Share: 

Gettysburg: Civil War's bloodiest battle

ron_macarthur
June 20, 2013

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee's most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the South's high-water mark, Gettysburg was the war's bloodiest battle with 51,000 casualties. It was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, considered one of the most important speeches in U.S. history. Over the next few days, hundreds of thousands of people will visit the area in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the July 1-3 battle.

 

This is 150th anniversary of the battle

The battle has etched places such as Little Roundtop, The Peach Orchard, Pickett's Charge, Devil's Den, Cemetery Ridge, Seminary Ridge and The Wheatfield into our historic lexicon.

A visit to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania is a special experience because the National Park Service has taken great pains to restore the battlefield to how it actually looked those first three days in July 1863. This year marks the 105th anniversary of the battle and business owners say they are expecting millions of visitors.

Forward thinking people starting preserving battlefield land not soon after the battle ended. Today, the park includes almost 4,000 acres. Most of is it accessible by vehicle and/or hiking and horseback riding. For more information, go to nps.gov/gett.‎

 

Horror left behind after the fighting

Although it's almost impossible to imagine the devastation and human suffering during those three days, few realize the toll the battle took on the small town of Gettysburg. When the two armies left, they left behind more than 20,000 wounded men – and thousands of dead horses – with no regard for how the 2,400 Gettysburg residents – mostly women and children – would deal with them.

Churches and homes were turned into makeshift medical facilities and by necessity hundreds of residents were forced into doing whatever they could for the wounded, sick and dying. The terrible smell of the battle remained for several months. Gettysburg residents also died from diseases they caught while caring for the wounded.

And during the battle, Gettysburg was the scene of fierce fighting. Many homes and businesses show evidence of bullet holes and cannon balls. Confederates took over the town on July 1 to the horror of the Union-supporting residents; many hid in their basements or left for the countryside.

 

Delaware's role is significant

Although small in numbers, Delaware troops played a major role in the battle with three Delawareans receiving the Medal of Honor for their heroics at Gettysburg.

On July 2 and 3, Delaware's First Infantry Regiment with 252 men helped fight back Pickett's Charge in the area of the Bliss Farm. Delaware's Second Infantry Regiment with 234 men was involved with fighting in The Wheatfield. The First suffered 77 casualties with 10 dead, 54 wounded and 13 missing and the Second suffered 84 casualties, including 11 killed, 61 wounded and 12 missing.

On July 5, the two regiments joined Union forces in pursuit of Lee's army as it retreated south.

This also marked the time that Confederate prisoners of war started to overwhelm Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, which served as a prison camp during the Civil War. More than 6,000 prisoners were marched from Gettysburg to Fort Delaware as the ranks swelled to 12,500 by August 1863.

  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

    Contact Ron at ronm@capegazette.com