Stone Sentinels, battlefield monuments of the American Civil War

Battle of Gettysburg Facts

Thumbnail of Meade and Lee

Who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg?


The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia:
70,000 men commanded by General Robert E. Lee


The Federal Army of the Potomac:
94,000 men commanded by Major General George G. Meade


How many casualties were there in the Battle of Gettysburg? How many people died at Gettysburg?

Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Until Gettysburg that title had gone to the Battle of Chancellorsville, fought just two months before. And although later battles such as The Wilderness and Spotsylvania would surpass Chancellorsville, Gettysburg would remain the costliest Civil War battle.


It is estimated that there were at least 45,000 and possibly as many as 51,000 casualties in the two armies at Gettysburg. The term "casualties" means not just people who were killed, but also includes men who were wounded (many of whom may have died of their wounds later), soldiers who were captured, and even men who ran away. It's impossible to calculate an exact number because of missing or incomplete records. This estimate is one of the more conservative and probably significantly understates Confederate missing and wounded:




















A wounded soldier


See details of the strength and casualties of the Army of the Potomac
See details of the strength and casualties of the Army of Northern Virginia

See the strength, casualties and loss of the armies at Gettysburg ranked by state

See a comparison of the organization and strength of both armies at Gettysburg


When was the Battle of Gettysburg? How long did it last?

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought on three days in 1863, from Wednesday, July 1st until Friday, July 3rd. The armies remained facing each other on the field on July 4th and there was minor skirmishing, although it is not usually considered part of the battle.


Gettysburg was not the end of the war - far from it. The Civil War started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, 26 months before the fight at Gettysburg. Lee's surrender at Appomattox was on April 9, 1865, 21 months after the battle. The Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until May 26, 1865, 23 months after Gettysburg. Gettysburg was almost the midpoint of the war.

Brief timeline of the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War


Where was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?

The Battle of Gettysburg took place around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a small crossroads town in southern Pennsylvania about 8 miles north of the Maryland border. It is the center of a network of roads feeding in from all angles of the compass. Gettysburg was also the end of a railroad line from Hanover, but it had been wrecked by Confederate troops.


Gettysburg's road network and its position on the east side of the mountains were important factors in why the battle occured there. So was the terrain, which included good defensive ground such as Little Round Top, Culp's Hill, and Cemetery Hill.

Thumbnail map of Gettysburg and its distance from major cities

Why was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?

At the start of the Gettysburg Campaign both armies were separated by the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The North had attacked across the river twice, in the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863). Both were Confederate victories, but both times the North was able to withdraw back across the river and safely rebuild.


Lee knew he could not just sit south of the river and throw back Northern attacks. His army could not stand the casualties, and the Southern rail system could not supply his army properly. And he knew that some day the North might find the winning combination.


Lee's plan was to take the war to the north in a move up the Shenandoah Valley. This would let the farmers there harvest their crops for the Confederacy, while Lee's army could forage in the rich and untouched lands of Pennsylvania. It woud threaten Union cities such as Baltimore, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. And it would give Lee a chance to fight and win a battle in the open, where he could finally pursue and possibly destroy the beaten enemy. Lee saw it as the best way to end the war before the South was trapped in an unwinnable battle of attrition.


As Lee moved north The Union army shadowed him, moving to stay between Confederate forces and Washington. Both armies were looking for a fight. It might have happened at several places, but the road network feeding into Gettysburg turned a chance encounter into the largest battle of the war.


Who won the Battle of Gettysburg?

The Battle of Gettysburg was a decisive victory for the Union.


Tactically it may have seemed about even. Both armies lost about the same number of men, and Lee kept his army on the field until the evening of the day after the battle, waiting for a counterattack by Meade which never came. But Meade's larger army could better afford the losses - all eight of Lee's infantry divisions lost about a third of their strength, while Meade's largest Army Corps was virtually untouched. Lee was almost out of artillery ammunition, while Meade had enough for another battle. And Meade had no need to throw himself into a dangerous counterattack; time was on his side as Union reinforcements moved to surround Lee, deep in enemy territory with no hope of reinforcement.


