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7 Facts About the Battle of Gettysburg

7 Facts About the Battle of Gettysburg

1. Gettysburg ended the Confederacy’s last full-scale invasion of the North.

Following his victory at Chancellorsville, a confident Confederate General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Union territory in June 1863. Lee had invaded the North the prior year only to be repelled at Antietam, but on this occasion his army was at the peak of its strength as it pressed across the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania.

A victory at Gettysburg could have launched Confederate forces to Philadelphia, Baltimore or even Washington, DC. Instead, Lee’s army suddenly shifted from offense to defense after the defeat and 10 days later crossed back over the Potomac into Virginia. Never again would the Confederacy regain its momentum and push as deeply into Union territory, which is why many historians consider Gettysburg the “high water mark of the rebellion.”

2. The battle proved that the seemingly invincible Lee could be defeated.

While Lee had been fought to a draw at Antietam, the Union high command had yet to achieve a decisive victory over the Confederate general as the summer of 1863 began. In spite of being outnumbered, Lee had engineered significant victories at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville among others. Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln relieved a string of Union generals—George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker—of command of the Army of the Potomac due to their failure to stop Lee’s army. Lincoln’s latest choice—General George Meade—had been installed just days before Gettysburg. Lee’s sterling record inspired complete trust in his troops and fear in his enemy. The Battle of Gettysburg, however, finally proved the bold general to be fallible.

3. Gettysburg stunted possible Confederate peace overtures.

Five days before the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate President Jefferson Davis dispatched Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens to negotiate a prisoner of war exchange with Lincoln under a flag of truce. Davis also gave Stephens license to proceed with broader peace negotiations.

On July 4, Stephens sat aboard a boat in Chesapeake Bay awaiting permission to sail up the Potomac. Once news of victory at Gettysburg reached Lincoln, however, he denied the Confederate vice president’s request to pass through Union lines to come to Washington, DC, for negotiations.

4. The battle bolstered badly sagging Union morale.

The spirits of a war-weary North had reached a low ebb at the beginning of the summer of 1863. The Union had endured a string of losses, and now Lee had brought the war to their territory. A loss at Gettysburg could have devastated Union morale and pressured the Lincoln administration to negotiate a peace that would have resulted in two nations. Linked with news of the victory at Vicksburg on July 4, however, Gettysburg renewed public support for the war. Davis called Gettysburg the “most eventful struggle of the war” because “by it the drooping spirit of the North was revived.”

5. Gettysburg ended Confederate enslavement of free blacks from the North.

Thousands of slaves served in support roles for the Army of Northern Virginia, and as Lee’s army marched north into Pennsylvania, they seized as many as 500 African-Americans—some former slaves, some free their entire lives—and brought them back to Virginia to be sold into slavery.

One resident of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, reported seeing some of the town’s African Americans “driven by just like we would drive cattle,” and at least one Confederate brigade threatened to burn down any Union house that harbored a fugitive slave.

6. The battle led to the Gettysburg Address in which Lincoln redefined the Civil War as a struggle for freedom and democracy.

Land preservation efforts began immediately after the Battle of Gettysburg and resulted in a national cemetery, consecrated by Lincoln on November 19, 1863. In a mere 272 words, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address recast the war as not merely a struggle to maintain the Union, but as a battle for larger human ideals.

Lincoln called for “a new birth of freedom” and asserted that the survival of democracy itself was at stake. He told his countrymen that the task remaining was to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

7. The battle forever transformed the town of Gettysburg.

Prior to the Civil War, Gettysburg had been a prosperous village that supported two small colleges. After the battle, however, it would forever be seared by the memories of the slaughter. In the battle’s immediate aftermath, corpses outnumbered residents of the village of just over 2,000 by four to one.

While it took years for the town to recover from the trauma, the first pilgrims arrived just days after the guns fell silent. In his book Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, Allen C. Guelzo reports that hundreds of people arrived by wagon just two days after the battle to see the carnage for themselves and that by August 1863 visitors could be found picnicking on Little Round Top amid shallow graves and rotting bodies of dead horses. Striking the balance between battlefield preservation and commercial development remains a constant debate in Gettysburg.

