Following his victory at Chancellorsville, General Robert E. Lee leads the Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania with goals of taking the heat off of war-torn northern Virginia and striking a blow against Northern morale by marching as far north as Philadelphia. The Army of the Potomac, under command of Major General George G. Meade for just three days, intercepts the Confederates at the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where fighting commences on July 1, 1863. Lee's army aggressively attacks the Union forces, which occupy the high points in and around Gettysburg. The Confederates take Gettysburg on the first day of the battle, and on the second day heavy fighting ensues on the Union's right and left flanks. Finally, following one of the largest artillery barrages of the war on July 3, 12,500 Confederates led by Major General George Picket emerge from a tree ridge and march 3/4 of a mile across an open field toward the center of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge. The Union defenders hold out against "Picket's Charge" with heavy artillery and rifle fire from their advantageous position on the high ground. Lee's aggressive style finally fails, and he is forced to withdraw on July 4. The defeat quells some plans in the South to accept Abraham Lincoln's surrender after the great battle, but the pitch battle does not end the Confederate rebellion. Once again, a commander of the Army of the Potomac, General Meade, fails to pursue and destroy the core of Lee's army, leaving it to fight another day. The war continues for two more years, but the Battle of Gettysburg (with the highest casualties of the war) does end General Lee's ability to make incursions into the North. For this it is widely remembered as the major turning point of the war, after which the Confederacy was placed on the defensive in the East.
Wednesday, July 1, 1863 to Friday, July 3, 1863