Battle of Gettysburg -- considered to be the turning point of the American Civil War. The following day, July 4, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia retreated, leaving Gettysburg for Virginia, and both sides tallied the costs of the war's bloodiest battle. At Gettysburg, more than 27,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were wounded, a further 7,800 men were killed on the battlefield. The war lasted another two years, but the tide had turned in the North's favor. Collected here are images from the battlefield 150 years ago -- some of the first war photography ever seen by the American public -- and scenes from a massive re-enactment of the events that took place over the past few days.
Confederate Civil War reenactors launch an evening attack during a three-day Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment on June 29, 2013 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Some 8,000 reenactors from the Blue Gray Alliance participated in events marking the 150th anniversary of the July 1-3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was defeated at Gettysburg, considered the turning point in the American Civil War. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having Lee. The first day’s fighting was so encouraging, and on the second day’s fighting he came within an inch of doing it. And by that time Longstreet said Lee’s blood was up, and Longstreet said when Lee’s blood was up there was no stopping him… And that was that mistake he made, the mistake of all mistakes. Pickett’s charge was an incredible mistake, and there was scarcely a trained soldier who didn’t know it was a mistake at the time, except possibly Pickett himself, who was very happy he had a chance for glory. …William Faulkner, in “Intruder in the Dust”, said that for every southern boy, it’s always within his reach to imagine it being one o’clock on an early July day in 1863, the guns are laid, the troops are lined up, the flags are out of their cases and ready to be unfurled, but it hasn’t happened yet. And he can go back in his mind to the time before the war was going to be lost and he can always have that moment for himself…Shelby Foote
WikiMap — Pickett’s Charge
Dead horses surround the damaged Trostle House, results of the Battle of Gettysburg, in July of 1863. Union general Major General Daniel Sickles used the farmhouse as a headquarters and Union and Confederate troops fought among the farm buildings during the fierce battle. (Library of Congress) #
Gettysburg is not something you can see in isolation as a battle, or as a phenomenon or as an event. It’s part of the general unfolding of the United States. There’s a great piece of dialogue cited in the book where a British Liaison officer comes on Longstreet after Pickett’s Charge and says something to the effect of what a great day, what a great event, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and Old Pete who was sitting on the top of a fence, watching the debacle he had foreseen said, “The Devil You Wouldn’t! I would have liked to miss it very much; we have attacked and been repulsed. Look there!” The British officer observes the field in the now fading smoke, sees the men limping and straggling back; the wounded horses seeking their now dead riders; the litter bearers carrying away those lucky enough to be found and evacuated; the psychologically overwhelmed and broken men who had gone forward expecting victory and found this; the leaders, like Pickett staggering around, lost and heartbroken, and realized that it hadn’t actually been so great a thing after all.
"A harvest of death", a famous scene from the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, in July of 1863
the North was actually fairly used to this drill, largely because the commanders of the Army of the Potomac had generally been so useless. Meade was only just appointed to command, and wasn’t all that interested in fighting at Gettysburg. Lee didn’t really want to fight at Gettysburg. It just kind of happened, and unfolded from there. Gettysburg needs to be understood not as planned campaign, since Lee’s campaign was intended to force the North to decide to sue for peace. His strategic goal was to bring the Army of the Potomac to battle on terrain favorable to him, with his Army intact and with the commanding terrain. We forget that Lee was first and foremost an Army Engineer. He understood things like observation, fields of fire, cover and concealment better than most of his opponents and all of his own generals. If his forces had taken Culp’s Hill initially and then the ridges and Little Round Top and Big Round Top, things would have been different; quite possibly they wouldn’t have ended up fighting a battle there. However, Meade was also an engineer as was Hancock and most of the other Corps Commanders who had any business leading troops in battle. (Sickles was, of course, a politician.) They saw the ground, the enemy and realized that if they could close and hold Culp’s, Seminary and Cemetery Ridge and as the battle unfolded, Little and Big Round Top, they’d beat Lee or force him to abandon the field of battle.
Members of the United States Sanitary Commission poses outside the tent during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 during the American Civil War. The women and men are not identified. (AP Photo)
Remember, Lee had to destroy the Army of the Potomac to accomplish his strategic aim; all Meade and the Army of the Potomac had to do to win was not lose. Normally, that is not the situation for the stronger force and certainly was not the way Lincoln saw it or the generals commanding until Meade. And, for political reasons, the destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia was critical to the war effort, just not important. But, Lee realized this, and tried to remain focused on it. Unfortunately, after Stonewall Jackson was fatally wounded at Chancellorsville, the other Generals in Lee’s Army either did not understand that or did not accept it. Longstreet seemed to have a feeling that the Army needed to survive, but could not see the overall big picture as well as Lee, and that was his tragedy. It made no difference as to what Longstreet did; he was powerless. Escape and get back to Virginia, and the war would drag on until the Confederacy was exhausted, worn down sooner or later. Longstreet had a marvelous gasp of the tactical situation, and a great understanding of the operational realities. However, using the Calculus of Battle, the failures of Day 2 following the misfortunes of Day 1, made him unable to see any solution.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Unfit for service. Artillery caisson and dead mule on the battlefield.(Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress)
Jeb Stuart gets a lot of blame for not being there to provide Lee with a better screen and better intelligence. That would have helped, but at some point Lee’s intent was to bring the Army of the Potomac to battle, and destroy it. Despite the general uselessness of the Generals Lincoln had appointed to that point, Gettysburg presented the best opportunity. If Meade consolidated his command and had more than a week to be in charge, the odds are the Union Army would have been operating on a firmer operational basis. At Gettysburg, they had the objective of fighting a defensive battle and holding the commanding and ominous terrain. With the entire Army united in command and control and without idiots like General Dan Sickles commanding III Corps, it’s very possible that Lee might have faced a tougher opponent.
Stuart should not get off too easy. He was a hero to the south as a bold Cavalier, a noble knight; in modern war since the time of the Cavaliers, however, they generally loose. The Confederates had light cavalry, which is best for screening, scouting and harassing the enemy. Day 1 might have been a different battle if Stuart had been there, simply because cavalry would have met cavalry. However, the Union cavalry was better armed and commanded by a grittier and more down to earth General in John Buford who had fought Indians using similar tactics to those he used in the meeting engagement.
Lee at Gettysburg
The "Slaughter pen" at foot of Round Top, after the Battle of Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania in July of 1863.(Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress)
Day 1 deserves a better and more thorough examination. In the film Gettysburg, there is a lot of confidence and congratulations among the Union leadership because the quality of the “ground.” Gettysburg had good terrain if you had the right pieces of it; the union did. If they were unable to hold it, they had a planned battleground and realizing Lee’s objective was neither wagons or horses or shoes for his men but the destruction of the Army of the Potomac, Meade and staff already had a trap set down the Emmitsburg Road East South East at Pipe’s Creek. Fate and the commander of I Corps, General John Reynolds, had different ideas. Meade found himself in a Battle he intended in a place he didn’t want that did in fact give him most of what he wanted; Lee found himself in a battle he intended in a place he didn’t want but would make do with. Lee’s time in Mexico and as a Cavalry Officer had been not periods of engineering but of reconnaissance, pursuit and aggression. He was probably most the aggressive General in his Army, with the exception of Stonewall Jackson. If I were to name the reason for the immensity of the defeat at Gettysburg, or select a villain, I would select the Confederate pickets who mistook Jackson and his aides for Northern Cavalry and fired on them without identifying them.
Amputation in a Field Hospital, Gettysburg. (Library of Congress)
Longstreet at Gettysburg
Gettysburg — Aftermath
But, Jackson was dead. The meeting engagement, which are usually pretty sloppy and deadly affairs, was a draw leaving the union in occupation of the key terrain. Due to problems of communications, coordination and staff work as well as logistics, the maneuver phase trying to take Culp’s Hill, flank Cemetery Ridge and occupy Little and Big Round Tops failed. So, the Army of Northern Virginia was left on day 3 to try a frontal attack, across an open plain with unseen obstacles that would slow, disrupt and canalize attacking soldiers into killing grounds. It didn’t help that Pickett’s soldiers were exhausted; it didn’t make it simpler that George Pickett was a bellicose idiot, lacking even the reptilian sense of self-preservation that Dan Sickles exhibited. It didn’t help that Longstreet who had the option to cancel the attack if the Confederate Artillery was seen to not be successful in driving the Union Forces off Cemetery Ridge. It also didn’t really matter – the Union Army was struck by the grandeur of the Confederate forces, their unity and dedication. The 19th Century had a number of battles – the Charge of the Light Brigade for one with a similar although smaller result – where the comment “It’s magnificent but it’s not war!” was most appropriate but this one was probably the most obvious example. Gettysburg and Pickett’s charge foreshadows the Somme to a frightening extent.
Confederate dead gathered for burial at the edge of the Rose woods, July 5, 1863. (Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress)
Several relevant learnings for our time are apparent here. First, the idea of the “ground.” Lee did not know what he was getting into in Pennsylvania. He hadn’t served there, didn’t know the ground and neither did most of his generals, although at least a couple had served at Carlyle Barracks, home today of Dickinson College and the Army War College. However, information didn’t flow well in the Army of Northern Virginia. There were a shortage of dependable maps for both sides, but the Army of the Potomac had a lot of Pennsylvania soldiers and had a better understanding of the terrain, the roads, the environment. Stuart would have done his chief a lot of good by dragging along some engineers to at least provide sketch maps had he been content to do what a Cavalry division should do in unknown territory – find and fix the enemy and report.
Next, after becoming used to Jackson and his ability to get his soldiers where they needed to be when they needed to be there, Lee was hamstrung by the inability of his generals to move their forces. Part of this was decreed by fate – his logistics was a very weak factor in his plan, and the Army had to advance into Pennsylvania and across it along a very wide front with a limited number of roads allowing them to link up as needed. One of the reasons for the exhaustion of Pickett’s division was that they had to march all night to get to the release point in the woods facing Cemetery ridge, arriving after twelve noon for an attack that was supposed to have happened closer to dawn.
Three "Johnnie Reb" Prisoners, captured at Gettysburg, in 1863.
There has been a great deal of discussion in other books and articles as to the reason for Lee’s indecision and failure to process information. He was a brilliant soldier with a lightning fast mind, but this battle was something else. There have been suggestions that he had a mild heart attack or a slight stroke sometime between day 1 and day 3. Various memoirists discuss his problems with diarrhea and headaches, and in the winter of 1862-63 after Fredericksburg he had suffered a mild heart attack. I suspect that he may have had a health incident; his health by this time was ruined and he piled work and stress on himself without mercy. However, he also saw what he needed to have happen possibly in front of him, and his soldiers hadn’t failed him before; how could they do so now. He saw what he wanted to see, there for the grasp. What could go wrong?
Meade at Gettysburg
Well, the answer was the field between the woods and cemetery ridge. The difference was that neither McClellan nor Hooker nor Burnside was in command. George Meade may not be one of the great Captains of the Union Army – that probably would be the triumvirate of Grant, Sherman and Sheridan – but he was a competent general who had avoided getting in the way. So he did not panic.
Photographer Timothy H. O'Sullivan took this photo, one half of a stereo view of Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper's Weekly, while he sketched on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863. (Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Library of Congress) #
Famed Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady captures the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with his camera shortly after the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, in 1863. Hospital tents can be seen in the field at right. (AP Photo/Mathew B. Brady) #
John L. Burns, the "old hero of Gettysburg," with gun and crutches, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Burns, a 70-year-old civilian living nearby, grabbed his flintlock musket and powder horn and walked out to the battlefield to join in with Union troops. The soldiers took him in, and Burns served well as a sharpshooter. During a withdrawal, Burns was wounded several times and left on the field. he managed to get himself to safety, his wounds were treated, and his story elevated him to the status of National Hero briefly. (Library of Congress) #
Months after the battle, crowds gather in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863, the day of President Abraham Lincoln's address. (Library of Congress) #
President Abraham Lincoln (center, hatless), surrounded by a crowd during his famous Gettysburg Address, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863. (AP Photo/Library of Congress) #
(Left) Dead horses litter the road outside the Leister farm, which was used as the headquarters of Union General George Meade during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 7, 1863. (Right) Cyclists ride along Taneytown road, passing the Leister farm on on June 30, 2013 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 150 years after the Battle of Gettysburg.(Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress, John Moore/Getty Images) #
Reenactors watch a demonstration of a battle during ongoing activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, at Bushey Farm in Pennsylvania, on June 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) #
An actor playing a Confederate soldier marches before waging a reenactment of The Battle of Little Roundtop during the Blue Gray Alliance events marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, on June 30, 2013. (Reuters/Mark Makela) #
Union Civil War reenactors repulse an evening attack as part of a three-day Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment on June 29, 2013.(John Moore/Getty Images) #
Confederate Civil War reenactors from Hood's Texas Brigade launch an evening attack on Union troops as part of a three-day Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment on June 29, 2013. (John Moore/Getty Images) #
Civil War re-enactors from Hood's Texas Brigade launch an evening attack as part of a three-day Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment on June 29, 2013. (John Moore/Getty Images) #
Actors playing Confederate and Union troops lay "dead" after a re-enactment of The Battle of Little Roundtop during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, on June 30, 2013. (Reuters/Mark Makela) #
Geoff Roecker, from Brooklyn, New York City, playing a member of the Constitution Guard, lounges in camp the morning of the final day of the Blue Gray Alliance re-enactment marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, on June 30, 2013.(Reuters/Mark Makela) #
Confederate Civil War reenactors march for an evening attack on June 29, 2013 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.(John Moore/Getty Images) #
Confederate Civil War reenactors fire a cannon towards Union positions ahead of Pickett's Charge on the last day of a Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment on June 30, 2013. Pickett's charge was named for the Confederate Maj. General George Pickett, whose division of rebel troops was annihilated in the attack. (John Moore/Getty Images) #
Union Civil War reenactors fire during Pickett's Charge on the last day of a Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment on June 30, 2013.(John Moore/Getty Images) #
Actors playing Federal and Confederate troops re-enact Pickett's Charge at the finale of the Blue Gray Alliance, on June 30, 2013.(Reuters/Mark Makela) #
William H. Hincks, right, portrays his great-great-grandfather, Medal of Honor recipient William Bliss Hincks, taking a Confederate flag from a color bearer portrayed by Skip Koontz, center, of Sharpsburg Maryland, at a re-enactment of Pickett's Charge, on June 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) #
American Civil War reenactors clash during Pickett's Charge on the last day of a Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment on June 30, 2013 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (John Moore/Getty Images) #
Actors playing Federal and Confederate troops shake hands after re-enacting Pickett's Charge during events marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, on June 30, 2013. (Reuters/Mark Makela) #
Tim Jenkins of Virginia views the battle site called Devil's Den from Little Round Top, during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, on July 1, 2013, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) #
Remains of Civil War soldiers lie buried at the Soldiers' National Cemetery on the 150th anniversary of the historic battle on July 1, 2013 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Thousands of Civil War soldiers are buried at the site. Union and Confederate armies suffered an estimated combined total of 51,000 casualties over three days, the highest number of any battle in the four-year war.(John Moore/Getty Images) #
Reenactors stand near luminaries that mark the graves of Union dead at Soldiers' National Cemetery during ongoing activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, on June 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) #
A cannon stands silent at Gettysburg National Military Park on June 28, 2013 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.(John Moore/Getty Images)
A soldier's body lies mangled on a field, killed by a shell at the battle of Gettysburg. (Alexander Gardner/LOC) #
Francis C. Barlow entered the Civil War as enlisted men in the Union Army and ended it as general. Wounded several times, Barlow survived the war, later serving as the New York Secretary of State and New York State Attorney General. (LOC) #
Union General Herman Haupt, a civil engineer, moves across the Potomac River in a one-man pontoon boat that he invented for scouting and bridge inspection in an image taken between 1860 and 1865. Haupt, an 1835 graduate of West Point, was chief of construction and transportation of U.S. military railroads during the war. (AP Photo/Library of Congress, A.J. Russell) #
A lone grave (bottom center), near Antietam, Maryland in September of 1862. (Alexander Gardner/LOC) #
Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879. Born a slave in Maryland, Douglass escaped as a young man, eventually becoming an influential social reformer, a powerful orator and a leader of the abolitionist movement. (George K. Warren/NARA) #
An unidentified Union officer, photographed by Mathew Brady. (Mathew Brady/NARA) #
Confederate troops viewed from a distance of one mile, on the opposite side of a destroyed bridge in Fredericksburg, Virginia, by Union photographer Mathew Brady.(Mathew Brady/NARA) #
President Abraham Lincoln (center, hatless), surrounded by a crowd during his famous Gettysburg Address, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863. (AP Photo/Library of Congress) #
General James Scott Negley of Pennsylvania. At the start of the war, he was appointed brigadier general in the Pennsylvania Militia, and went on to command troops in several battles. After his division narrowly escaped disaster during the Battle of Chickamauga, Negley was relieved of command. Negley served several administrative posts, retiring from the army in January of 1865. (LOC) #
Amputation in a Field Hospital, Gettysburg. (LOC) #
A nearly-starved Union soldier who survived imprisonment in the notorious Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia. (LOC) #
Nurse Anne Bell tending to wounded soldiers in a Union hospital, ca. 1863. (U.S. Army Center of Military History) #
Soldiers of the VI Corps, Army of the Potomac, in trenches before storming Marye's Heights at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg during the Chancellorsville campaign, Virginia, May 1863. This photograph (Library of Congress #B-157) is sometimes labeled as taken at the 1864 Siege of Petersburg, Virginia (LOC) #
Harriet Tubman, in a photograph dating from 1860-75. Tubman was born into slavery, but escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, and provided valuable intelligence to Union forces during the Civil War. (AP Photo/Library of Congress) #
African Americans collect the remains of soldiers killed in battle near Cold Harbor, Virginia, in April of 1865.
Confederate dead lie among rifles and other gear, behind a stone wall at the foot of Marye's Heights near Fredericksburg, Virginia on May 3, 1863. Union forces penetrated the Confederate lines at this point, during the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.
"A harvest of death", a famous scene from the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, in July of 1863(Timothy H. O'Sullivan/LOC)