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When was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?
How many days did it last?

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought for three days, from Wednesday, July 1st until Friday, July 3rd. The armies remained facing each other on the field on July 4th and there was minor skirmishing, but it is not usually considered part of the battle. Lee’s army began its retreat to Virginia after dark on the 4th.

Did the Battle of Gettysburg end the Civil War?

Gettysburg was not the end of the war. Far from it. The Civil War started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, 26 months before the fight at Gettysburg. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House was on April 9, 1865, 21 months after the battle. The Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until May 26, 1865, 23 months after Gettysburg. Gettysburg was almost the midpoint of the war.

Timeline showing the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War

 

Where was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?

The Battle of Gettysburg took place around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a small crossroads town in southern Pennsylvania about 8 miles north of the Maryland border. It is the center of a network of roads feeding in from all angles of the compass. (see the Roads to Gettysburg) Gettysburg was also the end of a railroad line from Hanover, but it had been wrecked by Confederate troops. Gettysburg’s road network and its position on the east side of the mountains were important factors in why the battle occured there. So was the terrain, which included good defensive ground such as Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill, and Cemetery Hill.

Why was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?

At the start of the Gettysburg Campaign both armies were separated by the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The North had attacked across the river twice, in the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863). Both were Confederate victories, but both times the North was able to withdraw back across the river and safely rebuild.

Lee knew he could not just sit south of the river and throw back Northern attacks. His army could not replace its casualties while the North could, meaning he would grow ever weaker in comparison. Remaining in one location had stripped the nearby area of food, forage and firewood, and the Southern rail system could not supply his army properly. Already he had had to disperse his hungry artillery horses away from the army to keep them alive, limiting his mobility in an emergency. And Lee knew that some day the North might find the winning combination.

Lee’s plan was to take the war to the north in a move up the Shenandoah Valley. This would let the farmers there harvest their crops for the Confederacy, while Lee’s army could forage in the rich and untouched lands of Pennsylvania. It woud threaten Union cities such as Baltimore, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. And it would give Lee a chance to fight and win a battle in the open, where he could finally pursue and possibly destroy the beaten enemy. Lee saw it as the best way to end the war before the South was trapped in an unwinnable battle of attrition.

As Lee moved north The Union army shadowed him, moving to stay between Confederate forces and Washington. Both armies were looking for a fight. It might have happened at several places, but the road network feeding into Gettysburg turned a chance encounter into the largest battle of the war.

Why was the Battle of Gettysburg important?

Although it did not involve the largest number of troops the battle had the highest casualties of any battle of the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg is considered a turning point. Up until then Lee might have been able to win the war with a stunning victory that forced the North to concede defeat. Afterwards the best he could hope for was to make the North’s victory so costly they would give up in exhaustion. For the rest of the war Lee was on the strategic defensive, forced into the war of attrition he feared and eventually cornered in an unwinnable siege around Richmond.

 


Gettysburg Facts • More Facts – When, Where and Why? • Unusual Gettysburg Facts