Key Point: And marked the coming of the end for the South.
The occasion was, for the North, inauspicious. In the Battle of First Manassas, the Federals were routed, humiliated, and almost utterly crushed. In the Seven Days, they were outmaneuvered and forced to retreat. At Second Manassas they were routed, humiliated, and almost crushed. At Antietam, they threw themselves piecemeal at the Confederates and were bloodily repulsed. At Fredericksburg, they charged against entrenched positions and died in droves. At Chancellorsville, they were totally outfoxed and humiliated.
Sticking It Out, Better or Worse
This is the record the Union men took into the Battle of Gettysburg. It is not so much a wonder that they won, but that they stuck around at all when they heard the Army of Northern Virginia was in the vicinity.
But stick around they did, and with seeming gusto. On the morning of July 1, Army of the Potomac General John Buford, with one cavalry brigade on not particularly good ground, decided to face down Henry Heth’s powerful and advancing infantry division. To the sound of gunfire other Federals under General John Reynolds raced to join. Although not sure of either Confederate placements or the availability of their own reinforcements, Federals threw themselves at the converging Army of Northern Virginia.
Ironies Abound, by Luck or Design
Everyone knows the result. Ironies about the battle abound. The Southerners attacked from the north and west; the North defended from the east and south, whereas for most of the war and over its broad range, it was just the opposite. The Federals had the advantage of interior lines, and the South did not, although for most of the war it was the opposite. The Federals, partly out of luck and partly by design, were forced into a defensive position that appeared vulnerable but was actually strong.