Battle Of Gettysburg Essay Research Paper Gettysburg

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Battle Of Gettysburg Essay, Research Paper Gettysburg was the Army of the Potomac’s only great victory on the battlefield. Antietam, certainly a strategic victory, showed Robert E. Lee’s unstoppable killing machine was indeed stoppable. And the Army of the Potomac did eventually force Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from its impregnable Petersburg trenches. But Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse finally came when the Rebel army was so weakened that surrender was almost a foregone conclusion. Such Union victories as the ones at Sayler’s Creek and Five Forks in the final weeks before the historic surrender on April 9, 1865 can hardly be called great battlefield victories. While the AOP can only notch one momentous battlefield win onto their belt, they were, of

course, on the winning side in lesser battles that did not significantly impact either the tactical or strategic situations. Malvern Hill, the last major action of the Seven Days campaign where Confederate forces were severely and boldly repulsed, is one such example. When analyzing Gettysburg it has become commonplace to ask why Lee and his army failed to win a great victory. Fewer people look to the other side of the equation and ask why Meade and the AOP won. What circumstances changed to enable the AOP to transform a long string of defeats into a great victory? The odds were certainly against them in many ways. The AOP had become accustomed to losing. Fresh from two devastating defeats within the past six months, the AOP was chasing a seemingly invincible fighting machine. To

heighten the odds against the blue underdogs, they were given a new commander, Major General George Meade, only four days before they were to fight what would become the battle of their lives. So why did the Union win at Gettysburg? The men in blue fought like demons along their line, of this there is no doubt. But the Union had fought admirably before. While it was the 90,000 front-line men who held their own, ultimately giving better than they got, in the final analysis something else must help explain this rather unusual occurrence–a spectacular, indisputable Federal victory in the East. The answer is found in the performance of the AOP’s officers. Gettysburg was clearly the best-led fight the AOP would ever engage in (and this includes later battles when U.S. Grant would

be on hand to conduct the proceedings). Everyone from lowly Lieutenants to Major Generals performed exceptionally well under the most dire circumstances. Perhaps even more impressive, the officers in blue were in “top form” for three consecutive days. A failure or let-down from even one of the critical players over that three day period could have easily erased R.E. Lee’s only out-right defeat from the history books. Day 1, July 1, 1863 saw the start of the best three days of the AOP’s life. Brigadier General John Buford, recognizing the fact that whoever held the high ground south of Gettysburg would control the killing fields, dismounted his cavalry for a showdown with Major General Henry Heth’s infantry division. Deployed to the west of Gettysburg to slow Heth’s

advance, the 2,700 dismounted troopers, firing rapidly with their breech-loading carbines, stalled the 7,500 Confederates for one crucial hour. Colonel Thomas Devin’s and Colonel William Gamble’s cavalry brigades fought ferociously under mounting pressure, and held on long enough for infantry reinforcements to arrive from Major General John Reynolds’ I Corps. Reynolds became the ranking Union commander when he arrived on the field, and he never gave retreat a thought. Like Buford, he recognized the importance of holding the high ground south and east of Gettysburg. Within an hour and at Reynolds’ urging, the famous Iron Brigade quick-timed onto the field and slammed into Heth’s Rebels. Suddenly the graybacks, facing infantry and not just dismounted cavalry, retreated