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The Battle Of Gettysburg

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The Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg was a defining battle of the Civil War. It marked a turning point for the Union as well as for the Confederates, though it was not the final battle to be fought. There were many events prior the actual battle that had led to this clash (Berkin 442).

The United States was undergoing great changes in the mid 1800's. Populations in both the North and the south grew tremendously. The main increase from the North was largely due to the many immigrants that flooded the coastal cities. Around 2.8 million immigrants came into the United States between 1850 and 1860. This great increase in immigrants further fueled the industrialization of the Northern states. The new source of labor was cheap, and therefore, slavery became, in the eyes of the North, un-needed (Williams).

During this same time period, there was another revolution taking place in the Southern states. The agricultural revolution took hold and cotton production soared to new heights. Cotton production went from around 2 million bales to 5.7 million bales per year within that ten year period. The South also produced other crops but cotton was the biggest cash crop. The cotton produced by the South was estimated to contribute seven eighths of the world's cotton (Williams). Unlike their Northern counterparts however, the South relied heavily upon the use of slave labor. This led to much discontent leading up to and including the election of 1860.

During that election time period, there were many issues at stake. Two of the main issues were slavery and sectionalism. The candidates were Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, and John Bell. As Election Day came closer it seemed that Lincoln would be the new President (Berkin 408). Lincoln had won almost every free state in the Union. The only Northern state not won by Lincoln was New Jersey. Although Lincoln had not won in a single Southern state, he became the next President. This threw the Southern states, and pro-democrats into a fear induced frenzy. The flames of discontent were fueled by many of the Southern and Southern sympathizer newspapers (Williams). One such newspaper that was pro-democrat, the New York Herald, stated that Lincoln planned on bringing in many freed slaves to the Northern states that would compete for the jobs of whites (Berkin 408-09). Discontent eventually led to disunion.

Southern states felt that their choices were now limited, to secede from the Union or have their way of life taken from them (Williams). Peaceful compromises made on both sides were unsuccessful. The nation was doomed for division. On December 20th of 1860 the delegates of South Carolina met and voted unanimously to break away from the Union with the belief that other states would follow their lead. The following year, in the month of January, five other states did in fact follow. These states were Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana (Berkin 410). Delegates from the newly seceded states met in Montgomery, Alabama where they wrote the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States. During this process Texas also declared itself part of the new Confederacy. They chose a senator from Mississippi, Jefferson Davis, as the first President on February 9th (Williams). Other states would join as time went on.

All of this took place before Lincoln had even taken the oath of office on March 4th of 1861 (Williams). Shortly after taking office, Lincoln was faced with the possibility of war. State militia had seized several federal forts, and the fleeing federalists led by Robert Anderson gathered at Fort Sumter. From there they sent requests for reinforcements and supplies. Lincoln realized the situation was tense and sent only an unarmed ship with supplies. The Confederates realized they could not allow the supplies to reach the fort. They also could not fire upon an unarmed vessel. The decision was made to attack the fort and on April 11th, President Davis gave Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard the order to fire. After 34 hours of bombardment from artillery Anderson surrendered. This marked the official beginning of the Civil War (Berkin 413).

The early years of the war were marked with Confederate successes. Even though the South had won many victories in the east, the Union was still very successful in the West. The Confederacy failed to gain international recognition. General Lee hoped to gain this with a decisive victory over the Union in the North (Williams). Lee also hoped this would hasten the peace movement among the North. On June 3rd, Lee ordered his army under Longstreet, Ewell, A.P. Hill, and a cavalry division under J.E.B. Stuart to begin the march (Weeks). General Lee's army met little resistance as it marched inevitably to Gettysburg, taking supplies from the countryside they moved through (Berkin 442). On June 13th of 1863 Ewell's corps defeated Winchester and inflicted heavy casualties upon the Federalists, and gained much needed supplies. On June 25th, Stuart presented General Lee with a plan. Stuart would take three cavalry brigades and cross the Potomac. He would then make his way around the Federal army in an attempt to flank them. Lee agreed and Stuart set out. He became bogged down with frequent detours and also ran into Federal cavalry. Stuart would not rejoin the main force until July 2nd. Both armies were closing in on Gettysburg by June 30th (Weeks).

July 1st, 1863, the historic battle began. Gettysburg was at that time occupied by Brigadier General John Buford and his division of cavalry (Weeks). The first of the Confederates to arrive were elements of General A.P. Hill's Corps. Brigadier General's James Archer and Joseph Davis, part of Major General Heth's Division, were ordered to advance on Gettysburg after Heth had observed "minimal resistance." Buford managed to hold off the advance for nearly an hour before they were forced to retreat to McPherson Ridge. Buford's retreating cavalry were met with reinforcements that arrived just in time to relieve them (Williams). Two brigades under the command of General John F. Reynolds took up the defense of the hill (Weeks). Reynolds also sent word to other Corps who were near, the XI and III. While Reynolds was organizing his men for the defense he was shot and killed. This left Major General Abner Doubleday in command of I Corps (Williams). Around noon, Heth's attacking force had been driven back and withdrew back to Herr Ridge. Both sides became quiet as they waited for reinforcements. XI Corps under Major General

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