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Battle of Gettysburg Ends the South’s Hopes

Print based on the painting called Hancock at Gettysburg by Thure de Thulstrup. Shows Major General Winfield S. Hancock riding along the Union lines during the Confederate bombardment prior to Pickett's Charge.
Battle of Gettysburg Ends South's Hopes for Independence
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From VOA Learning English, this is The Making of a Nation. I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise.

America's civil war in the 1860s did not have the full support of the people. In the North, many young men refused to join the Union army.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee saw the northern anti-war movement as a sign of weakness. He also saw it as an opening for a military victory. Lee hoped for a final, decisive blow that would bring the war to an end.

In the middle of 1863, 70,000 Confederate soldiers were ordered to move against the Union force at the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lee was not worried about the large Union Army of the Potomac. He believed it was far behind him, in Virginia. But Lee was wrong. The Union Army had followed him. And it reached Gettysburg first.

On July 1, 1863, the first group of northern soldiers formed a thin line of defense outside Gettysburg. The first group of southern soldiers attacked this line.

When the guns began to roar, both sides hurried more men to the front. By the next morning, Lee's 70,000 men faced a Union army of 90,000 men.

After the second day of fighting, Union commander George Meade met with his generals. He said he was sure General Lee would attack again. The next attack, Meade said, would be against the center of the Union line.

Meade was right.

On July 3rd, a little past one o'clock in the afternoon, a Confederate gun fired once. Then again. That was the signal to attack.

All at once, the Confederate artillery thundered. The cannon sent iron and smoke into the Union soldiers. Within minutes, hundreds lay dead or dying.

Union artillery on the hill answered the Confederate cannon. Men lay flat on the ground. They prayed for the shelling to stop. Finally, it did. And the smoke of battle began to clear.

Gettysburg Battlefield map
Gettysburg Battlefield map

Now the Union soldiers could see across the valley. The Confederates stood shoulder to shoulder in a line almost two kilometers long. Sunlight shone from their guns. Their battle flags waved. Slowly, the line began to move.

Union artillery opened fire. The guns tore big holes in the Confederate battle line. But the southerners kept moving forward up the hill.

Union soldiers rose from behind stone walls and fallen trees. They poured even more gunfire into the Confederate line. More and more bodies fell to the ground. Still, the Confederate line moved forward.

A few Confederates reached the Union line, but not enough to seize it. They were shot down.

Suddenly, the Confederates began racing down the hill. Many raised their hands in surrender.

Fifteen thousand had begun the attack. Only half returned.

The battle of Gettysburg was over.

General Lee's invasion of the North had failed. There was only one thing he could do now: retreat to Virginia.

On the Union side, General Meade lost so many men that he decided not to chase Lee immediately. He did not want to risk losing what remained of the Army of the Potomac.

Meade’s decision angered President Abraham Lincoln. He had told Meade that driving the Confederates out of the North was not enough. The southern army must be destroyed.

President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln

"We had them," Lincoln said. "We had only to stretch out our hands and take them. And nothing I could do or say could make the army move."

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise.

This is The Making of a Nation from VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

decisiveadj. causing something to end in a particular way

roar v. make a long, loud sound

torev. made a hole in a violent or forceful way