You Probably Haven’t Heard the Story of the Only Civilian Killed During the Battle of Gettysburg

When the battle of Gettysburg started on July 1, 1863, over 150 bullets hit the house where Jennie Wade was staying. However, it was not until the third and last day of the battle where tragedy would strike. Jennie Wade was born Mary Virginia Wade in May of 1843 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Most people called Mary &ldquoJennie&rdquo which was short for Virginia. At birth, she joined her parents, Mary Ann and James, and her older sister, Georgia Anna, in their home on Breckenridge Street. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father worked for a man named Johnston Hastings Skelly.

While she was a child, Jennie&rsquos father had a mental breakdown and was committed to an asylum. Therefore, it was just Jennie&rsquos mother who was in charge of making sure the family could survive, which included not only Georgia and Jennie but also their three younger brothers, John James, Samuel, and Harry. The only job Jennie&rsquos mother could pick up during the mid-1800s was working as a seamstress. So, Jennie&rsquos mother started to take on all the tasks she could as a sewer. Eventually, both Georgia and Jennie were old enough to work and learned their mother&rsquos trade.

Jennie Wade. Gettysburg Museum.

While Jennie was a child, she became friends with her father&rsquos employer&rsquos son who shared the same name as him, Johnston Skelly, but everyone called him Jack. As Jack and Jennie grew, they started to see each other differently. Soon, Skelly asked Jennie&rsquos mother if he could court her. At the same time, Georgia was getting married and about to move out. However, Georgia would not be going far from home. As soon as Georgia Wade became Georgia McClellan, she moved to a different house on Gettysburg, located at 528 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

A bronze statue of Jennie Wade in front of the Jennie Wade House and Museum. Yelp.

The Civil War

The Civil War started on April 12, 1861, and raged on until May 9th, 1865. By its end, the Civil War would claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Skelly, whom many believed was Jennie&rsquos fiancé by the start of the Civil War, decided to join the Union Army at the end of April in 1861. Skelly, along with one of Jennie&rsquos other childhood friends, Wesley Culp, went on to join the ranks of the Union Army. Skelly became a part of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry.

For the first part of the Civil War, the Wade and McClellan families had very little to worry about, other than their friends and loved ones who were battling in the war. Jack Skelly, under the work of General Robert E. Lee, was fighting in the Second Battle of Winchester in Virginia. The battle started on June 13th, and Skelly was doing well until he became injured on June 15th. At the Winchester hospital, where Skelly was trying to recover, he saw his childhood friend, Culp.

Seven Facts You Didn't Know About the Gettysburg Address

At a scant 272 words, it has become Lincoln’s most famous speech and is one of American history’s best known as well.

But there’s a lot that isn’t commonly known about the context in which it was delivered, and our Civil War contributor Thomas Martin Sobottke offers these little-known facts.

1. Lincoln wasn't the keynote speaker.

Edward Everett was considered the greatest orator in the North, and was invited to be the keynote speaker for the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. President Lincoln was only to make a few remarks.

Everett's speech gave a play-by-play of the Union exploits at Gettysburg and made allusions to Greek history, and lasted two hours. Everett later wrote to Lincoln that the President had accomplished in two minutes what it took him in two hours.

2. Gettysburg was the place to be.

After so much grief and loss, people in the North felt a turning point had come with the Battle of Gettysburg. and they wanted to be there for the dedication of the national cemetery for the Union war dead. Fifteen thousand people came to the town for the dedication, knowing it would be a momentous and historic occasion.

The problem was Gettysburg was a town of only 2,500 people. Visitors doubled and tripled up in beds. A prominent Adams County attorney David Wills had 38 lodgers staying at his home the night before the speeches - despite a very pregnant Mrs. Wills. Even the governor of Pennsylvania had to share a bed. The only two guests in the Wills House to get their own beds were Everett and the President.

3. Lincoln gave an impromptu pre-speech the night before the Address.

The night before the dedication, Lincoln addressed a couple hundred people who had gathered in the square below the Wills House. He made a couple jokes and mostly told the restless crowd to wait for his formal speech the following day.

Lincoln then went inside to make final word changes and put the last polish on his famous speech. Contrary to popular belief that he wrote the speech on the fly while traveling by train to Gettysburg, Lincoln had worked hard on the speech, and historians know of at least two prior drafts.

