Library Blog

Battle of Gettysburg


The town of Gettysburg, located in southeastern Pennsylvania, was thrust into history when the Civil War literally came to its door steps.  In the scorching heat of July 1 through July 3, 1863, Union and Confederate forces fought in what became the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.  Even though the war would drag on until April of 1865, Gettysburg was the turning point of the war, turning the tide for the Union Army and for United States history.  This July will be the 158th anniversary of the northernmost battle of the Civil War: Gettysburg.

Fighting at Gettysburg

After the victory in Chancellorsville, VA, Confederate morale was high and General Robert E. Lee seemed invincible.

statue of Robert E. Lee

General Lee was on the offensive, and leading his 75,000 troops into northern territory.  He was being pursued by Union Major General George Meade (also known as Old Snapping Turtle).  Confederate troops entered the town of Gettysburg in search of supplies, where they discovered two Union cavalry brigades already there.  Confederate forces outnumbered the cavalry brigades and managed to drive them a half-mile south out of town to Cemetery Hill.  Robert E. Lee ordered General Richard Ewell to attack at Cemetery Hill, but Ewell declined the order, considering the Union position too strong.  By that evening, several more Union corps arrived to strengthen the Union defenses: General Meade had arrived with 88,000 troops.

And so, the Battle of Gettysburg commenced.

The first day saw fighting at various Gettysburg landmarks such as McPherson’s Ridge, Oak Hill, Oak Ridge, Seminary Ridge, Barlow’s Knoll, as well as in and around the town.  This day saw massive casualties on both sides of about 15,500 soldiers.  (A casualty is anything that prevents a soldier from returning to battle, such as being wounded, killed, captured, or otherwise missing.)

The second day was even worse, with roughly 20,000 casualties.  The fighting occurred at Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, Cemetery Ridge, Trostle’s Farm, Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill.

Gettysburg Devil's Den

The third day was the day of the infamous “Pickett’s Charge.”  Led by Major General George Pickett, thousands of Confederate soldiers charged directly into General Meade’s battle line, facing Union cannons and rows of riflemen.  It was disastrous for the Confederates.  General Lee was forced to accept defeat and withdrew his army on July 4.

The Aftermath of Gettysburg

Thus, the Union Army defeated the Confederate Army.  This devastated the Confederate Army and revived Union morale, enough to sustain them for the remainder of the war.

Although the Union Army emerged victorious, it wasn’t without devastation.  The Battle of Gettysburg saw 51,000 casualties (approximately 23,000 Union and 28,000 Confederate).  This included 7,058 fatalities (3,155 Union and 3,903 Confederate); 33,264 wounded (14,529 Union and 18,735 Confederate); and 10,790 missing (5,365 Union and 5,425 Confederate).  This turned Gettysburg into the bloodiest single battle of the War.  (Followed by Chickamauga with 35,000 casualties.)

The population of Gettysburg at the time was only about 2,400.  The number of people lost during the battle (7,058) was three times more than the town’s entire population.  (The current population of Gettysburg, at 7,689, is eerily close to the amount of fatalities experienced on the battlefield).

The Gettysburg Address

Four months later, Gettysburg became the place of one of the most famous and beautiful speeches ever delivered: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  The Gettysburg Address, just 272 words and two minutes long, was given at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.

Gettysburg National Cemetery
Gettysburg has since become a very popular tourist attraction.  The historically significant places within the town and out on the field make amazing places to visit and see with your own eyes.

Learn More About the Civil War

If you want to learn more about the War, please check out some of our many Civil War books.

If you want to learn more about the Battle, please check out some of our many Gettysburg books.

And be sure to watch Ken Burns’ documentary miniseries, The Civil War, on DVD or via Hoopla.  Gettysburg is featured in Episode 5.

Visit Gettysburg

If you would like to visit Gettysburg and see the battlefield, the town, and the tourist attractions, learn more about planning your trip by visiting their official website, Destination Gettysburg.

Also take a virtual visit of Gettysburg!  More information available from this blog.


Kelly is a librarian at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. As the Adult Programming Specialist, her focus is bringing adults the library programs they love.  (Kids can’t have ALL the fun!).  She reads strictly nonfiction and picture books.  She believes that anything you could ever need or want is located somewhere in the library.  Including friends.