The Battle of Gettysburg - Leadership and Strategy
The Battle of Gettysburg (1863)
1. Union victory
A vital victory for the North (the Union side led by President Abraham Lincoln) on 1-3 July 1863 in the American Civil
2. The Gettysburg Address
President Lincoln’s speech after the
battle on 19th November (pictured right).
Why is the Gettysburg Address
It emphasized everyone’s right to:
Where did the battle happen?
Near the town of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania,
The Union army (led by General George Meade), pictured right), fighting for:
- the preservation of the Union of all American states.
- the abolition of slavery.
The Confederate army (led by General Robert E. Lee, pictured right in 1863)
They were fighting for the pro-slavery Confederacy (eleven breakaway southern states, led
by its president, Jefferson Davis)
Why was slavery the big issue?
People in the northern states like William
Lloyd Garrison (pictured right) thought that slavery was evil and wanted it abolished (so they
were called abolitionists).
But the southern states wanted slaves for their cotton plantations which made the landowners extremely rich
(like Scarlett O’Hara’s family in the film and book, Gone with the Wind)
The South sold:
- 75% of the world’s cotton and
- 60% of America’s exports.
Key events before the battle
1850 The Fugitive Slave Act
This allowed slave owners to recover their slaves in the northern states where slavery was illegal.
This was vital to the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s (pictured right) Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852.
This best selling anti-slavery novel
- fuelled northern people’s opposition to the South and slavery.
- emphasized the breaking up of families (by separately selling slaves and their
A quarter of slave families were broken up.
1857 Dred Scott case
Scott (pictured right), a slave, lived in the free northern states for several years.
Northern people there were furious at the American Supreme Court’s decision not to give
him his freedom.
This led to Abraham Lincoln’s famous
statement in 1858:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half
slave and half free”.
1859 John Brown’s hanging
Brown (pictured right), an abolitionist, became a martyr in the north after his unsuccessful raid in
Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, which attempted to start a slave rebellion.
The tune, John Brown’s Body, became a famous Union marching song in the American Civil War.
1860 Anti-slavery Abraham Lincoln elected as the American
Lincoln (pictured right in 1863) tried to
avoid war with the southern states by:
- allowing them to keep slavery (although later,in 1862, declaring his intention to abolish it).
1861, April 12th ,the American Civil War begins
The war is triggered by the Confederate government capture of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on the same day.
Lincoln reluctantly goes to war to preserve the Union of all American states.
1861, July 21st., the 1st Battle of Bull Run
The Confederate army's first victory is won by:
Other decisive Confederate victories occur at the:
- 2nd Battle of Bull Run (1862),
- Battle of Fredericksburg (1862).
- Battle of Chancellorsville (May, 1863, in which Jackson is killed).
Two Union victories at the battles of Shiloh and Antietam.
On January 1st Abraham Lincoln makes the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves are
Key people at Gettysburg
Robert E. Lee
Leader of the Confederate army.
Leader of the Union army.
What happened at the Battle of Gettysburg
Successful Confederate attack on the west and north of the town of Gettysburg.
The Union troops retreat but:
- establish a great defensive position (from Culp’s Hill to
Cemetery Ridge, south of Gettysburg).
Union heroes include:
- General John Reynolds (killed, pictured right above)
- John Buford (cavalry commander, pictured right).
At 4 pm the Confederates (led by General James Longstreet) attack the Union left and right
The Union troops:
- make a successful counter-attack.
- repulse two Confederate night time attacks (on Culp’s Hill and
The Confederates again fail to take Culp’s Hill after six hours of intense
At 3 pm Lee orders an attack by General George Pickett’s (pictured right) 12,000 troops on
the Union centre (now known as Pickett’s Charge).
They are beaten back after heavy losses.
Lee orders a retreat over the Potomac River into Virginia.
Lee's retreating army is delayed by rain.
But, much to Lincoln's disgust Meade (the Union army’s leader) didn't counter-attack and
destroy them - why?
- respect for the enemy (Lee was revered for his past victories).
- Meade had only been in command of the army for six days (replacing Joseph
- hampered by the heavy rain and exhaustion after a hard
Why the Confederates lost the battle
1. Lee’s leadership
Pickett’s Charge was a huge mistake and opposed by his best deputy, General James
It was particularly dangerous because of the long range accuracy of the Union side’s Minié ball
rifle (named after its inventor the Frenchman, Claude Minié, pictured right).
