July 1, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a 3 day battle of the American Civil War which has rightly been called on the most important battles in not just American but also World history. On such an occasional, I think it appropriate to offer my thoughts on some interesting facts about the battle as well as its continued significance.
We’re #1 – Over 165,000 troops fought at Gettysburg (almost 94000 for the Union; almost 72,000 for the Confederacy) making it the largest battle every fought in the Western Hemisphere.
The South came in from the North. – Robert E. Lee had marched the Army of Northern Virginia across the border into the Union hoping to lay siege to Harrisburg, and maybe even Philadelphia. The goal was to make the North weary of fighting the war and allow the South to leave the Union. Using the valleys in the Appalachian Mountains, Lee marched his army in a large counter clockwise arch around Washington DC. When Union forces suspects something was up, they marched northwest to meet them. Thus, the South arrived at Gettysburg from the North and West. The North arrived marching from the Southeast.
High Tide of the Confederacy – the South had defeating the Union soundly at several important battles previous to Gettysburg. Lee’s invasion of the North had been founded on the high morale of his troops and the belief that one more Union loss, especially on Northern soil, would end the war. The Union Victory at Gettysburg was a watershed. Though there was much ebb and flow in the subsequent years, in hindsight, this was as close as the South got to winning the war.
Almost another 4th of July – The Battle Lasted from July 1-3. If the South had won on the Third day, it is possible that many would have seen July 4th as the day the south had also won its Independence.
WWI? – Winston Churchill argued in the 1930’s that a Lee victory at Gettysburg would have touched off a sequence of events that might have prevented World War I. Churchill’s reasoning goes something like this: Lee wins. England enters the war in support of the South. The North gives up its desire to keep the South in the Union. Peace between North and South is brokered by the British Empire. An “English-Speaking Union” is formed between the three countries, giving England the ability to counter the German Speaking union of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Thus, a balance of power in Europe and no World War I.