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Monday, July 1, 2013

Remembering Gettysburg - 150 years later

This week, July 1 through July 3, marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, one of the fiercest battles of the Civil War and one of the most memorable battles of all time. Confederate General Robert E. Lee, in an attempt to force the Union to come to terms and recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation, forced a conflict north of Washington D.C. to induce the Union to plead for peace. The conflict occurred at Gettysburg, a small town in Pennsylvania four miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. The battle ensued for three days, enacting combined casualties of nearly 50,000 men. The battle was a victory for the Union and recognized by many as a turning point in the Civil War, as in prior battles the Confederates claimed the majority of victories.

On the first day of the battle heavy fighting occurred to the west of Gettysburg. Union Cavalry forces led by General John Buford encountered Confederate infantry led by General Henry Heth. Although he had been ordered by General Lee to avoid a conflict, Heth engaged Buford, who held the Union line with dismounted cavalry until the arrival of General John Reynolds of the Union First Corps. Reynolds led the Iron Brigade into position along McPherson’s ridge and was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter. The Union Eleventh Corps encountered forces led by Confederate General Richard Ewell north of Gettysburg. The First and Eleventh Corps fought valiantly during the morning and early afternoon, suffering heavy losses. In the afternoon both Union lines broke and the Confederates swept into Gettysburg. Union General Winfield Scott Hancock braced the retreating Union lines on Cemetery Hill. The day ended as the Confederates charged Cemetery Hill but were beaten back by the Union forces. Although regarded as a Confederate victory the first day of fighting ceased with the Union holding the high ground and a superior position for continued conflict.

On the second day of battle the two armies faced each other along two opposing lines, with the Confederates holding Seminary Ridge and the Union stationed along Cemetery Ridge. The Union line resembled a fishhook, with Cemetery Hill at the north and the Round Tops at the south. The Confederates charged both flanks of the Union line, with repeated attacks on Cemetery Hill and a series of attacks to secure the Round Tops. Some of the severest fighting of the war occurred for possession of the Round Tops, and heavy conflicts occurred at Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, and along the southern portion of Cemetery Ridge. Again, the Union line held, and both sides suffered heavy casualties.

On the third day of battle Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to strike the center of the Union line with a large infantry assault preceded by an artillery barrage to weaken the Union defenses. This infantry charge was comprised by divisions led by Generals George Pickett and James Johnston Pettigrew. The Confederate charged bravely but met severe artillery and rifle fire as they approached the Union line. The Union line held again and the three day conflict ended. Pickett’s Charge would be remembered by Union and Confederates alike for the bravery of the Confederates in the ill-fated charge and the stubborn resistance of the Union in meeting the charge and enacting its repulse.

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