Civil War Times

FATEFUL 20 DECISIONS GETTYSBURG

The Battle of Gettysburg raged over three horrible days, July 1, 2, and 3, 1863, and turned an agricultural crossroads town into an international byword for titanic conflict. The fighting that took place on the hills, ridges, and farm fields of Gettysburg, did not, however, occur as a result of random chance. Events unfolded as they did because of a series of critical decisions made before, during, and after the engagement by commanders in both armies and at all levels. A select number of these decisions determined the way that the battle, and the entire campaign, unfolded.

Gettysburg was shaped by 20 such critical decisions. One was strategic, three operational, 14 tactical, and two organizational. Eight were made at army, six at corps, three at division, and three at brigade levels. Eight were made by Union commanders, 12 by Confederate commanders. All were implemented by the thousands of soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.

1 The Army of Northern Virginia Goes North

ARMY-LEVEL STRATEGIC DECISION

DESPITE CONFEDERATE VICTORY at Chancellorsville in early May, both armies still faced each other across the Rappahannock River, just as they had after the Battle of Fredericksburg some four months previously. General Robert E. Lee (above) had various campaign options for the summer of 1863. Two kept the Army of Northern Virginia in its namesake state. One called for his army to join the fighting in the Western Theater. A fourth option sent his army across the Potomac River into Northern territory—allowing it to gather forage and supplies, disrupt Union campaign plans and perhaps gain a political advantage with a battlefield victory. The Battle of Gettysburg resulted from Lee’s decision to go with that option.

2 The Army of Northern Virginia Reorganizes

ARMY-LEVEL ORGANIZATIONAL DECISION

SINCE THE SUMMER OF 1862, Lee’s army had been organized into what were known first as wings, then corps, commanded by Lt. Gens. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson

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