Intro – The Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and many wonder how many died. It saw the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia facing off against the Union Army of the Potomac during Lee’s second invasion of the North. His first resulted in the Battle of Antietam.
The Battle of Gettysburg occurred in the town of Gettysburg, PA, from July 1-3, 1863. This was one of the major battles of the American Civil War as Gettysburg was the first major victory in the East for the Union.
Background – The Army of Northern Virginia Invades
On June 28, 1863, General George Gordon Meade was promoted to command of the Army of the Potomac. He replaced the former commander Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker. Meade, upon taking command, had to address the issue of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia as they were attempting their second invasion of the North. These two armies would ultimately clash at Gettysburg, PA.
Lee ordered A.P. Hill’s division to go to Gettysburg. As they marched to Gettysburg, the Confederates ran into two brigades of Union cavalry.
This cavalry under John Bufford had scouted and seen the incoming Confederates and opted to defend the ground. He sent word to Union Corps commander John Reynolds to hurry and reinforce the cavalry.
Robert E. Lee
Day 1 (July 1)
The fighting ensued on the first of July, as the dismounted cavalry held off Hill’s division for two hours. Lee gave orders not to bring on a general engagement, however, the battle was unavoidable now.
As the Confederates were breaking through the cavalry, Reynold’s First Corps arrived to help hold the line. Reynolds himself was shot and killed.
By the early afternoon, 24,000 Confederates and 19,000 Union soldiers were engaged in battle. Hill and Ewell were then ordered to send their full force into the fight.
Four Confederate divisions entered the fight and forced the Union men to retreat. They fled through the streets of Gettysburg and took up positions along Cemetery Hill.
Lee recognized that he needed to capture the hills south of the town, so he told Ewell to take the hills “if practicable.” Ewell believed it was not practicable and decided not to attack.
It was then that Hancock and the Second Corps arrived to reinforce the Union position along Cemetery and Culp’s Hill to Little Round Top. Three more Corps arrived and the Union troops began to fortify this position.
Day 2 (July 2)
Longstreet tried to convince his commanding general to leave and fight the Union force on better ground, however, Lee refused and planned to attack the next day. Lee’s plan was to have Longstreet’s Corps lead the main assault on the 2nd. These two divisions were ordered to attack the left flank of the Union forces. Hill was ordered to support the attack. All the while, Ewell was ordered to make a demonstration on the Union right and, once Meade reinforced the left, a full attack was to take place.
Longstreet, however, delayed his attack. He was ordered to attack as soon as possible. However, Longstreet did not begin his move till 4:00 p.m. To make matters worse, Longstreet found the Union troops out of place from where he had expected.
Union General Dan Sickles moved his Third Corps forward to a peach orchard with the lines left attached to Devil’s Den. This gave Sickels the high ground but also exposed his flanks.
Longstreet attacked Sickles in the orchard, the wheatfield, the Den, and Little Round Top. Sickles’s corp was broken by Longstreet, however, reinforcements were brought in and the bleeding was stopped. Ewell’s Confederate attack on the Union right also was stopped after initially gaining ground. Darkness fell and the fighting stopped.
Gettysburg National Military Park
The 20th Maine
Some of the most famous fighting of the second day occurred at Little and Big Round Top. Longstreet smashed into the Union lines there. Little Round Top was left uncovered by Sickles who had moved forward to gain higher ground.
If the Confederates had gained this ground, it would have exposed the Union flank to fire from Confederate artillery. Discovering this, Meade rushed troops to fill this gap in the line. The 20th Maine was chosen for this task. The commander of the 20th Maine was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
The 20th Maine repelled Confederates for two hours until they were exhausted and out of ammunition. Realizing they were nearly broken and a new Confederate charge was coming, Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge the Confederates. This charge saved Little Round Top and possibly the war effort for the North.
Day 3 (July 3)
Lee believed he had weakened the Union army enough that an attack in the center would break the Union force. Lee decided to order a bombardment of the Union lime beginning at 1:07 p.m. This firing continued for about 2 hours. However, few shells were successful as the artillery aimed high.
Then, at 3:00 p.m., Longstreet ordered George Pickett’s division, along with Hill’s division on the left, and two more in reserve, across the fields of Gettysburg and straight into Winfield Scott Hancock’s waiting Yankees. The Northern artillery had fallen silent to make the Confederates believe that they had been destroyed.
However, as Pickett’s men moved across the Gettysburg field, the guns opened fire again. Then, when the Confederates were within 200 yards, the Union soldiers opened fire on the exposed Confederates. It was a slaughter. 200-300 Confederates did breach the wall, however, they were quickly overwhelmed.
Pickett’s division lost two-thirds of its men. Of the 14,000 Confederates who made the charge, only 7,000 returned. Lee took the blame stating, “It’s all my fault.” He attempted to rally his men in case of a Federal counterattack. However, one never came and Lee’s men were far too broken to rally. This was the end of the fighting at Gettysburg.
How Many Died at Gettysburg (Civil War)
Now, to discuss how many died at Gettysburg and the results of the battle. The battle resulted in over 50,000 casualties, Union and Confederate combined (killed, wounded, captured or missing). The Union suffered 23,000 casualties and the Confederate army suffered 28,000, one-third of it’s army. There were 7,058 that died at the Battle of Gettysburg. This broke down to 3,155 dead for the Union and 3,903 for the Confederates. These casualties were staggering and showed just how brutal and violent the Civil War had become. Long gone were the days of Bull Run and even Shiloh. The war was now becoming a brutal, total war.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War and of American history. This was the last time that Robert E. Lee invaded the North. In the North, there was much frustration over General George Meade’s failure to follow Lee’s army. Lincoln himself was very frustrated with Meade’s failure to pursue.
However, one aspect of victory that was often overlooked was that victory often wore out armies more than defeat did. The brutality of the fighting had exhausted both armies.
Later, Lincoln would visit and give his famous Gettysburg address here as Gettysburg National Cemetery was established. This national cemetery can still be visited today.
This was a crucial turning point in the war as on the same day that Lee retreated, Vicksburg surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. This would become known as the “high tide” of the Confederacy as after this, the Confederates would never quite ride as high as they had before.