Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Battle of Gettysburg

 The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia
70,000 men commanded by General Robert E. Lee

 The Federal Army of the Potomac
94,000 men commanded by Major General George G. Meade
Those numbers don't include civilian teamsters, servants, slaves and other camp followers. Around 2,500 civilians were also in the battle area. One, John Burns, joined Union troops in the fight.
Genral Rober E. LeeGeneral George G. Meade
The two armies were close in size and both used the same type of organization. The Confederates had fewer but much larger corps and divisions. See acomparison of the organization and strength of the two armies in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Comparative strength of the two armiesLink arrow

How many casualties were there in the Battle of Gettysburg?

How many people died in the Battle of Gettysburg?
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with at least 46,000 and possibly as many as 51,000 casualties in the two armies. The term "casualties" means not just people who were killed, but also includes men who were wounded (and who may or may not have died of their wounds), soldiers who were captured, and even people who ran away. Here is a breakdown from one of the best studies, Busey and Martin's Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg:


Although hundreds of civilians huddled in their homes as the fighting raged around them, Jennie Wade was the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg, struck by a stray shot while indoors caring for a sick relative.

Detail from the monument to the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry at Gettysburg
Casualties for the two armies were close but distributed very differently. Confederate casualties were fairly evenly distributed among the corps and divisions. Some Union units were very hard hit while others were almost untouched. See a comparison of the casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg
Comparative strength of the two armiesLink arrow

When was the Battle of Gettysburg?

How long did the Battle of Gettysburg last?

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought on three days in 1863, from Wednesday, July 1st until Friday, July 3rd. The armies remained facing each other on the field on July 4th and there was minor skirmishing, although it is not usually considered part of the battle.

Gettysburg was not the end of the war - far from it. The Civil War started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, 26 months before the fight at Gettysburg. Lee's surrender at Appomattox was on April 9, 1865, 21 months after the battle. But the war did not end with Lee's surrender. The Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until May 26, 1865, 23 months after Gettysburg. Gettysburg was almost the midpoint of the war.

Where was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?

The Battle of Gettysburg took place around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a small crossroads town in southern Pennsylvania about 8 miles north of the Maryland border. It is the center of a network of roads feeding in from all angles of the compass. Several of these roads were paved roads that were usable in all weather, such as the heavy rains that followed the battle.

At the time of the battle Gettysburg had a population of about 2.400 people. It was (and still is) the county seat of Adams County. Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College) and the Lutheran Theological Seminary are on the west side of town, with some buildings dating back to the battle.

In July of 1863 Gettysburg was also the end of a railroad line from Hanover to the east, but it had been wrecked by Confederate troops.
Gettysburg's road network and its position on the east side of the mountains were important factors in why the battle occured where it did. See maps of the Gettysburg road network and distances to other cities in the east.
Comparative strength of the two armiesLink arrow

Why was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?

At the start of the Gettysburg Campaign both armies were on each side of the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The North had attacked across the river twice, in the Battles of Fredericksburg (December of 1862) and Chancellorsville (May of 1863). Both were Confederate victories, but both times the North was able to withdraw back across the river and safely rebuild their forces for another attack.

Lee knew he could not just sit south of the river and throw back Northern attacks. His army could not stand the casualties, the Southern rail system could not supply his army properly. And some day the North might find the winning combination.

Lee's plan was to take the war to the north in a sweeping flanking move using the Shenandoah Valley. This would clear Union garrisons out of the Valley, allowing Virginia farmers to harvest their crops for the Confederacy. It would let Lee's army forage from the enemy in the rich and untouched lands of southern Pennsylvania. It woud threaten Union cities such as Baltimore, Harrisburg and even Philadelphia. And it would give Lee a chance to fight and win a battle in the open where Union forces could not fall back and rebuild. Lee saw it as the best way to end the war before the South was trapped in an unwinnable battle of attrition.

As Lee moved north The Union army shadowed him, moving to stay between Confederate forces and Washington. Both armies were looking for a fight. It might have happened at several places, but the road network feeding into Gettysburg and aggressive subordinates on both sides turned a chance encounter into the largest battle of the war.
Detail from the North Carolina monument at Gettysburg

Why was the Battle of Gettysburg important?

The Battle of Gettysburg was a decisive victory for the Union that stopped the Confederate invasion of the North and forced Lee's army to withdraw to Virginia. Although the battle did not involve the largest number of troops it had the highest casualties of any battle of the Civil War.

It is considered a turning point because for the rest of the war Lee was on the strategic defensive, forced into the war of attrition he feared and eventually cornered in an unwinnable siege around Richmond.
Tabet from the New York Engineers monument

What was the Gettysburg Address?

Gettysburg also became important for what happened there after the battle.

A ceremony was scheduled to dedicate the Soldiers National Cemetery, where Union dead were being gathered. It was to be held about four and a half months after the battle on November 19, 1863.

The main speaker was noted orator Edward Everett. He delivered a two hour speech, very normal for the time when an oration was an entertainment event. A hymn was sung as musical interlude, then Lincoln rose to give "a few remarks." They were very few - ten sentences taking only about two minutes. No photographs show Lincoln speaking, as photographers were surprised by his quick finish. Reports speak of no, or very thin and scattered, applause.

But the ten sentences quickly came to be regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history, providing guidance for a nation redefining itself in the middle of a war that threatened its very existence. Today there is amonument in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, not to Lincoln, but to the speech itself, the Gettysburg Address.

Other interesting facts on the Battle of Gettysburg

After the battle 37,574 rifles left laying on the battlefield were collected.
• 24,000 were still loaded
• 6,000 had one round in the barrel
• 12,000 had two rounds in the barrel
• 6,000 had three to ten rounds in the barrel

There never was a shoe factory or shoe warehouse in Gettysburg.

Not all the soldiers were men - several women were known to have fought disguised as men.

The Confederate wagon train of wounded sent back to Virginia after the battle was 17 miles long.

More than 3,000 horses were killed at Gettysburg. Lydia Lyster, who owned the small farmhouse used by George Meade as his headquarters (photo at right), found 17 dead horses in her yard. Her only compensation for the extensive damage to her property was selling their bones at a half cent per pound.

After the battle the army paid 13 cents per pound for lead gathered by Gettysburg civilians. After a boy was killed trying to pound open an artillery shell to get the lead pellets out the army refused to accept lead from children under 18.
The Leister farmhouse, headquarters of George Meade at Gettysburg
Medal of Honor from the Civil War
The Medal of Honor was created during the Civil War to honor personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. Sixty-three men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in the Battle of Gettysburg. See a list of all 63 with their citations, their units and links to their unit's monument.