Three Days in July
On June 3, 1863, a month after his dramatic victory at Chancellorsville, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee began marching his Army of Northern Virginia westward from its camps around Fredericksburg, VA. Once through the gaps of the Blue Ridge, the Southerners trudged northward into Maryland and Pennsylvania. They were followed by the Union Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, but Lee, whose cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart was absent on a raid around the Federal forces, had no way of knowing his adversary's whereabouts.
The two armies touched by chance at Gettysburg on June 30. The main battle opened on July 1 with Confederates attacking Union troops on McPherson Ridge west of town. Though outnumbered, the Federal forces held their position until afternoon, when they were finally overpowered and driven back to Cemetery Hill south of town. During the night the main body of the Union army, now commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, arrived and took up positions.
On July 2 the battle lines were drawn up in two sweeping arcs. The main portions of both armies were nearly one mile apart on parallel ridges: Union forces on Cemetery Ridge, Confederate forces on Seminary Ridge to the west. Lee ordered an attack against both Union flanks. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's thrust on the Federal left turned the base of Little Round Top into a shambles, left the Wheatfield strewn with dead and wounded, and overran the Peach Orchard. Farther north, Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell's evening attack on the Federal right at East Cemetery Hill and Culps Hill, though momentarily successful, could not be exploited to Confederate advantage.
On July 3 Lee's artillery opened a two-hour bombardment of the Federal lines on Cemetery Ridge and Cemetery Hill. This for a time engaged the massed guns of both sides in a thundering duel for supremacy, but did little to soften up the Union defensive position. Then some 12,000 Confederates advanced across open fields toward the Federal center in an attack known as "Pickett's Charge." The attack failed and cost Lee over 5,000 soldiers in one hour. The Battle of Gettysburg was over.
On November 19, President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to take part in the dedication ceremonies for the new Soldiers' National Cemetery. His brief speech, the Gettysburg Address, gave meaning to the sacrifices of the men who had struggled here, and stated that the war would lead to a "new birth of freedom" for the nation.
The Gettysburg Address
When the armies marched away from Gettysburg they left behind a community in shambles and over 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded, or missing. Wounded and dying were crowded into nearly every building. Most of the dead lay in hastily dug and inadequate graves; some had not been buried at all.
This situation so distressed Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin, that he commissioned local attorney David Wills to buy land for a proper burial ground for Union dead. Within four months of the battle, reinterment began on 17 acres that became Soldiers' National Cemetery.
The cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863. The principal speaker, Edward Everett, delivered a well-received two-hour oration rich in historical detail and classical allusion. He was followed by President Abraham Lincoln, who had been asked to make "a few appropriate remarks."
Lincoln's speech contains 272 words and took about two minutes to deliver. It is considered a masterpiece of the English language, and it transformed Gettysburg from a scene of carnage into a symbol, giving meaning to the sacrifice of the dead and inspiration to the living. "I should be glad," Everett told Lincoln, "if I . . . came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."
Contrary to popular belief, Lincoln did not write the speech on the back of an envelope during the trip to Gettysburg, but took great pains in its formulation. He composed the first draft in Washington and revised it at David Wills' house in Gettysburg, where the president stayed the night before the dedication.
The cemetery was far from completed by the day of the dedication. Within a few years over 3,500 Union soldiers who had been killed in the battle were reinterred here and the landscaping completed. Following the war the remains of 3,320 Confederate soldiers were removed from the battlefield to cemeteries in the South.
Both David Wills' House and the Gettysburg Train Station, at which Lincoln arrived on November 18, are located in historic downtown Gettysburg. The Wills' House has exhibits on Lincoln's visit to the town, the creation of the Soldiers' National Cemetery, and the Gettysburg Address. A shuttle bus system is available from the park visitor center to these sites and others in the downtown area.
The Soldiers' National Cemetery was designed by Washington, DC, architect William Saunders to reflect an appearance of what he called "simple grandeur." The New York Monument was dedicated in 1893 to honor New York state soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg and buried in the national cemetery. Other United States veterans, from the 1898 War with Spain to the Vietnam conflict, are also buried here. Today the cemetery is the final resting place for over 6,000 honorably discharged veterans and their dependents.
Seeing the Park and the Battlefield
More men fell during the Battle of Gettysburg than in any other battle on American soil before or since. Today these peaceful rolling fields pay silent tribute to this sacrifice. Many Union soldiers who died here are buried in Soldiers' National Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, honoring the men who gave the last full measure of devotion.
Much has been written and said about Gettysburg. But the most tangible connection to those three days in July is the battlefield itself, parts of which look much as they did in 1863. Fences, hills, rocks, cannon, and even the monuments provide an opportunity to reflect and try to understand what happened here.
Start at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center to visit the Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War, the fully restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, and the film, "A New Birth of Freedom" (admission required). The building also offers a book and museum store, food service, licensed battlefield guides, programs, and information about visiting Eisenhower National Historic Site.
