The Battle of Gettysburg lasted from July 1, 1863, to July 3, 1863. It was the bloodiest confrontation of the Civil War.
It was fought between two sides. Confederate General Robert E. Lee guided the Army of Northern Virginia into battle, while Union General George G. Meade led the Union Army of the Potomac. Over the span of three days, both armies suffered heavy losses.
The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most analyzed US wars ever fought. It marked a profound turning point in the Civil War and it was the beginning of the end for the Confederate Army. Travel back in time as you discover these interesting and lesser-known facts from the battlefield.
Here are 13 Facts about the Battle of Gettysburg you might not know
13. Facts About the Battle of Gettysburg
These facts about the Battle of Gettysburg provide great insight into one of the great turning points in American history. Some of them might even surprise you.
The Battle of Gettysburg is viewed as the “high watermark of the confederacy”. This term is a reference to what many historians believed to have been the Confederate Army’s best chance of attaining victory in the war.
Confederate General Robert E Lee’s prospects of advance suddenly shifted when his men were defeated by the Union and had to cross back into Virginia. The Confederate Army would never again regain its strength and pierce as deeply into the Union territory.
The Battle of Gettysburg lasted for three days. The second day, which took place on July 2, 1863, resulted in the most bloodshed and death.
The fighting was carried out at several areas in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, including Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Trostle’s Farm, Cemetery Ridge, Culp’s Hill, and Cemetery Hill.
Of the 100,000 soldiers that fought that day, roughly 20,000 were either killed, injured, captured, or missing. The second day of the battle alone is ranked as the tenth-bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
Women were forbidden from enlisting in the Civil War, but that didn’t stop a few hundred from joining the cause anyways. Women fought on both sides in the war. Some were drawn by the sense of adventure while others were so motivated by the cause that they felt it was their duty to enlist.
The women had to disguise themselves as men in order to enlist. There are a total of nine confirmed female soldiers who died on a battlefield during the Civil War. Of this number, one was killed at Gettysburg.
Another female soldier was shot in the leg during the conflict, which resulted in amputation.
The North’s confidence in winning the Civil War had reached a low point, starting in the summer of 1863. Following a string of Union losses, a defeat at Gettysburg could have ended in President Lincoln negotiating a peace agreement that would have created two nations.
However, combined with the victory during the Vicksburg Campaign on July 4, 1863, the Union’s Gettysburg triumph helped to renew public support for the war. The spirit of the North was revived.
After the fighting had ceased, thousands of the town’s citizens who fled during the battle returned home to find much of their property destroyed. To make matters worse, the residents of Gettysburg were left to deal with the immediate devastation caused by the battle.
Although, some volunteers did come from the North and South to aid in carrying for the wounded. Local homes and public buildings were turned into hospitals and a large hospital tent was set up in the town. Some of the wounded remained in Gettysburg for months.
The residents were also left to deal with the animal casualties. During the conflict, it’s estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 horses, mules, and donkeys were killed. The bodies of these animals had to be disposed of before diseases could spread.
Mary Virginia Wade, also known as “Jennie”, was a 20-year old resident of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania when the battle broke out. It’s reported that a stray bullet tore through her home while she was baking a loaf of bread. She is the only civilian to have been killed during the battle.
The house where this occurred is now a museum and popular tourist attraction named the “Jennie Wade House.”
There were 120 generals present at the Battle of Gettysburg. Of this number, nine were killed or mortally wounded during combat. No other battle during the Civil War claimed as many general’s lives.
There were about 160,000 troops present at the Battle of Gettysburg. Combined, the two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties, that’s nearly one-third of the soldiers that were engaged.
The Union casualties from the battle are estimated to be around 23,000 killed, wounded, captured, or missing. The Confederate number is around 28,000.
Following a Union victory, the Army of Northern Virginia pulled out of Gettysburg on July 4, 1863. Bound for home, it’s estimated that the army of wounded Confederates filled enough wagons to stretch for 17 miles.
To add to the already intense misery the soldiers were suffering, the journey back was met with torrential rainfall. The wounded troops had to endure the poor weather conditions along with narrow bumpy roads in wagons that did not have suspensions.
President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, for the dedication of the “Soldiers’ National Cemetery” at Gettysburg.
Although the speech didn’t receive too much attention at the time, it is now considered his most famous oration. The whole address was only 272 words, and it took him less than two minutes to deliver it.
Following his army’s defeat at Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee sent an official letter of resignation to Confederate President Jefferson Davis for his title as the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. However, Davis refused his request.
General Lee stayed on as the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia for the remainder of the Civil War. It was Lee who gave the official surrender to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, ending the Civil War.
After the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln composed a letter to Union General Meade. He conveyed profound disappointment in Meade’s choice to not pursue and destroy Robert E. Lee’s army during their retreat for Gettysburg.
Lincoln stated that Lee and his wounded Confederate army were within easy grasp. Moreover, he noted that Meade and his army could have easily closed in on the distressed Confederate soldiers, and potentially end the war altogether.
Lincoln called it a golden opportunity that is now gone, and stated that he was “distressed immeasurably because of it.”
The letter, however, was never sent.
Prior to the Civil War, Gettysburg contained a strong and stable free black community. In the 1860 census, of the 2400 town residents, 186 were black. They held a variety of occupations and some even owned property.
All of this changed when Robert E. Lee marched his Army of Northern Virginia into central Pennsylvania. Many of the state’s black residents fled.
The South did not care that Pennsylvania’s black citizens were legally free. The Confederate government issued orders that any black men, women, or children caught were to be rounded up and shipped south. Under their legislation, they were considered ‘runaway slaves.’
Many of the black residents who were caught and sent into slavery were undoubtedly free people who had, until then, never been enslaved. Knowing this, a majority of the town’s black population either went into hiding or left prior to Lee and his army arriving in Gettysburg. Many never returned.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered his army to withdraw from the Battle of Gettysburg on July 4, 1863. His troops headed to the Potomac River where they would cross back into Virginia. The battle was over, but the war would carry on until Lee’s official surrender came almost two years later.
The central cause of the Civil War was the status of slavery, particularly the expansion of slavery into newly acquired US territories. The Battle of Gettysburg is an integral part of black history and an important chapter in the story of America.