Why was the Battle of Gettysburg such a defeat for the South?

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#1
The South had already tried to attack both Union flanks and failed. There was only one more option for the South. The South decided to attack the center of the field where the Union army was stationed. This meant that they had to march over open ground for a mile. There was no place to duck and cover. The Confederate Army was open to being attacked by the Union Army over a flat open field. This march is known as Pickett's Charge. The charge was a failure and Pickett's division was wiped out.
 

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#2
Pickett's Charge was arguably the worst defeat in the Battle of Gettysburg. General Lee never forgave himself for the defeat. This sense of defeat took a toll on General Lee because he carried it on his shoulders for the rest of the war. Perhaps he gave up hope that he could win the war. Maybe this is why the North ended up winning.
 
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#3
I agree it is possible that General Lee already felt defeat. General Stonewall Jackson was already dead by this point in the war. General Lee probably felt like he was starting to lose his most trusted and reliable leaders.
 
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#4
Lee also lost more men then he had ever dreamed of during the battle. He was devastated by the loss of his men. He felt unbelievable guilt over all the death.
 
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#5
Pickett may have been the wrong man to lead the men in the charge. He finished dead last in his class at West Point. Perhaps his ability to lead the men in the charge was simply not good enough. He may have been over confident in his abilities.
 
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#6
The South had already tried to attack both Union flanks and failed. There was only one more option for the South. The South decided to attack the center of the field where the Union army was stationed. This meant that they had to march over open ground for a mile. There was no place to duck and cover. The Confederate Army was open to being attacked by the Union Army over a flat open field. This march is known as Pickett's Charge. The charge was a failure and Pickett's division was wiped out.
The attack on July 3rd was tragic but Pickett's Division was not wiped out. If we exclude Dearing's Battalion, the casualty rate was about 45%. The officer corps was particularly hard hit, however (about 60%).

R
 
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#7
Pickett may have been the wrong man to lead the men in the charge. He finished dead last in his class at West Point. Perhaps his ability to lead the men in the charge was simply not good enough. He may have been over confident in his abilities.
I disagree here. Pickett was only in charge of his own division, not the entire attack. And he knew exactly what he was marching into. Before ordering his men forward he told Dick Garnett to move quick and not stop for they were "going to catch hell."

R
 
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#9
That is a good point. Who knows what could have happened if somebody else led the charge. Up until Gettysburg the Union was pretty much losing the war. This was the first major victory for the North. It was such a huge battle that the outcome of the war was almost decided on the outcome of Gettysburg. Lee refused to give up because of his stubbornness, which he was known for. The war went on for two more years which cost more lives. It should have ended at Gettysburg but Lee refused to accept defeat which continued to cost him.
 

jgoodguy

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#10
IMHO Gettysburg snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Lee successfully was able to plunder the Pennsylvania country side for several months of supplies. Had he stopped and withdrew into Virginia he would have had a great victory. The defeat had 2 parts, the loss of men and the loss of the appearance of invincibility. In addition, it happened just as Vicksburg fell. So a double morale whammy.

However the ANV fought on for two more years. The battle of Gettysburg just continued the stalemate on the Eastern theater of the war. The AOP was unable to pursue due to several reasons, damage, lack of supplies, leadership problems. So it was not a strategic defeat where the ANV was destroyed as a fighting force. However with the losses at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville the ANV was very badly hurt.

(Gettysburg)
Busey and Martin's more recent definitive 2005 work, Regimental Strengths and Losses, documents 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured or missing).[5] Nearly a third of Lee's general officers were killed, wounded, or captured.

(Chancellorsville)
With only 60,000 men engaged, he suffered 13,303 casualties (1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded, 2,018 missing),[3] losing some 22% of his force in the campaign—men that the Confederacy, with its limited manpower, could not replace. Just as seriously, he lost his most aggressive field commander, Stonewall Jackson. Brig. Gen. Elisha F. Paxton was the other Confederate general killed during the battle.
 
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#11
IMHO Gettysburg snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Lee successfully was able to plunder the Pennsylvania country side for several months of supplies. Had he stopped and withdrew into Virginia he would have had a great victory. The defeat had 2 parts, the loss of men and the loss of the appearance of invincibility. In addition, it happened just as Vicksburg fell. So a double morale whammy.

However the ANV fought on for two more years. The battle of Gettysburg just continued the stalemate on the Eastern theater of the war. The AOP was unable to pursue due to several reasons, damage, lack of supplies, leadership problems. So it was not a strategic defeat where the ANV was destroyed as a fighting force. However with the losses at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville the ANV was very badly hurt.

(Gettysburg)
Busey and Martin's more recent definitive 2005 work, Regimental Strengths and Losses, documents 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured or missing).[5] Nearly a third of Lee's general officers were killed, wounded, or captured.

