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The bodies of several Union soldiers lie on the battlefield. This photo is known as "Harvest of Death."
All in all, the battle ended with some 50,000 casualties, making it the bloodiest in U.S. history.Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Wikimedia Commons
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Three Confederate prisoners during the Battle of Gettysburg.
About 8,000 Confederate prisoners were taken at the end of the battle.Archive Photos/Getty Images
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The Battle of Gettysburg headquarters of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a private group that aided sick and wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War.Tyson Brothers/New York Public Library Digital Collections
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The body of a sharpshooter, his rifle just out of reach, lies dead on the ground. Wikimedia Commons
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A surgeon performs an amputation on a wounded man as others stand by to assist.
At the time, the number of trained, competent surgeons on both sides numbered only in the dozens and amputations saw a mortality rate of greater than one in four.SSPL/Getty Images
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A Union soldier who was torn apart by artillery lies dead on the ground.
Most historians agree that the largest artillery bombardments of the entire Civil War took place during the Battle of Gettysburg.James F. Gibson/Wikimedia Commons
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Several men stand near a battlefield hospital.Tyson Brothers/New York Public Library Digital Collections
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Confederate bodies lie dead in the area known as the "devil's den."
A hotspot for artillery and sharpshooters, "devil's den" marked one of the battle's bloodiest sites.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
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The damaged surrounding forest in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg.Tipton & Myers/Library of Congress
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Two Union soldiers rest behind defensive fortifications during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Such fortifications were known as breastworks and they played a notable role in the Battle of Gettysburg.Wikimedia Commons
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Men examine the bodies of two dead sharpshooters.Corbis/Getty Images
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Cannons sit abandoned after the first day of Battle of Gettysburg.
Cannons played a critical role in the battle, especially on the third day when Confederate forces mistakenly believed that Union cannons had been knocked out but were then devastated on their ensuing offensive.James Pierce/National Archives
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The bodies of a group of Confederate soldiers wait to be buried.
Some 8,000 soldiers were killed outright on the battlefield.Corbis/Getty Images
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The headquarters of the Army of the Potomac during the Battle of Gettysburg.Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Wikimedia Commons
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Confederate soldiers who were on the receiving end of a Union shelling.Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Library of Congress
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Gen. Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy.
Lee was ultimately the senior commander of all Confederate military forces.Julian Vannerson/Wikimedia Commons
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Gen. George G. Meade of the Union.
Meade was only given command of the Army of the Potomac three days before the Battle of Gettysburg and didn't arrive at the battle until the end of the first day, after which time he was able to organize the Union's victory over the next two days.Mathew Brady/Wikimedia Commons
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Lt. Gen. James Longstreet of the Confederacy.
Lee's right-hand man throughout the war, Longstreet was one of the conflict's most important commanders.Wikimedia Commons
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Gen. George Pickett of the Confederacy.
Pickett helped lead the infamous Pickett's Charge that ended with Confederate defeat, turning the tide of the battle and the war against the South.Wikimedia Commons
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A field is strewn with the bodies of Confederates.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
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John L. Burns, a civilian who fought alongside the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg, poses for a photo with his musket.
Burns became famous for fighting despite being 69 at the time.Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries/Library of Congress
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John L. Burns recovers from his wounds. July 1863.Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries/Library of Congress
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Dead Confederates lie in the area known as the "slaughter pen" near Little Round Top.
One of two rocky hills at the south end of the battle zone, this area saw some of the conflict's fiercest fighting.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
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Four soldiers lie dead in the woods near Gettysburg.Alexander Gardner/Wikimedia Commons
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People stand in front of the Battle of Gettysburg tents belonging to the U.S. Christian Commission, a group that provided supplies and services to Union troops.Tyson Brothers/New York Public Library Digital Collections
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The bodies of several dead horses lie on the battlefield.
Following the battle, some 3,000 horse carcasses were burned, reportedly causing the townsfolk to grow ill from the stench.Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Library of Congress
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The body of a Confederate sharpshooter is left lying where he was shot.Mathew Brady/Wikimedia Commons
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A bridge at nearby Hanover Junction that was burned by the Confederates prior to the Battle of Gettysburg.Library of Congress
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The bodies of Confederate dead are gathered for burial.
Quick burial, though tough under the battlefield conditions, became important as the bodies baked under the hot summer sun.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
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Union entrenchments on Little Round Top, a hill near the southern end of where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought.Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Library of Congress
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Several bodies lined up for burial.Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Library of Congress
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Crowds gather for the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery (when Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address) in Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863.Mathew Brady/Wikimedia Commons
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Abraham Lincoln (identified by red arrow) stands among the crowd before delivering the Gettysburg Address.Mathew Brady/Wikimedia Commons
“A Harvest Of Death”: 33 Haunting Photos Of The Battle Of Gettysburg
In the summer of 1863, Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee was riding a tidal wave of momentum. His victory at Chancellorsville had raised the morale of his army and he believed it was then the right time to take the fight to the Union Army. The historic Battle of Gettysburg was the result.
Lee decided as well to give the war-torn state of Virginia a reprieve and have his men take supplies from the bountiful farms of the North for a change. Additionally, Lee wanted to force the Lincoln administration into peace talks and thought the best way to do so was to strike them in their own territory.
With all of this in mind, he prepared the 75,000 of the Army of Northern Virginia for a march into Pennsylvania. It was there that they met the Army of the Potomac in the sleepy little town of Gettysburg, Pa. in a battle that would forever redefine American history.
On July 1, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg began.
At first, Union soldiers were able to repel the invaders for most of the day. It was only after massive assaults by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell and Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes that the Union lines collapsed and were forced to retreat to Cemetery Hill just south of Gettysburg.
Ewell could have continued the offensive and attempted to take Cemetery Hill but decided not to. Some historians argue that had he done so, the course of the decisive Battle of Gettysburg would have turned in favor of the Confederates.
The second day saw even more bloodshed. Union troops formed a fishhook formation around Cemetery Hill and the Confederate generals focused their attacks on the flanks of the Union lines. Meade’s forces were well-prepared and despite suffering heavy casualties themselves, they were able to hold their ground and inflict heavy losses on the Confederates.
Meanwhile, attempts made by the Confederates to take the flanks of the Union line were largely unsuccessful while both sides suffered significant casualties. Things might not have been so bad for the Confederates had faulty intelligence not prevented Lee from forming an effective battle plan that would have cut off the Union’s supply lines.
The tipping point came on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Union forces were still well-fortified around Cemetery Hill and Lee thought that synchronized assaults on the surrounding areas of Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Ridge would tip the battle in his favor. After Union batteries opened fire, the assault on Culp’s Hill began.
The death blow to the Confederates was the infamous Pickett’s Charge, named after General George Pickett whose division led the attack. Lee ordered an infantry assault in the middle of the Union’s defensive line. The result was a predictable and significant defeat for the Confederate soldiers.
After three days of bloody fighting, the Battle of Gettysburg ended with more than 50,000 casualties. The Confederates were forced to retreat while the Union rejoiced at Lee’s defeat. The South was shattered both militarily and politically — and the turning point of the Civil War had now occurred.
See some of the most powerful photos of the Battle of Gettysburg in the gallery above.