Civil War Series

The Battle of Gettysburg



Nearly 20,000 wounded and dying soldiers occupied its public buildings and many of its houses.

After the battle, the Gettysburg area was a tragic place. Dead horses, the bodies of soldiers, and the debris of battle littered its trampled fields. Many of its buildings were damaged, its fences gone, and its air polluted with the odor of rotting flesh. Nearly 20,000 wounded and dying soldiers occupied its public buildings and many of its houses; Union and Confederate hospitals clustered at many of its farms. Medical authorities transferred the wounded to general hospitals in nearby cities as soon as practicable. Dr. Henry Janes, the surgeon in charge of medical activities at Gettysburg, established a general hospital along the York Pike a mile east of the town in mid-July. The last of the wounded did not leave Gettysburg until November 23—over four months after the battle.

Although the armies had hurried many of their dead before marching away, many bodies remained above ground, and heavy rains that began on July 4 washed open the shallow graves of others. Many Union dead were embalmed and sent to their homes, and survivors of a few purchased lots for them in Evergreen Cemetery. Confederate dead were buried as individuals or in mass graves near the places of their deaths. After the war, the bodies of some of the known Confederate dead were exhumed and taken to home cemeteries.

Most, however, remained at Gettysburg until the early 1870s, when southern Ladies Memorial Associations had the remains of 3,320 Confederate soldiers exhumed and taken south. They reburied 2,935 of them in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Virginia.

Northern states with units in the battle sent agents to Gettysburg to look after their dead and wounded soldiers. Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania visited Gettysburg soon after the battle, saw its problems, and named David Wills, a Gettysburg attorney, as Pennsylvania's agent. Soon Wills and other agents decided that a cemetery should be established for the Union dead. With Curtin's permission, Wills soon purchased seventeen acres on the northwest slope of Cemetery Hill for a cemetery and hired the noted landscape architect William Saunders to create a cemetery plan.


The path of the battle was like a violent storm that left a wake of destruction wherever it traveled. The farmers, upon whose land the majority of the battle took place, suffered severely. In some cases, nearly everything was lost. This photo of the Catherine Trostle farm was taken on July 6, four days after the fighting had raged around her farm. Some sense of what the battle cost her can be realized in the claims shown below that she filed for damages with both the state and federal government. There were dozens of other farmers whose circumstances mirrored those of Catherine Trostle. Few of them, including Mrs. Trostle, were ever compensated for their losses.

To the Board of Commissioners appointed to assess the damages occasioned by the rebel invasions of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, under the act approved April 9, 1868. The petition of Catherine Trostle on behalf of Abram Trostle, respectfully sheweth that he was a resident of Cumberland township, Adams County, Pennsylvania, in the year 1863; that on or about the 1st to 4th of July, 1863, he sustained loss and damage to his property situate and being in Cumberland township, in said County of Adams, by the causes referred to in said Act of Assembly . . . . as follows, viz:

27 acres wheat destroyed, worth$600.00
9 acres Corn360.00
8 acres Oats80.00
4 acres Barley50.00
1 acre Flax15.00
1 acre Potatoes50.00
32 acres Grass650.00
20 tons of Hay out of the barn300.00
6400 Rails destroyed512.00
House and Barn injured by shells, and used for hospital200.00
3 Cows killed in the battle, @40.00120.00
Heifers @ $2040.00
1 Bull,20.00
1 Large Hog15.00
1 Sheep.5.00
50 Chickens12.50
2 Hives of Bees14.00
1 Saddle & 2 bridles20.00
2 Barrels of Ham & Shoulders say 200 lbs. @ 20cent 40.00
Beds and Bedding50.00
Clothes of family20.00
Household and Kitchen goods and Queensware15.00

That her husband, Abraham Trostle, has become insane, and is now in the Lunatic Asylum, that their farm was near Round Top, and was fought over two days, and the crops and fences were totally destroyed. The fences were burned.

The cows and other stock and cattle, and fowls, were partly killed on the field, and some driven away, the farm being between the two armies, in part was fought over several times; that the family was driven from the house, which was taken possession of by the soldiers, and nursed for wounded men, and it was also struck by shells and balls, and much injured. There were 16 dead horses left close by the door and probably 100 on the farm. She believes the property was damaged and lost to the amount claimed.

That her husband had 15 barrels of flour in Myers Mill which was taken by the rebels, and was worth $120.00.


The interment of Union dead in this, the Soldiers' National Cemetery, began almost at once, and by the spring of 1864 3,500 bodies were buried there. They interred the battle dead known by name or state in state plots and the 979 unidentified dead in plots for the unknown at each end of the arc of graves. Now 3,706 Civil War dead are buried in the cemetery along with approximately that many dead of later wars.

Wills invited the Honorable Edward Everett to deliver the main address at the cemetery's dedication on November 19, 1863. Everett had been president of Harvard, governor of Massachusetts, a senator, and a secretary of state and was one of the leading orators of his time. The commissioners invited President Lincoln to the ceremony, and after the president accepted the invitation, asked him to participate in the program.