To see the battlefield follow the Self-guiding Auto Tour. You can drive around the battlefield in two to three hours. At most of the numbered stops, exhibits and tablets describe significant action during the three days of battle.
The film "A New Birth of Freedom" and Gettysburg Cyclorama is a 45-minute ticketed experience designed as your starting point. The cyclorama is a sound and light show of the spectacular 377-foot painting by Paul Philippoteaux of Pickett's Charge, completed in 1884. For a fee, a licensed battlefield guide will conduct a two-hour tour of the battlefield in your auto or bus.
In summer, park rangers give presentations to explain the battle and its impact on the soldiers, civilians, and nation. The best way to get a feel for what happened here is to walk the battlefield and get a sense of the landscape.
Cemetery Ridge Trail (1.5-miles) begins at the visitor center and covers the ground defended by Union soldiers during Pickett's Charge.
National Cemetery Trail begins at the National Cemetery parking area and covers the cemetery grounds, where Union soldiers from the battle are interred and Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
For longer hikes, ask about the 9.5-mile Billy Yank Trail or the 3-mile Johnny Reb Trail. Both are part of the Boy Scouts of America's Heritage Trails Program.
We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all.
Check with the Gettysburg Convention & Visitor Bureau at the visitor center for information on lodging, restaurants, campgrounds, museums, and other facilities. See: www.gettysburg.travel.
Regulations and Safety Tips
For your safety, backpacks and handbags are not allowed in the visitor center. Please leave them in the trunk or hidden in your vehicle. For firearms regulations check the park website.
Monuments and cannon mark positions and honor great sacrifices. They are irreplaceable historic objects. Please respect and help preserve them. Do not climb, stand, or hang on them.
All historic sites, structures, exhibits, plants, animals, and minerals must be left undisturbed. Relic collecting or the possession of a metal detector in the park is prohibited. Picnic in designated areas only.
Use extreme caution on park roads, especially at heavily traveled intersections. Obey speed limits. Be careful at blind curves and on one-way roads. Park in designated areas or on the pavement only, not on the grass or shoulders. Bicyclists keep to the right and ride with traffic.
Watch your children carefully, especially near roads and monuments.
Pets must be leashed and attended at all times. They are prohibited in the Soldiers' National Cemetery and visitor center. Service animals are welcome. If you have any questions about park rules or regulations, ask a ranger.
Touring the Battlefield
Self-guiding Auto Tour
The 24-mile auto tour starts at the visitor center and includes 16 tour stops, the Barlow Knoll Loop, and the Historic Downtown Gettysburg Tour. It traces the three-day battle chronologically. You can include or skip certain points and stops based on your interest. Allow a minimum of three hours to complete the tour.
July 1, 1863
Eternal Light Peace Memorial
When the first day ended, the Confederates held the upper hand. Lee decided to continue the offensive, pitting his 70,000-man army against Meade's Union army of 93,000.
July 2, 1863
North Carolina Memorial
Little Round Top
The Peach Orchard
East Cemetery Hill
By day's end, both flanks of the Union army had been attacked and both had held, despite losing ground. In a council of war, Meade, anticipating an assault on the center of his line, determined that his army would stay and fight.
July 3, 1863
High Water Mark
Total casualties (killed, wounded, captured, and missing) for the three days of fighting were 23,000 for the Union army and as many as 28,000 for the Confederate army.
Historic Downtown Gettysburg Tour
David Wills House
Gettysburg Train Station
Source: NPS Brochure (2017)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
"A Common Pride and Fame": The Attack and Repulse of Pickett's Division, July 3, 1863 Part I (Kathleen R. Georg, January 1981)
"A Common Pride and Fame": The Attack and Repulse of Pickett's Division, July 3, 1863 Part II (Kathleen R. Georg, January 1981)
"A Common Pride and Fame": The Attack and Repulse of Pickett's Division, July 3, 1863 Part III (Kathleen R. Georg, January 1981)
Address Delivered at the Dedication of Monument of the 14th Conn. Vols. at Gettysburg, Gettysburg, Penn., July 3d, 1884 (Henry S. Stevens and J.W. Knowlton, 1884)
Administrative History: Gettysburg National Military Park and National Cemetery, Pennsylvania (Harlan D. Unrau, July 1991)
Circumstances Surrounding the Dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery and of the Delivery by Abraham Lincoln of his Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863 (Frederick Tilberg, September 27, 1957)
Cultural Landscape Report for First Day Union 1st Corps Battlefield, Gettysburg National Military Park (Jon Auwaerter, Zhangshuai Wang, Anna Tiburzi and Nathaniel Bauder, 2021)
Cultural Landscape Report for Gettysburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg National Military Park (John Auwaerter, Catherine Ponte, Nathan Powers and Pamela Selby, 2017)
