The Decisive Battle of the US Civil War: The Battle of Gettysburg

The war fought at Gettysburg was the deciding factor in how the U.S. Civil War would end. It was a gruesome clash between Union and Confederated soldiers. Still, the events at Gettysburg were also the focal point that turned the war in favor of the Union side under Major General George G. Meade.

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The Gettysburg battle provides us a detailed view and account of the Civil War and the importance of this battle. Most of the South were slave owners, who have slaves serving as servants and taking care of their land. The practice of slavery and the growing abolitionist movement in the North caused the political, cultural, and industrial breach in the United States.

The bloodiest battle in U.S. history took place between July 1, 1863, to July 3, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. General George G. Meade led the Union forces at the Potomac, while General Robert E. Lee was in charge of the Confederates. This battle became known as the ‘high water’ mark of the ensuing struggle between the North and the South. In the course of the three-day war, there were over 50 000 casualties. The battle had the most significant number of deaths during the fight. A Southern General, George Pickett, led the charge at the Battle of Gettysburg on the third day of the fighting. General Pickett’s forces attack the very heart of the Union army, located at Cemetery Hill. The Confederate army was met with much more advanced artillery, derailing their plans of advancement. The Southern forces were able to breach the Union line for the first time. But it was short-lived. Despite General Pickett’s eagerness to prove himself and his detachment in battle, they lost interest. The defeat only causes dissension and mistrust in General Lee.

General Lee’s plan for the Battle of Gettysburg was to occupy the North to force the war to end. But it did not happen that way. His plan during Gettysburg was to lead the Union forces as far away from Gettysburg and then have the troops surrounded by flanking them from either side. General Lee hoped to lead his Southern forces by crossing the Potomac River through Virginia and going through the Maryland state to begin the assault on the Union land, mainly in Pennsylvania. The Confederate troops can cause issues to neighboring cities like Baltimore, Maryland, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had they overtaken Gettysburg. General Lee and the Confederate forces might have been able to capture the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. That would render the federal government incapacitated, and President Abraham Lincoln captured as well. The United States will not have the choice but accept peace with the Southern Confederate states, enabling slavery to continue in North America.

The North and South believe at that time, that they would win the war. Since they have cotton, the South thinks other countries like France and England would join the Southern cause and help the South force the North to let them secede and be their entity. The South feels that even though they are part of the United States, the North acts superior to the South. The South believes that their life and economy relied on slavery while the North wanted to destroy it. But for slavery to survive and grow, it needed to expand its reach. For that to happen, the Southern leaders believe that it was necessary to increase its territories starting from the West. Two compromises dealt with this issue, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. However, after 1850, the compromise became irrelevant and impractical. In the North, their way of living is not solely and dependent on slavery. The economy is much more diversified and had more opportunities to earn than relying on slaves to work for them. The Northern economy also grew in technology with new machines developed and manufactured. It later became known as the ‘Industrial Revolution.’ Creating factories that run on iron, coal, and timber enables more things to be built, such as railroads, canals, harbors, and roads, all used for trading and delivering supplies of cotton, coal, and other raw materials, to other factories.

Abolitionists were against slavery and believe that slavery is inhumane, immoral, and needs to end. The Republican party was born during the 1850 elections and was adamant about stopping the spread of slavery. And when Abraham Lincoln, who was a member of that political party, was elected in the 1860 presidential election, eleven states decided to secede from the Union to form their government. But the events that took place on April 12, 1861, sparked the start of the Civil War, especially in the Senate. Confederate soldiers attacked and were firing on Fort Sumter, located in South Carolina Charleston’s Harbor. The news of the Fort Sumter’s attack came sweeping through the lands controlled by both the Union and Confederates. This event causes President Lincoln and his administration to recruit more soldiers to restore the Union by force if need be. Two proclamations came to be recruiting 150,000 soldiers into service for 90 days. Many colonists were eager to volunteer to serve because many raged at the attack on Fort Sumter.

During the spring of 1861, the Union side began an operation to prepare their forces against the Confederates. The navy bought many merchant and passenger ships and also began building amphibious warships. President Lincoln ordered these ships to create a blockade of Southern ports to prevent them from replenishing, especially military supplies from European countries and black-market dealers from the North. Unfortunately, many are seeing this approach as not forcible and aggressive enough by a lot of Northerners. So, on July 16 of 1861, 35,000 Union soldiers under the command of General Irvin McDowell and an additional 15,000 troops under the control of General Robert Patterson proceeded to Virginia. Their main objective is to secure the Manassas Junction, linking to the lands by the Shenandoah Valley leading to the cities in the deep South. Almost 20,000 Southern rebel troops currently occupied the Manassas Junction under the direction of General Beauregard.

On July 21, 1861, the first of the battles in the Civil War began. The first battle in the North was called ‘The Battle of Bull Run,’ and the first battle in the South was called ‘The Battle of Manassas.’ The war was the first fight between the North and South, so there was a lack of organization and tactics. The North suffered their first defeat at the Battle of Bull Run, forcing them to retreat after an additional 10,000 Southern Confederate soldiers came to the aide of General Beauregard under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston. This victory gave the South more courage to think they can defeat the North. In return, this failure made President Lincoln endorse a bill that would form and recruit 500,000 volunteers to serve in the military for three years. Several groups made up the Army of Northeastern Virginia. They renamed the Army of Northeastern Virginia to the Army of the Potomac later on. The Army of Northeastern Virginia became the largest army in the Union Army and was under the command of General George B. McLellan. Meanwhile, down South, the Confederates were doing the same thing, building up their ranks. But they ran into some issues.

The Confederate Congress spends a lot of their time deliberating about a bill whether they would initiate military drafting to build their army. This bill was called ‘The Conscription Act.’ Many people were against it. Many objected to it because the bill allows those who can afford it, incredibly wealthy white males, to appoint someone else in their place to avoid the drafting to serve in the army. Many believe this bill violates personal freedom. In the coming months and for the next two to three years, the North and South fought it out.

The Union army most definitely won the battle. They not only had everything they need to win the fight: numbers, equipment, better leaders, but also sheer determination. They had moral grounds they were fighting for to safeguard the Union and were also fighting to free the slaves. The result of this was former slaves and slaves who had escaped bondage joined the Union army, which made them an even more formidable force than the South. And as they say, the rest is history. Could the Civil War have been avoided? Perhaps. They were preserving a lot of the historical land and structures where the battle took place for centuries. One way to see it and possibly know what might have taken place during the Civil War is to attend the re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. It will be a phenomenal experience you will never forget.

07 July 2022

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