Site of Historic Civil War Battle

July 01-02-03, 1863

(Visited May 2019)

For many years, Beth and I have talked about visiting Gettysburg Battlefield National Military Park.  Located in south-central Pennsylvania, it was a major turning point in the Civil War.  General Robert E. Lee led his Confederate troops into Pennsylvania in an effort to demoralize the Union north and end the war.  In a quickly developing series of events, his armies met General Meade’s Union army in the once-quiet town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The next three days would turn into one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, with over 7,000 men killed and nearly 25,000 wounded.  It was also the last major Confederate attack in the north.

I am not a historian, so I am going to refer you to Wikipedia for more detailed information:

DAY 1 – July 01, 1863

(By Map by Hal Jespersen,, CC BY 3.0)

On the first day of the battle, Gen Robert E. Lee’s forces (red) approached Gettysburg and encountered Union forces (blue) northwest of town.  The Union forces were outnumbered and retreated back through town to the high grounds of Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Ridge. At the same time, Union reinforcements were arriving and starting to build a defensive line on high ground that would extend for several miles.

Statue of Major General George Gordon Meade, Commander of the Army of the Potomac (Union forces). Gen Meade was in charge of the Union forces at the Battle of Gettysburg.
General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army.
Union Brigadier General John Buford’s troops were the first to make contact with the Confederate forces on McPherson Ridge,
Seminary Ridge, and Herr Ridge on July 1st.  Although greatly outnumbered, the Union forces slowed the advance of the Confederates
before retreating to defensive positions, allowing more time for Union reinforcements to arrive in Gettysburg.
Nearby, the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Gettysburg served as an observation post for the Union forces.
For more information:

View of the McPherson Ridge/Oak Hill/Herr Ridge area, where the first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg were fired.
Another view of the McPherson Ridge/Oak Hill/Herr Ridge area.

DAY 2 – July 02, 1863

(By Map by Hal Jespersen,, CC BY 3.0)

By the next day, the Union reinforcements had arrived and set up a defensive perimeter in a fish-hook-shaped line from Little Round Top south of town up to Cemetery Hill and around to Culp’s Hill.   Union Major General Daniel Sickles, charged with defending Little Round Top, disobeyed orders and made a move that almost cost the Union victory at Gettysburg.  He decided to move his troops off Little Round Top down to the Devil’s Den area, leaving the high ground unprotected.  The Confederate troops saw this and circled around to attempt gaining the high ground.  However, at the last minute, Union Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren recognized this mistake and sent in reinforcements to defend Little Round Top just moments before the Confederate forces arrived.  If the Confederate forces had gained control of the high ground, the Battle of Gettysburg could have turned into a major Union loss.

Confederate forces also attacked Culp’s Hill on the northeast end of the Union line, but found it heavily defended and retreated.

A view of Gettysburg from Culp’s Hill.  Much more serene today than during those three days in July 1863.
Off in the distance in the middle of the photo is the McPherson Ridge/Herr Ridge/Oak Hill area of the previous day’s battle.
More information on the battle for Culp’s Hill.
Statue of Brigadier General Greene at Culp’s Hill.

Meanwhile, over 20,000 Confederates waited in the woods across a large field from the Union forces.