Cultural Landscape Report, Treatment & Management Plan: Little Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park (Einhorn, Yaffee Prescott, Rhodeside & Harwell, Hunter Research, Fuss & O'Neill, Inc. and C.S. Davidson, Inc., March 2, 2012)
Economic Impacts of Gettysburg National Military Park/Eisenhower National Historic Site Visitor Spending on the Local Economy, 2000 (Daniel J. Stynes, Ya-Yen Sun and Dennis Propst, January 2002)
Edward McPherson Farm: Historical Study (Kathleen R. Georg, October 14, 1977)
Estimating White-tailed Deer Abundance at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NER/NRTR-2012/626 (David P. Stainbrook and Duane R. Diefenbach, September 2012)
Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga, 1900)
Geohydrology and water quality in the vicinity of the Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site, Pennsylvania USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 89-4154 (A.E. Becher, 1989)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Gettysburg National Military Park & Eisenhower National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2008/083 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, March 2009)
Gettysburg and Lincoln: The Battle, the Cemetery, and the National Park (Henry Sweetser Burrage, 1906)
Gettysburg Design Guide: A Guide for Maintaining and Rehabilitating Buildings in the Gettysburg Historic District (Margaret M.M. Pickart, 1997)
Gettysburg Seminar Papers (1995-2018)
Gettysburg National Military Park: Historic Handbook #9 (Frederick Tilberg, 1954, revised 1962)
Gettysburg National Military Park: Historic Handbook #9 (Frederick Tilberg, 1954, revised 1992, reprint 1988)
Historic Cemetery Survey Report: Gettysburg National Military Park (Frederick Tilberg, June 24, 1958)
Historic Structure Report: J. Slyder Farm Buildings (Part I), Gettysburg National Military Park (Frederick Tilberg, December 11, 1958)
Historic Structure Report: The McClean Barn, Gettysburg National Military Park (Kenneth W. Holt and John M. Dickey, July 1985)
Historical Base Map: Gettysburg National Park (Frederick Tilberg and Harry W. Pfanz, June 23, 1958)
Historical Importance of Rock Creek, Gettysburg National Military Park (Frederick Tilberg, September 1939)
Historical Statement: Henry Spangler Farm Buildings (Frederick Tilberg, August 31, 1956)
Inventory of Amphibian and Reptile Species at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/PHSO/NRTR-01/084 (Richard H. Yahner, Katharine L. Derge and Jennifer Mravintz, March 2001)
Inventorying and Monitoring Protocols of Terrestrial Vertebrates in National Parks of the Eastern United States: Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site NPS Technical Report NPS/PHSO/NRTR-00/080 (Richard H. Yahner, Gerald L. Storm, Gregory S. Keller, Bradley D. Ross, and Ronald W. Rohrbaugh, Jr., December 1999)
Lee's Decision to Attack Cemetery Hill (Harry W. Pfanz, September 1957)
Longstreet's Delay at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 (Harry W. Pfanz, September 1957)
McClean House and Barn, Gettysburg National Military Park, Pa. (Lenard E. Brown, October 1, 1968)
Monumental Guide to the Gettysburg Battlefield: with index, showing the location of every monument, marker and tablet, with approaching roads and avenues (Schuyler A. Hammond and Edgar M. Hewitt, 1899)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NER/NRR-2017/1369 (Mary-Jane James, January 201)
"Our Principal Loss Was in This Place": Action at the Slaughter Pen and at the South End of Houck's Ridge, July 2, 1863 (Kathleen R. Georg, March 18, 1984)
Proposed Restoration of the Spangler's Spring-Culp's Hill Area and the Re-Location of Avenues in the Area of the Spring (Frederick Tilberg, July 20, 1940)
Report on McMillan House: Architectural section, Gettysburg National Military Park (Norman M. Souder, January 1962)
Report on Proposed Extension of Gettysburg Borough Line Southward Along Emmitsburg Road and a Historical Statement Relating to the Significance of This Area (Frederick Tilberg, September 6, 1940)
Report on the Operation of Park Entrance Stations, Gettysburg National Military Park (Frederick Tilberg, January 1938)
Report on the Proposed Restoration of the Bryan House (Frederick Tilberg, November 20, 1943)
Strategy Proposed by Longstreet for the Gettysburg Campaign (Harry W. Pfanz, September 1957)
The Brien Farm and Family (Marcella Sherfy, June 1972)
The Development and Care of the Soldiers' National Cemetery Enclosures at Gettysburg (Kathleen R. Georg, June 16, 1978)
The Ecology of Big Round Top (William C. Darrah, 1995)
The Gettysburg Address: Issues Related to Display and Preservation GAO/RCED-94-12 (January 1994)
The Location of the Monuments Markers, and Tablets on Gettysburg Battlefield (Kathy Georg Harrison, comp., 1993)
The Road Inventory of Gettysburg National Military Park (Federal Highway Administration, October 1998)
The Significance of the Harmon Farm and the Springs Hotel Woods (Kathleen Georg Harrison, March 1, 1991)
Treatment Philosophy: The 1863 Landscape (Gettysburg) (Eric Campbell, March 2004)
Vista Cutting Project: Area of Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, and Peach Orchard (Frederick Tilberg, December 28, 1939)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 28-May-2022