The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in July 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg was arguably the most important battle of the American Civil War and is certainly the most famous. However, another important event occurred in July 1863 – the surrender of the southern city of Vicksburg.
July 1st: The Confederates believed that the men at Gettysburg who had repulsed their advance on June 30th were militia and not regular soldiers. The commander of the Confederate force in the locality, Heth, decided to continue to advance on Gettysburg to secure what he deemed to be much-needed shoes. What started as a minor clash soon developed into something more. 2,500 Union infantrymen advanced to Gettysburg to give support and ended up capturing 1,000 Confederate troops and Brigadier-General Archer. More and more Confederate and Union infantry advanced on Gettysburg until seemingly overnight 22,000 Confederate troops and 16,500 Unionists are base d in and around Gettysburg.
July 2nd: Believing that he has superior numbers Lee ordered a full-scale attack against Union forces at Gettysburg. However, overnight, the Army of the Potomac had greatly increased its numbers so that Lee now faced 30,000 men. However, some units like the VI Corps had marched 30 miles overnight to be at Gettysburg and were hardly in a fit state to fight. In the initial stages of the Battle of Gettysburg, the upper hand rested with Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.
July 3rd: Lee was suffering from dysentery and this may have affected his decision-making. He believed that the Union force had shored up its flanks fearing that Lee would try to outflank them – not an unusual tactic used by Lee in the past. Lee decided to attack the heart of the Union’s forces believing that he could drive a wedge through the Unionists and that once separated they would withdraw in disarray. However, Lee got his calculations wrong. By now, Meade’s Army of the Potomac numbered 85,000 to Lee’s 75,000. At 13.00 the South started an artillery bombardment on Union positions. However, by 15.00, the South’s supply of artillery shells had run low and they could not sustain the bombardment. Lee resorted to a full-scale infantry charge. 13,000 men armed with rifles and bayonets from Major-General Pickett’s division charged Union positions. 7,000 were killed or wounded and the division retreated in disorder. Acknowledging that he had made the wrong decision, Lee, riding among the survivors said, “This was all my fault. It is I that has lost this fight, and you must help me out of it the best you can.”
On what was a disastrous day for the Confederacy, on July 3rd Pemberton offered the surrender of Vicksburg. Grant insisted on and got an unconditional surrender of the Confederate forces based in the besieged town.
July 4th: Both armies continued to face each other at Gettysburg but neither was inclined to fight. That night Lee ordered a withdrawal: his army had lost 22,000 men killed or wounded in just 3 days – 25% of the Army of Northern Virginia. Meade had lost 23,000 men but had emerged from the Battle of Gettysburg as the victor. The Union was also better able to cope with such losses. Bodies of those killed at Gettysburg took weeks to clear and by November 1863 only 25% of those killed had received a proper burial. The local undertaker claimed that he could only manage to move, clean and bury 100 bodies a day.
On this day, Vicksburg formally surrendered to Grant.
July 5th: Lee retreated with his severely weakened army but no attempt was made by Meade’s Army of the Potomac to pursue them such was the weakened state of his force. While Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg is seen as the turning point in the war, it has to be remembered that he withdrew with many Union prisoners.
July 6th: Meade’s army started to move out of Gettysburg and followed Lee’s army but did nothing to actively engage it.
July 8th: Port Hudson surrendered. The Confederate force there had been severely weakened by lack of food and fresh water. Only 50% of the Confederate troops there were capable of fighting. They surrendered 20 cannon and 7,500 rifles.
July 11th: Meade decided that his men were sufficiently rested after Gettysburg and decided that the Army of the Potomac had to become more proactive. The last thing that Meade wanted was for Lee’s men to cross the Potomac River.
July 13th: New York experienced race riots. The first draft in the city was heavily slanted towards the Irish community of New York. They also believed that while they were away fighting African-Americans would take their jobs. This belief was enflamed by the Democrat state governor, Horatio Seymour. Homes of Republican politicians within the city were attacked. Any African-Americans that the mob could find were also attacked.
That night the Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River and fooled Meade’s Army of the Potomac by leaving campfires alight giving the appearance that the men from Lee’s army were still in camp.
July 14th: riots continued in New York City; African Americans were murdered in the streets and city law enforcement agencies were unable to cope. Men from the Army of the Potomac were ordered to the city to restore law and order.
When President Lincoln was informed that Lee’s army had crossed the Potomac, he very publicly expressed his anger with Meade for allowing this. “We had them within our grasp. We had to only stretch forth our hands and they were ours.”
July 15th: the riots in New York were finally brought to an end. However, 1,000 people were killed by the army, which caused huge resentment among the Irish community in the city.
July 16th: General Sherman, fresh from his success at Vicksburg, advanced on Jackson, Mississippi. The Confederate forces there, commanded by General Johnston, withdrew.
July 18th: Union forces suffered losses in their attempt to capture Battery Wagner, near Charleston. Battery Wagner was a Confederate redoubt about 2,500 metres from Fort Sumter. 1,515 Union men were lost in the attack, including seven senior Union commanders. The Confederacy lost 174 men.
July 25th: Union ironclads joined the assault on Battery Wagner. However, shore defences were far better than anticipated by the Unionists.
July 29th: Unionists forces occupied the whole of Morris Island except Battery Wagner. If Wagner was captured, the Unionists could start a bombardment of Charleston.
July 30th: Lincoln clashed with Jefferson Davis. The head of the Confederacy had announced that any captured African-Americans fighting for the Unionists would be “handed over to the state authorities”. Within the South, it was a capital offence for an African-American to bear arms so the fate of any African-American caught by the South was obvious. Lincoln retaliated by announcing that any African-American executed would be met by the execution of one Southern prisoner-of-war. He also stated that any captured African-American returned to slavery would result on one Southern POW being put to hard labour.