Gettysburg Battlefield

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The Gettysburg Battlefield was the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought in 1863 in and around the borough of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Adams County, which had approximately 2,400 residents at the time.


Battlefield in 1863

The town was the center of a road network that connected ten nearby Pennsylvania and Maryland towns, including well-maintained turnpikes to Chambersburg, York, and Baltimore, so was a natural concentration point for the large armies that descended upon it.

To the northwest, a series of low, parallel ridges lead to the towns of Cashtown and Chambersburg. Seminary Ridge, closest to Gettysburg, is named for the Lutheran Theological Seminary on its crest. Farther out are McPherson's Ridge, Herr's Ridge, and eventually South Mountain. Oak Ridge, a northward extension of Seminary Ridge, is capped by Oak Hill, a site for artillery that commanded a good area north of the town.

Directly south of the town is Cemetery Hill, at 503 feet (153 m) above sea level, a gentle 80 foot (24 m) slope above downtown. The hill is named for the Evergreen (civilian) cemetery on its crest; the famous military cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln now shares the hill. Adjacent, due east, is Culp's Hill, of similar height, divided by a slight saddle into two recognizable hills, heavily wooded, and more rugged. Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill were subjected to assaults throughout the battle by Richard S. Ewell's Third Corps.

Extending south from Cemetery Hill is a slight elevation known as Cemetery Ridge, although the term ridge is rather extravagant; it is generally only about 40 feet (12 m) above the surrounding terrain and tapers off before Little Round Top into low, wooded ground. At the northern end of Cemetery Ridge is a copse of trees and a low stone wall that makes two 90-degree turns; the latter has been nicknamed The Angle and The High Water Mark. This area, and the nearby Codori Farm on Emmitsburg Road, were prominent features in the progress of Pickett's Charge during the third day of battle, as well as General Richard H. Anderson's division assault on the second.

Dominating the landscape are the Round Tops to the south. Little Round Top is a hill with a rugged, steep slope of 130 feet above nearby Plum Run (the peak is 550 feet (168 m) above sea level), strewn with large boulders; to its southwest, the area with the most significant boulders, some the size of living rooms, is known as Devil's Den. [Big] Round Top, known also to locals of the time as Sugar Loaf, is 116 feet higher than its Little companion. Its steep slopes are heavily wooded, which made it unsuitable for siting artillery without a large effort to climb the heights with horse-drawn guns and clear lines of fire; Little Round Top was unwooded, but its steep and rocky form made it difficult to deploy artillery in mass. However, Cemetery Hill was an excellent sites for artillery, commanding all of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge and the approaches to them. Little Round Top and Devil's Den were key locations for General John Bell Hood's division in Longstreet's assault during the second day of battle, July 2, 1863. The valley formed by Plum Run between the Round Tops and Devil's Den earned the name Valley of Death on that day.

Northwest from the Round Tops, towards Emmitsburg Road, are the Wheatfield, Rose Woods, and the Peach Orchard. As noted by General Daniel E. Sickles in the second day of battle, this area is about 40 feet higher in elevation than the lowlands at the south end of Cemetery Ridge. These all figured prominently in General Lafayette McLaws's division assault during the second day of battle.

Preserving the battlefield

After the battle, the Army of the Potomac and the citizens of Gettysburg were left with appalling burdens. The battlefield was strewn with over 7,000 dead men and the houses, farms, churches, and public buildings were struggling to deal with 30,000 wounded men. The stench from the dead soldiers and from the thousands of animal carcasses was overwhelming. To the east of town, a massive tent city was erected to attempt medical care for the soldiers, which was named Camp Letterman after Jonathan Letterman, chief surgeon of the Army of the Potomac. Contracts were let with entrepreneurs to bury men and animals and the majority were buried near where they fell.

Two individuals immediately began to work to help the town recover and to preserve the memory of those who had fallen: David Wills and David McConaughy, both attorneys living in Gettysburg. A week after the battle, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin visited Gettysburg and expressed the state's interest in finding its veterans and giving them a proper burial. Wilson immediately arranged for the purchase of 17 acres (69,000 m²) next to the Evergreen Cemetery, but the priority of burying Pennsylvania veterans soon changed to honor all of the Union dead.

