(Post and photos by Leigh Touchton)
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. In the battle, Union Maj. Gen.George Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen.Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, halting Lee's invasion of the North. The battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war's turning point due to the Union's decisive victory and concurrence with the Siege of Vicksburg. Elements of the two armies initially collided at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, as Lee urgently concentrated his forces there, his objective being to engage the Union army and destroy it. Low ridges to the northwest of town were defended initially by a Union cavalry division under Brig. Gen. John Buford, and soon reinforced with two corps of Union infantry. However, two large Confederate corps assaulted them from the northwest and north, collapsing the hastily developed Union lines, sending the defenders retreating through the streets of the town to the hills just to the south.
On the second day of battle, most of both armies had assembled. The Union line was laid out in a defensive formation resembling a fishhook. In the late afternoon of July 2, Lee launched a heavy assault on the Union left flank, and fierce fighting raged at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, and the Peach Orchard. On the Union right, Confederate demonstrations escalated into full-scale assaults on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. All across the battlefield, despite significant losses, the Union defenders held their lines.
On the third day of battle, fighting resumed on Culp's Hill, and cavalry battles raged to the east and south, but the main event was a dramatic infantry assault by 12,500 Confederates against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, known as Pickett's Charge. The charge was repelled by Union rifle and artillery fire, at great loss to the Confederate army. Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia. Between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in the three-day battle, the most costly in US history.
On November 19, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.
The Gettysburg Address is a speech that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered during the American Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg. It is one of the best-known speeches in American history
Coversations/Things we learned:
The new Museum opened in 2008.
The Battle of Gettysburg is known as the High Water Mark of the Rebellion. We cannot possibly summarize the charges and countercharges, flankings and retreats, volleys and Calvary charges—-the museum will overwhelm any student of Civil War history.
The basics: General Lee and the confederate rebels were defeated and then retreated. It was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War: 11,000 dead men and 4,500 dead horses. Another 40,000 men wounded, captured, or missing. The 51,000 casualties outnumbered the population of the town of Gettysburg by 20-fold. In the extreme summer heat the situation turned into an unprecedented health crisis during and after the battle.
You should allow 2-3 hours at least for the museum. We recommend a morning visit, then lunch at their cafeteria, and take it to a picnic table outside; then another pass through the museum. We recommend a morning or late afternoon tour of the cemetery and you simply must attend the excellent National Park Service Ranger talk there.
We wanted to hire a guide from the museum to tour us through the battlefield as these guides will accompany you in your vehicle, but Covid concerns belayed that idea. It would have been fascinating for the guide lecture. We instead stopped at all the interpretive displays and tried to absorb the details ourselves, the topography is quite a bit different today than when the battle raged. You can basically drive atop the ridges and stop at the overlooks and interpretive displays.
We were struck by all the monuments from each state that were added decades later to commemorate their fallen. The verbiage is equally interesting. If you’ve read the inscriptions on the Confederate statues erected in towns throughout the South, you’ll understand what we are talking about. The “pathos of the noble cause” ie, maudlin and benighted.
In the museum, you’ll walk through exhibits and interpretive films chronicling each day: the battle raged over 3 days before Lee finally admitted defeat and turned back. We started with the Cyclorama to get a broad overview, as well as a fascinating history of cycloramas and their artists. We would have liked to have re-visited the Cyclorama after progressing through the museum.
We recommend 2 days at least to visit this national military park. You will also want to spend time in the city of Gettysburg. We don’t recommend any of the private tourist sites; you will see signage for them. Our advice is to avoid them and to only visit places operated by the National Park Service.
The home of President Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower is located nearby, but we did not visit and we wish we had.
Regarding the cemetery, burials therein are now closed, but for many years military veterans from other wars were allowed to be interred there, particularly those who served in World War I.
1195 Baltimore Pike
Phone: (717) 334-1124
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