A brief overview of the 1863 encounter between the Confederate and Union armies...
We've provided the following brief description of the battle as a quick synopsis to better understand what happened in and around the small town - this is especially good to know if you want to have some backstory before exploring the haunting and haunts of Gettysburg.
The Beginning - The First Day of Battle
July 1st, 1863 at 7:30 AM, Confederate soldiers entered the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. By mid-afternoon, both Confederate and Union troops had amassed for both sides. After the unavoidable battle began, by the end of the first day 16,000 troops from both sides had either been wounded, killed or captured.
The Confederate army inflicted great loss on the Army of the North, but the Union soldiers somehow held onto the higher ground. That first night, both sides received more reinforcements.
The Second Day of Fighting
On the second day of the battle and despite more devastating blows from the Confederates, the Union Army fended off their attempts at capturing higher ground, once again. Again, the second evening saw more reinforcements arriving to both camps.
A Horrible 3rd Day of War
The third day of the bloody battle was blistering with the sound of Confederate cannons exchanging blasts with the Union army's guns for two hours. Being certain that his Southern army was on the verge of victory, General Robert E. Lee commanded his troops to form a mile-wide wall of men to advance upon the Northern army's positions. While they advanced toward the higher ground, the Union army fired away as the battle reached its peak point of ferocious fighting. Eventually, the charge failed and the Confederates were forced to retreat. The Union army had won a huge battle, something that had been considered to be a turning point in the Civil War.
After three days of fighting, casualties from both sides numbered high with a total of seven thousand having died and 44,000 being wounded. The scene around Gettysburg was devastating. Wounded soldiers occupied most homes turned hospitals, while other men lay on the battlefield moaning. Dead bodies litter the land around the small town and a massive effort to bury the fallen needed to take place.
Four Months Later: The Gettysburg Address
It would be four months later that President Abraham Lincoln would visit Gettysburg to deliver a historic speech given to dedicate the new cemetery. Though the casualties of the battle of Gettysburg were high, Lincoln's speech reminded us that the future of freedom hinged upon this contest. 620,000 men gave their lives in the Civil War that lasted five years. Four million slaves were freed.
Today at Gettysburg, one can visit the hallowed grounds and Gettysburg Visitors Center. (We recommend starting at the Visitor's Center. This will help set the tone, providing a greater idea of how the entire event unfolded in 1863 and what it must have been like to have been there.)
Within the Visitor's Center are Civil War relics from the time and a cyclorama containing a massive, circular oil painting created by French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux. The stunning work of Pickett's Charge was unveiled in 1913 at Gettysburg for the 50 year anniversary of the battle. It was reported at the time that Civil War veterans who fought at Gettysburg were brought to tears upon seeing it. You can learn more about the painting at the Gettysburg Cyclorama.