President Lincoln took this invitation seriously, and before leaving Washington he prepared a brief but thoughtful address. He made revisions to his original draft before the dedication while a guest in the Wills home on the square in Gettysburg.

The dedication ceremonies began at noon on November 19, 1863. The program included music by the Marine band, prayers, and hymns. Everett gave an address that reviewed the course of the battle and lasted nearly two hours. The president's remarks required only a few minutes, but they have become immortal.

There are five autograph copies of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The first two drafts (Lincoln's address on the 19th probably followed the text of the second) are in the custody of the Library of Congress, but one is on display at Gettysburg National Military Park part of each year. The third copy, which the president wrote to be sold at the Sanitary Commission Fair in New York City in 1864, is in the Illinois State Library. The fourth copy was written to be published in a book, Autograph Leaves of Our Country's Authors, which was to be sold at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Fair in Baltimore in 1864, but could not be used for this purpose because Lincoln had copied it on both sides of the paper. Lincoln gave this copy to George Bancroft, the historian, and now this "Bancroft Copy" is in the Cornell University Library. The copy written to replace it, which was owned by Col. Alexander Bliss, publisher of Autumn Leaves and called the "Bliss Copy," is in the White House.


Cornelia Hancock was a 23-year-old woman from Hancock's Bridge, New Jersey, who sought to aid the war effort in some way. The battle at Gettysburg offered her the opportunity, and she made her way to the field, arriving on July 7th. She described the scene she encountered at the Union Second Corps hospital, where she served as a volunteer nurse.

Learning that the wounded of the Third Division of the Second Corps, including the 12th Regiment of New Jersey, were in a Field Hospital about five miles outside of Gettysburg, we determined to go there early the next morning, expecting to find some familiar faces among the regiments of my native state. As we drew near our destination we began to realize that war has other horrors than the sufferings of the wounded or the desolation of the bereft. A sickening, overpowering, awful stench announced the presence of the unburied dead, on which the July sun was mercilessly shining, and at every step the air grew heavier and fouler, until it seemed to possess a palpable horrible density that could be seen and felt and cut with a knife. Not the presence of the dead bodies themselves, swollen and disfigured as they were, and lying in heaps on every side, was as awful to the spectator as that deadly, nauseating atmosphere which robbed the battlefield of its glory, the survivors of their victory, and the wounded of what little chance of life was left to them.

As we made our way to a little woods in which we were told was the Field Hospital we were seeking, the first sight that met our eyes was a collection of semi-conscious but still living human forms, all of whom had been shot through the head, and were considered hopeless. They were laid there to die and I hoped that they were indeed too near death to have consciousness. Yet many a groan came from them, and their limbs tossed and twitched. The few surgeons who were left in charge of the battlefield after the Union army had started in pursuit of Lee had begun their paralyzing task by sorting the dead from the dying, and the dying from those whose lives might be saved; hence the groups of prostrate, bleeding men laid together according to their wounds.


There was hardly a tent to be seen. Earth was the only available bed during those first hours after the battle. A long table stood in this woods and around it gathered a number of surgeons and attendants. This was the operating table, and for seven days it literally ran blood. A wagon stood near rapidly filling with amputated legs and arms; when wholly filled, this gruesome spectacle withdrew from sight and returned as soon as possible for another load. So appalling was the number of the wounded as yet unsuccored, so helpless seemed the few who were battling against tremendous odds to save life, and so overwhelming was the demand for any kind of aid that could be given quickly, that one's senses were benumbed by the awful responsibility that fell to the living. Action of a kind hitherto unknown and unheard of was needed here and existed here only.

From the pallid countenances of the sufferers, their inarticulate cries, and the many evidences of physical exhaustion which were common to all of them, it was swiftly borne in upon us that nourishment was one of the pressing needs of the moment and that here we might be of service.

Our party separated quickly, each intent on carrying out her own scheme of usefulness. No one paid the slightest attention to us, unusual as was the presence of half a dozen women on such a field; nor did anyone have time to give us orders or to answer questions. Wagons of bread and provisions were arriving and I helped myself to their stores.

I sat down with a loaf in one hand and a jar of jelly in the other: it was not hospital diet but it was food, and a dozen poor fellows lying near me turned their eyes in piteous entreaty, anxiously watching my efforts to arrange a meal.

... It seemed as if there was no more serious problem under Heaven than the task of dividing that too well-baked loaf into portions that could be swallowed by weak and dying men. I succeeded, however, in breaking it into small pieces, and spreading jelly over each with a stick. I had the joy of seeing every morsel swallowed greedily by those whom I had prayed day and night I might be permitted to serve. An hour or so later, in another wagon, I found boxes of condensed milk and bottles of whiskey and brandy. I need not say that every hour brought an improvement in the situation, that trains from the North came pouring into Gettysburg laden with doctors, nurses, hospital supplies, tents, and all kinds of food and utensils: but that first day of my arrival, the sixth of July, and the third day after the battle, was a time that taxed the ingenuity and fortitude of the living as sorely as if we had been a party of shipwrecked mariners thrown upon a desert island.