(Chancellorsville)
With only 60,000 men engaged, he suffered 13,303 casualties (1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded, 2,018 missing),[3] losing some 22% of his force in the campaign—men that the Confederacy, with its limited manpower, could not replace. Just as seriously, he lost his most aggressive field commander, Stonewall Jackson. Brig. Gen. Elisha F. Paxton was the other Confederate general killed during the battle.
Lee gets a piece of victory at Gettysburg according to his plans - they got supplies, got the AOP out of Virginia for a bit - but at what cost :frown:. In regards to supplies - might a few well planned raids over the PA - MD. border - without commiting to a battle reaped the same rewards. And with those raids - the AOP, or at least a good part of it would have been off-balance - Washington would have been howling for Hooker to get up North right quick with the same results of getting the AOP out of Virginia - just sayin' :wink:
 

jgoodguy

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#12
Lee gets a piece of victory at Gettysburg according to his plans - they got supplies, got the AOP out of Virginia for a bit - but at what cost :frown:. In regards to supplies - might a few well planned raids over the PA - MD. border - without commiting to a battle reaped the same rewards. And with those raids - the AOP, or at least a good part of it would have been off-balance - Washington would have been howling for Hooker to get up North right quick with the same results of getting the AOP out of Virginia - just sayin' :wink:
Possible motives.

Lee became overconfident after Chancellorsville.
Davis threatened to send part of the ANV to help Pemberton at Vicksburg.
Morale booster for South. Public opinion was closely related to military victories.
If he does nothing, he will be attrited by superior Union forces until he is unable to properly defend Virginia as will as his army sent elsewhere piecemeal to reenforce other forces.
Loot and relief for Virginia by having the Army using another state's resources.
The off chance of destroying the AOP.

I'd think the raids would be a good idea, if supplies were just the main motive. I am not sure the effect on either Northern or Southern moral would have been as great. There would be the risk the the AOP in Va would take advantage of a raid to attack while other Union forces dealt with the raiders.
 
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#13
Possible motives.

Lee became overconfident after Chancellorsville.
Davis threatened to send part of the ANV to help Pemberton at Vicksburg.
Morale booster for South. Public opinion was closely related to military victories.
If he does nothing, he will be attrited by superior Union forces until he is unable to properly defend Virginia as will as his army sent elsewhere piecemeal to reenforce other forces.
Loot and relief for Virginia by having the Army using another state's resources.
The off chance of destroying the AOP.

I'd think the raids would be a good idea, if supplies were just the main motive. I am not sure the effect on either Northern or Southern moral would have been as great. There would be the risk the the AOP in Va would take advantage of a raid to attack while other Union forces dealt with the raiders.
Good points - and a what if (I promised I wouldn't do that :wink:). - If Hooker had turned to Richmond - disregarded Stanton's orders - the ANV would've done an about face that would've given them whiplash.
 

whitworth

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#14
Some Americans, 150 years later, still have difficulty accepting the fact that the Confederacy lost the war. Americans have difficulty accepting that any American, even Confederates, can lose in war. If you've never been a soldier, that can pass as unimportant. But a professional soldier better know well, that defeat can come and that it has happened to Americans.
When I studied war, I studied why Lee lost and didn't win. There is no doubt Lee could fight, long after the overall war was lost. The Confederacy had lost any chance of becoming a 13 state independent country, long before Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Historians note Lee in Virginia, but Virginia, where the Confederacy controlled, was only one state. The Confederacy needed victories in 13 states and more, victories that did not come as early as 1862.
 

jgoodguy

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#15
Some Americans, 150 years later, still have difficulty accepting the fact that the Confederacy lost the war. Americans have difficulty accepting that any American, even Confederates, can lose in war. If you've never been a soldier, that can pass as unimportant. But a professional soldier better know well, that defeat can come and that it has happened to Americans.
When I studied war, I studied why Lee lost and didn't win. There is no doubt Lee could fight, long after the overall war was lost. The Confederacy had lost any chance of becoming a 13 state independent country, long before Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Historians note Lee in Virginia, but Virginia, where the Confederacy controlled, was only one state. The Confederacy needed victories in 13 states and more, victories that did not come as early as 1862.
IMHO it was a bit more muddled than that. The definite defeat is known as it is history.

A different history, say British and French intervention which became unlikely only after January 1863, would have been different. The Union went through a whole stable of Generals before they got Grant. The Southern Strategy was simply to make the cost for the Union too high politically to continue. Lincoln almost was defeated in '64. So I'd say not known in say 62 or early 63. Reasonably questionable until after the Battle of Atlanta.
 
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#16
On the Union side, Gettysburg and Vicksburg were huge boosts to Union morale.

