Battle of Gettysburg - Aftermath

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After Pickett's Charge, Confederate General Robert E Lee ordered his generals to contract their lines to prepare for the inevitable Union counterattack. It only made sense after such a crushing repulse of the rebel attack that the Federal forces would attempt to finish off Lee's army.

But Union General George Meade held his ground. He later admitted that he feared going after the Confederates would be like entering a wounded bear's den. Besides, the center of the Union line was in complete chaos after the rebel onslaught and would take time to get reorganized.

On 4 July, 1863, Lee sent his wagons and wounded west toward the Pennsylvania town of Chambersburg as the first stage of his retreat from Northern soil. When it became clear that Meade wasn't prepared or willing to attack, Lee ordered the rest of his army to head southwest down the Hagerstown Road toward Maryland.

With the Confederate withdrawing from Gettysburg, Meade also headed south and west along the Emmitsburg Road, content to allow the Confederates to leave Northern soil1. Meade's position also enabled him to keep between Lee's army and the cities of Baltimore and Washington, DC.

Lee and his wagon train met at Hagerstown, Maryland and then continued south to Williamsport, Maryland where he planned to cross the Potomac River back into Virginia. However the river was swollen after recent rains and Lee was unable to cross. With the Confederates stuck with their backs to the river, Meade rushed toward Williamsport from Frederick, Maryland and prepared for an attack on 14 July.

By the time the Federal troops began their assault, they found empty Confederate trenches. Lee's army had krept away in the night over a makeshift bridge. While privately Lincoln was upset that Lee was allowed to slip away, he recognized that a great victory had been won.

However, in a 31 July preliminary report submitted to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Lee called the action at Gettysburg a 'general success' but not a victory. A week later he wrote Davis again, offering his resignation of command of the army. Only after the war's end did Lee ever refer to Gettysburg as anything other than a general success in which he inflicted considerable damage on the Union forces arrayed against him.

The Confederates lost 20,000 men in the three days' fighting compared to 23,000 in Union losses. But these figures represent a third of Lee's army compared to XX percent of the Federal forces. Also, Lee had been soundly beaten and forced to quit the field for the first time in the war and from this point forward, the Confederate troops under Lee's command were on the defensive.

Pickett's Charge is considered the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. After that wave of Rebel soldiers broke upon the stone wall atop Cemetery Ridge, the Confederacy began to ebb away.

On 4 July 1863, Union General Ulysses S Grant accepted the surrender of the Southern city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, giving Federal forces control of the Mississippi River and cutting the southern states in half with Texas and Louisana on one side and Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia on the other. The war would last another two years, but they would be years without significant Confederate victories.

In November 1863, President Lincoln visited Gettysburg for the dedication of the National Cemetary there for the victims of the battle. In delivering his famous Gettysburg Address, he remarked:

blah, blah blah.

1President Abraham Lincoln is said to have angrily remarked to his secretary John Hay 'Will our generals never get that idea out of their heads? The whole country is our soil!'

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