Gettysburg Battle Campaign of the Civil War

General Alfred Pleasonton

General Alfred Pleasonton

Upperville  (June 21, 1863, Virginia) – Two days later, yet another battle would be fought in Loudoun County, Virginia on June 21, 1863. In the Upperville Battle, the Union cavalry made a determined effort to pierce Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry screen. Stuart had been fighting a series of delaying actions in the Loudoun Valley, hoping to keep Union General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry from discovering the location of the main body of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, much of which was in the Shenandoah Valley just west of the small village of Upperville.

Reinforcing Stuart was Brigadier General Wade Hampton’s and Colonel Bevery Robertson’s brigades, who made a stand at Goose Creek, west of Middleburg, and beat back Colonel J. Irvin Gregg’s division.

Union Cavalry Officer John Buford’s column detoured to attack the Confederate left flank near Upperville but encountered Confederate Brigadier Generals William E. “Grumble”  Jones’s and John R. Chambliss’s brigades while J. Irvin Gregg’s and Judson Kilpatrick’s brigades advanced on the Upperville from the east along the Little River Turnpike. After furious mounted fighting, Stuart withdrew to take a strong defensive position in Ashby Gap, even as Confederate infantry crossed the Potomac into Maryland. As cavalry skirmishing diminished, Stuart made the fateful decision to strike east and make a circuit of the Union army as it marched toward Gettysburg.  In the battle, 400 soldiers lost their lives.

Hanover (June 30, 1863, Pennsylvania) – Having finally crossed over into York County, Pennsylvania, Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, which was riding north to get around the Union army, attacked a Union cavalry regiment, driving it through the streets of Hanover. Brigadier General Farnsworth’s brigade arrived and counterattacked, routing the Confederate vanguard and nearly capturing Stuart himself. Stuart continued to battle, but when Farnsworth was reinforced by Brigadier General George A. Custer’s brigade, a stalemate ensued. Stuart was forced to continue north and east to get around the Union cavalry, further delaying his attempt to rejoin Lee’s army which was then concentrating at Cashtown Gap west of Gettysburg. The battle cost the lives of some 330 men.

Confederate dead at Gettysburg

Confederate dead at Gettysburg

Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863, Pennsylvania) – While Lee’s troops moved into Pennsylvania, Major General George G. Meade was leading his Union Army forces north from Washington. Fortunately for General Meade, Lee’s Cavalry Commander, Major General James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart’, instead of reporting Union movements to Lee, had gone off on a raid deep in the Union rear. Therefore, Lee was “blind” to the Union’s position and it wasn’t until a scout reported their imminent approach that he was aware of the close proximity of the Union forces. Ordering his men to converge west of the small village of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the two armies came into first contact on July 1, 1863.

General Robert E. Lee concentrated his full strength against the Union Troops converging on Gettysburg the town from west and north, driving Union defenders back through the streets to Cemetery Hill. During the night, reinforcements arrived for both sides and by the morning of July 2nd, almost 160,000 men were assembled.

Lee attempted to envelop the Federals, first striking the Union left flank at the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, and the Little Round Top with Longstreet’s and Hill’s divisions, and then attacking the Union right at Culp’s and East Cemetery Hills with Ewell’s divisions. Though the Union defenders suffered significant losses, they held their lines.

During the morning of July 3, the fighting resumed on Culp’s Hill and the Confederates were driven back. In the afternoon, after a preliminary artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge with some 12,500 soldiers. The Pickett-Pettigrew assault (more popularly, Pickett’s Charge) momentarily pierced the Union line but was driven back with severe casualties. Stuart’s cavalry attempted to gain the Union rear but was repulsed. On July 4, Lee began withdrawing his army toward Williamsport on the Potomac River. His train of wounded stretched more than fourteen miles.

The battle was the bloodiest in the Civil War and is often cited as the war’s turning point. Between 51,000 soldiers lost their lives in the three-day battle, of which 23,000 were Union and 28,000 Confederate.

