Throughout the American history, several civil wars have taken place. The most famous civil war took place in the year 1863 in a small market called Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This battle preceded by the confederate army led by General Robert E. Lee coming into Pennsylvania through the Potomac River. The confederate army from Northern Virginia was fighting the union army forces.
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General Robert lee had enjoyed a series of victories in the previous battles. The recent victory was at Chancellorsville, and General Lee decided to take the war on the union’s soil1. He ordered his men to enter Pennsylvania. The fight broke out on July 1 with the confederate army troops amounting to 75,000 men. The federal troops were advancing from south with a total of 90,000 men.
Within a short time, the landscape of Pennsylvania was a chaotic, war zone. The confederates were fighting to defend their way of life. The union on the other hand was fighting to stop the confederates from the claim to sovereignty2.
Lee had strong strategy to win the war. He used his skilled army personnel to be at the front line and guide his troops to war. He ensured his lieutenants were talented in the battlefield. When confronting the union forces, Lee ensured his army covered wide latitude. His troops were capable of reaping strategic and tactical benefits while at battle zones. He had Lt. Gen. James Longstreet on the left wing.
Longstreet was considered a strong point for the entire confederate army. General Richard S. Ewell and Ambrose Powell Hill were on the right wing. His main aim was to disperse the union army across the broad front line3. He concentrated his full strength to bring down Major General George G. Meade. Robert Lee had an upper hand in organizing his troops.
As the union troops were scattered in the West, General Lee had gathered his leading forces made a series of attacks to the union forces. Lee’s troops used the cordon strategy up to the end of the war4. This defense strategy was easy to adopt and allowed them to push the unionists farther north.
General Lee tactic was to surround the town and catch the union forces unaware. The union troops tried to hold them back, but all was in vain. Lee sent two of his corps to attack the union flanks and collapse them hence instilling fear to the entire troop5. Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell was ordered to attack the right flank along Gulp’s Hill while his colleague Lt. Gen. James Longstreet attacked the left flank along the Cemetery Ridge.
Longstreet had an easy time fighting the left flank since the commander in charge of that flank was not a professional soldier but rather a politician whose role was to gunner democratic support for the war.
The decisions Major General Sickles took put the entire flank in jeopardy since Longstreet capitalized on that blunder to finish them. Sickles moved the troops on higher ground near Emmetsburg Road. This made them unsecured since they had placed a gap of more than half a mile between them and the rest of the union forces6.
Longstreet strategy was to capitalize in the weakness of the enemy and pursue them until the extreme end. The hot pursuit enraged the union forces, and they requested reinforcement from New York and Massachusetts. Longstreet ensured that he maintained an offensive momentum throughout his operation.
When sensing, he was out powered Longstreet resorted to defensive mechanism. When Meade had formed a defensive troop, Longstreet opted to form a similar defensive team in the midst of the union army and let them attack first7. Longstreet was excellent in leading his troops to different formations and military pageantry. These spectacles amazed the federals and were unable to counter these tactics.
The difference between Longstreet strategy and Lee’s strategy is that Longstreet involved many mind tactics to counter the opponent. On the other hand, Lee used force and the power mechanism to counter opposition. This shows that in order to be successful in the battlefields the mind tactic is more appropriate and successful.
Longstreet was able to succeed in most encounters until when he was wounded whereas Lee had to retreat after failing to defeat General Meade. Longstreet and lee differed on the decisions they took. When lee ordered Longstreet to attack, he was rather slow to get his troops into formation.
This gave the union forces time to strengthen their defense. Longstreet efforts to convince lee to reconsider his options were futile. He rejected Longstreet’s proposal for initiating operational flanking maneuver. Lee had a strong belief that the buttered union army will fall with one last push. Lee decided to gamble with his decision and attacked union solders from the central front line8.
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Lee planned to attack the union centre since he believed that the attacks made by Longstreet had demoralized the union. He believed his army was invincible and could take on the opponent in any condition. He mistook that the union were weak and pushed forward with his plan to attack the centre flank. Union’s artillery responded fiercely and after an hour the gunshots fell silent.
Meade, who was in charge of the union’s central flank, tricked the confederates well, and the rebels were pierced. Their attention was diverted towards the cemetery ridge. Mead ordered his artillery to open fire at close range. He took advantage of the slowed pace of the confederate and wiped out a vast number of their soldiers in a vicious battle. This forced Lee to retreat back up to the Potomac River9.
Had the confederate taken the high ground on Cemetery Ridge, they would have rake Meade’s army and split the union lines hence they would have emerged victorious. This would have changed the political scene ahead of the next general elections. President Lincoln would have experienced massive political fallout and sent him and his administration out of power.
Meade strategy was to seek the reinforcement of the union forces to total up to 100,000 men in a defensive position10. After the fierce fighting, Meade continued to hold his ground and ordered his troops to maintain position and wait for Lee to strike again. In addition, Meade used mental assessment to predict the next move Lee would take. His predictions were always correct hence the situation found him well prepared.
