Battle of Gettysburg Definition
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America from July 1 to July 3, 1863, during the American Civil War.
Battle of Gettysburg Facts
- Date Started: The Battle of Gettysburg started on Wednesday, July 1, 1863.
- Date Ended: The fighting ended on Friday, July 3, 1863.
- Location: The battle took place in Adams County, Pennsylvania, in and around the town of Gettysburg.
- Who Won: The United States of America won the Battle of Gettysburg.
- Civil War Campaign: The Battle of Gettysburg was part of the Gettysburg Campaign.
This illustration depicts the advance of Union troops during the Battle of Gettysburg. Image Source: Library of Congress.
Battle of Gettysburg Interesting Facts
- Many historians consider the Battle of Gettysburg to be the pivotal battle of the American Civil War.
- The Battle of Gettysburg ended Confederate commander Robert E. Lee’s second and last attempt to invade the North.
- The first day of the Battle of Gettysburg was the twenty-third largest battle of the Civil War as measured by the number of soldiers engaged.
- The first day of the Battle of Gettysburg was the twelfth bloodiest in terms of casualties.
- The second day of the Battle of Gettysburg ranks as the tenth bloodiest engagement of the Civil War in terms of casualties.
- Considered separately, each of the three days of fighting at Gettysburg rank in the top fifteen deadliest battles of the Civil War.
- The Battle of Gettysburg was the deadliest engagement of the Civil War (in terms of casualties), but it was not the largest conflict (in terms of numbers of combatants involved)—that distinction belongs to the Battle of Fredericksburg.
- Pickett’s Charge against Union troops entrenched on Cemetery Ridge, which took place on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, has been referred to as the High-Water Mark of the Confederacy.
Key Moments During the Battle of Gettysburg
July 1, 1863 — The First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg
- The fighting started when Union cavalry under the command of General John Buford clashed with two Confederate brigades under the command of General Henry Heth.
- Buford was reinforced by General John F. Reynolds, however, Reynolds was killed in the fighting.
- Confederates had the larger force and pushed the Union forces out of the town.
- The Union troops took positions on Cemetery Ridge.
- Cemetery Ridge was a strong defensive position and gave the Union the high ground.
- The ridge was also anchored on one end by Culp’s Hill and on the other end by Little Round Top and Big Round Top.
- Although the Confederates had the advantage, General Richard Ewell decided not to launch an attack on the weakened Union forces.
July 2, 1863 — The Second Day of the Battle of Gettysburg
- After a successful first day of fighting, Robert E. Lee launched multiple attacks on the Union flanks.
- Confederate General James Longstreet attacked the left flank of the Union. Longstreet sent a division under the command of General John Bell Hood to attack Union defenses at Devil’s Den and Little Round Top.
- Hood’s men tried to take Little Round Top but were pushed back by the heroic effort of the 20th Maine under the command of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
- Longstreet sent General Lafayette McLaws to attack the Union forces in the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard. Although the Union suffered heavy casualties, the Confederates were able to hold.
- Lee also sent General Richard Anderson to attack the center of the Union defenses on Cemetery Ridge but Anderson was unsuccessful.
- On the right flank of the Union lines, Lee sent Ewell to attack Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill, but the Union lines held.
July 2, 1863 — The Third Day of the Battle of Gettysburg
- Lee wanted to press the attack on Cemetery Ridge and planned to send Longstreet against the left flank —Little Round Top and Big Round Top — and Ewell against the right flank — Culp’s Hill.
- Around 4:00 in the morning, Union artillery opened fire on Ewell’s forces near Culp’s Hill. The Confederates were forced to retaliate and failed to take the hill.
- Lee was forced to change his plan and decided to attack the center of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge with more than 12,000 troops.
- Lee moved ahead with the plan, despite the objections of Longstreet, who argued the Union position was too strong and the Confederates would be decimated.
- Lee was convinced the Union would break at a point in their line which is known as “The Bloody Angle.” At that point is are some trees which are referred to as the “Copse of Trees.” Lee chose those trees as the target for his men to move on.
- The assault was led by the brigade under the command of General George Pickett, and is known as “Pickett’s Charge.”
- As the Confederates advanced across the open field to the ridge, they were pounded by Union artillery. As they neared the ridge, Union soldiers were able to fire on them with ease.
- Roughly half the Confederates were killed or wounded, and more than 3,000 were taken prisoner.
- Confederate forces under the command of General Lewis Armistead did breach the wall at The Bloody Angle but were overwhelmed by Union troops. Armistead was mortally wounded in the assault.
- The place where Armistead’s men breached the wall is known as the “High-Water Mark of the Confederacy.”
- Some of Lee’s men wanted to continue the fight, but Lee decided to withdraw after the devastating losses that were inflicted during Pickett’s Charge.
Battle of Gettysburg Generals and Participants
Principal Union Commanders
- General George G. Meade
- General John Buford
- General John F. Reynolds
- General Abner Doubleday
- General Oliver O. Howard
- General Winfield S. Hancock
- General Daniel Sickles
- General Gouverneur K. Warren
- Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain
Principal Confederate Commanders
- General Robert E. Lee
- General James Longstreet
- General Harry Heth
- General Richard Ewell
- General A.P. Hill
- General Jubal Early
- General George Pickett
- General Lewis A. Armistead
- General J.E.B. Stuart
Union Forces Engaged
Confederate Forces Engaged
Battle of Gettysburg Casualties and Statistics
Number of Union Soldiers Engaged
- Roughly 93,000
Number of Confederate Soldiers Engaged
- Roughly 72,000
- Estimated 23,049 (3,155 killed, 14,529 wounded, and 5,365 captured or missing)
- Estimated 28,063 (3,903 killed, 18,735 wounded, and 5,425 missing/captured).
Battle of Gettysburg Results
- The outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg was a Union victory.
- Confederate commander Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was forced to retreat to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg.
- On July 4, 1863, the day that Robert E. Lee began his retreat back to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrendered the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and 30,000 Confederate troops to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg.
- President Abraham Lincoln was highly critical of Union commander George G. Meade for not aggressively pursuing the Army of Northern Virginia as it retreated after the Battle of Gettysburg.
- On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Battle of Gettysburg Dates and Timeline
This list shows the main battles and events that took place before and after the Battle of Gettysburg, and how it fits into the chronological order of the Gettysburg Campaign.
- June 5—6 — Battle of Franklin’s Crossing
- June 9, 1863 — Battle of Brandy Station
- June 13–15, 1863 — Second Battle of Winchester
- June 17, 1863 — Battle of Aldie
- June 17– 19, 1863 — Battle of Middleburg
- June 21, 1863 — Battle of Upperville
- June 27, 1863 — Battle of Fairfax Court House
- June 29, 1863 — Corbitt’s Charge
- June 30, 1863 — Battle of Hanover
- June 30, 1863 — Skirmish of Sporting Hill
- July 1, 1863 — Battle of Carlisle
- July 1–3, 1863 — Battle of Gettysburg
- July 3, 1863 — Pickett’s Charge
- July 3, 1863 — Battle of Fairfield
- July 4–5, 1863 — Fight at Monterey Pass
- July 6–16, 1863 — Battle of Williamsport
- July 8, 1863 — Battle of Boonsboro
- July 10, 1863 — Battle of Funkstown
- July 23, 1863 — Battle of Manassas Gap