McConaughy was responsible for purchasing 600 acres (2.4 km²) of privately held land to preserve as a monument. His first priorities for preservation were Culp's Hill, East Cemetery Hill, and Little Round Top. On April 30, 1864, the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association was formed to mark "the great deeds of valor ... and the signal events which render these battlegrounds illustrious", and it began adding to McConaughy's holdings. In 1880, the Grand Army of the Republic took control of the Memorial Association and its lands.

On November 19, 1863, the Soldiers' National Cemetery was dedicated in a ceremony highlighted by Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The night before, Lincoln slept in Wills's house on the main square in Gettysburg, which is now a landmark administered by the National Park Service. The cemetery was completed in March of 1864 with the last of 3,512 Union dead were reburied. It became a National Cemetery on May 1, 1872, when control was transferred to the U.S. War Department.

The removal of Confederate dead from the field burial plots was not undertaken until seven years after the battle. From 1870 to 1873, upon the initiative of the Ladies Memorial Associations of Richmond, Raleigh, Savannah, and Charleston, 3,320 bodies were disinterred and sent to cemeteries in those cities for reburial, 2,935 being interred in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond. Seventy-three bodies were reburied in home cemeteries.

Tourism and commercial development

Since the battle, Gettysburg has been a prominent attraction for visitors. Immediately after the battle, thousands of relatives arrived in search of their dead and wounded. (This was possible only because Gettysburg was in Northern territory. No similar trips could be made by relatives to, say, Chancellorsville, Virginia.) After the war, due to its proximity to major eastern cities, Gettysburg was one of the most popular tourist destinations of all the battlefields. Commercial development followed this influx.

In 1884, the Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad completed construction of a spur that ran from the town, over the field of Pickett's Charge, and to the eastern side of Little Round Top. The railroad purchased 13 acres (53,000 m²) of land at the terminus and established Round Top Park. The park hosted a pavilion, two wells with pumps, a full kitchen, a photography studio, and several other buildings. It was a popular tourist destination, but soon fell prey to problems that included alcohol abuse, prostitution, and gambling. In 1896, the railroad sold its property to the Gettysburg National Military Park Commission, but Round Top Park was not removed immediately. In 1913, a casino was added. During this period, its popularity increased with the number of visitors able to reach the battlefield by automobile. The train tracks were finally removed in 1939 and the pavilions and the dance hall were torn down.

Another blight on the battlefield was the Gettysburg Electric Railway Company, owned by William H. Tipton. From 1894 until the government purchased back his property in 1917, his trolley cars left the town of Gettysburg, rode down Emmitsburg Road across the field of Pickett's Charge, through the Peach Orchard and the bloody Wheatfield, and terminated south of Little Round Top, near the area of Plum Run known since July 2, 1863, as the Slaughter Pen. Here the visitor found Tipton Park, another popular attraction. Both the trolley line and the railroad spur were located on private property, but right at the edge of sacred battlefield lands.

Yet another blight came in more modern times. The National Tower, soaring 393 feet (120 m) above private land on the edge of the battlefield, was erected in 1974 to the dismay of preservationists. Eventually the town of Gettysburg obtained a court order to seize the tower, compensating the owners $3 million, and in a great public ceremony, the tower was demolished on July 4, 2000.

Prominent generals

Two Union generals who fought at Gettysburg played a prominent role in preservation. Samuel W. Crawford, who led the Pennsylvania Reserve Division in the V Corps had a great desire to promote his contributions to the battle. He purchased a 47 acre (190,000 m²) tract of land that included Devil's Den and the Valley of Death, and this area became known as Crawford Park. He promoted a scheme to build a prominent Memorial Hall on the top of Little Round Top, a building over 120 feet (37 m) long that would contain monuments and memorabilia of all of the individual Pennsylvania units that fought in that area. Fortunately, his plan never came to fruition. But he did anger battlefield preservationists by selling the right-of-way for the trolley line to Tipton for one dollar.

