Who Fought at Gettysburg
Union and Confederate Soldiers Who Fought at Gettysburg
Two armies clashed during the American Civil War: soldiers who fought at Gettysburg were from the Army of Northern Virginia (the Confederacy) commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee and soldiers from the Army of the Potomac (the Union) commanded by Gen. George G. Meade. Neither Gen. Lee nor Meade anticipated a battle at Gettysburg,but chance brought these two forces together at Gettysburg. At the end of three days of fighting, Union forces eventually defeated the Confederates. The Confederates never again reached the military strength that they held at Gettysburg, yet the Civil War raged on for two more years after the Battle of Gettysburg.
More than 165,000 soldiers fought at Gettysburg; approximately 51,000 were casualties of battle (killed, wounded, captured or missing), divided nearly equally between the two armies. You can learn more about the stories of those who fought at Gettysburg through exhibits in the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War, at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.
Commanders Who Fought at Gettysburg
Gen. Robert E. Lee
Gen. Robert E. Lee was the most admired military leader in both the Union and Confederate armies. At the beginning of the Civil War, he turned down an invitation to command the Union army, citing loyalty to his home state of Virginia. His skill in battle led to stunning Confederate victories in earlier battles with Union forces. Lee was known for being honest, even in defeat, particularly the defeat of Confederate forces at Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge. Today, Robert E. Lee is memorialized through the Virginia Memorial, which overlooks the fields of Pickett’s Charge on the battlefield. He is seated atop his horse “Traveller.”
Gen. George G. Meade
Gen. George Meade offered to serve Pennsylvania at the beginning of the Civil War. Meade’s reputation for being short-tempered and obstinate earned him the nickname “Old Snapping Turtle.” In May 1863, Meade was assigned to the Fifth Army Corps, and just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg, a courier informed him that he had been appointed commander of the Union army. While he was hesitant at first to accept his assignment, Meade eventually realized his duties in service to the Union army. Today, Gen. Meade is memorialized through an equestrian monument at Cemetery Ridge, seated atop his horse “Old Baldy.”
Gen. John Reynolds
Soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies believed John Reynolds was the best general in the Union forces. Reynolds was first approached to command the Union forces shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg in early June 1863, but he declined, suggesting Gen. George Meade for the position. Meade, in turn, asked Reynolds to command one wing of the Union army: the three corps closest to Gettysburg.
A Lancaster, Pa., native, Reynolds did not live to see the end of battle. He was killed by a Confederate bullet on July 1 —the highest-ranking officer on either side killed at Gettysburg. Today, several monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park honor Gen. Reynolds: an equestrian statue on McPherson’s Ridge, a statue by John Quincy Adams Ward inside the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and a bronze figure along the base of the Pennsylvania Memorial.
Gen. James Longstreet
Gen. James Longstreet was perhaps one of the most controversial figures of the Civil War. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Longstreet voiced his opposition to the idea of Pickett’s Charge. He eventually gave his assent while sitting on a fence in a wooded section of Seminary Ridge, refusing to watch the charge, which he believed was a lost cause. After the Civil War, Longstreet further fueled controversy by joining the Republican Party (of which Abraham Lincoln had been a member) and by criticizing Robert E. Lee’s field decisions at Gettysburg.
Today, Gen. Longstreet is memorialized through a memorial that was erected on the battlefield in 1998. The Longstreet Memorial is situated at ground level and captures Longstreet on horseback, leaning toward West Confederate Avenue.
John Burns wasn’t officially a soldier in the Union army, but he helped serve at the Battle of Gettysburg. The 69-year-old veteran of the War of 1812 grabbed a rifle and fought with the 7th Wisconsin Infantry on the first day of battle. Burns was wounded three times, captured by Confederates and was eventually released. After the battle, Burns became a national hero. He died in 1872 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg. After his death, veterans proposed a monument to Burns, and on July 1, 1903, the 40th anniversary of the battle, John Burns’ memorial was dedicated on McPherson’s Ridge next to Herbst Woods.
Visit the Battlefield at Gettysburg
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