The Battle of Gettysburg: A Timeline

Cemetery Hill

The eastern slopes of Cemetery Hill. Union forces had retreated to the hill on July 1, and Gen. Robert E. Lee had asked Gen. Ewell to attack the weakened opponent. Ewell demurred, and some say the Rebels lost a crucial advantage. Bob Malesky, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Bob Malesky, NPR

Battle Dates: July 1 to July 3, 1863

Forces: 75,000 Confederate, 90,000 Union

Casualties: 11,000 dead or mortally wounded; 29,000 wounded; 10,000 missing

Union Commander: George G. Meade

Confederate Commander: Robert E. Lee

A look back at the three-day battle of Gettysburg. The fighting between July 1, 1863 and July 3, 1863 is considered to be the bloodiest of the Civil War. The battle is also regarded a major turning point in the war that pitted the North against the South:

Tuesday, June 30: A Confederate infantry brigade from Gen. A. P. Hill's corps heads toward Gettysburg, Pa., in search of supplies. The Confederates spot Union cavalry heading toward Gettysburg.

Wednesday, July 1: Confederate commanders send troops to engage Brig. Gen. John Buford's cavalry at Gettysburg at McPherson Ridge. Union soldiers, under the command of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds arrive midmorning to support Buford. Reynolds is soon killed by a bullet to the head. Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee arrives in Gettysburg mid-afternoon. By then, Union forces are on the retreat through the town of Gettysburg and regroup at Cemetery Hill. Lee orders Confederate Gen. R.S. Ewell to attack at Cemetery Hill, but Ewell hesitates, giving Union troops time to bring in reinforcements and set up artillery. As night falls, the Union's lead commander at Gettysburg, Maj. Gen. George Meade, orders all Union forces to Gettysburg — in all, more than 90,000 troops.

Thursday, July 2: Meade arrives in the middle of the night. Lee orders two of his generals, James Longstreet and Ewell, to attack the flanks of Union forces on Culp's Hill. But Longstreet delays, and attacks much later than Ewell, giving Union forces more time to strengthen their position.

The Union's Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles advances in front of the main line and comes under attack. The two sides engage in some of the fiercest fighting of the Civil War, ensuring that the locations Peach Orchard, Devil's Den, the Wheatfield and Little Round Top go down in history. Ewell attacks Union troops at Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill, but Union forces hold their position. Late in the night, Lee decides on a gamble. On Friday, he will attack where least expected: at the center of the Union line along Cemetery Ridge.

Friday, July 3: Fighting begins around 4 a.m. with cannon fire. Union artillery pounds the Rebels at the lower end of Culp's Hill. Union troops finally succeed in driving the Rebels from the hill, and fighting over Culp's Hill ends. Around 1 p.m., Confederate cannons open fire on the Union position at the center of Cemetery Ridge. The Union artillery slows its fire, to trick the Rebels into thinking they had knocked out the Union cannons.

Gen. George Pickett commands 15,000 Confederate troops as they charge Cemetery Ridge. The Union artillery opens up again, devastating the Confederate line. The battered, outnumbered Rebels begin to retreat. Lee rides out to meet the survivors, taking all the blame. He reportedly says, "All this has been my fault. It is I who have lost this fight, and you must help me out the best way you can." The battle for Gettysburg is over. Gettysburg was the last attempt by the South to launch a major offensive in the northern states.

Nov. 19, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln travels to Gettysburg, which he dedicates as a military cemetery. Lincoln tells the crowd, "in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Sources: James McPherson, "Hallowed Ground"; HistoryinFilm.com

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