1 Jul 2018

The Battle Begins: 155 Years to the Day Since Gettysburg

The Battle Begins: 155 Years to the Day Since Gettysburg

The opening shots of the Battle of Gettysburg were fired early on the morning of July 1, 1863. What would prove the bloodiest battle of the Civil War started unexpectedly, after elements of the Union and Confederate armies encountered each other near the crossroads hamlet of Gettysburg.

The Army of Northern Virginia, led by Gen. Robert E. Lee, had invaded the North for the second time in the course of the war, and the newly appointed Federal commander, General George Meade, and his Army of the Potomac were in hot pursuit. Not long after the two armies came in contact, both armies moved to assemble.

The Confederates gain the upper hand

Fighting began west of town, where Union Brig. Gen. John Buford had taken up a defensive position. Buford’s cavalry fell back to McPherson’s Ridge, where Union infantry under Maj. Gen. John Reynolds took position.

Fighting flared on both sides of the Chambersburg Pike. North of the road, the Confederates saw early success followed by heavy losses around an unfinished railroad line. South of the road, the Union Iron Brigade was making significant gains when Reynolds was shot and killed while urging his troops forward.

Reinforcements begin to arrive

Meanwhile, additional portions of both armies arrived near Gettysburg, with Ewell's Confederate Corps and the Union Eleventh Corps confronting one another north of town. The Confederates took advantage of superior numbers and a tenuous Union line to launch a pointed assault on a position now known as Barlow’s Knoll.

The Union retreats to fight another day

Outnumbered and losing ground, Union troops retreated to the formidable high ground at Cemetery Hill, south of town and also occupying Culp's Hill to the southeast. Realizing the potential strength of the Union defensive position, Lee ordered General Richard Ewell to attack and seize the hill “if practicable”. Ewell declined his troops were not all there, and he had troubling reports of Union forces in his rear.

The fighting at Gettysburg that first day involved some 50,000 soldiers, of which roughly 17,000 were killed, wounded, captured or missing. The first day in itself ranks as the 12th bloodiest battle of the Civil War with more casualties than the battles of Bull Run and Franklin combined. But the worst was yet to come.

10 Facts About Gettysburg

Gettysburg is among the most-visited places in the United States, yet the history is still plagued by misinformation. For instance, the battle was fought at Gettysburg because of the area road system it had nothing to do with shoes. Set the record straight with these 10 key facts

Gettysburg In4

Looking for the short version of what happened at the costliest battle of the Civil War? Historian Garry Adelman sums up all three days of the Battle of Gettysburg in under 5 minutes.

Gettysburg Animated Map

Looking for a play-by-play summary of the three days? Our Gettysburg Animated Map offers a unique, visual way to experience this epic battle with troop movements, animations, and live-action events.

Join Us Live!

Experience the 155th anniversary of the Battle with us through a series of Facebook and YouTube Live events. From July 1 through 3, 2018, we will take you virtually to places many never get to experience. We’ll show you rare photos and artifacts, and answer as many of your questions as we can. Just go to the American Battlefield Trust’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel and start watching.

Save the First Day!
The battlefields at Gettysburg are among the best preserved of the entire Civil War, but there are still many sites at risk of commercial development. Battlefields from the first day are particularly vulnerable since early conservation efforts focused mainly on days 2 and 3. Want to get involved? Commemorate the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg by helping save 18 acres at Seminary Ridge.


American Battlefield Trust

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