Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (1863 AD)
The Battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle ever fought on American soil, and one of the largest to take place anywhere outside of Europe during the 19th century. Fought over three days in the summer of 1863, Gettysburg marked the farthest point that Confederate armies ever advanced into northern territory, and was for all intents and purposes the turning point of the war. It was also the greatest defeat for General Robert E. Lee, the great military hero of the Confederacy and one of the most successful commanders in American history. Gettysburg is arguably the most popular battle field for military history buffs located on American soil.
By the spring of 1863, the American Civil War had already been raging for two years. Although the main front in northern Virginia and Maryland was roughly a stalemate, with victories, defeats and massive casualties for both asides, the North was steadily encroaching on Southern territory in other theaters of the war. It was becoming obvious to the Confederate government in Richmond that a long war would likey end only one way. The Confederacy’s greatest general, Robert E. Lee, was pressed to deliver a knockout blow against the North.
In May of 1863 he saw his chance. After a stunning victory over the Union Army at Chancellorsville, the road to Washington DC, and potentially a quick ending to the war, lay open. The Confederate army marched northward through Maryland intent on finishing the Federal army. Lee’s first strategic objective was to capture several important cities in southeastern Pennsylvania so as to cut off Baltimore and Washington from reinforcements and resupply.
Lee got as far as the Pennyslvania city of Gettysburg, where the Union army managed to fall back and receive further reinforcement. Both armies began trickling in to the area at the end of June. Several undecisive skirmishes were fought as more and more elements of each army arrived. However, by July 1 the Federal army had secured strong defensive positions around Gettysburg, forcing Lee onto the tactical offensive.
The next three days witnessed some of the best known and bloodiest engagements of the war. The climax of the battle, Pickett’s Charge, took place on July 3 and is arguably the single most famous fight ever to take place on American soil. A terrible defeat for Lee, the Confederate army was soon forced to withdraw back to Virginia. Each side took over twenty thousand casualties by the time it was all over. After the battle, president Lincoln traveled to the field and delivered his Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American history.
Gettysburg National Military Park is one of the most popular visited battlefields in the United States. It is especially revered among history buffs and military enthusiasts. The battlefield is very well marked noting the locations of the engagements, and scores of monuments commemorate the soldiers and units of both sides. The wide open field where Pickett’s Charge took place has been well preserved, with fences and other landmarks fully restored for the throngs of visitors who come to see the battlefield. Other popular sites include Big Round Top and Little Round Top; the Devil’s Den; Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge.
The Gettysburg Battlefield is located in a wide arc about one mile outside of the City of Gettysburg approximately fifty miles northwest of Baltimore. It is run by the National Park Service. Almost all of the battlefield, including the most important and popular destinations, are open sites. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.nps.gov/gett (official website).