4. A Lincoln staffer got drunk the night before.

The atmosphere was somber during the actual dedication, but the night before, crowds of visitors were happy in anticipation of the speeches they would hear the following day. A few dozen students at Gettysburg College were getting drunk, and Lincoln's personal secretary, and later U.S. Secretary of State, John Hay, who was close in age, joined them.

5. The cemetery was only for Union war dead.

An independent group of influential residents raised funds to turn the battlefield into a national cemetery, honoring the Union war dead lost in the battle. Confederate soldiers who were killed in the battle were either brought "home" to the South or lost to history.

For months after the fight was over, guns, cannons, backpacks and canteens still littered the ground an explosive even killed two boys who found it on the field long after the battle.

6. Bodies were being buried right next to dedication ceremony.

As the dedication ceremony got underway, soldiers and dignitaries marched up Baltimore Street to Cemetery Hill. But a burial party of a half a dozen people, including one white man and several black men, were burying a number of corpses nearby. This helped set the appropriate somber mood of the commemoration.

7. Lincoln thought it was a good speech, but not everyone agreed.

Lincoln knew he had given a good speech, and even hand-copied five speeches to give to friends, including a sober John Hay.

The speech was well-received by the public attending the event. They clapped politely, a few cheered. But not everyone got the full effect of the speech, especially if they were far from the stage.

The newspapers at the time were divided. Republican-leaning papers, supportive of the President, celebrated it, as did "war Democrat" papers. But newspapers that supported the so-called "peace Democrats" who sympathized with the South dismissed it as a weak and poorly delivered speech, like the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Penn.

That said, 150 years later, that paper has issued a retraction of its original review of the speech.

Thomas Martin Sobottke is a historian, author and educator. Stephanie Lecci no longer works at WUWM, she is now at St. Louis Public Radio. This piece was originally posted on November 19, 2013.

11 Facts About the Battle of Gettysburg

By mid-1863, Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had humiliated the Union in the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. They seemed unbeatable—yet when they met the Union's blue-shirted troops in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in July 1863, General Lee was outdone at last. The three-day Battle of Gettysburg was a badly-needed win for the north. But like all victories, it came with a price: This fight went down in history as the Civil War’s bloodiest confrontation. Here’s a short introduction to one of the great turning points in the story of America.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the late spring of 1863, the Union Army had Vicksburg, Mississippi in its sights. With its capture, Union generals hoped to split the Confederacy in half while also asserting control over the lower Mississippi River, a vital transportation route. To keep that from happening, some in the Confederate government wanted to send over reinforcements from the Army of Northern Virginia, but Lee had other ideas.

The general, emboldened by recent victories, mounted an offensive campaign into Pennsylvania. He believed that a strong Confederate presence north of the Mason-Dixon line would pressure the Union into withdrawing some of its soldiers from the Mississippi Delta—and that a huge Confederate invasion would set off a panic in cities like Philadelphia and New York, weakening northern support for the war effort. Lincoln might then lose his 1864 reelection bid, and with Honest Abe out of the White House, the tired north might initiate peace talks. If all had gone well for General Lee, his assault on the Keystone State may have ended the war in the south’s favor. But of course, all did not go well for Lee.


On June 12, 1863, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin put his constituents on high alert. In a statement re-printed by newspapers all over the state, he announced that “information has been obtained by the War Department that a large rebel force, composed of cavalry, artillery, and mounted infantry, has been prepared for the purpose of making a raid into Pennsylvania.”

This news was especially alarming to black families: When Confederate soldiers entered Union territory, they’d often seize African Americans—women, children, and freeborn citizens included—as "contraband." By the end of June, hundreds of black refugees from Gettysburg and other southern Pennsylvania towns had come pouring into Harrisburg, the state’s capital. When Confederates tried to take the city on June 28, black volunteers helped thwart their efforts.


According to Henry Heth, a major general in the Confederate army, he was the one who started the Battle of Gettysburg. Heth said that on July 1, 1863, he sent two brigades into Gettysburg, where they encountered Union resistance, and what began as a minor skirmish mushroomed into a three-day conflict—and a critical victory for the North.

