Most of them were destroyed. A third of the army's effective strength was lost. Lee's army, badly weakened, retreated in defeat. After the battle both Lee and Meade offered their resignations to their commanders-in chiefs; neither were accepted.(Wills p.16) Both sides suffered greatly from the battle, Meade was urged by Lincoln the finish off Lee's remaining force but at this point The Army of the Potomac was also in shambles. However, the South never recovered from the defeat at Gettysburg.

This battle was so important to the outcome of the war that it is considered the turning point. Imagine the results of the war if the Confederates had

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