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U.S. History/Battle of Gettysburg

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Question
Michael,
 1. How did the battle affect the townspeople of Gettysburg?
 2. Which part (Culp's Hill, Little Round Top, etc.) of Gettysburg would you consider the turning point of the battle?
 3. What mistake do you think Robert E. Lee made during the battle? Please elaborate.
 4. What would have happened if Sickles hadn't pulled his regiment out of formation?
 5. Do you think that losing this battle affected Lee's command of the Confederate Army?
These are the questions I wanted to ask you! Thank you!

Answer
1. The people of Gettysburg were, of course, permanently affected by this larges battle of the war.  Several were killed during the fighting.  Supplies were ravaged and buildings destroyed.  Farm fields, orchards, and other lands were utterly destroyed.  The most lasting change was probably the many thousands of bodies left lying all over the area.  Many were buried in shallow graves and were revealed over many years as farmers plowed their fields.  Locals also had to deal with many family members looking to recover and have bodies returned home.  In later decades locals were swamped by hundreds of memorials erected all over the area.

2. Probably the point where the battle could have most easily turned into a southern victory was Little Round Top.  Union forces defending the hill were vastly outmanned and outgunned.  If Joshua Chamberlain had not ordered a daring bayonet charge after his men had run out of ammunition, it is quite likely that Confederate forces would have captured the high ground and likely changed the entire course of the battle.

3. Lee's biggest mistake was engaging in the battle at all.  The Union held the best ground as the battle began, putting Lee was at a disadvantage.  He was already in the north if he had simply moved along to another area and found a better defensive ground, Meade would have been forced to attack him on ground that favored the South.  If the Union did not attack, Lee would have been free to march on Washington.  So the Union was forced to engage regardless of the advantage of the land.  For Lee to engage on land that did not give him the advantage was  his greatest mistake.  Gen. Longstreet pointed this out at the time, but was ignored.

Many argue that Pickett's charge, which resulted in the bulk of Confederate casualties, was the greatest mistake.  Certainly charging across an open field into the center of Union artillery seems like a foolish plan.  What most people don't realized is that Lee has also sent his cavalry under JEB Stuart around the Union flank.  If this cavalry had hit the Union rear at the same time that the infantry was charging across the field in Pickett's charge, the Union line would have almost certainly been thrown into disarray and Confederates would have won the day. JEB Stuart was usually pretty reliable and effective in such actions.  Unfortunately for the Confederates, on this day they ran into Michigan Cavalry armed with Spenser repeating rifles with several aggressive offices including a young George Armstrong Custer.  The Union Cavalry forced the Confederate cavalry back, protecting the Union flank and allowing the Union artillery and infantry to decimate the charging Confederates in Pickett's charge.  So while Lee's action that day was definitely a gamble that did not pay off, it was a reasonable gamble and certainly could have worked.

4. I'm not sure exactly what event you refer to regarding Sickles pulling his regiment out of formation.  Gen. Sickles was supposed to protect the Union flank, including Little Round Top.  He has been widely criticized for his deployment, which left Little Round Top vulnerable.  If it had not been for Chamberlain's valor and Meade's last minute movement of reinforcements, Longstreet might have taken Little Round Top and changed the course of the battle.  Sickle's failure to deploy his men properly was a huge danger that was just barely covered.

5. By the time of Gettysburg, Gen. Lee has secured the respect of both his own officers and men, as well as the civilian population, that his loss never affected his command of the Army.  Some offices such as Gen. Pickett never again trusted Lee, but most understood that Lee remained the best commander available.  Lee's loss did, however, decimate his army.  He was never again able to mount an offensive move like that again.  The South, unlike the North, simply did not have the population to repopulate the army.  I think strategy changed after that loss to remain on the defensive, hoping that a new President would be elected in 1864 and allow the south to secede in order to end the war.

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

U.S. History

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Michael Troy

Expertise

I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.

Experience

I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.

Publications
http://unlearnedhistory.blogspot.com

Education/Credentials
J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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