Ten major roads came together at Gettysburg in 1863.
That convergence allowed Union and Confederate forces to assemble at Gettysburg quickly for a three-day fight that remains the biggest and bloodiest battle in the history of the Americas.
By the evening of July 3, about one in four of the 94,000 Northern soldiers was killed, wounded, captured or missing. The proportion of casualties in the Southern ranks of about 72,000 was one in three.
Leading the armies were Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. George Meade.
Lee had arrived at Gettysburg after winning dazzling victories against a series of Union generals. Many of Lee's battlefield foes had been his comrades during his 32-year U.S. Army career. His opponent, Meade, had been put in command of Union forces just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg. Born in Spain, Meade was the son of a Philadelphia merchant-turned-diplomat and considered Pennsylvania his home state.
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Almost from the moment the fighting there ended, on-the-scene reporters and editorial writers began describing the battle in monumental terms. Some compared it to Napoleon's 1815 defeat at Waterloo. That view was bolstered by the near simultaneous surrender of the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Miss., on July 4. Those victorious Union troops were led by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
Many modern historians, however, think the battle's significance has been overstated.
"Terms like 'the turning point' and 'high-water mark of the Confederacy' are not the products of military analysis, but the words of journalists," Carol Reardon said in a recent interview.
Ms. Reardon, George Winfree Professor of American History at Penn State, and Tom Vossler, a retired Army colonel and former director of the Army's Military History Institute, are co-authors of the just-published "A Field Guide to Gettysburg." Ms. Reardon grew up in Brentwood, and her mother still lives there.
The fight had not begun well for the Union on the morning of July 1. U.S. Cavalry commander Gen. John Buford had sought to hold Gettysburg and its important crossroads from ridges north and west of the town. Despite the arrival of reinforcements commanded by Major Gen. John Reynolds, Northern troops were forced to retreat south through the town. Reynolds was killed in the early fighting.
Union soldiers, however, were able to hold and began to fortify Cemetery Hill on the south end of town.
"I give full credit to Buford and Reynolds in recognizing the key ground -- Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops," Mr. Vossler said. Their first-day maneuvering gave Union forces control of both the high ground and several major roads.
Actions by Buford and Reynolds assured that Gen. Meade had multiple options for action, including the choice of not challenging the Confederates at Gettysburg, Ms. Reardon said.
The Union line formed at Gettysburg usually is described as a fishhook. The 1993
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