All this begs the question of why Heth dispatched those troops into Gettysburg in the first place, considering he was under strict orders not to go on the offensive. Heth explained his rationale like this: He needed to go shoe shopping. “Hearing that a supply of shoes was to be obtained in Gettysburg,” Heth wrote in 1877, “and greatly needing shoes for my men, [on June 30] I directed General Pettigrew [a brigade commander of his] to go to Gettysburg and get these supplies.” Pettigrew returned with stories that there was cavalry present in Gettysburg, but the commanders believed that this was just an observation detachment and the bulk of the Union army was far away, meaning an assault on Gettysburg would likely succeed. Heth later recalled saying “I will take my division tomorrow and go to Gettysburg and get those shoes!”

Historians think Heth wasn’t being entirely truthful about the matter. Another Confederate division had already gone on a "supply run" through Gettysburg and didn’t obtain many shoes.

While it is generally agreed that Heth did send troops ahead for reconnaissance of the area, and those troops’ interaction with Union soldiers started the battle, historians continue to debate the rest of the specifics. Some propose that Heth was searching for non-shoe supplies, while others propose that Heth was eager to impress Lee and might have used the supplies as an excuse to pick a fight. Still others argue that the roads funneled both armies through Gettysburg, making a showdown inevitable.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

At first, the rebels’ odds of scoring a victory in Gettysburg seemed pretty good—the first major clash on July 1 involved 7600 Confederate infantry fighting against just 2748 Union cavalrymen. Later on that day, around 27,000 Confederate soldiers approached from the north and drove 22,000 Union soldiers out of the town, leaving them to reconvene on Cemetery Hill to the south. By nightfall, Lee had lost over 6000 men and around 9000 northerners had been killed in total. Had the fighting ended after that first day, Gettysburg still would have had one of the 20 highest body counts of any battle in the war.


The Union forces bounced back on July 2 with the arrival of Major General George Meade and most of his army, which brought the total number of northern troops up to 90,000. They were fighting against 75,000 Confederate troops. The battle stretched into July 3, with the Army of Northern Virginia leaving the area the next day. It’s estimated that there were between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties at Gettysburg overall.

Still, just about every innocent bystander who witnessed the carnage lived to tell the tale. Twenty-year-old Mary Virginia Wade (also known as "Jennie" or "Gennie") had the distinction of being the only civilian to die within Gettysburg’s borders during the battle. A resident of the town, she was reportedly hit by a stray bullet that tore through her home as she was baking a loaf of bread. Wade is now commemorated by a statue on Baltimore Street.


While the Civil War is generally viewed as a male conflict with the demure women staying behind, that’s not actually true: Hundreds of women—drawn by a sense of adventure, a commitment to the cause, or just the opportunity for a steady income—are thought to have enlisted. Nine verified female soldiers died on a Civil War battlefield, and one of them was killed at Gettysburg. Lying among the corpses of all the southerners who had fallen in Pickett’s charge was the uniformed body of a woman. Another female Confederate soldier took a bullet to one leg, which had to be amputated. It’s known that a third woman fought for the south at Gettysburg as well—and at least two female soldiers saw action there as part of the Union army.


Hlj, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

By the third day, the fighting had shifted to the south of Gettysburg proper. The Union troops stood in a fishhook-shaped arrangement that began down at the twin hills of Big and Little Round Top, stretched the length of Cemetery Ridge (a raised geologic feature), and curved around Cemetery Hill. Confederates were moving in from the north and the west.

Lee wanted to strike at the heart of the Union line along Cemetery Ridge. But to get there, his men would have to cross an open field, leaving them exposed to Union artillery fire. Against the advice of his righthand man General James Longstreet, Lee went ahead with the charge. Of the 12,000 Confederate men who were ordered to participate, more than half were killed, captured, or wounded while the Union line remained unbroken (though it suffered heavy losses as well). Remembered today as the “High Watermark of the Confederacy,” this disastrous event was romanticized by southern writers and incorporated into Dixie’s “Lost Cause” narrative. The effort is more formally called “Pickett’s Charge” because one division in the Confederate attack was led by George Pickett, a Major General from Richmond. He would spend the rest of his life nursing a grudge against Robert E. Lee in Pickett’s own words, “That old man … had my division massacred.”

