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 (1863) Battle of Gettysburg
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AngusDalemon
New York  USA
Posts: 1
Joined: 2021
Why was the battle of Gettysburg so significant?
3/31/2021 1:58:57 AM
I understand the reason we remember it so much is because of the sheer amount of casualties, But i never quite understood what the significance of the battle really was. What was really at stake at Gettysburg, And would a Confederate victory have really changed much in the grand scheme of the war? And if there really wasn't much at stake, why is Gettysburg remembered more then say Shiloh Or Antietam?
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4932
Joined: 2004
Why was the battle of Gettysburg so significant?
3/31/2021 11:18:16 AM
Welcome !

The sheer drama of the battle accounts in large degree for its status as the most memorable.

It was panoramic, desperately closely contested, and beset by controversy for several generations.

It was pretty well in the middle of the war, when the outcome hung in the balance.

There was real grandeur, in the size of the armies, and the fact that it embroiled infantry, artillery and cavalry in the most comprehensive array of clashes.

The fact that it was fought on Union soil is also very important.

Its momentousness was consummated by Lincoln’s speech there.

If pressed to opine, my suggestion is that another Union defeat there - and then - was bound to be an existentially dangerous one for the Lincoln administration. Chancellorsville had been awful - My God ! What will the country say ? - lamented Lincoln on the news. Draft Riots in New York revealed how febrile things were.

The Union manpower and resources would still be preponderant if Lee had won the battle ; the fall of Vicksburg would still cut the Confederacy in half.....that said, I really feel that the blow to Northern morale and resolve would be hard to bear.

I do take your point - or your implication - that other battles have been too much overlooked.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 79
Joined: 2020
Why was the battle of Gettysburg so significant?
3/31/2021 12:45:28 PM
Hi Angus, Phil,

Well good question but need big answer. Some have called it THE turning point, but wont debate that here. But consider in the east since July 62; Seven Days, 2d Bull run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and massive debacle Chancellorville; a series of union failures. (Ok Antietam a draw, with important political impact). But another major Union defeat very likely cause political damage to Lincoln. Even the victory put off any major Union Movement for 10 mos. And like 2d bullrun/Antietam would/could a second follow on battle result in TWO major Union defeats in PA?? The contingency on the Gettysburg outcome is huge. The 1863 State elections turn out well for Lincoln with Vicksburg, Gettysburg victories but Gettysburg & Chickamauga defeats with conscription and emancipation may have significantly weakened Lincoln politically and reduced recruiting. Even with Gettysburg Vicksburg and Chattanooga and grant moving on Richmond Union recruiting in 64 was much weaker than 62. So, I hope we can at least agree that it makes no sense to say it wont matter, and yes its difficult to wonder just how but it but certainly yes it did impact the outcome. Maybe Union would have won even in Gettysburg defeat, but the terms and conditions may have been very different; No emancipation? No Union Occupation. No radical Reconstruction?
“significance of the battle really was” Big
“would a Confederate victory have really changed much in the grand scheme of the war”
Yes, certainly. History is not fate. IMHO
Great Question, thanks.
Mike_C
Mikecmaps

PS I like David Kaiser’s Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip to Hitler 1990; he says history was series of choices made by major actors not fated but moved by men and actions. Makes more sense to me.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4932
Joined: 2004
Why was the battle of Gettysburg so significant?
4/1/2021 2:57:56 PM
The contingency on the Gettysburg outcome is huge........choices made by major actors not fated but moved by men and actions .

That’s music to my ears, Mike !

Forgive my subjective approach , but I hate to see the use of the word “ inevitable “ in historical narrative : things turn on contingency ....people make choices and those choices matter.

Gettysburg certainly gives us scope to indulge that feeling.

In his opening post, Angus mentioned the enormity of the casualty figures for the battle.

Gettysburg was certainly extreme in that respect, but it undoubtedly had rivals....... in terms of proportionate losses, and the rate at which men were cut down in periods of time etc. Other battles had equally spine chilling statistics.

