Overview of the Gettysburg Campaign
This map shows the movements of Confederate (red) and Union (blue) troops leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1 to 3, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
This map shows the movements of Union (blue) and Confederate (red) troops in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1 to 3, 1863. During the night of July 3, Confederate general Robert E. Lee managed to slip his Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Virginia and evade pursuing Union troops.
This map shows the movements of Confederate (red) and Union (blue) troops on July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. By the end of the day, Union forces had retreated to Cemetery Hill, a high position overlooking the Pennsylvania town and its road network.
This map shows the movements of Confederate (red) and Union (blue) troops on July 2, 1863, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Confederate attacks led to fierce fighting at a number of locations, including Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, Cemetery Ridge, and Cemetery Hill.
This map shows the movements of Confederate (red) and Union (blue) troops on July 3, 1863, the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederate attacks climaxed with a failed frontal assault on Cemetery Ridge known as Pickett's Charge.
In preparation for the campaign—as well as in response to the death of the much-celebratedin May—Lee reorganized his army, from two army into three. James Longstreet, known as “Old Pete,” was stubborn and opinionated and now Lee’s most trusted lieutenant. He would keep the First Corps. One-legged , “Old Bald Head,” would take Jackson’s old Second Corps. And , known for his headlong charges, sudden bouts with illness, and notorious fights with Longstreet and Jackson, would lead the Third Corps. On June 3, the army, numbering approximately 75,000 confident, veteran soldiers, slowly began to shift west from positions around Fredericksburg.
The dashing and glory-hungry, meanwhile, massed his Confederate cavalry near Culpeper, even staging a review and battle reenactment for local women, some of whom were reported to have fainted from excitement. Suspecting that Confederates were preparing to raid his communications and supply lines, the Potomac army’s commander, , ordered Alfred Pleasonton to cross the Rappahannock River with his cavalry on June 9 and attack. Stuart was thoroughly surprised and humiliated at Brandy Station, the largest cavalry engagement of the war. He was not, however, beaten, and by day’s end he had pushed the Union troopers back. Casualties totaled 907 for the Union and 523 for the Confederates. And while Hooker managed to learn nothing of Lee’s intentions, the battle did wonders for the morale of Union horsemen.
Lee continued west, marching through the Blue Ridge Mountains into the. Ewell’s Second Corps led the advance and, on June 12, approached , Virginia, garrisoned by 6,900 Union troops under Robert H. Milroy. By June 14, Ewell had nearly surrounded Milroy. The Union general attempted a nighttime escape only to be smashed by Ewell’s forces on June 15 at the cost of 4,443 casualties, most of whom were prisoners, and the capture of twenty-three pieces of artillery.
Ewell’s flashy victory in the Shenandoah Valley, where Stonewall Jackson had made newspaper headlines and become something of a legend just a year earlier, eased many people’s fears that he was not ready to fill his predecessor’s boots. The way was now open to Pennsylvania, and the first elements of Lee’s army reached the supply-rich Cumberland Valley town of Chambersburg on June 15. From there, Lee dispatched Ewell east of South Mountain, troops undermade it as far into Pennsylvania as York and Wrightsville, and Ewell himself led columns north to Carlisle and to the outskirts of the capital at Harrisburg. Longstreet and Hill, meanwhile, brought up the rear in Cashtown, about thirty miles west of Gettysburg.
Little did Lee know that Hooker was in hot pursuit. The Union general moved his army north so quickly that Stuart’s cavalry—seeking, perhaps, to redeem itself after Brandy Station by riding around the Army of the Potomac—was cut off from Lee and unable to warn him. By June 28, Union forces were massed around Frederick, Maryland. That same day, after losing a long battle of wills with Lincoln and Union general-in-chief Henry W. Halleck, Hooker was replaced by George G. Meade. Irascible and uncharismatic, Meade resolved to take the fight to Lee. The Confederate commander, meanwhile, only learned of Meade’s location from one of Longstreet’s spies and immediately ordered his dangerously scattered army to concentrate near Cashtown.