Lee's decisive victory at Chancellorsville two months earlier fatally gave him an arrogant sense of
His judgement was also weakened by diarrhoea.
Longstreet's (pictured right) Confederate attack was delayed until 4 pm on July 2nd
(partly caused by his intense criticism of Lee's decision to attack).
This allowed the Union side to
3. Thomas (“Stonewall”) Jackson’s death
Lee lost his brilliant deputy at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May, 1863.
4. Meade’s leadership
- instilled confidence in his troops.
- fought a successful defensive battle with great determination.
- chose the right place to fight (because the Union position was ideal to
This success was particularly remarkable because he had only replaced Joseph Hooker, pictured
right, as the army chief a few days before.
Meade was unfairly criticized by Lincoln for not counter-attacking after Pickett’s Charge - why?
- his troops were exhausted.
- he didn’t know the enemy’s weakness.
5. The Confederate army was smaller
There were around 75,000 Confederate troops against a Union army of
Lee’s army was:
Results of the battle
1. Colossal casualties
23,000 Unionists and 28,000 Confederates (more than a third of Lee's
army) killed and wounded.
7,000 Confederate wounded left on the battlefield and treated by Union surgeons and
620,000 soldiers died during the whole war, two thirds of them from disease (particularly
diarrhoea and dysentery).
Some of the dead are shown below in Timothy O’Sullivan's famous photograph of the
battle, A Harvest of Death.
Many soldiers were so tired and terrified that they didn’t fire a single shot (27,514 loaded rifles were found
after the battle).
3. Union victory in the war
The Gettysburg victory and (more importantly) the capture of Vicksburg by
General Ulysses Grant’s (pictured right) army
on July 4th were big contributors to the Union victory in the Civil War, which:
- shifted power from the South to the North .
- ensured Lincoln's re-election as president.
Key post-battle events
July 4th 1863
Capture of Vicksburg by Grant’s Union
July 22nd 1864
Atlanta captured by General William Sherman’s (pictured right) Union army.
November 15th 1864
Sherman’s army begins its destructive ‘March to the Sea’, destroying Georgia.
January 31st 1865
Congress abolishes slavery.
March 4th 1865
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address after his
re-election as president in 1864.
His message is conciliatory:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all”.
April 9th 1865
Lee surrenders, ending the war.
April 15th 1865
assassinated in a theatre by the Confederate actor, John Wilkes
Booth (pictured right).
Why did the North win the Civil War?
Lincoln was a far better leader than the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis (pictured
right in 1853), who wasn’t so good at uniting and inspiring his
The determined leadership of the Union generals, Grant and Sherman, also helped.
The Confederate generals, Lee and
Jackson, had some brilliant early successes,
although Lee’s obsession with attack was sometimes costly (as at Gettysburg), but it was the
only viable option.
Lee knew that a quick Confederate victory was vital because of the North’s:
- industrial strength (see point 2).
2. Machinery and manpower
The North had:
- a navy (unlike the South).
- more weapons (America’s factories were largely in the North).
The North managed to keep its armies supplied with enough food, water, horses and weapons.
This was helped by:
- the newly built railroads.
- Lincoln’s brilliant Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton (pictured right).
In contrast, Lee’s army was short of food from March 1863 onwards.
4. African Americans
Proclamation which freed southern slaves had a big effect.
- joined the Union army (nearly 180,000 African Americans fought including the famous
black 54th Massachusetts Regiment) - by 1865 one tenth of the army was black.
- became invaluable spies and guides for the advancing northern
- helped hundreds of Union prisoners of war escape.
But racial prejudice and segregation still persisted in the South until challenged by the civil rights movement
in the 1950's and 1960's, led by Martin Luther
King (pictured right).
All this has been my fault,
- Robert E. Lee (after the disastrous Pickett’s
Four score and seven years ago [1776, the American Declaration of Independence] our fathers brought forth on
this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created
- Abraham Lincoln (the opening sentence of
his Gettysburg Address).
War is cruelty.
- General William Sherman.
Be not dishearten’d - Affection shall solve the problems of freedom yet.
- Walt Whitman, pictured right, (from a poem in Leaves of Grass)
Hugh Bicheno, Gettysburg (2001) - on the battle.
James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) - on the American Civil War.