The Battle of Gettysburg

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great Civil War; testing whether this nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We have met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate-- we cannot consecrate-- we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far nobly advanced. It is rather for us to here dedicated to the great task remaining before us– that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion– that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain– that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom– and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth." Abraham Lincoln November 19, 1863.

It seems only appropriate to begin a report devoted to the Battle of Gettysburg by looking at something delivered after it ended. Contrary to his belief, Abraham Lincoln's brief, yet overwhelmingly powerful speech, is still looked upon by Americans as an enduring symbol of the Civil War and a testament to the ideals of the United States of America. However, Lincoln was more than correct when he praised the efforts of the soldiers, living and dead, bestowing upon them the adulation of changing the war in the Union's favor for good. Gettysburg, particularly Pickett's Charge is considered by many historians to be the high-water mark of the Confederacy. After that the Union gained the upper hand and would not relinquish it until the conclusion of the war.

In assessing the causes for a Confederate loss and a Union victory at Gettysburg, one must look only to the leaders. Although the soldiers entrenched on the battlefield deserve the credit conferred upon them by Lincoln, the turnabout in the War was led by performance of the Northern officers. Gettysburg was clearly the best-led fight the Union would ever engage in.

Everyone from lowly Lieutenants to Major Generals performed exceptionally well under the most dire circumstances. Perhaps even more impressive, the officers in blue were in "top form" for three consecutive days. A failure or let-down from even one of the critical players over that three day period could have easily erased R.E. Lee's only out-right defeat from the history books. Day 1, July 1, 1863 saw the start of some of the finest three days of the Union Army's life. Brigadier General John Buford, Sam Elliot in the film, Gettysburg, recognized the importance of holding the high ground south of Gettysburg. The possessor would control the battlefields so long as their was a steady fire coming from this idealistic perch.

Deployed to the west of Gettysburg to slow Heth's advance, the 2,700 dismounted troopers, firing rapidly with their breech-loading carbines, stalled the 7,500 Confederates for one crucial hour. Colonel Thomas Devin's and Colonel William Gamble's cavalry brigades fought ferociously under mounting pressure, and held on long enough for infantry reinforcements to arrive from Major General John Reynolds' I Corps. Reynolds became the ranking Union commander when he arrived on the field, and he never gave retreat a thought. Like Buford, he recognized the importance of holding the high ground south and east of Gettysburg. Within an hour and at Reynolds' urging, the famous Iron Brigade quick-timed onto the field and slammed into Heth's Rebels. Suddenly the South, facing infantry dismounted cavalry, retreated back across Willoughby Run, a small stream a mile or so west of Gettysburg. Reynolds'