By Art Cashin
On this day in 1863, two civil war battles were reaching climactic moments. Their outcomes would change the course of the war and the history of the nation. They shared something else beside their timing and importance.
They also shared a name – or at least part of a name. They were the “burgs” – Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
Following the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee decided to take the campaign north. He hoped to threaten Harrisburg or even Philadelphia. By placing a “northern” city at risk, he hoped the people and politicians would force Lincoln to sue for peace.
The fact that the battle took place at Gettysburg was somewhat of an accident. The two armies “bumped into” each other and the battle ensued.
The battle began on July 1st and on that day things went well for the Rebels. They routed Union forces, who fled through town. On the second day both sides were fully deployed. The Confederates mounted an assault on the left flank of the Union forces. Taking heavy casualties, the Union forces buckled but did not break.
On the third day (today), Lee determined to break the deadlock. Originally, the plan called for General Longstreet of the Confederates to attack the Union on its left flank but that plan had to be changed. Instead, they sent 12,000 men across an open field for three-quarters of a mile to attack the Union forces. Less than half those 12,000 would return. Despite the withering fire in the open field, the Rebels temporarily broke through and Union forces began to fall back. Reinforcements were quickly sent in and Rebels were beaten back.
The three day battle was over with nearly 50,000 casualties. Lee and his forces headed back to Virginia, never to come north again.
Nearly a half continent away, Confederate General John C. Pemberton was preparing to surrender the besieged city of Vicksburg and his 30,000 men to his Union opponent, Ulysses Grant. The surrender would propel Grant to take over the Union army.
Those two days, July 3rd and 4th of 1863 were devastating to the Confederate cause. Some believe that if Stonewall Jackson had not died at Chancellorsville, Lee might have been victorious. It is one of those historical “what ifs” that never happened.
Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art’s posts simply click on “Cashin’s Comments” in the label section on the sidebar.
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