The Battle Of Gettysburg Resource Collection


The Battle of Gettysburg Resource Collection

Fought from the 1st to 3rd of July in 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg is considered one of the bloodiest battles and the turning point in the American Civil War. Located in Pennsylvania, it was at Gettysburg where the Southern Confederate General Robert E. Lee was defeated and his campaign to invade the North ended. At the time of battle, the Confederacy was vastly outnumbered, having only 75,000 troops to the Union’s 83,000. The location for the Battle was chosen almost by chance, after Lee removed his troops from Virginia to give the ravaged state a rest from warfare. General Lee was forced to abandon Gettysburg on July 4th, 1863.

Pre-Gettysburg

With Civil War having been declared in 1861, the Battle of Gettysburg occurred well after the Union and Confederacy began fighting. In the months leading up to the Battle both sides had rearranged and assigned new leadership to their troops. Lee’s movement towards Gettysburg was due to his “Gettysburg Campaign”, which he planned after his unsuccessful “Maryland Campaign” upon which he embarked the previous fall. The first major skirmish of the Battle occurred on June 9th, when the Union Calvary defeated the Confederacy Calvary in the largest Calvary engagement in the War. From this point forward, the Union and Confederacy would engage in several small battles until the 3-day long fight that referred to as the Battle of Gettysburg.

Union Battle Plans

The Union’s immediate purpose in following and engaging Lee was to prevent him from getting to the Capitol, but the Army’s overall goal was to stop Lee’s second attempt at invading the North, the first attempt having been the “Maryland Campaign”. While of course the Union hoped to destroy Lee’s army, its focus was more on keeping the North safe and free from becoming the site of battlegrounds. It was not until the intense fighting began that the idea of destroying Lee’s army became the main goal. The failure to accomplish that would later result in much criticism of Meade.

Union Officers

Immediately prior to the beginning battles of the Gettysburg Campaign, General Joe Hooker followed Lee’s movements with the Army of the Potomac. Hooker placed the Army between Lee and the U.S. Capitol. In addition to protecting the Capitol, Hooker wanted more troops. His request was denied, however, and he removed from commanding the army and replaced by General George Meade. General John Buford was the commander of the Union Calvary, which engaged in the June 9th battle. Of the Union’s 67 officers, 14 were Major Generals such as General Meade and Abner Doubleday. Also included in the 67 officers were 53 Brigadier Generals. Thirty-nine of the 67 were West Point graduates.

Confederate Battle Plans

The Battle of Gettysburg resulted from Lee’s intent to invade the North. Lee wanted to remove the pressure from the South, which had experienced the majority of battles and therefore sustained extensive hardship. By entering the North, Lee hoped to obtain supplies that were not available in the South, including food. Lee, however, also wanted to draw international attention to the War by invading the North and inducing either foreign aid to be delivered to the South or for foreign assistance in negotiating peace. With Lee’s retreat, these hopes were lost.

Confederate Officers

The Confederate Army had 53 officers at the Battle of Gettysburg. The breakdown of these officers includes 1 General, Robert E. Lee and 3 Lieutenant Generals, James Longstreet, Richard Ewell and Ambrose Hill. General Hill would be significantly involved in the Battle by being the first notified of the Union army’s location. Also included in the 53 were 11 Major Generals and 38 Brigadier Generals. Of the 53, 24 were graduates of West Point.

The Battle of Gettysburg

On the first of the 3-day Battle, Union General Buford aligned his troops along the high grounds of Herr Ridge, Seminary Ridge and McPherson Ridge. Gen. Buford assumed these positions because they placed the Union on higher ground than the Confederate Army, a tactic he intended to use as a means to delay the Confederacy until reinforcements arrived. The first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg was fired by a Union soldier, Lieutenant Marcellus Jones. After an intense day of fighting, the Union Army had been pushed back southeast to Cemetery Hill. General Lee recognized how the Union’s placement on the Hill would once again give them the advantage in the battle. In an attempt to remove the Union from the Hill, Lee ordered that the hill be taken. This command, however, was never implemented, and also one that is viewed by historians as a missed opportunity which could have turned the tide of the battle. 

On the second day of battle the Confederacy had pushed the Union Army even further southeast of Gettysburg. At this point, Lee’s plan was to attack the left flank of the Union Army and isolate the Union Army on Cemetery Hill. Of the two Majors assigned to this left flank, however, one did not proceed far enough south, ended up directly facing the enemy, and the other disregarded orders, and settled on a higher position. Moreover, an entire brigade of Confederate soldiers did not arrive until approximately 5 p.m. on the second day, putting the Confederacy into an even deeper of an underdog position.

General Lee’s plan for the final day of the Battle, July 3rd, was the same as the previous day. However, his plans were derailed by an early morning onslaught of cannon fire from the Union. Extremely low on ammunition, the Confederacy did not immediately respond and, after beginning firing, was only able to produce a weak response. At one point, Confederate General Pickett ordered a daring charge against Union troops. This charge, referred to as “Pickett’s Charge”, was a disaster in that only half of Pickett’s troops returned to the Confederate line. Throughout the third day, the Union divided the Confederate brigades, making it easier to defeat or push the brigades further back from the Hill. On July 4th, Lee retreated from Gettysburg. General Meade half-heartedly followed Lee, and the two Armies engaged in smaller skirmishes until Lee escaped over the Potomac River.

  • Civil War Era Collection: Gettysburg College’s page that provides a glimpse of their collection of photographs and other information about the Civil War Era, including the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • National Archives: This site provides maps of the progression of the Battle over the three days of fighting 
  • Heritage Preservation Services: This page provides general information about the Battle.
  • National Park Service, Gettysburg Military Park: This page provides information about and photos of the park in its current state. The site also discusses the history of the park. 
  • Ohio State University eHistory: On this page the University provides a general recounting of the Battle as well as the Officers involved and a link to the order of battle.

Statistics

The Battle had the second highest casualty rate in the entire War, surpassed only by the Vicksburg Campaign, in which the Union General Pemberton lost more than 31,000 men. The Union entered Gettysburg with 83,000 troops and the Confederacy with 75,000. At the Battle’s conclusion, the Union had lost 23,000, or 27% of the fighting force and the Confederacy 28,000, or 37% percent. With 10% higher losses, the Confederacy was declared the loser of the Battle. 

Historical Impact

The Northern response to the Battle was at first one of pure excitement. However, this enthusiasm quickly turned to dismay when it became known that Lee was permitted to escape. Eventually, political leaders began to refer to Gettysburg as a failure. In contrast, the Confederacy viewed the Battle as a setback; this viewpoint was reinforced by the Union’s reluctance to engage in battles immediately after Gettysburg.

Four months after the battle at the dedication ceremony for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Only two minutes in length, Lincoln’s speech was dedicated to the conflicting principles that caused the war and to reaffirming the concept of a government created by and for the people. The Gettysburg battlegrounds have since been turned into a park and monument to the fallen soldiers of the Battle.

  • Ohio History Central: In addition to an overview of the battle, this site describes the Confederate response to the loss.
  • The Brother's War: This site is dedicated to the Battle and includes an in-depth discussion of the progression of fighting and officers involved. The site also discusses the impact of the Battle and how the Civil War progressed after Gettysburg.
  • Gettysburg Address: OurDocuments.gov’s copy of the original wording of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
  • Library of Congress: The Federal Government Library’s page that discusses the Address as well as provides links to other sites dedicated to Lincoln’s speech and writings.
  • Press Response to the Gettysburg Address: This page provides a listing of the press’ response to the Gettysburg Address.