On June 30, Confederates indivision set off for Gettysburg and other supplies, only to discover Union cavalry instead. Unsure whether these were home guard troops or more seasoned Union army regulars, A. P. Hill sent two divisions into Gettysburg on July 1 to investigate. What they found, just west of town, was the stiff back of Union general John Buford, whose horsemen were determined to hold the town until the nearby First Corps could arrive.
Buford’s men, armed with quick-firing carbines, fought dismounted and, from the cover of Herr’s Ridge and McPherson’s Ridge, slowed the Confederate advance until the First Corps arrived. Realizing now that they were facing the Army of the Potomac, Hill’s men reorganized and prepared to renew the battle as Rodes’s and Early’s divisions of Ewell’s corps approached serendipitously from the north. Lee reached the field around noon and attempted to prevent the action from escalating into a full-scale battle. His standing orders, in fact, had been not to fight a battle until the entire army was concentrated. After all, he was unfamiliar with the terrain and with the enemy’s strength. By early in the afternoon, however, events had taken on a life of their own.
The Union First Corps commander, John F. Reynolds, was killed, and when the Eleventh Corps arrived, Oliver O. Howard took command of the field. His force, which contained a large number of Germans, had infamously run from Jackson’s men at Chancellorsville, and here they did the same again. Hill from the west and Early from the north set Howard’s men to flight through the streets of Gettysburg with a loss of nearly 3,500 prisoners. They rallied to the south on Cemetery Hill, an eminence commanding the town and its road network; as darkness fell, Lee decided against further attack. The battle’s first day had cost approximately 6,800 Confederate and 9,000 Union casualties.
Lee’s decision not to attack Cemetery Hill has been a source of controversy ever since. Some historians have suggested that Ewell was not nearly as aggressive as Stonewall Jackson would have been. Others have blamed Lee for issuing orders that were vague, contradictory, and overly discretionary. Ewell was to attack Cemetery Hill, according to Lee, “if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement.” As historian Stephen W. Sears has written, “The decision was left entirely in Ewell’s hands, and he was urged to start a fight but not to start a battle.”
During the night both armies received substantial reinforcements. By the morning of July 2, Meade had six of his seven corps on hand, and he arranged them in a fishhook-shaped line that took advantage of the hilly terrain south of Gettysburg. Lee, who had eight of his nine divisions on the field, held the initiative. He planned an offensive to roll up Meade’s left flank with Longstreet’s corps and part of Hill’s, while Ewell mounted a demonstration against the Union right. Longstreet vigorously objected to the plan, however, leading to awkward moments on the battlefield and more postwar controversy. He preferred to maneuver to the south, around the Union left, arguing in his 1896 memoir that the enemy’s positions were too strong. Lee rejected the advice, and the day’s attack, scheduled to begin as early in the day as possible, did not commence until three thirty in the afternoon.
Long the villain in this drama, Longstreet was targeted by Lost Cause historians—especially Jubal Early—because of his wartime ambition, his criticisms of Lee, and his postwar defection to the. Some modern historians, including , however, also have held Longstreet partly accountable for holding up the day’s assault by more than three hours. In Lee’s Lieutenants (1942–1944), Freeman charged that the general “sulked” as much as he fought, “the dissent of Longstreet’s mind [acting as] a brake on his energies.” Freeman’s negative opinion of Longstreet, however, has been challenged by more recent scholarship that acknowledges while Longstreet was guilty of some delay he also managed his corps with considerable skill in its attack that afternoon.
And that attack was very nearly successful. Fierce fighting raged in places soon to be burned into the American lexicon: Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, Cemetery Ridge, and Cemetery Hill. When his left risked collapse, Meade skillfully shifted reinforcements to threatened areas and by nightfall had stopped Lee’s main attack. Lee’s management of the battle, meanwhile, was curiously hands-off; as a result, Confederate attacks were piecemeal and not nearly as effective as they might have been. That evening Ewell hit Meade’s right on East Cemetery Hill and, but he, too, was stopped. Both armies suffered heavy losses, but the Army of the Potomac still held the high ground.
