The prelude to the Civil War was traced by political deals, disputes over slavery and polarization between Northerners and Southerners. The confrontation grew and escalated during the war, and the battle of Gettysburg proved to be one of the cardinal conflicts followed by subduing the Southern forces.
One of the principal reasons for Gen. Robert E. Lee – one of the iconic figures of the Confederacy who originated from Virginia – to confront the Union army lay deep in his endeavor to drive the European countries to a specific act: the recognition of the Confederate States of America, established by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas when – in 1860 – Abraham Lincoln won the elections for president, and later on joined by Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia provoked by the outcome of the Battle of Fort Sumter.
Another motivation for Gen. Lee to seize the North was rooted in his ambition to demoralize the opponents of the values and goals of the Confederacy.
Under Gen. Lee’s command, his Second Corps person in authority – who was LTG Richard Ewell – was directed to Gettysburg. That strategic move was also inspired by the appointment of Gen. George Meade by Lincoln as a commander of the Union Army of the Potomac – the Union’s shield and blade. Gen. Meade was supported by the cavalry, too, during his advancement to Gettysburg.
The battle started on July 1, 1863. Gen. Lee’s Confederate army amounted to seventy-five thousand troops. The Union took advantage of new weaponry – rifles of seven repeating shots. The grave losses on each side indicated the nature of the fighting during the first day.
The second day was characterized by attacks and counteroffensives – desperate in their nature and outcome for both sides. Rocky hills, terrains, and locations like the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill, etc., were the main targets for securing and gaining control over the enemy.
It was Cemetery Hill that LTG Ewell was instructed by his commander, Gen. Lee, to be attacked – if advantageous – in order to defeat utterly the position of the Union forces. LTG Ewell did not follow the instructions to storm. Some historians consider – from a present, neutral perspective – that the act of failure to adhere to the plan played a part in the defeat of the Confederate forces. Gen. Lee’s report of the battle, however, threw light on his own remark for an overall seizure of the hill to be avoided up to the time that other divisions would arrive as a support for the offensive. The delay allowed for the Federal forces to re-group, and make use of the position as the main pillar for their defensive line.
That third day when the battle’s culmination developed in full swing, three Confederate brigades amounting to a total of fifteen thousand, led by Gen. George E. Pickett, undertook an offensive widely known as Pickett’s Charge. They were massively attacked, however, weakened by the Federal heavy weaponry, and retreated. Nineteen battle flags were left on the battlefield; the Confederate flag was the Stainless Banner in 1863. The rebel flag was known as the flag that “started a war” from the Battle of Fort Sumter.
During the night of July 4, Gen. Lee launched the Confederate retreat back to Virginia.
The total losses of the battle were among the Civil War’s most massive.