This week in history: The Battle of Gettysburg a turning point in Civil War
In his book “Gettysburg,” historian Stephen W. Sears wrote: “By the best estimate, better than half of the 13,000 Confederates who made Pickett's Charge were casualties — 6,600. And just over half that number, 3,350 (wounded and unwounded), became prisoners of the Yankees. The count of the dead came to some 1,190. Thus 35 percent of the men who made the charge were immediately removed from the Confederate rolls through death or capture.”
It was a loss the Army of Northern Virginia could not sustain. Seeing the devastation to his army, Lee realized that further attacks were useless and ordered his men to retreat back into Virginia. Though Meade entertained the idea of pursuit and counterattack, his forces were too spent after the hard-fought battle, and the Army of Northern Virginia was allowed to escape and fight again another day.
The Battle of Gettysburg saw each side suffer roughly 23,000 casualties (killed, captured and wounded), making it the war's most destructive battle. The next day, July 4, as Lee's army hastily retreated southward, Grant took Vicksburg on the Mississippi River. The twin victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg ensured that the Confederacy's days were numbered. Never again would the Army of Northern Virginia invade the north, and, indeed, it spent the rest of the war on the defensive.
After the defeats that summer, the Confederate strategy shifted from one of seeking a decisive military victory (which its army could at that point no longer produce) to one of wearing down the enemy — of making the war so costly for the Union that the Northern peace party would elect a president in the fall of 1864 who would end the war and grant Confederate independence. It was not to be.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. Cody has also appeared on many local stages, including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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