I have seen it said many times, that the Confederacy did not have to "win" the war, per se. Rather, they had to make the war so uncomfortable and unpopular in the North that the North would opt to end the fighting. (This is what happened in the case of the Revolutionary War, where the British tired of the long war with the Patriots. And I'm not sure, but I believe that this happened in the case of the US-Viet Nam War - it became too unpopular to be politically viable.)

A huge defeat on Union ground might have been that event which made northerners feel that the peace was preferable to continued fighting and threats to the northern populace. But it was not meant to be.

- Alan
 

CSA Today

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#17
On the Union side, Gettysburg and Vicksburg were huge boosts to Union morale.

I have seen it said many times, that the Confederacy did not have to "win" the war, per se. Rather, they had to make the war so uncomfortable and unpopular in the North that the North would opt to end the fighting. (This is what happened in the case of the Revolutionary War, where the British tired of the long war with the Patriots. And I'm not sure, but I believe that this happened in the case of the US-Viet Nam War - it became too unpopular to be politically viable.)

A huge defeat on Union ground might have been that event which made northerners feel that the peace was preferable to continued fighting and threats to the northern populace. But it was not meant to be.

- Alan

Great point, The AOP defeated again under the leadership of yet another failed general and this time on Northern soil and the significance of Vicksburg would have suddenly seemed remote.

"The world has never seen better soldiers than those who followed Lee; and their leader will undoubtedly rank as without exception, the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth."

Theodore Roosevelt
 

David Knight

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#18
Apart from the obvious that a major defeat killed off any chance of overseas support (coming so soon after Lincoln brought slavery to the centre of the Union Political agenda) the best chance of Politically defeating the Union were gone. Simply numbers suggest that as long as the Northern Population supported the War the Confederacy was doomed to military defeat. The side with the bigger resources and manpower usually wins war of attrition.

As we know public opinion is always key to a country's fighting ability and the south did not defeat Northern Public opinion so Gettysburg was key to reinforcing Union Morale and Public support.
 
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#19
Gettysburg didn't doom the South, it just made them loose valuable men and prevented a victory at that time. The war was really lost in the west. Lee pretty much held his ground until the very end, not so with Bragg, Johnston, Hood, etc.
 

ExNavyPilot

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#20
That is a good point. Who knows what could have happened if somebody else led the charge. Up until Gettysburg the Union was pretty much losing the war. This was the first major victory for the North. It was such a huge battle that the outcome of the war was almost decided on the outcome of Gettysburg. Lee refused to give up because of his stubbornness, which he was known for. The war went on for two more years which cost more lives. It should have ended at Gettysburg but Lee refused to accept defeat which continued to cost him.
Gettysburg didn't doom the South, it just made them loose valuable men and prevented a victory at that time. The war was really lost in the west. Lee pretty much held his ground until the very end, not so with Bragg, Johnston, Hood, etc.
Tim,
As Joshua points out in his post, most big battles in the West were Union victories. By the time of Gettysburg, the North won the following victories in the Western and Trans-Mississippi Theaters:

Boonville, June 1861--helped hold Missouri in the Union
Forts Henry and Donelson, Feb 1862--pushed Confederacy out of Kentucky and opened up Tennessee to attack
Nashville, Feb 1862--surrendered without a fight, remaining in Union hands throughout the war
Pea Ridge, Mar 1862--ended a Confederate push in Arkansas
New Madrid, Island #10, New Orleans, Mar-Apr 1862--captured most of the Mississippi River
Shiloh, Corinth Mar-Apr 1862--drove Confederate Army further south
Memphis, June 1862--capture of another key city
Iuka, Corinth, Sep-Oct 1862--defeat of Confederate attacks intended to help Bragg in Kentucky
Perryville, Oct 1862--pushed Bragg out of Kentucky, which remained in Union hands the rest of the war
Prairie Grove, Dec 1862--stopped another Confederate push in Arkansas
Stones River, Dec 1862-Jan 1863--start of the campaign to push Bragg out of central Tennessee
Port Gibson, Jackson, Champion's Hill (May 1863)--continuous victories in Grant's Vicksburg Campaign, forcing the seige.
Milliken's Bend (June 1863)--defeat of Confederate forces sent from Louisiana to help at Vicksburg

Also, don't forget the Union victories in the Carolinas during the first part of the war; Hatteras (Aug 61), Port Royal (Nov 61), Roanoke Island & Elizabeth City (Feb 62), New Berne and Fort Macon (Beaufort) (Mar-Apr 62), and Fort Pulaski (Apr 62), which gave the Union control of the Albemarle Sound and North Carolina coast (except Wilmington).

Don't fall into the trap of looking at the whole Civil War in the context of the Army of the Potomac vs the Army of Northern Virginia.
 



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