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War between the States
The Battle of Gettysburg - The Aftermath


When the smoke cleared...

When the battle was over, the Army of the Potomac suffered 23,049 casualties. The Army of Northern Virginia suffered 28,000 casualties. With a total of 51,000 casualties, the Battle of Gettysburg is bloodiest battle in American history. In an area of 25 square miles, the battle was fought with 172,000 men and 634 cannon. 569 tons of ammunition was expended, and 5,000 horses were killed.

The Patriot Daughters of Lancaster
(Hospital Scenes After the Battle of Gettysburg)

"And then, these scenes themselves, who can adequately describe them? Houses demolished, fences destroyed, tall forest trees mowed down like so many stalks of hemp; artillery wagons crushed, broken muskets scattered in every direction, unused cartridges in immense numbers, balls of all kinds, ramrods and bayonets, bits of clothing, belts, gloves, knapsacks, letters in great quantities all lying promiscuously on the field; dead horses in great numbers, some torn almost asunder by cannon balls, some pierced in the side by grape shot, and others with their legs completely shot away; some noble chargers apparently kneeling in death, thir necks, crested with flowing manes, gracefully arched, as if still proud of the riders on their backs. And then many of the human dead, whose mutilated bodies, still unburied, where lying around in all positions. Some with their hands gently folded over on their breasts, others reclining gracefuly on their elbows, and other still leaning against trees, stumps or stones, as if wrapped in the arms of sleep, and given over sweet dreams."

Retreat to Virginia

On July 4, 1863, the 86th anniversary of the American Independence, the Confederate army waited for a counter-attack that never came. Around noon, it began to rain and washed away the blood. During the night, Lee retreated for Virginia. Some Union soldiers blocked Lee’s escape by destroying a bridge at the Potomac River, preventing his army from getting back to Virginia. Meade had decided not to attack Lee, but slowly pursued him. Although Meade had lost a fourth of its army to casualties, he was provided with reinforcements, boosting his army strength up to 85,000. Lee had lost a third of his army to casualties, and his army strength was further reduced by stragglers and deserters, leaving him with 35,000 men. On July 13-14, Lee’s men had rebuilt the bridge and crossed the Potomac River and went back onto Confederate soil.

President Lincoln had seen the Confederate invasion as an opportunity to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. When Lincoln heard of Lee’s escape, he wrote to Meade: “my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”

Dispatch from Halleck to Meade July 14
I need hardly say to you that the escape of Lee’s army without another battle has created great dissatisfaction in the mind of the President, and it will require an active and energetic pursuit on your part to remove the impression that it has not been sufficiently active heretofore.

Meade to Halleck July 14
Having performed my duty conscientiously and to the best of my ability, the censure of the President conveyed in your dispatch of 1 P.M. this day, is, in my judgment, so undeserved that I feel compelled most respectfully to ask to be immediately relieved from the command of this army.

Halleck to Meade July 14
My telegram stating the disappointment of the President at the escape of Lee’s army was not intended as a censure, but as a stimulus to an active pursuit. It is not deemed a sufficient cause for you application to be relieved.

Meade wasn't the only one to submit a resignation. Depressed, Lee asked Jefferson Davis to be relieved of command, only to be denied. The Confederacy paid a terrible price at the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee had lost a large number of men who were difficult to replace, wasted precious ammunition and supplies, and reduced the moral of his army. Lee’s army never recovered its losses, and all Confederate hopes of winning the war were gone with it. Because the Army of Northern Virginia would never invade the Union again, the Battle of Gettysburg is also known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. From that point on, the major battles of the American Civil War were fought in the west.


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