Strategically there was no question. The Battle of Gettysburg stopped the Confederate invasion of the North and forced Lee to withdraw to Virginia. He was successful in his secondary goal of gathering supplies from untouched Northern regions, but his goal of moving the fighting out of war-ravaged Virginia only lasted for a few weeks; by August the armies were back on the Rappahannock. And Lee's primary goal of finally being able to exploit a Confederate victory by pursuing and destroying a beaten Union army would remain an elusive dream.


Why was the Battle of Gettysburg important?

Although it did not involve the largest number of troops it had the highest casualties of any battle of the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg is considered a turning point. For the rest of the war Lee was on the strategic defensive, forced into the war of attrition he feared and eventually cornered in an unwinnable siege around Richmond.


Other Interesting Battle of Gettysburg facts

George Meade took over the Army of the Potomac just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg when Joseph Hooker abruptly resigned. Until then Meade had commanded the army's 5th Corps.


Around 2,500 civilians were in the battle area. One, seventy-plus year old John Burns, is honored by a statue on the battlefield for joining Union troops in the fight on July 1.

Although hundreds of civilians sheltered in their homes as the fighting raged around them, only one civilian, Jennie Wade, was killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. She was struck by a stray shot while indoors caring for a sick relative.


One legend has it that the battle took place because the Confederates moved into Gettysburg looking for shoes. But there never was a shoe factory or shoe warehouse in Gettysburg.


The Gettysburg Campaign started almost a month before the battle, on June 8, over 100 miles away along the Rapidan River in Virginia. It began with the Battle of Brandy Station, the biggest cavalry battle of the Civil War.


When the battle started on July 1 it was not the first time the Confederates had been to Gettysburg. On June 26 the advanced guard of Lee's army, Jubal Early's Division of the Second Corps, marched through town on the way to Wrightsville on the Susquehanna River. There was a brief clash west of Gettysburg with emergency militia and a cavalry skirmish on the Baltimore Pike.


The first Union soldier to die at Gettysburg was killed on July 26, five days before the "First Shot." Private George Sandoe, a native of the Gettysburg area, was killed on Baltimore Pike in a cavalry skirmish with Confederate cavalry screening the advance of Early's Division.


As Early's Confederates moved through larger towns such as Gettysburg and York community leaders were strongly encouraged to contribute supplies and cash to the Confederate cause in exchange for lenient treatment. York was squeezed of $28,000 cash. The money was taken back to Virginia in the care of the Second Corps Commissary of Subsistance Major Wells Hawks, a relative of the author of this website.


Confederate Major General George Pickett was not in command of all of the troops in Pickett's Charge. Of the nine brigades who took park in the main assault, Pickett only commanded three. First Corps commander Lieutenant General James Longstreet was in overall command of the attack, even though six of the nine brigades were from A.P. Hill's Third Corps.


The Confederate wagon train of wounded sent back to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg was 17 miles long. It was held up by floodwaters on the Potomac at Williamsport, Maryland and had to defend itself against Union Cavalry in "the Wagoner's Fight."


More than 3,000 horses were killed at Gettysburg. Lydia Lyster, who owned the small farmhouse used by George Meade as his headquarters, found 17 dead horses in her yard. Her only compensation for the extensive damage to her property was selling their bones at a half cent per pound.


After the battle 37,574 rifles left laying on the battlefield were collected.

• 24,000 were still loaded

• 6,000 had one round in the barrel

• 12,000 had two rounds in the barrel

• 6,000 had three to ten rounds in the barrel


After the battle the army paid 13 cents per pound for lead gathered by Gettysburg civilians. After a boy was killed trying to pound open an artillery shell to get the lead pellets out the army refused to accept lead from children under 18.


Sixty-four Union soldiers won the Medal of Honor for their actions at the Battle of Gettysburg. The last to receive his award was Alonzo Cushing, who finally was awarded the medal in 2014.

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About the Author • ©2007-2014 Steve A. Hawks