One of the greatest military conflicts in the history of North America began on July 1, 1863, when Union and Confederate forces collided in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The epic battle lasted three days and resulted in a retirement in Virginia from the army of North Virginia of Robert E. Lee.
Two months before Gettysburg, Lee had inflicted a staggering defeat on the Army of the Potomac in Chancellorsville, Virginia. He then made plans for an invasion of the North to ease the pressure on war-tired Virginia and take the initiative from the Yankees. His army, numbering about 80,000, began to move on June 3. The Army of the Potomac, commanded by Joseph Hooker and numbering just under 100,000, began to move soon after, remaining between Lee and Washington, DC But on June 28, frustrated by the Lincoln administration restrictions on his autonomy as commander, Hooker resigned and was replaced by George G. Meade.
READ MORE: How the Battle of Gettysburg Changed the Course of the Civil War
Meade assumed command of the Potomac Army as Lee’s army moved to Pennsylvania. On the morning of July 1, forward force units contacted just outside Gettysburg. The sound of battle attracted other units and at noon the conflict was raging. During the first hours of battle, Union General John Reynolds was killed and the Yankees discovered they were outnumbered. The battle lines ran around the northwest edge of Gettysburg. The Confederates exerted pressure along the Union front and slowly led the Yankees through the city.
In the evening, federal troops gathered on heights at the southeast end of Gettysburg. As more troops arrived, Meade’s army formed a three-mile long hook line from Culp’s Hill on the right flank, along Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, to the basis of Little Round Top. The Confederates held Gettysburg and stretched along a six-mile arc around the Union position. Lee’s forces would continue to beat each end of the Union position, before launching the famous Pickett charge against the center of the Union on July 3.