The Soldiers' National Cemetery was incorporated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in March 1864 but was turned over to the United States government as a national cemetery on May 1, 1872. Apart from its headstones and memorials to units that were posted in the cemetery area during the battle, the national cemetery contains four memorials of note. The principal memorial, the Soldiers National Monument, was ordered by the cemetery's Board of Commissioners for placement at the center of the arc of graves. James G. Batterson provided its design, and it was dedicated on July 1, 1869. The statue of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, "one of the finest portrait statues ever created to honor the heroes of the Civil War," was done by John Q. A. Ward and unveiled on August 31, 1872. Caspar Buberl did much of the artwork on the New York State Monument, located near the plot of New York's dead and unveiled on July 2, 1893. The Gettysburg Address Memorial, which stands near the west gate of the cemetery, includes a bust of Lincoln sculpted by Henry K. Bush-Brown and was dedicated on January 24, 1912.


Immediately after the battle, as Wills worked to establish the Soldiers' National Cemetery, another Gettysburg attorney, David McConaughy, purchased tracts of land on East Cemetery Hill, Culp's Hill, and Little Round Top. He did this to ensure their preservation and in doing so launched one of America's pioneer efforts in historic preservation. In September 1863 McConaughy and other Gettysburg citizens formed the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, and in April 1864 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania incorporated the association to "hold and preserve" the battlefield and, with memorials, commemorate the deeds of "their brave defenders." The association added to the holdings acquired by McConaughy, and in 1880 a Union veterans' organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, took control of the association. In 1878 the Strong Vincent G.A.R. Post of Erie, Pennsylvania, erected a memorial on Little Round Top to mark the place where Col. Strong Vincent was killed.

The Vincent memorial was the first erected outside of the national cemetery, but many followed as northern states erected memorials to their units that had fought in the great battle. In the meantime Gettysburg became a popular site for veterans' reunions and a mecca for tourists.


The Memorial Association had performed a great service in initiating the preservation of the field as a great memorial, and in 1894 its holdings included over 600 acres dotted with over 300 monuments and seventeen miles of roads. In 1895 these holdings were turned over to the War Department as the nucleus of Gettysburg National Military Park. The park, which became a part of the National Park System in 1933, now preserves much of the battlefield and honors the men of both armies that fought at Gettysburg.


(From Indianapolis Daily Journal of 2l November 1863)

Cemetery Hill occupies the bend of the hook. On its crest is the very handsome little cemetery belonging to the town, which lies a half mile or so to the north, and formed part of the battle ground. Just below this cemetery, on the slope facing the broad valley, lies the National Cemetery. It looks out upon the blue mountains into which they retreated.

I do not know the exact size of it, but should suppose there were some fifteen or twenty acres in it. The graves are arranged in a semi-circle, the convex side toward the valley, of probably six or eight hundred feet diameter. They are completed, so far as to show the general plan, but not so far as to show the arrangement of the various States upon it fully.

The dead of Indiana are not yet all reburied. There are thirty-one now here. They lie in two lines, filling the extent of our section, with a third still incomplete. The exterior of the three has every grave marked, with the head boards made, as I judge from the worn and defaced appearance, when the bodies were first buried, under some tree, or some hillside, by their companions.

I was more interested in the grounds, and the brave dead resting in them, than the ceremony, inspiring as it was, as full of great names come to honor great deeds. I could not see very much of it. Few did, I fancy, though full 20,000 came for nothing else. The procession and the ceremonies were appropriate and admirable.

The platform for the President, Cabinet, Foreign Ministers, Governors, and other magnates, was erected nearly on the line of the diameter across the semi circle of the Cemetery, and the crowd filled the interior.

In the procession to the Cemetery were long glittering lines of troops headed by Generals with dashing staffs and interspersed with scarlet-colored and plumed bands and grouops of civilians, regiments of Odd Fellows and Masons with their gay trappings, all moving to the sound of cannon from that knob of Cemetery Hill, where our guns played so frightfully in earnest on the 3d of July. James Blake of our city was one of the two Chief Marshals, and never looked so well before as at the head of that really grand procession.

Mr. Lincoln rode on horseback—nobody used cartridges—and his deeply cut features looked hard and worn. Mr. Seward and Mr. Usher rode on each side of him with a long string of attendents behind. Gov. Morton at the head of some Indiana delegation, rode on horseback.

The procession was a long time getting itself placed around the stand. As soon as it could be silenced out a few hundred feet into the throng, leaving the outside still rushing and rustling and grumbling because everybody else wouldn't be still, the band played a solemn, grand air, and Rev. Thomas Stockton prayed I couldn't hear one word. Nor did one-tenth of the crowd. But it is no matter, it will be published. The President's speech I couldn't hear either and it closed the ceremony.

Berry Sulgrove, Editor
Indianapolis JOURNAL



(click on image for a PDF version)
Back cover: Photograph of Cemetery Hill by Russ Finley.
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