Sensing that victory was still within his grasp, Lee ordered the offensive renewed on July 3. The plan remained the same. Longstreet, reinforced bydivision of fresh infantry, would assail the Union left while Ewell attacked the right. Stuart had finally rejoined the army, and Lee ordered him east of Gettysburg to threaten the Union rear. By early morning, however, the plan had collapsed when the fighting on the Union right commenced earlier than anticipated and Longstreet was unready to attack on the left. When Longstreet again argued, but with more justification this time, that the positions in his front were too formidable, Lee instead ordered a massive attack against the Union center on Cemetery Ridge, then occupied by Union general Winfield Scott Hancock‘s Second Corps. The plan called for a bombardment by more than 150 cannon to weaken Union defenses, followed by an assault by drawn from Pickett’s division and Hill’s corps. The battle on Ewell’s front, meanwhile, ended in defeat for the Confederates, and during the afternoon Stuart was fought to a standstill three miles east of Gettysburg by Union cavalry under David Gregg.
Confederate soldier Thomas Benton Horton poses for an 1861 ambrotype, the buttons on his uniform hand-colored a vibrant gold. A farmer from Campbell County, Horton enlisted in the 11th Virginia Infantry at the age of twenty-five and rose to the rank of captain. In December 1861 he was wounded at the Battle of Dranesville, in northern Virginia. Serving in George E. Pickett's division at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, Horton was wounded a second time during the famous infantry attack known as Pickett's Charge. The following year he was captured at Milford Station, and he spent the rest of the war at the Fort Delaware prison camp, in Caroline County, on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River.
This painting by Edwin Forbes depicts Pickett's Charge, which took place on July 3, 1863, the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The scene is from the perspective of the Confederates, who were looking east toward Union troops located in the distance atop Cemetery Ridge. As the Confederates methodically marched forward across nearly three-quarters of a mile of open field, the Union soldiers fired on them, causing massive casualties.
Forbes was a New York City–born artist who worked as a sketch artist during the Civil War for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. He observed a number of battles firsthand and, after the war, made paintings based on his sketches, including multiple scenes of Pickett's Charge. In his memoir, An Artist's Story of the Great War (1890), he recalled how, on July 3, the field of battle looked "simply terrible. The Confederate dead lay in long lines, as if a giant reaper had been driven over the ground to reap a human harvest. Nothing but admiration ought ever to be felt for the discipline, the splendid courage, of these brave men; while posterity will wonder at the misdirected zeal which brought forth such valor in so unworthy a cause."
This detail from a July 12, 1863, report by Confederate colonel W. R. Aylett charts the casualties (the number of killed, wounded, or missing) suffered by Armistead's Brigade on July 3, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg. On that day, Armistead's Brigade—consisting of the 9th, 14th, 38th, 53rd, and 57th Virginia Infantry—took part in the climax of the battle, an infantry attack known as Pickett's Charge. The chart here states that there were 1,191 casualties in the brigade. In addition, General Lewis A. Armistead, the commander of the brigade—listed here as "wounded and captured by the enemy"—died two days after the battle.
In the main body of the report, Aylett—who also was wounded that day—recounted how the brigade moved "across the open field for more than half a mile" under heavy artillery fire "which rapidly thinned its ranks." Still, Armistead's men reached the Union defenders, who were crouched behind a stone wall. After enduring "severe musketry fire" and bursts of artillery, the men in Armistead's Brigade "were compelled to retire leaving more than two thirds of our bravest & best, killed or wounded on the field."
Colonel Aylett made special mention of Armistead. "Conspicuous to all, fifty yards in advance of his Brigade waving his hat upon his sword he led his men upon the enemy with a steady bearing which inspired all breasts with enthusiasm and courage and won the admiration of every beholder," Aylett wrote. "Far in advance of all he led the attack till he scaled the works of the enemy and fell wounded in their hands but not until he had … seen his colors planted over their fortifications."
This Confederate battle flag, which belonged to the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, bears a handwritten inscription at the top. The notation states that the flag was captured by Sergeant Ferdinando Maggi, a member of the 39th New York Infantry Regiment (also known as the "Garibaldi Guard"), on July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. On that day the 11th Mississippi took part in the infantry attack known as Pickett's Charge. The 39th New York was among the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge that took the brunt of the attack and held its position. Sergeant Maggi received special recognition for having captured the regimental flag from the advancing Confederate force.
During the night Lee withdrew into a defensive position along Seminary Ridge, to the west of town. He remained there all day on July 4, hoping Meade might attack him. When he did not, Lee ordered a retreat to Virginia. In three days of fighting, the Army of the Potomac had lost 23,000 men, the Army of Northern Virginia upward of 28,000.
The retreat was difficult. There were thousands of wounded soldiers to evacuate and it rained heavily on several days. A small force of Union cavalry destroyed Lee’s pontoon bridge over the Potomac at Williamsport, Maryland, and when the Confederates reached the river, they found that the rains had rendered it impassable. Eyeing Lee’s vulnerable position, Meade considered a full-scale assault on July 13, but after consulting with the commanders he called it off. As a result, Lee had time to build a new bridge at Falling Water and managed to slip his men across the Potomac that night. (Some Confederates escaped with the help of the ferry upriver at Williamsport.) The next morning, the Union cavalrymen did what they could to disrupt the Confederate withdrawal, but they could not stop it. Once the last of Lee’s soldiers had splashed back ashore in Virginia, the Gettysburg Campaign was over.
Lee’s army had managed to seize massive quantities of badly needed supplies in Pennsylvania, but in all other respects, the campaign was a disaster. Nearly a third of the army was killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, while horses and equipment were worn out. Instead of damaging Union morale, it boosted it. Combined with the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 4 to Union general, the outcome at Gettysburg gave Northerners hope that the war might still be won.
The Battle of Gettysburg and Its Aftermath
A man straddles a fence in the foreground of this photograph of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Mathew Brady took this glass-plate image on July 15, 1863, two weeks after the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863). The 1832 Seminary building was controlled first by Union and then by Confederate forces during the battle. The cupola atop the building served as an observation point, and the building itself as a hospital. When this photograph was taken, the building was still being used as a hospital for the casualties of the battle.
Crude wooden headboards etched with initials (probably those of the dead men) mark the graves of Confederate soldiers who fell during the Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1 to 3, 1863. According to the photographic historian William A. Frassanito, the headboards indicate that fellow Confederates dug the unfinished graves. Timothy O'Sullivan, then working as a photographer for Alexander Gardner's photo studio, made this glass-plate image on July 5, 1863, one day after General Robert E. Lee ordered his Army of Northern Virginia to retreat to Virginia. In the wake of the battle, residents of the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, faced the challenge of burying the dead who lay strewn across the battleground.
In one of the most famous photographs of the Civil War, three captured Confederate soldiers, likely from Louisiana, pose for Mathew Brady on Seminary Ridge in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, the three-day battle that took place on July 1–3, 1863. Photographic historian William A. Frassanito believes this photograph was probably made on July 15, 1863, the day before 2500 Confederate prisoners were sent to prison camps in the North. If that date is correct, Frassanito contends that these soldiers—none of whom seems to be wounded—were likely "stragglers, captured during Union mop-up operations somewhere along either the Chambersburg Pike or Hagerstown Road, [General Robert E.] Lee's main routes of retreat."
Meanwhile, a closer look at their uniforms reveals the soldiers to be much better dressed than tradition would have it. According to legend, the Battle of Gettysburg began when barefoot Confederates entered the town looking for shoes. But historian Richard Pougher has used this photograph as evidence that "the common Confederate soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia was well dressed in Southern military uniforms, well-shod, and well accoutered … He was not the ragged, barefoot, poorly equipped individual in nondescript mix-and-match clothing so many have come to see him as."