The second general was Daniel E. Sickles, critically wounded on July 2 commanding the III Corps. Sickles was a U.S. Congressman after the war and took a prominent role in establishing government control and funding of the battlefield as a National Military Park. At the 50th anniversary celebration in 1913, Sickles, the only still-surviving corps commander, was asked why there were no monuments in his honor on the battlefield. He replied, "Why Hell, the whole battlefield is my monument."


On June 7, 1894, the U.S. Congress gave the War Department the power to condemn land at Gettysburg so that it could be preserved. While all of the commercial development was going on, numerous veterans organizations were mounting volunteer efforts to preserve and memorialize the actions of their units on the battlefield. The first monument to be erected on the battlefield was in the National Cemetery in 1887, to the 1st Minnesota Infantry, the gallant regiment that was virtually annihilated on Cemetery Ridge, July 2. The first monument to be erected outside of the cemetery was on Little Round Top on August 1, 1878, when the GAR Post of Erie, Pennsylvania, memorialized Strong Vincent.

As the 25th anniversary of the battle approached, veterans groups stepped up the pace of erecting monuments and many of the state governments got into the act as well. By the 1890s, Gettysburg had one of the largest outdoor collections of bronze and granite statues anywhere in the world. For the Union side, virtually every regiment, battery, brigade, division, and corps has a monument, generally placed in the portion of the battlefield where that unit made the greatest contribution (as judged by the veterans themselves). Most regiments also have boundary markers placed to show their positions in defensive lines. The Confederates, understandably, placed relatively fewer monuments on the losing battlefield in "enemy territory". And as the losing side, the Southern states possessed less of the wealth that they would need to rival some of the elaborate Northern monuments. They agreed to focus their memorials on the contributions of states, rather than military units. For both sides, the National Park Service has erected numerous informative bronze plaques that describe the units, their leaders, and their contributions.

By 1894, there were over 600 acres (2.4 km²) and 300 monuments in the Park. In 1895, the War Department took over official control of the land. In 1933, control passed to the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior, where it remains today.


Although veterans returned many times over the years, there were two great reunions at the battlefield. For the 50th anniversary, in 1913, all honorably discharged veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans were invited. Forty thousand accepted the invitation. The highlight of the event on July 3, 1913, was a reenactment of Pickett's Charge that reached the "Bloody Angle" only to be met across the wall by the outstretched hands of friendship from the Union survivors.

For the 75th anniversary, in 1938, there were only 8,000 known living veterans of the war. Of these, 1,845 veterans were able to attend—1,359 from the North and 486 from the South—although only 65 of them had been at the battle. Their average age was 94 and special arrangements had to be made to care for these elderly men. The highlight of this reunion was the dedication of the National Peace Memorial on Oak Hill by President Franklin D. Roosevelt the evening of July 3.

Battlefield today

Today, the battlefield is administered by the National Park Service as the Gettysburg National Military Park. In addition to maintaining the 3,000 acres (12 km²) of park lands, 30 miles (50 km) of roads, and over 1,400 monuments and markers, and welcoming 2 million visitors annually, the NPS runs a Visitor Center and an attraction known as the Cyclorama, an enormous 360 painting of the battle. These two buildings sit on the area known as Ziegler's Grove, covering a prime Union defensive position on Cemetery Hill (just to the west of the National Cemetery). Plans are underway to relocate the Visitor Center and Cyclorama to land east of the Baltimore Pike, restoring Ziegler's Grove. The NPS also administers the Eisenhower National Historic Site, adjacent to the National Military Park.

Visitors to Gettysburg today will find that there is more wooded land than in 1863. The National Park Service has an ongoing program to restore portions of the battlefield to their historical non-wooded conditions, but this is a politically delicate process for reasons that are easy to imagine. There are also considerably more roads and facilities for the benefit of tourists visiting the battlefield park.


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