The Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1-3 in 1863, is one of the most widely recognized battles of the Civil War and arguably the most pivotal of the war. Located in Adams County, Pennsylvania, the battle resulted in a Union Victory that all but shattered the Army of Northern Virginia.
With the Union army numbering some 82,000 and the Confederate army numbering about 75,000 at the beginning of the battle, there was a total of 51,000 casualties between the two sides.
Union General George G. Meade’s victory over Southern General Robert E. Lee turned the Confederate troops back into Southern territory and propelled the Union towards its eventual triumph.
Below are 12 facts about this famous battle.
1. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, because the town was easily accessible. Ten different roads led in and out of the small town.
2. More generals were killed at Gettysburg than in any other battle of the Civil war. By the end of the day on July 3, nine of the 120 generals present were dead.
3. It is believed that Lee suffered a heart attack the night prior to the battle. Some believe this caused the Confederate loss as it may have impaired Lee’s judgement, specifically his ordering of Pickett’s charge.
4. Prior to the battle, President Lincoln gave Davis permission to send a negotiator across the Union line to discuss prisoner exchanges as well as more expansive peace terms. However, after his victory, Lincoln retracted his permission upon realizing he had the upper hand.
5. Lee wanted to fight a battle on Northern territory because he thought that it would have a higher chance of leading to a peace treaty. He also knew that if he did not win the Battle of Gettysburg, he would likely not win the war. Lee expected that this battle would be an easy win for two reasons: President Lincoln had just appointed General Meade to command the Army of the Potomac, and Lee’s spirits were high after his victory at Chancellorsville just two months prior.
6. Though Meade was victorious, President Lincoln was angry that he did not attack Lee as he and his troops retreated across the Potomac River back into Virginia. Lincoln believed that if Meade would have chased the Confederate troops, he could have demolished them and ended the war.
7. After his loss at Gettysburg, Lee sent a letter of resignation to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. However, Davis refused the request because he believed that Lee was most qualified to lead the Southern army.
8. Many historians consider this battle to be “the high water mark of the rebellion,” as the Confederacy’s momentum peaked right before this battle, and they were never able to push into Northern territory again with a large army.
9. Confederate President Jefferson Davis dubbed Gettysburg the “most eventful struggle of the war” because it raised Union morale. Prior to the battle, public support for the War in the Union was lagging, but the timing of the Northern victory – just before the Fourth of July – peaked Union spirits.
10. The Battle of Gettysburg utterly destroyed the town of Gettysburg. Prior to the battle, it was quite prosperous, but afterwards it was never able to recover due to the focus on preserving the battlefield. In addition, after the battle, the corpses in the town outnumbered the residents four to one.
11. One of the heroes at Gettysburg was Union General George Custer, the same general who was killed by the Sioux during the Battle of Little Big Horn. At Gettysburg, Custer defeated a troop of Confederate soldiers who had been charged with destroying the Union’s supplies.
12. Though the town of Gettysburg itself was under attack and all were in danger, only one civilian was killed – a woman named Jennie Wade.