1999 Road Trip: Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the American Civil War. Leading up to this battle, the Confederate States of America had the momentum following a victory in Chancellorsville, VA and things did not look good for the United States of America. It took place from July 1st to July 3rd of 1863 in southeastern PA, and it marked the second and final time that the Confederacy invaded the North. More American men fell in this battle than in any other (the largest number in a single day was during the Battle of Antietam, the largest number in a single area was in the battles around Fredericksburg). The total casualty numbers are around 23,000 for the Union and 28,000 for the Confederacy. The Confederate leader was General Robert E. Lee, and the Union leader was General George Meade.

On the first day, Confederate forces attacked Union troops west of town at what is known as McPherson Ridge. Despite the fact that the Union forces were outnumbered by the Confederates, they were able to hold their ground until midday. Eventually however the Confederates were able to force the Union forces to retreat through the town of Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill.

By the second day, the Union forces had been able to fortify their position and reinforcements had arrived. Initially, the Union and Confederacy faced each other on Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge respectively. The Confederate forces attacked the Union forces on each flank. One of these two attacks threatened a cleared hill called Little Round Top. Had the Confederacy been able to get cannon up this hill, there is a good chance they would have been able to win the battle. They were spotted before they could take the hill, however, and Union forces on Little Round Top and Confederate forces in the valley below and in a natural rock formation known as "Devils Den" fought furiously, destroying a wheat field and peach orchard that happened to lie in the way. Both sides took heavy losses, but the Union had taken heavier losses. The Confederates fought hard and although at times things looked promising for them, the Union managed to hold its position.

On the third day, the Confederate artillery began a two-hour bombardment of the Union forces on Cemetery Ridge from Seminary Ridge. At first the Union responded in kind, but then abruptly stopped while Union officers tried to organize the defense. Taking the sudden silence as a sign of demoralization among the Union troops, the Confederates started the long march across the open fields that separated the two forces. To get to the Union's position, they would have to cross over a mile of open space without any cover whatsoever. This march is known as "Pickett's Charge", named after one of the Confederate generals leading the way. The Union forces allowed them to cross much of the distance before opening fire. Some of the Confederates were able to reach the ridge and hand-to-hand fighting ensued. This ridge has become known as the "high water mark" of the Confederacy because it was all downhill for them afterwards. After the failure of Pickett's Charge, the Confederate troops retreated, and the following day left Pennsylvania never again to return to the North.

Massachusetts was well-represented at Gettysburg, and the five monuments shown above are among many honoring the deeds of Massachusetts combatants. The monuments shown below are not related to Massachusetts but serve as good examples of some of the many other monuments that decorate Gettysburg (there are over 1,300 monuments in place).