Shortly after noon, over 150 Confederate cannons began firing on the Union forces a mile away across this field.
This went on for nearly two hours in an attempt to soften the Union defenses. 
View from a Confederate artillery position. 
Information about the Confederate artillery line.
Confederates’ view of the large field they must cross in order to reach the Union forces.
You can understand why many Confederate officers were hesitant to walk their troops across this open field for a mile
while being totally unprotected from incoming Union artillery and rifle fire.
Meanwhile, across the field at the Union lines…..
Looking north along the Union front lines.  The road along the left side of the photo is Emmitsburg Road and is roughly the front line of the Union forces.
The Confederate forces were across the field to the left along the distant tree line.
This is the view from Little Round Top looking west towards the Devil’s Den (the area by the rock formation to the left) and the Confederate forces.
General Warren’s statue is visible on the rock to the far right, below the large monument. (See below)
This is a view of Little Round Top from the Wheatfield area.
Not much of a hill, but enough to be strategically important.
General Gouveneur Kemble Warren saved the day for the Union army when he moved his troops onto Little Round Top
 after detecting that it was unguarded and the Confederate forces were moving around in a flanking movement in
order to capture this high ground.  He arrived just moments before the Confederates. 
Here, he overlooks the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, and Devil’s Den. The main battle on Day 3 took place in the fields to the distant right.
Another view of Little Round Top from Sickles’ forces’ new (and unauthorized) position.
Gen Sickles’ forces’ view out towards the advancing Confederate forces.
More information on the Devil’s Den
This monument to the Vermont forces looks out across the field where the Confederates would try to cross unsuccessfully.
One of over 100 Union cannons aimed at the field where the Confederates would cross in the open line of fire.
Display of Union cannons along Emmitsburg Road at the Copse of Trees, the front line
overlooking the field between Union and Confederate forces.

DAY 3 – July 03, 1863

General Robert E. Lee started the third day of battle by ordering an attack on Culp’s Hill.  However, after several hours of fierce fighting, the Union line was holding strong.  By mid-day, General Lee ordered a frontal attack on Cemetery Ridge.  Many of his officers were hesitant and doubtful, since this involved marching the men in rows across an open field for over a mile while having no protection from Union forces who had set up strong defensive positions on the opposite side of the field.  However, Lee ordered a long cannon barrage that he thought would soften up the Union line and offer less resistance.  It turns out he was wrong. 

As Major General George Pickett led what was to later be called “Pickett’s Charge” across the mile-wide field, Union artillery and rifle fire cut his forces to pieces.  One small group managed to reach the Union line at a corner of a stone wall, but were quickly overpowered.  This spot, known as the “Angle”, was also to become known as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy”, as it was the closest the South came to achieving its goal of military victory.

Map of actions on Day 3

One of the very interesting stops in the Visitors’ Center is the Cyclorama.  The painting is the work of French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux, and took a year and a half to complete (even with 5 aides), finishing in 1883.  It depicts Pickett’s Charge on Day 3, the failed infantry assault that was the climax of the Battle of Gettysburg.  The painting is a “Cyclorama”, a type of 360-degree cylindrical painting. The intended effect is to immerse the viewer in the scene being depicted, often with the addition of foreground models and life-size replicas to enhance the illusion.  Among the sites documented on the painting are Cemetery Ridge, The Angle, and the Copse of Trees (“High Water Mark of the Confederacy”).   The painting is 42 feet tall and 377 feet in circumference.  The 20-minute show includes narration, lighting effects, and sound effects.

View of the Cyclorama from the circular viewing platform.
Looking south along Emmitsburg Road toward Little Round Top in the distance.  The Union forces were to the left, and the
Confederates are attacking from the right in this painting from the Cyclorama. 
A closer view shows the chaos and mayhem at the front line of battle.  Just to the right of center is the area known at the “Angle” and the Copse of Trees. This was as close as the Confederate forces came to overtaking the Union forces before being overpowered and forced to retreat.  It became known as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy”. 
Lighting and sound effects take the audience into the middle of battle. 
Another scene of the battle during the presentation.
After the presentation, I took this photo to show the detail of the painting.

Pickett’s charge started from this area.   Pickett was in charge of just one of three units to cross the field, and he did so under orders from
General Robert E. Lee.    Trimble and Pettigrew also led units in the ill-fated attack, but are not often mentioned.

Today, the Copse of Trees (near the “Angle”) lies quiet, overlooking the field where thousands of young men lost their lives.
In the background, you can see several monuments to Union Army units from various states.
The large building in the rear at the far left is the Pennsylvania memorial. 
This Union artillery display is located at the Copse of Trees.

DAY 4 – July 04, 1863


The armies stared at one another in a heavy rain across the bloody battlefields on July 4.  General Lee had reformed his lines into a defensive position on Seminary Ridge and evacuated the town of Gettysburg.  General Meade cautiously decided to not attack the remaining Confederate forces, a decision for which he would later be criticized.  Both armies began collecting their dead and wounded.  A proposal by General Lee for a prisoner exchange was rejected by General Meade.

