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Obit of the Day (Historical): The Battle of Gettysburg (1863)

On July 3, 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg ended. The battle, considered to be the turning point in the U.S. Civil War, had resulted in a Union (Northern) victory and a Southern army that would never cross into northern territory again.

Random note: Because of the way the armies entered the town, during the battle the North was attacking from the south and the South attacked from the north.

When the battle began in the tiny college town in central Pennsylvania 75,000 Confederate troops and 83,000 Union troops faced off in what would be the bloodiest battle in United States history. When the fighting had stopped after three full days over 51,000 men were killed or wounded in the three-day conflict - more than all the casualties in the American Revolution, which lasted eight years.

Some of worst carnage occurred in the late afternoon of the final day of battle, when General George Pickett was asked to march his division into the Union center which held the high ground on Cemetery Ridge. General Pickett and his men, numbering approximately 13,000, were completely exposed and had to march uphill.

Ed. note: Having taken the tour of the Gettysburg battlefield it was even worse because there were wooden fences across the field that Confederates were forced to climb, slowing down and trapping soldiers.

The stunned Union soldiers held their fire as they watched the line of Confederate begin their march. But once they opened fire, it was a bloodbath. Although Pickett’s Charge, as it is famously known, briefly broke through it was repelled at a cost of over half of the division. The commanders of all 15 regiments were killed or wounded and his three brigadier generals were killed.

When he retreated back to the Confederate line General Robert E. Lee ordered him to re-form his division. Gen. Pickett responded, “General Lee, I have no division now.” The following day, July 4, General Lee would retreat from Pennsylvania - a 14-mile long line of exhausted and wounded soldiers.

It took months for the Union and Confederate dead to be buried. Residents of the town claimed that the smell of bodies lasted for months - until the first frost in October. One local farmer found himself burying 76 North Carolina soldiers who had died on his property.

In November 1863, the battlefield at Gettysburg was dedicated as a cemetery and President Abraham Lincoln would deliver his famous “Gettysburg Address.” 

Note: President Lincoln’s speech lasted about two-and-a-half minutes. The oration for the event, given by Edward Everett lasted two hours. Mr. Everett would write a letter to the president stating, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

Sources: Time, The Washington Post, CivilWar.org, and The Library of Congress

Images:

Top left - “A harvest of death” taken by Timothy O’Sullivan, July 1863. Union and Confederate dead, with Union gravediggers in the background, courtesy of civilwarphotos.net

Top right - Confederate dead at Rose Woods, taken by Alexander Gardner, July 1863. Courtesy of the Library of Congress via the Toledo Blade

Center - "The home of a rebel sharpshooter, Gettysburg" taken by Alexander Gardner, July 1863. Courtesy of sonofthesouth.net

Bottom left - A Union soldier looking at the grave of a comrade while a dead Confederate lays nearby, taken by Alexander Gardner, July 1863. Courtesy of nationalparkstraveler.com

Bottom right - Bodies of Confederate soldiers killed on the first day of the battle, July 1, near McPherson’s Woods. Taken by Timothy O’Sullivan. Courtesy of sonofthesouth.net

Last September OOTD featured a similar piece on the Battle of Antietam

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    My family lines fought on both sides. Knowing that makes a war that occurred over a hundred years ago touch a lot more...

 

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