As dawn broke over Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1863, the fate of the United States teetered on a razor's edge. The Confederate Army of Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee, had just won a massive victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia, and was now marching through Union territory. The Union Army of the Potomac was the only thing standing between Lee and the Union capital, Washington, DC. Commanding the Union forces was newly promoted General George Meade, who replaced General Joseph Hooker after his defeat at Chancellorsville.
The Confederate cause was on the brink of success. A victory in Union territory would leave DC exposed and had the potential to cause France and Great Britain to recognize the Confederacy internationally. These factors, combined with strengthening sentiment in the North to end the conflict, could ultimately force Abraham Lincoln to concede the independence of the Confederate States. It seemed that, with a single victory, the South could win the conflict.
On that sunny, summer morning, Meade was attempting to keep his troops between Lee and the capital. He sent his cavalry, led by General John Buford, ahead to scout. Meanwhile, Lee's troops, organized into three corps, were attempting to meet at South Mountain, where they would be in a strong position to either defend or attack. The three corps were led by General Richard S. Ewell, General A.P. Hill, and General James Longstreet. The Confederate Cavalry was led by General J.E.B. Stuart, and had gone on a raid behind the Union troops. The two opposing forces would meet at Gettysburg, where over three days of intense battle, history would be made.
By the time the dust settled on the fourth day, 11,000 men had perished, 29,000 were wounded, and 10,000 were missing. However, the Union troops remained, and the Confederate troops were retreating back to Virginia. How did Meade's Army of the Potomac manage to win this crucial victory over a Confederate force led by one of the most brilliant generals in American history?