This week marks the 150th anniversary of the largest battle ever fought in North America, the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., considered by many to be the turning point in the Civil War. It ranks with the Battle of Waterloo and the D-Day invasion as one of the most written and discussed military engagements in the history of the world.
Because of this several mystiques have grown around the battle, such as had Lee won at Gettysburg, the South would have won the Civil War, it was not Lee’s fault the South lost the battle, it was Lee’s worse battle, had this general done this or that general done that, etc., etc.,etc.
First of all, I do not buy into the idea that a Rebel victory at Gettysburg would have meant the South would have won the war. When you consider that a victorious Lee would have been stuck in the middle of enemy country with no logistics support and straddled with thousands of casualties, I think he would have probably done what he did in reality, retreat back into Virginia.
I base this belief on the fact that the victorious army, Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac had almost as many casualties as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (around 23,000) and was in such bad shape after the battle that it could not deliver a knock-out blow or a counter offensive against Lee, which might have ended the war then and there.
The other issue is that when people critiqued the battle, it seems that more often than not, Confederate leaders are criticized while Union leaders are rarely praised, as if Meade did not win the battle as much as Lee lost it. However George Pickett, the unfortunate, and justly accused, scapegoat for Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg perhaps summed it up best when asked why his charge failed, “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”
And as being the turning point of the war, many will argue that the fall of Vicksburg, which happened at the same time, slicing the Confederacy in two and giving the North full control of the Mississippi River, was far more important.
To be blunt, Gettysburg is not my favorite battle or campaign of the war from an academic viewpoint (For the record, I am partial to the Atlanta Campaign.). I have had people tell me that if I ever go there, which I hope to do some day, that my perspective on the battle will change. Perhaps so, but until then, I will turn my attentions to other aspects of the war.