History of Gettysburg
History of Gettysburg
Gettysburg, Pa., is known throughout the world as a famous American Civil War battle site and the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But the history of Gettysburg stretches back farther than 1863; in fact, the town was only 77 years old at the beginning of the Civil War. Explore more about the history of Gettysburg during a visit to Pennsylvania. Begin your visit at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, which provides orientation and information for touring the battlefield and the town of Gettysburg.
Establishment and History of Gettysburg Borough
The borough of Gettysburg is located on the site of the 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 land from his father’s 381-acre farmstead. By 1786, James Gettys began laying out the design for a town that included 120 lots around a town square, today’s Lincoln Square.
Gettysburg’s location proved an important part of its growth and development. Located at a crossroads of several major roads, the town was eventually selected to be the seat of power in Adams County in 1800.
During the early 19th century, educational and religious institutions set down roots in Gettysburg, including the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary and Pennsylvania College (now called Gettysburg College). The economy of the region was primarily agricultural, but industries grew between 1830 and 1860. Some examples of these industries include carriage- and wagon-production industries.
In 1858, the Gettysburg Railroad entered the town, connecting Gettysburg with other markets. By 1860, Gettysburg’s population grew to 2,400. The town served key areas for Adams County and northern Maryland.
History of Gettysburg during the American Civil War
On July 1, 1863, the history of Gettysburg changed forever. The fighting during the American Civil War had finally entered the south-central Pennsylvania town. 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. By the end of the day’s fighting, Confederate forces had pushed Union troops through the town into defensive positions.
Throughout July 2 and July 3, the Confederate army occupied buildings in the town. During the battle, virtually every building in downtown Gettysburg became field hospitals, as doctors and surgeons struggled to treat thousands of Union and Confederate wounded at Gettysburg.
Aftermath of the Battle on the Town of Gettysburg
While the Battle of Gettysburg lasted three days, a second battle at Gettysburg began on July 4, 1863. The conflict that followed was the dilemma of what to do with the scores of dead soldiers and horses that littered the battlefield. Roughly 21,000 men from the two armies lay wounded at Gettysburg. The responsibility of caring for the wounded from both armies rested in the hands of a few Army surgeons, aides and the residents of Gettysburg and Adams County. Volunteers began arriving soon after the fighting ended. Four months later, efforts to help the wounded at Gettysburg were still in progress. One field hospital, located at the George Spangler farm, treated more than 1,400 wounded soldiers on both sides until mid-August 1863.
Burying the Dead at Gettysburg
Roughly 7,000 men died on the battlefield at Gettysburg in three days of fighting — almost three times the population of the town (2,400). Bodies lay over 25 square miles of ground. The townspeople of Gettysburg had never seen death on that 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.
Preservation at Gettysburg
Battlefield preservation efforts began shortly after the guns fell silent at Gettysburg. And battlefield preservation efforts continue today at a place where thousands of visitors come each year to immerse themselves in the nation’s history at Gettysburg. You can be a part of these battlefield preservation efforts by joining the Friends of Gettysburg. Becoming a member helps the Gettysburg Foundation to preserve the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg.