‘A Harvest Of Death’: 33 Haunting Photos Of The Battle Of Gettysburg

Published March 13, 2022
Updated November 8, 2023

The Battle of Gettysburg was the pivotal moment of the Civil War and the bloodiest hour in American history. These photos tell its story.

Battle Of Gettysburg Bodies
Confederate Prisoners
Sanitary Commission
Soldier Dead With Rifle
‘A Harvest Of Death’: 33 Haunting Photos Of The Battle Of Gettysburg
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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.

After this look at the Battle of Gettysburg, read about the brutal Civil War POW camp at Andersonville, and have a look at more haunting photos from the Civil War.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.