Gettysburg is a small city in Pennsylvania known today for its college and its natural beauty. And also for being the site of the most important battle in the American Civil War.
In late June of 1863, the Confederacy’s greatest general, Robert E. Lee, invaded the North. The hope was that defeating Northern armies in a Northern state would collapse Northern support for the war. It was also hoped that the Confederates might capture Washington, D.C., the federal capital.
In the first three days of July, a random collision near the town between Confederate invaders and federal defenders turned into a titanic battle. Lee’s aggressive troops at first pushed back the Union troops, but Union defense stiffened, and Confederate attacks failed.
In the most famous attack in American history occurred in this battle. On the last day of the battle, thousands of Confederate soldiers under General George Pickett charged Union lines, and were shot to pieces as they attacked.
Overall, some 73,000 Confederates engaged 91,000 Union troops. Adding both sides together, 7,000 Americans were killed in the battle, 33,000 were wounded and 10,000 captured or missing. That’s 50,000 casualties out of a total of 164,000 soldiers engaged. More than twice as many Americans died at Gettysburg than in the 1944 invasion of Normandy.
Lee’s army retreated, but the Union army was too exhausted to pursue the defeated Confederates. The battle broke Lee’s offensive capability, and led to the long and gory fighting that finally collapsed the Confederacy.
Today, Gettysburg is a pleasant small Pennsylvania city, and the battlefield looks more like calm golf greens than the site of an upwelling of blood between Americans.
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