George Meade took over the Army of the Potomac just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg when Joseph Hooker abruptly resigned. Until then Meade had commanded the army’s 5th Corps.
Around 2,500 civilians were in the battle area. One, seventy-plus year old John Burns, is honored by a statue on the battlefield for joining Union troops in the fight on July 1.
One legend has it that the battle took place because the Confederates moved into Gettysburg looking for shoes. But there never was a shoe factory or shoe warehouse in Gettysburg.
The Gettysburg Campaign started almost a month before the battle, on June 8, over 100 miles away along the Rapidan River in Virginia. It began with the Battle of Brandy Station, the biggest cavalry battle of the Civil War.
When the battle started on July 1 it was not the first time the Confederates had been to Gettysburg. On June 26 the advanced guard of Lee’s army, Jubal Early’s Division of the Second Corps, marched through town on the way to Wrightsville on the Susquehanna River. There was a brief clash west of Gettysburg with emergency militia and a cavalry skirmish on the Baltimore Pike.
What time was it? Standard time had not been developed in 1863. Each community set on its own time based on noon in that location. This wasn’t a problem in a society that got around on horses – the difference in time between two towns a day’s ride apart was small. But it makes it difficult for historians to put together an accurate timeline of the battle. The watches of observers of the same event would often be showing very different times. Even as momentous an event as the start of the great artillery barrage that preceded Pickett’s Charge cannot be pinned down.
The first Union soldier to die at Gettysburg was killed on June 26, five days before the “First Shot” of the battle. Private George Sandoe, a native of the Gettysburg area, was killed on Baltimore Pike in a cavalry skirmish with Confederate cavalry screening the advance of Early’s Division. His cavalry company became part of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, whose monuments are along Baltimore Pike where Sandoe was killed.As Early’s Confederates moved through larger towns such as Gettysburg and York community leaders were strongly encouraged to contribute supplies and cash to the Confederate cause in exchange for lenient treatment. York was squeezed of $28,000 cash. The money was taken back to Virginia in the care of the Second Corps Commissary of Subsistance Major Wells Hawks, a relative of the author of this website.
The oldest general officer at Gettysburg was Confederate Brigadier General William Smith, who was 65. He fought on Culp’s Hill against the oldest Union general on the field, Brigadier General George Greene, who was 62.
Confederate Major General George Pickett was not in command of all of the troops in Pickett’s Charge. Of the nine brigades who took park in the main assault, Pickett only commanded three. First Corps commander Lieutenant General James Longstreet was in overall command of the attack, even though six of the nine brigades were from A.P. Hill’s Third Corps.
The Confederate wagon train of wounded sent back to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg was 17 miles long. It was held up by floodwaters on the Potomac at Williamsport, Maryland and had to defend itself against Union Cavalry in “the Wagoner’s Fight.”
More than 3,000 horses were killed at Gettysburg. Lydia Leister, who owned the small farmhouse used by George Meade as his headquarters, found 17 dead horses in her yard. Her only compensation for the extensive damage to her property was selling their bones at a half cent per pound.
After the battle 37,574 rifles laying on the battlefield were collected.
• 24,000 were still loaded
• 6,000 had one round in the barrel
• 12,000 had two rounds in the barrel
• 6,000 had three to ten rounds in the barrel
The weapons with multiple rounds had probably been loaded but not “capped,” meaning when the trigger was pulled and the hammer struck there was nothing to ignite the powder. In the noise and excitement of the battle the soldier hadn’t noticed and kept reloading his gun. Had they remembered to cap their weapon after cramming half a dozen rounds in, it would have gone off like a bomb.