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Setting the Stage


Explain to students that Gettysburg was a pivotal battle of the Civil War, involving more than 160,000 combatants from both sides. The three days of fighting, July 1-3, 1863, resulted in 51,000 casualties, the greatest number of any Civil War battle. Militarily, it was the South's last attempt at a full-scale invasion of the North. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had hoped to gain European support for the South, fuel the growing movement for peace in the North, turn the attention of Union armies away from Confederate territory, and find provisions for his army. His failure to achieve a victory at Gettysburg made it the turning point in the eastern theater of the war; after the Gettysburg campaign, the Confederate army could no longer sustain an offensive.

After the carnage of Gettysburg, thousands more men would be killed and maimed during the two more years before the Confederates surrendered. There were many issues that had motivated some Americans to call for war--tariffs, territorial expansion and the potential spread of slavery, and the abolition and the secession movements. The ordinary soldiers' reasons for fighting in the war were as personal and individual as those that all of us must make in life. The implications of many of these personal choices in the Civil War had great impact on the nation and its future.

 

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