Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 - July 3, 1863)

Updated: September 19, 2013

Often referred to as the turning point in the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, from July 1 to July 3, 1863.

In early May 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia soundly defeated Major General Joseph Hooker's Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Despite the Rebel victory, Lee's army was in need of food, horses, and equipment after the battle. With northern Virginia ravaged by two years of combat, Lee decided to take the war to the North. Lee planned to disengage from Union forces near Fredericksburg, move the Army of Northern Virginia northwest across the Blue Ridge Mountains, and then push northeast through the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Lee began consolidating his army near Culpeper, Virginia, and troop movements began on June 3, 1863.

After a series of primarily cavalry engagements during June, Lee's army had entered Pennsylvania. On June 27, Hooker impulsively offered to resign his position as commander of the Army of the Potomac after a dispute with Union general-in-chief Henry W. Halleck. The next day, President Abraham Lincoln accepted Hooker's resignation and assigned the post to Major General George G. Meade. Upon assuming his new command, Meade quickly began moving north from Frederick, Maryland in search of Lee's army in Pennsylvania. When Lee learned of Meade's aggressive pursuit, he ordered his scattered army to concentrate at Cashtown, about eight miles west of the village of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

On June 30, a brigade of Confederate soldiers from A.P. Hill's Corps approached Gettysburg from the northwest in search of supplies. Upon their arrival, they observed Union cavalry commanded by Brigadier General John Buford entering the town from the south. Avoiding engagement, the Rebels returned to Cashtown to report what they had seen. Suspecting that his soldiers had seen state militia, rather than Federal troopers, Hill sent two brigades into Gettysburg the next morning to investigate.

Recognizing the strategic importance of the high ground near Gettysburg, Buford ordered his troopers to dismount and attempt to hold the town until reinforcements arrived from Major General John F. Reynolds' 1st Corps. Once the surprised Hill determined that he was facing Federal cavalry, he called up more soldiers and launched an assault on the Union defenders, despite Lee's orders to avoid a general engagement until the Army of Northern Virginia was reunited.

Notwithstanding Lee's wishes, the battle grew in size and intensity as the day progressed. Lee reached the field around noon, still hoping to avoid a major battle at a site with which he was unfamiliar. Near then, however, Reynolds' men began arriving, repulsing the Confederate advance. Although Reynolds was soon killed, Major General Oliver O. Howard was on hand with his 11th Corps, and took command of the combined Federal forces. During the afternoon, Ewell's Corps arrived from the north, reinforcing the Rebel onslaught. The combined Confederate force sent Howard's men scurrying out of town, leaving behind 3,500 captives. The Yankees took up a defensive position south of town on Cemetery Hill. Still wishing to avoid a major battle, Lee decided not to continue the attack.

Overnight, reinforcements poured into Gettysburg. By morning, each army was nearly at full strength. Meade had deployed six of his seven divisions in a fishhook-shaped defensive line on the high ground south of town. Lee had amassed eight of his nine divisions and was preparing to resume the offensive, despite his reservations from the day before. What began as an accidental encounter on July 1 evolved into a full-scale showdown the next two days.

Lee's battle plan on July 2, called for General James Longstreet's Corps, augmented by part of A.P. Hill's Corps, to attack Meade's left flank, which was anchored by Major General Daniel Sickles' 3rd Corps on a small hill known as Little Roundtop. Lee's strategy also called for the remainder of Hill's Corps to prevent Meade from reinforcing Sickles by threatening the Union center. Finally, Lee ordered Ewell to feel out the Union right and make an all-out attack if practicable.

Longstreet objected to the plan, arguing that the reinforced Federals held the better ground. Instead, Longstreet proposed marching around the Union army, placing the Confederates between Meade and the nation's capital, thereby forcing a fight upon ground of their own choosing. Lee's idea prevailed and the offensive commenced at 3:30 p.m., several hours late. The delay gave Meade extra time to deploy troops and improve his defenses.

In addition to being tardy, the assault was not well coordinated. Hill's advance against the Union center did not prevent Meade from reinforcing his left. In the face of blistering Confederate onslaughts at Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and Cemetery Hill, the Federal defenders held their ground. Later that evening, Ewell belatedly launched unsuccessful attacks at Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. At the end of the second day, the Army of the Potomac was bloodied, but it still held the high ground at Gettysburg.

On July 3, fighting continued on both flanks, but Lee focused his attention on the center of Meade's line. At about 3 p.m., following two hours of heavy artillery bombardment, a force of about 12,500 Grey Coats, led by Major General George Pickett, Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew, and Major General Isaac R. Trimble, began a frontal assault on Cemetery Ridge. At one point during the attack, the Confederates breached the Union line temporarily, but the Federals were able to recover and repulse Pickett's Charge. The Rebels suffered nearly 50% casualties during the ill-fated assault.

On July 4, 1863, Lee decided to end his offensive and return to Virginia. After three days of fighting, the combined armies suffered between 45,000 and 51,000 casualties, including nearly 8,000 dead, making Gettysburg the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, honoring those who had fallen during the battle.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Gettysburg included:

Artillery units:

Battery H, 1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery

Battery I, 1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery

Battery K, 1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery

Battery L, 1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery

Infantry units:

4th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

5th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

7th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

25th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

29th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

55th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

61st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

66th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

73rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

75th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

82nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

107th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Cavalry units:

1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Battle of Gettysburg," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 18 Aug 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=221>

APA Style

"Battle of Gettysburg." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved August 18, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=221

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