Civil War Series

The Battle of Gettysburg



General Lee and others worked to prepare for a Union counterattack. That night Lee pulled Ewell's Corps from its positions in the town and opposite Culp's Hill back to Seminary Ridge, and the Confederate army spent a rainy Independence Day awaiting an attack from Meade's army that did not come. As it waited it prepared to return to Virginia. A wagon train seventeen miles long bearing many of its wounded was the first of Lee's army away, grinding slowly over Cashtown Pass in a rainstorm. The main army marched to the Hagerstown area via Monterey Pass. The last of it, Ewell's Corps, moved off on the morning of July 5 and two days later reached the Hagerstown area. There Lee found the Potomac River too swollen to cross. He placed his army in a strong defensive position and prepared for an attack while he waited for the river to fall.

The Army of the Potomac, which had also been damaged severely and was short of rations and other supplies, slogged to the Hagerstown area, not over the direct route taken by Lee but by way of Frederick, where it met its trains and got some needed supplies. From there it crossed the mountains to the west. It reached the Hagerstown area in force and on July 11th and 12th reconnoitered and deployed in front of the Confederate defenses. Heavy rains made all movement difficult. There were reconnaissances on the 13th, and Meade ordered reconnaissances-in-force on the following morning. The Army of the Potomac pushed forward on the 14th, but it was too late. The Potomac had subsided enough so that the Confederates had been able to cross it during the night, and Federal cavalry found only a rear guard at the pontoon bridge at Falling Waters, Maryland. Lee's army had returned to Virginia, his campaign over.


The numbers of casualties were huge. The Confederates reported 20,451, but there could have been as many as 7,000 more who were captured and not included in this figure. The reported Union count was 23,049, including one corps commander killed and two seriously wounded. Lee had accomplished some of his objectives: he had removed the war from Virginia for a few weeks, and his army had collected valuable supplies. But he had lost the decisive battle and had returrned to Virginia with a crippled army that never again, in the two years of war that followed, would be able to launch a major offensive. The march from Gettysburg led eventually to Appomattox.

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