Must-Know Facts About the Battle of Gettysburg

It is July and summer is officially here! We at Guide to HR are excited to see how this month unfolds. There are a lot of things going on. We have summer, the 4th of July, and this month also marks National Mental Health Awareness Month for minorities. We want to continue our conversation from May, and we also want to utilize this space to spread more awareness about people of color in the workplace. But before we get started, today marks the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and we thought it would be fun to share some facts regarding that battle. Here are some must-know facts about the Battle of Gettysburg. We will pick up our conversation from May next week!

Battle of Gettysburg

On July 1, 1863, Union Major General George Meade led his army, the Army of the Potomac, into the biggest battle of the American Civil War—the Battle of Gettysburg. Major General Meade faced off against Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his army, the Army of Northern Virginia. The Battle of Gettysburg was the most brutal, yet most crucial, fight during the Civil War. It had the largest number of casualties on American soil, it lasted for three days, and it is credited as the turning point of the American War. 

Before the battle, General Lee and his army had just celebrated their victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia on May 6, 1863. On June 3rd, he began to lead his 75,000-man army to their second invasion of the North at Gettysburg. His plan was to bring the Union to their knees, in hopes of forcing them to negotiate an end to the war. President Abraham Lincoln got word of Lee’s plan to invade and directed Major General Joseph Hooker to move his army in pursuit, but three days before the battle, he was replaced by Major General Meade.

July 1, 1863

On the first day of battle, one of the Confederate divisions led by Major General Henry Heth went to seize supplies at Gettysburg. When Major General Heth and his team arrived, they were confronted by Union Cavalry Brigadier General John Buford, who slowed Heth down from their advancements until more troops arrived. Soon after, Union I and XI Corps, led by Major General John F. Reynolds, arrived and the battle began. Reynolds was killed during combat, and Confederate reinforcements under A.P. Hill and Richard Ewell arrived and drove the Union back half-mile south to Cemetery Hill


Lee was motivated to take advantage of the opportunity to overwhelm the Union. Since the Union was outnumbered, he gave Ewell discretionary orders to attack Cemetery Hill, but Ewell decided against the order. He felt the Union’s position was too strong. This gave Union soldiers more time to recuperate and wait for help. By evening, more soldiers had arrived under Winfield Scott Hancock, extending their line of defense to a hill called Little Round Top. Three more Union corps soon arrived overnight, strengthening the Union’s defense. Ewell would, later on, be criticized and compared to Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who was Lee’s most trusted general and thought to be more suitable than Ewell. Stonewall was highly spoken of but was injured during the battle at Chancellorsville. His injury took a fatal turn thereafter. 

July 2, 1863

The next day, Lee assessed the Union’s position and ordered second-in-command James Longstreet, who advised against it, to attack. Longstreet was ordered to attack from the left and Ewell was to attack from the right. The battle began late afternoon around 4 p.m. The Union Corps under Daniel Sickles was the first to be assaulted. His line of defense stretched from the Devil’s Den to Little Round Top, crossing a peach orchard and a nearby wheat field. 


The battle was fierce, leaving both armies at a great loss. More than 9,000 soldiers on both sides died in battle, adding to the nearly 35,000 men in total who died between both days. The Confederate army weakened the Union’s defense line by seizing the Devil’s Den and the peach orchard. Sickles was also severely wounded, but the Union was able to hold on to Little Round Top.

July 3, 1863

Day three started early in the morning. Union forces were able to regain their strong position after seven hours of combat. Lee, still in high spirits from yesterday’s success, decided to send three divisions against the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. After Longstreet advised him not to, Lee sent fewer than 15,000 troops under George Pickett’s command into battle. Pickett and his men marched three-quarters of a mile across an open field where dug-in Union foot soldiers were positioned and opened fire. While Union infantry opened fire, military units from Vermont, Ohio, and New York surrounded the Confederates on both sides. This attack would, later on, be known as Pickett’s Charge. Two-thirds of Pickett’s division died in battle as the rest ran back to safety. The next day, Lee waited for a counterattack from the Union, but after it did not come, he withdrew his men and abandoned his plans to advance toward Virginia.


Despite Meade being criticized for not pursuing Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle was won and the Union was victorious. The Union suffered a loss of 23,049 soldiers and the Confederate a loss of 28,063 soldiers, ending the battle with over 50,000 casualties, wounded, or captured or missing soldiers


A little over four months later, President Lincoln delivered his most famous speech at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. He eloquently expressed the need for liberty and equality as they remembered and honored the many lives that were devoted to the cause. He stated:


“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.


It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


Today marks nearly 160 years later, and we still have so much work to do. We write to you to remember those who were rightly devoted to the cause, and we pen to you to encourage you to promote liberty, equality, and justice for all so that their devotions will not be in vain. 


Happy Fourth of July.

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