Posterity may have attached Pickett’s name to the charge, but his division only supplied between 4000 and 6200 of the soldiers who were in it. Accompanying his men were thousands of other troops under the command of James Pettigrew and Isaac Trimble.


Pickett’s charge is thought to have been one half of a pincer-like assault: While Pettigrew, Trimble, and Pickett himself led their brigades towards Cemetery Ridge, 6000 mounted cavalrymen tried to sneak around it. By doing this, the horsemen could have opened fire on the Union line from the east just as Pickett and company were rushing over from the west. Enter George A. Custer—a graduate of West Point and a Brigadier General in the Union army—who stopped them in their tracks with their own cavaliers. The Confederate riders were eventually driven away, leaving the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge free to mow down Pickett’s charge.

Gettysburg wasn't the only infamous battle Custer would be a part of: In 1876, he and 267 of his cavalrymen were killed by Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors in a Montana valley in the Battle of Little Bighorn.


Beaten and battered, the Army of Northern Virginia pulled out of Gettysburg on the fourth of July (the same day Ulysses S. Grant finally took Vicksburg). There were enough wounded Confederates to fill a 17-mile wagon train that Lee took back to the South. On its way back to Virginia, the convoy ran into trouble at the Potomac River. The weather had been calm and cloudy throughout the clash at Gettysburg. But on July 4, a heavy rainfall arrived that lasted for several days. So when Lee’s men finally reached the Potomac, high water levels trapped them on the northern side of it.

Lincoln wanted General Meade to grab this opportunity and wipe out the now-cornered Army of Northern Virginia. Meade chose to proceed with caution—in part because his troops were still weary from the action at Gettysburg. Some of his outfits had skirmishes with Lee’s men until the Confederates were finally able to cross the Potomac at Williamsport, Maryland on July 13/14. “Our army held the war in the hollow of their hand and they would not close it,” said a disappointed Lincoln.


Once the fighting at Gettysburg subsided, the town’s 2400 residents had to dispose of nearly 7000 human corpses the armies left behind. Shallow, rock-covered graves were hastily dug for the deceased.

After the battle, Governor Curtin lobbied for a Soldier’s National Cemetery to be built at Gettysburg. His request was granted, and the bodies of Union soldiers were reinterred at the chosen burial site, which was formally consecrated on November 19, 1863. President Lincoln attended the ceremony and gave the speech that would come to be known as the Gettysburg Address. The scent of death hung in the air while Abe spoke. That’s because thousands of Confederates were still lying in shoddy graves on the town’s outskirts—attracting flies and vultures. Most remained in situ until southern organizations started digging up fallen Confederates in 1871 so the bodies could receive proper burials.

A few cadavers apparently escaped their notice: In 1996, the body of a Civil War soldier was found near Railroad Cut. Archaeologists couldn’t identify the man, or even determine which side he’d fought for. (It’s been suggested that he was a Mississippi Confederate.)

Gettysburg Fact #3: The Oldest Battle Veteran Joined Up The Day of the Fighting

The oldest veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg was also a veteran of the War of 1812. John Lawrence Burns became the war’s oldest veteran when he joined the Union Army at Gettysburg on July 1. Sources have said that Burns simply picked up his flintlock musket and powder horn, and asked a Union soldier if they could make use of his modern rifle, and if he could fall in with their regiment.


Welcome to the official website of the Borough Government of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg was founded in 1786 and named after Samuel Gettys, an early settler and tavern owner. The Borough was incorporated in 1806. The confluence of ten major roads of the period caused it to be attractive to travelers and settlers alike. Although known primarily for its proximity to the battlefield, the Borough of 7620 residents is also known for its institutions of higher learning. The Lutheran Theological Seminary was founded in 1826 and Gettysburg College was established in 1832. Harrisburg Area Community College also has a campus just outside the geographical boundary of Gettysburg.

Centrally located in Southern Pennsylvania, Gettysburg is 52 miles from Baltimore, 90 miles from Washington, DC, and 102 miles from Philadelphia. The main thoroughfare is US Route 30 (The Lincoln Highway), which was the first trans-continental highway.

