Today, July 1, is the anniversary of the beginning of the battle of Gettysburg, 145 years ago today in a small rural town in Pennsylvania. Settled primarily by Germans and Dutch, the pastoral country was about to see some of the bloodiest fighting in the history of this country, at least on American soil, a battle fought by Americans against each other. It was an unlikely site for a battle, a town of some 3,600, home to a small Lutheran seminary and Pennsylvania College, now Gettysburg College.
CSA General A.P. Hill’s men were on a recon mission since JEB Stuart’s men were still out of touch with General Lee, while Stuart’s ride around the Union army continued. When Hill’s men brought the report that Gettysburg was occupied by some Union troops, General Henry Heth obtained Hill’s permission to take a brigade into the little town and clear it out.
Fortunately General Longstreet had a favorite spy, known only as Harrison, who brought the word to Lee that the Union Army was coming very quickly — something Lee was unaware of. Regardless, he decided to bring his Army to the little town of Gettysburg, much to the disapproval of Longstreet who had warned against it. Lee felt that if the enemy numbers were small, and he could bring his superior forces in, he could attack Gettysburg and beat the enemy on its own soil, both a tactical and psychological move.
In any event, it would show the Union Army what they had to contend with, and hopefully open the road to a desired goal, the city of Washington.
The first day’s fighting ended in a Southern victory, setting up a battle of hills yet to come. McPherson’s Ridge was a Union site; East Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge and Culp’s Hill, which ran from south to southeast of town also were in Union hands. On the other side, the Confederate troops held Oak Hill northwest of the town, and Seminary Ridge, due west of Gettysburg. By the end of the day, barely a mile or more of fields and woods separated the two combatants’ armies. And they were ready to fight.
Though actual statistics seem to vary between authorities and sources, the casualty list for the first day shows that for the Union, 950 were killed, 4,500 wounded for a total of 5,500. For the Confederates, 900 were killed, 4,350 were wounded, for a total of 5,250. In one day’s fighting……..
Tomorrow: The Second Day - the high ground of the Union.