On the evening of July 4, General Lee started his retreat to Virginia in a heavy rain.  General Meade’s army followed, but the pursuit was only half-spirited.  The rain-swollen Potomac River trapped Lee’s army on the north bank of the river, but they managed to cross just before Union forces caught up.

Aftermath of the Battle

The town of Gettysburg struggled for months caring for the thousands of wounded soldiers from both sides left behind, and burying over 7,000 dead soldiers left laying on the fields in the hot summer sun.  

Hundreds of dead horses were stacked and burned, creating a sickening smell. 

Four months later, President Abraham Lincoln presented the Gettysburg Address at the Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication.

Entrance to the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Memorial just inside the entrance near the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far and above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, not 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 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.
Gettysburg National Cemetery.  The 979 numbered graves are for unidentified soldiers.
There are a total of 3,512 Civil War soldiers buried here, as well as several thousand
Spanish-American War and World War I veterans.

Markers identified soldiers from various states. 
West Virginia was admitted to the Union as a separate state just 2 weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg.

This man would have been a young teenager in 1863.  The NY 40th Infantry (the “Mozart Regiment”) was at Little Round Top.

The Soldiers’ National Monument is near the center of the cemetery

This large tree is one of many in the cemetery that could be old enough to have witnessed the battle.
The Pennsylvania State Memorial
It is the largest memorial on the battlefield, in honor of the 34,530 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought here.

Around the base of the monument are plaques listing all 34,530 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought here at the Battle of Gettysburg.
I was surprised to see a Native American depicted on one of the statues.
The New York 42nd Infantry – Tammany Regiment.
Organized by the Tammany Club, a New York Democratic Party Club.

In the Visitors’ Center, there was a display of period band instruments.  Some were quite unique. 
It was not uncommon to have a musician (drummer, bugler) or even a small band leading the the soldiers into battle.

OK – you heard it here!
General Robert E. Lee says, “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.”
Of course, they lost the war.

Memorial for the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument located at the “Angle”, scene of fierce hand-to-hand combat.

I leave you at sunset with the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument shown in the previous photo.

Outside of the Battlefield – Other Gettysburg Sights

There is much to see in the Gettysburg area besides the Battlefield and historical sites.  Since the weather was beautiful, we got tickets for rooftop seats on the double-decker tour bus the first morning we were there.  This 2-hour tour through downtown and the battlefields allowed us to get oriented the first day and choose where we wanted to go back and visit.

Our tour bus. We had roof-top seats with a magnificent view. 

After a long day, we were ready for a nice meal – and we found it at this quaint pub and restaurant.

The front half of the building is the pub, and the family restaurant is behind.

Beth got the daily special (steak) and I got the pasta with blackened chicken.  It was GREAT! 
Prices were very reasonable, too.
After dinner, we drove back to Cemetery Ridge and took some evening photos.

1st Pennsylvania Cavalry monument.

Nice view of a barn and old wood fence.

The next morning, we enjoyed a great breakfast at the hotel, then headed home to Morgantown.

We decided to take the back roads and avoided the interstate the first couple of hours.

Just a few miles west of Gettysburg is the Sachs Covered Bridge, full of history.
Union and Confederate forces used this bridge at various times, including Lee’s retreat.

Better view of Sachs Covered Bridge.

And, some history of the bridge.

Taking the backroads west out of Gettysburg, we followed the Scenic Highway through Orrtanna and Cashtown.

We were surprised to see mile after mile of apple and peach orchards on every hillside.  Beautiful! 

One of the advantages of back roads vs interstates – finding Mom & Pop diners like this one in Bedford, PA.

Yes, this is the type of restaurant we love!

Our favorite diner cuisine – Beth likes burgers and I like roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.  Mmmmmm. 

After that great lunch, we were both ready for a nap, but managed to stay awake for the 2-hour ride home.

We hope you enjoyed joining us for our visit to Gettysburg!