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Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


A Short History of Gettysburg

The borough of Gettysburg is located on the site of the former farmstead owned by Samuel Gettys. This property was part of the Marsh Creek Settlement, an area that was developed between 1736 and 1760 by Scottish and Irish families in the northern part of Adams County and by Germans in the southern part of Adams County.

After the American Revolution, Gettys’ son, James, purchased a 116-acre piece of his father’s 381-acre farmstead. By 1786, James Gettys began laying out the design for a town that included 120 lots around a  square, today’s Lincoln Square. Gettysburg’s location proved advantageous for growth and development. Located at a the crossroads of several major transportation routes, the town was eventually became the seat of power in Adams County in 1800.

During the early 19th century, educational and religious institutions set down roots in Gettysburg, establishing the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary and Pennsylvania College, now Gettysburg College. The economy of the region was primarily agricultural, but industries grew between 1830 and 1860, including the building and servicing of carriages and wagons. In 1858, the Gettysburg Railroad was established, connecting Gettysburg to new markets in Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. By 1860, Gettysburg’s population had grown to 2,400.

The Civil War Comes to Gettysburg

On July 1, 1863, the history of Gettysburg changed forever. The Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Union Gen. George G. Meade, met at Gettysburg by chance and engaged in battle that swirled north and west of town. During the battle, virtually every building in downtown Gettysburg became a field hospital. Once the fighting was over, the residents of Gettysburg were left with the dilemma of what to do with the scores of dead soldiers and horses that lay over 25 square miles, as they had never seen death on such a scale. The overwhelming task of burying the dead began.

At first, soldiers were buried on the battlefield, but these gravesites were only temporary. Thousands of families traveled to Gettysburg, searching the temporary graves, to claim the bodies of their loved ones. The citizens of Gettysburg wanted a proper resting place for fallen Union soldiers, and with the establishment of Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Union dead were removed from the battlefield to permanent graves in that cemetery. Thousands of Confederate dead, however, lay in shallow graves for nearly a decade before their remains were eventually returned to the South.

Learn more about the experiences of residents with a Gettysburg walking tour of the town.