For three days in July of 1863, a costly battle raged between the Union and Confederate armies in and around the Borough. Over 51,000 casualties occurred during this battle. Although the Civil War continued two years following the battle at Gettysburg, the battle is viewed as the turning point of the war.

The First Borough Council

Gettysburg was incorporated as a Borough under the Pennsylvania Constitution on March 10, 1806. The Borough's first election took place on May 7, 1806. The borough's first Borough Council meeting took place at the home of William McClellan on May 21, 1806. The total amount of taxes collected in 1807 was $577.81 1 /2 - which includes the dog tax. The Treasurer would collect all taxes and would receive 2 1 /2% of all taxes collected. The Borough's first Council and staff follows.

Gettysburg's First Council and Staff (1806)
Burgess (Mayor)Reynolds Ramsey
President of CouncilGeorge Kerr
Member of Borough CouncilEmanuel Ziegler
Member of Borough CouncilWilliam Garvin
Member of Borough CouncilJames Dobbin
Member of Borough CouncilWalter Smith
Town Clerk and TreasurerJames Gettys

Click Here to learn more about Gettysburg's Town History.

Click Here to learn more about the Battle of Gettysburg.

Clear Here to learn more about the evolution of the Gettysburg Borough Flag.

Click Here to learn more about the Naval Destroyer Ship, CG64 USS Gettysburg.

Unusual Gettysburg Facts

The Gettysburg Campaign started almost a month before the battle on June 8 over 100 miles away along the Rapidan River in Virginia. It began with the Battle of Brandy Station, the biggest cavalry battle of the Civil War.

Dress rehearsal

The Battle of Gettysburg started on July 1. But it was not the first time the Confederates had been to Gettysburg. The advanced guard of Lee’s army, Jubal Early’s Division of the Second Corps, marched through town on June 26 on the way to Wrightsville on the Susquehanna River. There was a brief clash west of Gettysburg with emergency militia and a cavalry skirmish on the Baltimore Pike.

First Blood

The first Union soldier to die at Gettysburg was killed on June 26, five days before the “First Shot” of the battle. Private George Sandoe, a native of the Gettysburg area, was killed on Baltimore Pike in a skirmish with Confederate cavalry screening the advance of Early’s Division. Sandoe’s cavalry company became part of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, whose monuments are along Baltimore Pike where Sandoe was killed.

What time was it?

Standard time had not been developed in 1863. Each community set on its own time based on noon in that location. This wasn’t a problem in a society that got around on horses. The difference in time between two towns a day’s ride apart was small. But it makes it difficult for historians to put together an accurate timeline of the battle. The watches of observers of the same event would often be showing very different times. Even as great an event as the start of the massive artillery barrage that preceded Pickett’s Charge cannot be pinned down.

No shoes for you

One story has it that the battle took place because the Confederates moved into Gettysburg looking for shoes. But there never was a shoe factory or shoe warehouse in Gettysburg.

Local volunteer

Money talks, and sometimes walks away

As Early’s Confederates moved through larger towns such as Gettysburg and York community leaders were strongly encouraged to contribute supplies and cash to the Confederate cause in exchange for lenient treatment. York was squeezed of $28,000. The money was taken back to Virginia in the care of the Confederate Second Corps Commissary of Subsistence Major Wells Hawks, a relative of the author of this website.

Senior generals sector

The oldest general officer at Gettysburg was Confederate Brigadier General William Smith, who was 65. He fought on Culp’s Hill against the oldest Union general on the field, Brigadier General George Greene, who was 62.

Was it really Pickett’s charge?

Confederate Major General George Pickett was not in command of all of the troops in Pickett’s Charge. Pickett commanded only three of the nine brigades who took park in the main assault. First Corps commander Lieutenant General James Longstreet was in overall command of the attack, even though six of the nine brigades were from A.P. Hill’s Third Corps.

A vast line of misery and suffering

The Confederate wagon train of wounded sent back to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg was 17 miles long. It was held up by floodwaters on the Potomac at Williamsport, Maryland and had to defend itself against Union Cavalry in “the Wagoner’s Fight.”

Not just humans suffered

More than 3,000 horses were killed at Gettysburg. Lydia Leister, who owned the small farmhouse used by George Meade as his headquarters, 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.

