Cape Gazette
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Gettysburg: Civil War's bloodiest battle

By Ron MacArthur | Jun 20, 2013
Photo by: Ron MacArthur The solace of day's end allows time for reflection on the events that transpired during the first week of July 1863 in the small town of Gettysburg.

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.

Union re-enactors gather around the campfire near Culp's Hill. Hundreds of thousands will be in Gettysburg for the 150th anniversary reenactment of the battle the first week in July. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
The Gettysburg cemetery is one of the few where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried together. During the war, very few Confederates were actually ever buried in the North. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
A statue of Gen. George Meade looks out over the Gettysburg Battlefield along Cemetery Ridge. Meade was commander of the Union Army. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
The Virginia state monument is among the most impressive on the battlefield. Near the location of the monument along Seminary Ridge is where Gen. Robert E. Lee watched Pickett's Charge. Historians say Lee waited for retreating troops to offer an apology for the carnage they suffered. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Devil's Den is where Confederate troops mounted their ill-fated attack on Little Round Top. Rebel snipers used the rocks as vantage points to fire on Union troops situated above them. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
At least two Confederate sharpshooters died in this attic in the Shriver House in downtown Gettysburg. The family suffered great losses because of the battle. See their story at shriverhouse.org. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
The beauty of the Gettysburg Battlefield underlies the misery that took place there 150 years ago. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Finding women on the battlefield was not uncommon, and some even fought beside the men. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
The site of Pickett's Charge has been restored to what it looked like 150 years ago - an open field. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Delaware had men fighting on both sides of the battlefield in Gettysburg, but most took up arms for the Union. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
President Abraham Lincoln finished his famous Gettysburg Address in this bedroom of the David Wills House on the Gettysburg town circle. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
One of three monuments placed in honor of Delawareans who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
A monument to the 4th Battery of the New York Light Artillery sits atop Devil's Den. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
One of the 375 cannons placed at significant spots on the battlefield. Historians have tried to put cannons where artillery units were stationed. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Union troops had the high ground as they fortified Little Round Top. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Seminary Ridge was the main line of the Confederate troops. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
More than1,400 battlefield monuments honor the memories of those who served. One of the most unusual is the Tammany Regiment monument. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
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