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Battle of Gettysburg


The Battle of Gettysburg and The American Civil War

The first steps toward the Battle of Gettysburg started in June 1863. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s soldiers crossed the Potomac River in Virginia and began to march toward the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, with thoughts that a victory in the North would erode the Union’s will to continue the fight.

The Battle of Gettysburg started on July 1, 1863, when Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia met Gen. George Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac. During the three-day battle, about 165,000 soldiers clashed in and around the small town of Gettysburg (battle-era population: 2,400).

When the Battle of Gettysburg was over on July 3, 1863, 51,000 soldiers were casualties (killed, wounded, captured or missing) in what remains the largest battle ever fought in North America.

The Battle of Gettysburg: Details of the Fighting
The first shot of the Battle of Gettyburg was fired early in the morning of July 1, 1863, when fighting broke out north and west of town. During the day, Confederate troops forced Union troops southeast through Gettysburg, where the Union took up a position on Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge and Culp’s Hill. On July 2, the fighting centered on the southern end of the Union position, near locations such as Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard. Union troops held their position, and the Battle of Gettysburg continued for one more fateful day.

On July 3, 1863, Confederate troops attacked the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. After a cannonade raged for about two hours, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered his Confederate infantry to attack. More than 14,000 Confederate troops advanced across the field toward Cemetery Ridge; a deluge of artillery shot and shell raked their lines. Those who moved on toward the ridge advanced under a hail of fire. Of those who made it to the Union line, many fell or were captured in the fighting at the Angle, near the Copse of Trees. The attack that became known to history as Pickett’s Charge concluded with a Confederate defeat and also ended the Battle of Gettysburg.

Aftermath at Gettysburg and the American Civil War
The Battle of Gettysburg changed the lives of not only the soldiers, but also Gettysburg’s residents. The Battle of Gettysburg resulted in 51,000 casualties (killed, wounded, captured and missing). Many of the wounded and dead were left in Gettysburg at public buildings, farm fields and even private homes became makeshift hospitals. It would take Gettysburg years to recover from its battle scars.

It proved impossible for the war-stressed economy of the Confederacy to replace the extensive losses suffered during the Battle of Gettysburg by Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. On July 4, as smoke still lingered from the Battle of Gettysburg, the besieged city of Vicksburg, Miss., surrendered to Union soldiers, restoring Union control of the Mississippi River. Twenty-one months later, Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, signaling the end of the Civil War.