The Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863
What can we say today about an event as historically significant and perpetually reviewed as the Battle of Gettysburg? It is seared into our consciousness like no other military engagement—probably as a result of Lincoln’s impassioned Gettysburg Address. Or perhaps because the casualty count was the highest ever on American soil, or that this three-day battle was considered a crucial turning point in the Civil War. No matter whether your allegiance favors the North or the South, both nations suffered greatly. Now, one hundred and fifty years later, we commemorate it.
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought ferociously and courageously by over 160,000 men over three days—1-3 July 1863—in and around the small rural town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The logistics and strategies of the battle are well documented. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fought the Union’s Army of the Potomac, led by Major General George G. Meade. Lee’s Army made significant progress and gained a good deal of ground during the first two days of battle, yet a Confederate strategy on the third day, known as “Pickett’s Charge,” was repulsed and the Union forced the Confederates to retreat. The result was a massive Union victory, foiling General Lee’s attempted invasion of the north. Casualty estimates range upward of 51,000, including over 7,000 fatalities, with more dying from wounds and infections in the months ahead.
There are grisly stories of the aftermath. The citizens of Gettysburg suffered, too. Thousands of bodies required burial and tens of thousands of injured needed medical treatment. Makeshift hospitals overtook the town. Camp Letterman General Hospital was established east of Gettysburg a few weeks after the battle. It consisted of hundreds of tents and support services. It was winter before the last soldier departed.
It took a week to bury the dead and most were in shallow graves, hastily dug to avoid epidemics. Many Confederates were reinterred years later in southern states, while the Union dead were ultimately reburied in a location set aside a few months after the battle as the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. It was there, on November 19, 1863, that Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. It was two minutes long and less than 300 words, dedicated to “those who here gave their lives” so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Explore the Civil War Collection on Fold3 to learn more about the Battle of Gettysburg. Locate maps and photos related to the battle, including those by Mathew Brady’s team of photographers. Read Confederate Casualty Reports for first-hand accounts of Confederate officers, and review the military records of many of the soldiers who served on either side.