Dead soldiers litter the ground in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place from July 1 to 3, 1863. Timothy O'Sullivan took this photograph, titled "A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania," and it became one of the most iconic images of the Civil War. This albumen print was made by Alexander Gardner from O'Sullivan's glass-plate negative and used in Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), a two-volume work that included 100 mounted photographs of the conflict.
Gardner, a Scottish-born photographer, worked for the renowned Mathew Brady photographic studio in Washington, D.C., from 1856 to 1862, until he opened a rival studio. Gardner poached a number of Brady's best photographers for his own studio, including Timothy O'Sullivan, and after the war produced his illustrated Sketch Book.
A photograph taken on July 6, 1863, by Timothy H. O'Sullivan depicts a dead Confederate soldier at the Devil's Den, a strategic stone wall manned by sharpshooters during the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle took place from July 1 to 3, 1863, and O'Sullivan photographed the aftermath. In order to create as dramatic a photograph as possible, O'Sullivan moved this dead soldier—who originally laid some forty yards away—placed him next to the wall, put a backpack under his head, and propped a rifle near him. The photographic historian William A. Frassanito deduced that the scene had been staged from a number of clues, among them the fact that the type of rifle pictured was not used by sharpshooters.
This photograph, published in Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the American Civil War (1866) and titled "Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg, July, 1863," became one of the iconic images of the war.
Frank, Frederick, and Alice Humiston, the children of Sergeant Amos Humiston of Co. C, 154th New York Infantry Regiment, are the subjects of this carte-de-visite photograph. This image is a copy of a tintype that Sergeant Humiston was holding in his hands when he died on the battlefield at Gettysburg in July 1863. The photograph was mass-produced in 1865 by the Philadelphia photographic firm of Wenderoth, Taylor & Brown as a fundraising tool for a planned orphanage for children who lost their fathers during the war. On the back of the image it reads:
This is a copy of the Ferrotype [or tintype] found in the hands of Sergeant Humiston of the 154th N.Y. Volunteers as he lay dead on the Battle Field of Gettysburg.
The copies are sold in furtherance of the National Sabbath School effort to found in Pennsylvania an Asylum for dependent Orphans of Soldiers; in memorial of our Perpetuated Union.
This image is part of the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs at the Library of Congress.
Confederate captain William H. Powell of Company A, 33rd Virginia Infantry Regiment, poses with a Bowie knife in this hand-colored ambrotype by the Philadelphia photographic firm of Wenderoth, Taylor & Brown. Powell's name and regiment were etched into the side of the photographic plate. His regiment was part of the famous Stonewall Brigade named after its first commander, General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Powell was wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1 to 3, 1863.
This image is part of the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs at the Library of Congress.
A detail of a photographic print shows a hatless President Abraham Lincoln (at top center, just above the blurred crowd, with his head bowed, to the left of a very tall man with a top hat and sash) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863. On that afternoon—just four and a half months after the bloody Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863)—Lincoln delivered his now famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, at the dedication ceremony of the Soldiers' National Cemetery.
The Library of Congress identifies the tall man in top hat as Ward Hill Lamon, a friend and a self-appointed bodyguard of the president. Others included in the crowd are Lincoln’s private secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, orator Edward Everett, and Francis Pierpont, governor of the Restored government of Virginia, who is the bearded figure visible on the far right of the top row.
The photographer who took the original glass-plate negative is uncertain. Photographic historian William A. Frassanito, maintains it was taken by an unknown photographer; the National Archives attributes it to Mathew Brady; and the Center for Civil War Photography attributes it to David Bachrach, an eighteen-year-old Baltimore photographer. The photograph is part of the Brady-Handy Collection of photographs at the Library of Congress.
Dead artillery horses litter the yard of the Trostle farmhouse near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in this glass-plate photograph by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. The 9th Massachusetts Regiment lost fifty horses during a Confederate attack near the farm on July 2, 1863, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Other units lost horses that day as well. Catherine Trostle, who lived in the house with her husband and nine children, later filed damage claims against the U.S. government, stating that there were 16 dead horses in front of her house and 100 others scattered across the farm.