A Chance Meeting at Gettysburg

By summer 1863, General Lee's army was at its fighting peak, anxious to threaten northern territory. Lee commanded his army through Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in order to march further north.

Early on July 1, a group of Rebels in search of badly needed shoes stumbled on Northern cavalry units, which were ordered off their horses to keep the Confederates in check until Union reinforcements arrived. By midday, Lee sent in his own reinforcements, who drove the Union away. Soon, blue-clad soldiers were spotted traipsing through the town of Gettysburg.

Lee tried to get General Richard Ewell to seize Cemetery Hill, just south of the town, but Ewell was too cautious, and the Union set up a line along the ridges during the night. Meade formed a fishhook line to the southeast whereby the curve of the hook was Cemetery Hill with the shaft running down Cemetery Ridge. Lee ordered charges to the right and left flanks, hoping to crush the Union line.

Confederates did capture Devil's Den, a boulder-strewn area in front of the hill known as Little Round Top. Had they put cannons atop Little Round Top, they could have blasted the Union line. Once the Rebels were spotted, however, fighting recommenced, and Little Round Top was saved. The Rebels had charged Cemetery Ridge and Cemetery Hill, but they hadn't forced the Union troops from there. Meade chose to stay on the defensive, repeatedly repulsing Lee's assaults.

During August and September 1862, the Confederate army invaded Kentucky, a slave state that had not seceded from the Union. Kentuckians were divided, and it wasn't uncommon to have people from the same community enlist in both the Confederate and Union armies. They clashed at the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862. Neither side could claim victory, but the Confederates retreated.

General Longstreet of the Confederacy had warned Lee not to attack the Union's center of the line. On the third day, in what became known as Pick-ett's Charge, Confederates opened a huge artillery bombardment concentrating on the line's center. But in the scorching heat during the first three days of July, the carnage of the Battle of Gettysburg was as incredible as the failed decisions many generals made. This lapse in judgment forced Lee to retreat back across the Potomac. At Gettysburg, the Union fielded 83,300 men and sustained 23,000 casualties. The Confederacy fielded 75,100 men and sustained 28,100 casualties.

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