Yes, these last couple of days have represented the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It seems fitting that they are commemorating this anniversary in town with the new visitor center, however the visitor center may not be all it was cracked up to be, as evidenced by my colleague Bill in his recent post. It is also fitting that fellow blogger and aspiring historian Sarah Adler spent last week at the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. It has also been about 15 years since the premiere of the film Gettysburg. All of this causes one to think about the battle more, which is a good thing.
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle on American soil, with over 50,000 casualties. It represented several important issues. It was both the high-point of the Confederacy, as well as the great turning point of the war, which found both sides switching how they waged the war. The Union began to fight more offensively in the East, while the Confederates were forced to shift from a primarily offensive war to a defensive war. Gettysburg shattered the Army of Northern Virginia, as it was forced to realize that it was unable to beat the Army of the Potomac and would no longer be able to invade the North again.
It is amazing to consider how the battle could have turned out differently had only a few aspects of it gone differently. Had Lee seized the opportunity to secure the high ground on the first day. Or, if he would have flanked the Union army on day two. Perhaps the largest factor in the battle that could have altered its outcome and the conduct of the war was Pickett’s Charge. Had Lee not committed the men that he did to that charge, the Union victory would have been smaller and Lee would have retained a larger force after the battle to continue fighting.
One other significant outcome of Gettysburg was the rise of Grant to command of all Union forces. Meade’s inability to crush Lee after the battle caused Lincoln to appoint Grant over Meade, which caused the Union armies in the East to begin taking the fight to the Confederates.
There are several great books on the battle out there that I encourage you to read. One that is my favorite and deals with a counter factual scenario of the battle is Newt Gingrich’s novel Gettysburg, which is part of a Civil War trilogy that is quite good.
Gettysburg will likely remain one of the most popular battles in terms of study by scholars and visits to the park. This is not surprising, as while I am partial to the Western Theater, I still maintain an interest in the battle because of its importance to our history. No other battle quite changed the course of the Civil War as Gettysburg. The significance of this battle will become more apparent as the 150th anniversary draws closer. I encourage everyone to read about the battle, watch the movie Gettysburg, and visit the park and take in the history of this battle.