With his prediction, he took decisive action to reduce the number of soldiers at some areas. He made a blunder of reducing infantrymen at the Cemetery Ridge, since he predicted that lee would attack from south. The infantry men he left at the front-line were over stretched hence giving Longstreet an upper hand in the battle.
Meade also used tricks such as diverting the thoughts of the rebels that their canons were knocked out. When the confederates fell for the trick the federals pounced back on them. Meade nearly ended the war but due to fatigue and caution he chose not to pursue Lee as he retreated.
Lee’s loss was due to the fact that the union had high financial support men and supplies. This gave the union forces an opportunity to strike back while capitalizing on these two weak points. Another crucial blow to General Lee’s campaign was when Longstreet suffered a serious wound that led to his fall11. Despite the strong confidence, lee had with his troops he was still disturbed by the death of General Stonewall Jackson.
In addition, Ewell and Hill also fell out at a critical point when the battle was at its peak. Moreover, the confederates’ efforts were catastrophic since more than a third of their topnotch high command officers became causalities to the six week unrelenting combat.
Lee also lacked his Calvary leader Jeb Stuart who acted as his eyes and ears during troop movement. Furthermore, Hill’s health was a prime concern to Lee. With the absent of Longstreet, and the disappointment of Hill and Ewell, Lee helplessly watched as his hopes to win the war crumble.
Furthermore, Lee’s failure was as a result of indefinite war timetable. His troops were caught unaware several times. Union canons pounded on his troops while they were in trenches at Culp’s hill. Lee’s difference with Longstreet might have contributed to his failure at some point.
They could not agree on the number of troops to be sent to charge the enemy at Cemetery Ridge. This generated a split within the confederates; those that supported lee and those behind Longstreet. This drift influenced the morale of the soldiers and broke the unity of the confederates. Apart from the drift, Lee’s plan to get Stuart’s cavalry to divert the federals from the main battle failed.
The federals and confederate cavalries clashed causing Stuart to retreat. Another factor, which led to their failure, is that Lee’s infantrymen were poor in aiming at the opponents shell. Most of their cannon fire went overhead the opponent.
The implication of the battle resulted to 23,000 federals and 28,000 confederates wounded, lost and dead12. The confederates left 7,500 men lying on the battlefields. Most confederates lost morale after the defeat in Gettysburg. The battle led to many rebels being captured Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg was perceived as a turning point for the war. The tide of the war shifted towards the south.
President Lincoln was infuriated by the decision taken by Meade to let Lee run away. He wanted him to finish the confederates completely and end the war. The battle was a clear indication that both the north and the south want ultimate victory in the war.
The battle recorded the highest number of casualties in death and wounded. The damage brought by the war was enormous13. The collateral damage was strongly felt by the residence of Gettysburg. The psychological torture to the men who survived the battle haunts them up to now. The war left the federals with a huge task of reconstructing Gettysburg.
On the other hand, the confederates had a difficult time reconstructing their army in order to continue with the war. The battle further drifted the nation into two factions, the north and south. With effect to clear the dead bodies, mass graves were dug all over the region.
The region also had explosives and ammunitions that were not used. After the battle, the union had no doubts they were on the right track. The win at Gettysburg gave them a significant upper hand on the next stages of the civil war.
Gallagher, Gary. “Death And Wounds Plagued Lee’s Command.” Civil War Times 51, No. 1 (2012): 18-23.
Luvaas, Jay, Harold W. Nelson, And Army War College (U.S.), Eds. Guide To The Battle Of Gettysburg Edited U.S. Army War College Guides To Civil War Battles. Edited By Jay Luvaas And Harold W. Nelson. Westbrooke Circle, KS: University Press Of Kansas, 1994.
Maciejewski, Jeffrey. “Buying Time.” America’s Civil War 24, No. 3 (2011): 44-51.
Weigley, Russell Frank. A Great Civil War: A Military And Political History, 1861-1865 Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000.
1 Gallagher, Gary. “Death And Wounds Plagued Lee’s Command.” Civil War Times 51, No. 1 (2012): 18-23.
2 Luvaas, Jay, Harold W. Nelson, And Army War College (U.S.), Eds. Guide To The Battle Of Gettysburg Edited U.S. Army War College Guides To Civil War Battles. Edited By Jay Luvaas And Harold W. Nelson. Westbrooke Circle, KS: University Press Of Kansas, 1994, p. 7.
3 Weigley, Russell Frank. A Great Civil War: A Military And Political History, 1861-1865 Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000, p. 246
4 Luvaas and Harold, 208.
5 Weigley, 47.
6 Maciejewski, Jeffrey. “Buying Time.” America’s Civil War 24, No. 3 (2011): 47.
7 Maciejewski, 49.
8 Weigley, 250.
9 Gallagher, 19.
10 Maciejewski, 50.
11 Maciejewski, 48.
12 Maciejewski, 51.
13 Luvaas and Harold, 118.