General Meade (left) and General Lee
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the American Civil War, sometimes referred to as the “War Between the States” in July of 1863. It lasted three days and 50,000 casualties [killed, wounded, or missing] littered the Pennsylvania countryside, now a national park, wearing the Blue or Grey uniform that marked the Union and Confederate troops. Of the 3,900 buried there, about 25% of the dead were unknown.
General Robert E. Lee had planned to win the battle to force the North to give up the war who had just defeated the Union army at the Battle of Chancellorsville in the months between May and June of 1863. It was a victory over a larger force, but it was also a tragedy because he lost his best officer, General Stonewall Jackson who was accidentally fired upon by his own troops and died of pneumonia, weakened by his wounds. The initial goal was to acquire badly needed supplies from the rich farming districts of Pennsylvania; but the goal was to send the Union forces into retreat and force peace through threats of invading the Northern states. Thus, the Battle of Gettysburg marked the bloodiest battle of the war and a decisive moment in the war between the states.
On the first day of battle, General Lee had been ill and some of his subordinates were new and inexperienced. Lee’s valued cavalry officer, J.E.B. Stuart, provided a fast-moving and flanking force; helping the Confederates to control the battlefield on that first day. However, General Ewell had not secured a key piece of terrain, so on the second day the Confederates were unable to break the Union position, which also strengthened the Union’s hold.