That November President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the Union dead and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

General John D. Imboden

Williamsport (July 6-16, 1863, Maryland) – Also referred to as the Battle of Hagerstown or Falling Waters, this skirmish took place in Washington County, Maryland. During the night of July 4-5, Lee’s battered army began its retreat from Gettysburg, moving southwest on the Fairfield Road toward Hagerstown and Williamsport, screened by Stuart’s cavalry. The Union infantry followed cautiously the next day, converging on Middletown, Maryland. On July 7, Confederate Brigadier General John D. Imboden stopped John Buford’s Union cavalry from occupying Williamsport and destroying Confederate trains. Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division drove two Confederate cavalry brigades through Hagerstown before being forced to retire by the arrival of the rest of Stuart’s command. Lee’s infantry reached the rain-swollen Potomac River but could not cross, the pontoon bridge having been destroyed by a cavalry raid.

On July 11, Lee entrenched a line, protecting the river crossings at Williamsport and waited for Meade’s army to advance. On July 12th, Meade reached the vicinity and probed the Confederate line. The next day, skirmishing was heavy along the lines as Meade positioned his forces for an attack. In the meantime, the river fell enough to allow the construction of a new bridge, and Lee’s army began crossing the river after dark on the 13th.

On the morning of the 14th, Kilpatrick’s and Buford’s cavalry divisions attacked the rearguard division of Henry Heth still on the north bank, taking more than 500 prisoners. Confederate Brigadier General James Pettigrew was mortally wounded in the fight. On July 16, David Gregg’s cavalry approached Shepherdstown where Fitzhugh Lee’s and J.R. Chambliss’s brigades, supported by M.J. Ferguson’s, held the Potomac River fords against the Union infantry. Fitzhugh Lee and Chambliss attacked Gregg, who held out against several attacks and sorties, fighting sporadically until nightfall when he withdrew. In the end, 1,730 soldiers lay dead.

Boonsboro (July 8, 1863, Maryland) – In the midst of the Williamsport Battle, another was also taking place in Washington County, Maryland at Boonsboro. On July 8, the Confederate cavalry, holding the South Mountain passes, fought a rearguard action against elements of the Union 1st and 3rd Cavalry Divisions and infantry. This action was one of a series of cavalry combats fought around Boonsboro, Hagerstown, and Williamsport. The battle took the lives of 100 soldiers.

Federal soldiers at a Confederate fortification at Manassas, Virginia

Federal soldiers at a Confederate fortification at Manassas, Virginia

Manassas Gap (July 23, 1863, Virginia) – As the Confederate forces returned south, the Manassas Gap Battle took place in Warren County, Virginia. Sometimes referred to as the Battle of Wapping Heights, the skirmish occurred after Lee’s army had re-crossed the Potomac River into the Sheandoah Valley. Major General George G. Meade crossed the Potomac River east of the Blue Ridge and followed Lee into Virginia. On July 23, Meade ordered the III Corps, under Major General William. H. French to cut off the retreating Confederate columns at Front Royal by forcing passage through Manassas Gap. At first light, French began slowly pushing Major General Richard Anderson’s division of Walker’s Confederate brigade back into the gap. At about 4:30 pm, a strong Union attack drove Walker’s men until they were reinforced by Rodes’s division and artillery. By dusk, the poorly coordinated Union attacks were abandoned. During the night, Confederate forces withdrew into the Luray Valley. On July 24, the Union army occupied Front Royal, but Lee’s army was safely beyond pursuit. The battle had claimed 440 lives.

 

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2019.

Also See:

The Civil War

Civil War Photo Galleries

Robert E. Lee – Celebrated General of the South

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Battle summary information is courtesy of the American Battlefield Protection Program. Summaries were researched and written by Dale E. Floyd and David W. Lowe, staff members of the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission and historians with the National Park Service.

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