Union and Confederate armies weren’t planning to converge on Gettysburg in July 1863, but a series of movements and engagements that June and July brought the two sides together in what is now known as the most famous small town in America. We’ll be examining some of the events that brought the armies face to face in Gettysburg in 1863.
In the months before the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee made plans to head North above the Mason-Dixon Line to gain supplies and give relief to Virginia, which had been hammered by battles and depleted of resources. It was also a plan to strike in the North so that a Union defeat could take place on Northern soil and damage their morale.
Union cavalry led by Gen. Alfred Pleasonton (above) led the Cavalry Corps against Confederate cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart during the battle of Brandy Station, which was the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War.
Battle of Brandy Station
The Battle of Brandy Station in Virginia started on June 9, 1863. The largest cavalry battle in North America, it marked a shift in favor of the Union cavalry. This shift boosted the Union army’s morale while proving how important cavalry soldiers were in future campaigns.
Fairfax Court House, Virginia
Battle of Fairfax Court House
The Battle of Fairfax Court House, also in Virginia, started on June 27, 1863. Technically, this was a Confederate-won battle, but it was another morale booster for the Union cavalry, and it delayed Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart from sharing intelligence about Union positioning with Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Battle of Hanover
Another small but strategically significant battle took place east of Gettysburg on June 30, 1863, in Hanover, as Stuart was again delayed in providing information to Lee about the Union troops’ whereabouts. This battle helped shape the dynamics of the Battle of Gettysburg, as it made the Union Army aware of the Confederates’ movements and influenced their plans for the pivotal battle that would unfold over the next three days.
Battle of Gettysburg
Although the war raged on for two more years after the July 1863 battle, the Battle of Gettysburg is considered the turning point of the Civil War.
This battle’s human cost was staggering. It’s estimated that one-third of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army was killed and roughly 50,000 total casualties occurred over those three days in July, the most casualties during the entire war.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the only battle from which Lee retreated — and Gettysburg was the farthest north Confederate soldiers were able to progress during the Civil War. For the Union, this victory was the morale booster they needed to gain momentum for subsequent battles.
Thousands of people visit Gettysburg each year, the unassuming small town that was never supposed to see battle 160 years ago. Yet the events that occurred those three days in and around town put Gettysburg on the map for eternity. Whether it’s reviewing the armies’ strategies and pondering “what if” scenarios or learning about the civilians’ nerve-wracking experiences and the aftermath they endured, there is always something new to discover.
The Battle of Williamsport, also known as the Battle of Hagerstown or Falling Waters. The rain-swollen Potomac River fell enough to allow the construction of a new bridge, and Lee's army began crossing the river after dark on July 13.
Battle of Williamsport
Three days after the Battle of Gettysburg, Union troops chased after Lee and the Confederate Army in Washington County, Maryland, where the fighting lasted for ten days. While no clear victory was established at the Battle of Williamsport, the Union Army was able to escape the Confederate forces dealing a divisive blow, preserving the Union victory at Gettysburg and the Union Army’s momentum.
If you’re looking for a keepsake for the Gettysburg history buff in your life, take a moment to review the variety of items crafted by Gettysburg Sentinels and made from reclaimed wood from the battlefield. These handmade pieces are suitable for any gift-giving occasion!