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In June, 1963, a crack Confederate army commanded by Robert E. Lee sidestepped the Union army defending Washington and marched deep into Pennsylvania. When the Federals moved north to intercept the invaders, a collision became inevitable. Fate chose a little crossroads town for the scene of the bloodiest perhaps most crucial engagement in American History . . . The Battle of Gettysburg.

The gray light of dawn was beginning to outline trees, fences, and scattered farm houses along the Chambersburg Pike near Willoughby Run, 1 1/2 miles west of the little crossroad town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The time was shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday, July 1, 1863.

Troopers of Union Brig. Gen. John Buford's 1st Cavalry Division, Army of the Potomac, on night picket duty along a wide arc thrown out north and west of the town the evening of June 30, had been warned to keep a sharp lookout on the roads from both directions. Gen. Robert E. Lee's invading Army of Northern Virginia, whose main body was known to have been in camp near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, 28 miles west, was reported on the move. Some Confederate infantrymen had approached to within half a mile of Gettysburg the preceding afternoon, but had withdrawn when they saw Federal cavalry.

As the darkness faded, a Corporal Hodges, 9th New York Cavalry, on picket duty west of McPherson's Ridge, observed shadowy figures moving down the road toward him, about 500 yards away. As Hodges moved cautiously forward for a closer look, the Confederates opened fire! The Battle of Gettysburg was under way!

 

 

Text by Edward J. Stackpole in Civil War Times Illustrated, July, 1963