Abandoned weapons

After the battle 37,574 rifles 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
The weapons with multiple rounds had probably been loaded but not “capped.” This meant when the trigger was pulled and the hammer struck there was nothing to ignite the powder. In the noise and excitement of the battle the soldier didn’t noticed and kept reloading the gun. Had they remembered to cap their weapon after cramming half a dozen rounds in, it would have gone off like a bomb.


When news reached southern Pennsylvania that Lee’s army was on its way, residents fled. The area was mostly deserted by the time the Confederate soldiers appeared—except for the Union Army awaiting their arrival. Tipped off by intelligence reports, the Yankees were able to predict when the southerners would arrive—and had camped out in Cashtown to wait for them.

At first the Confederates outnumbered the Yankees. Overwhelmed by the sheer size of the southern army, the Union was forced to retreat from Cashtown to Gettysburg and wait for more troops. There, led by General George Meade, the Union regrouped and set up renewed defenses.

By the second day the Yankees numbered around 94,000 soldiers the Confederates around 72,000. General Lee attacked first. Both sides took heavy losses, but Meade’s Union defense lines held strong.

On the final day of the battle, General Lee decided to stage an aggressive attack. He sent General George Pickett—with approximately 12,500 men—on a direct charge against the Union Army. Pickett’s attack ultimately failed, resulting in over half of his men being injured or killed. General Lee and the Confederate Army retreated.

The Battle of Gettysburg remains the deadliest battle of the Civil War. As many as 23,000 Yankees and 28,000 Confederates were killed, wounded, or captured over the course of just three days.

How the Battle of Gettysburg Changed American History Forever

Writer Brooke Stoddard compares the events at the Battle of Gettysburg to the three general phases of the American Civil War.

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.

In some respects, the battle is so celebrated in American myth and history because it in several ways resembles the whole war in condensation—the three days of the battle can be likened to three phases of the larger war.

3 Days of Battle, 3 Phases of the Civil War

On the first day, as in the first phase of the whole American Civil War, the South has ample resources. Their generalship is good and they outfight the Northerners engaged. The Federals are eager but less well prepared. Their generalship is fragmented and discordant. The South is triumphant, but it cannot complete a victory.

On the second day, as in the second phase of the war, Northern generalship improves. The soldiers are more confident of their leaders. Northern resources pour onto the field. But Southern generalship falters, partly on the ineffectualness of the cavalry. Fewer Southern resources can be brought to bear because most are already committed. The resolve of the Northern Cause improves and they can sense success.

On the third day, corresponding to the last phase of the war, Northern resources continue to arrive, but far fewer for the Confederates. Southern generalship is discordant Northern generalship united, alert, confident. With Southern resources low and the odds lengthening, only a desperate gamble can save their cause. All is given in a final effort, which fails. Further fighting is hopeless.

Turning Point in the War, Touchstone for the Nation

It is fair to say that before Gettysburg, the Federals in the East never won a major battle and that after Gettysburg they never lost one. Thus its fame as a turning point in the war.

Another final reflection on the battle. In a way, it was an embryo for what life would be like in the United States over the next 100 years. The battle marked the ascendancy—hitherto seriously contested—of the North over the South, and thus of industrialization over agriculture, and of advancing democratization over feudalism and slavery. It marked the beginnings of the apotheosis of Lincoln (partly by virtue of his Address) and the dominance of the Northern point of view in histories of the United States.

Thus Gettysburg became a touchstone for a nation that was literally going to have to recreate itself.

Originally Published February 10, 2019

This article by Brooke Stoddard originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

When traveling towards Gettysburg with his army, Lee had his sights set on invading the North. If his plan worked and he managed to pass through Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he would get much-needed bounty in the form of clothing and food, he could put more pressure to the North and maybe even surround the capital. This may have forced the Union to surrender to the Confederate states, making slave-holding in America permanent.

Although his “Pickett’s Charge” assault managed to penetrate the Union lines, he was met with a lot of resistance and eventually failed. Having lost about a third of his army to casualties, Lee was forced to withdraw and head back toward Virginia. The Confederates never attempted to invade the North again after Gettysburg.

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