Updated: Mar 8
If you were to ask the average person on the street what they remember learning about the Civil War, you more than likely would hear about the Battle of Gettysburg from more than a few people. After all, the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the bloodiest battles of the so-called 'War Between the States'.
Fought between the years of 1861 and 1865, the American Civil War was not fought against foreign enemies, but between a divided country. Several states in the South left the United States in order to form their own confederation. The Confederate forces, led by Robert E. Lee, won many battles in the South, but Lee ultimately planned to bring the war to the North. The result of this plan was both armies colliding in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania from July 1st to July 3rd of 1863.
Three days of fighting resulted in about 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in action.
Lee was the head of the 72,000 Confederate soldiers and General George Meade, head of the 100,000 Union troops. The fact of the matter is that neither of these men could have possibly organized almost 175,000 soldiers single-handedly. Instead, both generals had to rely on the commanders of the various infantry and cavalry that made up each army.
The Critical Roles of Buford and Longstreet in the Battle of Gettysburg
While names like “Stonewall Jackson” or William Tecumseh Sherman might be more prominent in the minds of those who learned about the Civil War in middle and high school, the contributions of other generals played critical roles in the outcome of various battles. In particular, the Union’s John Buford and the Confederate’s James Longstreet made significant contributions to their respective sides that ultimately shaped the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Gettysburg Sentinels creates some of our products with wood from General John Buford’s Oak and General James Longstreet’s Oak. These are called Witness trees, which are trees that were alive at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg almost 160 years ago! While it would be wonderful to be able to hear from the trees themselves about what they witnessed, we can instead learn more about the generals for which these trees are named.
General John Buford: “Old Steadfast”
Brigadier General John Buford came from a family who helped shape America in its infancy. His grandfather served during the American Revolution under the command of Henry “Lighthorse” Lee, who was the father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. His father was a Democratic politician who not only represented the state of Illinois, but was a political opponent of 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.
A graduate of the United States Military Academy West Point, Buford was wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and was involved in battles at South Mountain and Antietam. However, it was his actions at the Gettysburg Campaign that would help solidify the Union’s victory on July 3rd.
Buford's Bold Move
On June 30th, 1863, Buford and his men came across Confederate rebels in the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When he realized that the rebels were in fact a much larger force, the decision was made to hold the high ground. Buford’s defensive plan gave other groups like Major General John Reynold I Corps time to arrive to the area and keep Union footholds from falling into Confederate hands.
Despite the high cost from the 51,000 casualties on both sides, the Army of the Potomac - the Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War - not only won the Battle of Gettysburg, but also the war of public opinion in the North.
Buford’s holding of the high ground certainly exemplifies the old adage that “the best offense is a good defense”.
General James Longstreet: “Old War Horse”
James Longstreet also graduated from the United States Military Academy West Point. Prior to his service to the Confederacy, he served in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War where he was wounded in battle.
Continue reading part 2 of General John Buford & General James Longstreet: Mighty Oak to see General James Longstreet's side of the story.
History in Your Hands
The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the bloodiest in American history with 51,000 dead, wounded, or missing in action. Though Generals Lee and Meade get top billing as the leaders of their respective armies, it's important to remember that the decisions made by one person can have lasting consequences.
The Importance of Defense
Buford and Longstreet both championed the idea of the necessity of defense being a necessary strategy for desired outcomes, and if Lee had accepted Jackson’s advice, the fight might have turned out quite differently. Nevertheless, Lee’s army was forced to retreat on July 4th, the Union claimed victory in the battle, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Having a better understanding of the backgrounds of the people who have their names associated with the Witness trees certainly add a newfound appreciation to the handcrafted products made here at Gettysburg Sentinels.
Take a look at our unique hand-crafted wooden items made from the wood of the Battle of Gettysburg. Each piece is made with care and attention to detail and is a perfect addition to any history enthusiast's collection. They also make wonderful gifts!