Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The battle of Gettysburg took place during the first three days in July 1863. The Confederate forces prevailed on day one in fierce fighting. They pushed the North off the defensive positions north and west of Gettysburg. This was due ,in part, to more of the Confederates arriving on the field than the Union Forces. The stage was set for day two, at which time more forces from both sides would come into play.
The next two days would see the most horrific fighting of the war. The most famous of these battles were known by the names of Wheatfield, Little Round Top and on the last day-Pickett’s charge. To put these battles into a little perspective-the attack on Pearl Harbor-“the day that will live in infamy” involved approximately 3000 casualties. The struggle in the Wheatfield had over 5000 casualties in just two hours. There were thousands more casualties during the Confederate attack on Little Round Top over extremely difficult terrain for the Confederates, also on the second day.
Over these two days the Confederate forces had gained ground, but had not pushed the Union forces off the high ground. General Lee was apparently convinced that this battle was his last best chance to defeat the Union forces and have an opportunity for a favorable outcome of the war. Thus on the third and final day of the battle, he ordered over 12,000 troops formed along seminary Ridge to make a frontal assault on the Union Center position on Cemetery Ridge, almost two miles away over open ground. For two hours before the assault, the Confederates pounded the Union positions with canons. The Union artillery responded, but fell silent near the end of the exchange. Perhaps, General Lee thought that he had silenced the Union canons, but in fact much of the Confederate canon shots landed behind the front lines of the Union forces.
The Confederate formation stepped out of the woods walking, and then running into heavy canon fire and finally the muskets of 6000 Union soldiers. In the end, some of the Confederates made it to the Union lines only to die there or be repulsed. Of the over 12000 starting the attack, less than half made it back to the Confederate lines in defeat. It was a crushing blow for the Confederate cause. Not only had General Lee lost so many of his hardened troops but also the majority of his most senior officers.
The only thing that saved the Confederate forces from complete destruction was the huge losses by the Union Army and the great disarray of the forces.
When I look at the terrain that the Confederates had to contend with in each of these battles, the outcome is not such a surprise. These pictures are of the terrain of Little Round Top from both views along with those of Pickett’s Charge.