One thing about the Gettysburg bloodshed does stand out : the remarkable parity of the slaughter, with the two sides suffering astonishingly equal casualties, despite the terrible repulse suffered by the South on Day 3. Therein lies the corollary....by the end of Day 2 the Confederates enjoyed a significant edge in this respect, having inflicted loss that was not only significantly greater in absolute numbers, but was heavier even in proportionate terms.

I mention this in order to emphasise how dangerous this battle was for the Union. The stakes were high and the prospects of defeat pretty terrifying. Yes, I think it merits its preeminent reputation.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Tom Barrett
Turbotville PA USA
Posts: 87
Joined: 2005
Why was the battle of Gettysburg so significant?
4/3/2021 1:43:03 AM
In 1860 Pennsylvania was the second most populous state after NY. PA had nearly twice Virginia's population, nearly three times VA's free population. It was a prominent state bordered by three of the five border states. Lee's move was definitely audacious. There was a lot to lose if he lost but a lot to gain if he won. Harrisburg directly felt the pressure, likely DC, Baltimore and Philly too to some degree. The Army of Northern Virginia, spread out in a vast crescent across southern PA would have been impressively panic-inducing especially combined with Lee's reputation for success.

Gettysburg: A major battle and Union victory fought in the north, much-visited and celebrated then and now. To visit and celebrate a major Union victory, had it been in a southern state, in the decades after the war might have seemed like rubbing the former Confederacy's nose in it. Reconstruction with its sins did that enough. I had an aunt (by marriage) born and raised in 1917 in southern VA. She was a very nice lady, a "Southern Belle" but when she said "Damn Yankees" she wasn't entirely kidding. At an impressionable age she likely heard first-hand accounts of degradation, destruction, suffering and sorrow so her feelings had a basis in fact. The expression, "They're still fighting the Civil War" made its way into my family, my ears, my lifetime via my aunt. I'm sixty-eight.

Also, Gettysburg is located near major pop. centers without being swallowed by one and is very accessible. When in I do Park Watch in the summer months there are tour buses there from all over the nation. For many, especially school groups, it's a major trip "back east" to visit our country's historical sites in DC, Philly and Valley Forge and Gettysburg is geographically situated to the itinerary.

The field is vast and captures the imagination; Culp's Hill, Round Tops, Cemetery Hill, Devil's Den, Cemetery and Seminary Ridge, Pickett's Charge, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. First-time visitors; those I take and those I encounter are amazed at the size and topography. It haunts, in a good way, and stirs the imagination.

Had Lee won a smashing victory, had his audacious move into PA succeeded I think it entirely possible that: We could drive down through Maryland into VA to visit family and friends, I'd now be saying, "We're driving down to the Confederacy for the weekend. We'll be back Tuesday morning," and it wouldn't sound strange at all.

Too, much, probably most, of the field has been preserved. Say what we may about Sickles I'm glad he recognized early the need for preservation. His motive might have been self-serving but the result significant. However, had the south won a decisive victory there and its subsequent independence I doubt it would be a place that the Union would have been interested in preserving and any surviving on-field landmarks would be considered more eerie and forgettable than historically, hauntingly noteworthy.

Recently I read an opinion that the Union had to win the war and win it decisively whereas all the Confederacy had to do was hang on long enough for the north to lose its will for a war of attrition. Shelby Foote said that the north fought the war with one arm behind its back. That the north had the ability to prosecute the war indefinitely doesn't mean it had the will. I think Gettysburg's battle, and Lincoln's carefully crafted address, gave that will. These are some of the reasons I think the Battle of Gettysburg is so significant.

Best Regards,

Tom
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"To a pilot , the most important thing in the world is flight. To share it is without price." Richard Bach
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4932
Joined: 2004
Why was the battle of Gettysburg so significant?
4/3/2021 3:37:30 AM
That is a superb rendition, Tom, thanks !

Please pitch in more frequently .

That allusion to Shelby Foote’s claim that the North fought with one hand behind its back raises an important question here.

Would a Union defeat at Gettysburg have been such a shock as to have induced the North to bring that hand out from behind its back and engage with such might and fury as to finish the job ; or would the very severity of that shock have smashed what will remained to continue the war ?

Perhaps that hand would have been taken out and offered to shake in a peace settlement , and, as you suggest, accommodate the South in its existence as the Confederate States of America.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

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