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The BIG picture: Battle of Gettysburg

What are the must-knows?
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Who were the armies involved?

The Army of the Potomac (Union) and the Army of Northern Virginia (Confederate).
Why were they fighting?

Big Picture answer: The Southern states wanted to be independent so they could retain slavery as an institution. The Northern states believed that individual states could not secede (quit) from the Union.

Specific tactical answer: Lee (Confederate) was trying to “take the war into the North” because all previous fighting had been in the South. He reasoned that if the north were feeling the effects of the battles, they might be more willing to seek a truce.

Who were their leaders (name at least two on each side)?

South – Gen. Robert E. Lee (required answer) and Gen. James Longstreet

North – Gen George Meade (required answer) and Gen. Winfield Hancock


What were the dates of the battle? July 1-3, 1863

How does this fit into the overall timeline of the Civil War?

About the mid-point, and certainly the “beginning of the end.”


Where is Gettysburg? South central or southeastern PA

How far is it from Washington DC? About 85 mi. (or any estimate close to this)

From Virginia? About 50 mi. (or any estimate close to this)

What is important about this location compared to other battles of the Civil War
(Hints: whose “territory” is it part of? How far north, south, east, or west of other battles?)

It’s the northernmost major battle of the war.


What happened at Gettysburg?

List information and events during:

The days before the battle

The Confederates were scouting various locations in southern Pennsylvania, but had not encountered Union troops in large numbers. Union forces wanted to wait to engage the Confederates until they knew where the rest of Lee’s army was.

July 1

Union cavalry outside Gettysburg spotted a small Confederate force advancing from the west. Both sides called for reinforcements, and several small skirmishes followed as forces on both sides sought high ground.

July 2

Fighting continues in several places. Union troops rapidly redeploy forces as Gen. Longstreet and other commanders attempt to break the Union lines by attacking on the southern flank.

July 3

Early in the afternoon, Gen. Pickett’s charge on the Union center marks Lee’s final attempt to break the Union lines. The attack ultimately fails, and most of Pickett’s division are killed or wounded.

The days just after the battle

Southern forces retreated into Virginia via Chambersburg; they would never return. Union troops did not pursue them, and some argue that the failure to do so prolonged the war further.


Why do historians single out the Battle of Gettysburg from other battles of the Civil War? Why is it important or different?

The scale of the battle—number of men involved, wounded, or killed—is one main reason. But the battle also blunted what might have been a Confederate offensive in the north, thereby changing the course of the war as Union troops converged on Confederate forces from the west and north over the next two years.
What else?

What factors led to the results of the battle?

This question has been the topic of endless debate, and there are no simple answers. Luck helped determine who ultimately held which ground, and Union positions ended up being superior. A series of tactical mistakes by Gen. Lee and his generals compounded the Confederates’ challenges.
What happened in Gettysburg approximately four months later?

The dedication of the national cemetery in Gettysburg with Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address (a speech) for the dedication, November 19, 1863.

Why was that November event important?

Lincoln’s speech is considered one of the most important speeches in the history of the United States. It describes the important principles of democracy. The speech is carved on the Lincoln Memorial as the most important one Lincoln ever gave.

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