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Battle of Gettysburg – The Aftermath

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Gettysburg – The Aftermath

At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the small town numbered 2,400 inhabitants. The armies that initially descended on the village numbered nearly 165,000 men at arms and brought with them hundreds of wagons, cannons, limbers, caissons, ambulances, and tens of thousands of horses and mules. In less than 5 days, the bulk of these forces disappeared. Dead men totaled over 7,000, more than 5,000 animals had been killed, and nearly 26,000 soldiers were wounded, 21,000 of which remained in and around Gettysburg. The Confederates managed to transport several thousand of their wounded back to Virginia in a 17-mile-long wagon train. (Gregory Coco, “A Vast Sea of Misery)

Gen. Meade lost about 25% of his army at Gettysburg, while Gen. Lee lost nearly 40% of his. The war would drag on until April 1865, but after Gettysburg, the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy,” the end was inevitable.

Every available barn, stable, shed, schoolhouse, church and home were impressed into service as field hospitals, both in the town as well as several miles away. Disorganization and chaos reigned initially in primitive conditions. Scores of injured troops in every conceivable state of injury were scattered over the countryside, out in the open, without even a blanket for covering. Rock Creek and White Run overflowed following July 4th’s heavy rains. Soldiers weakened by blood loss, dehydrated and lacking nourishment waited days before being seen by medical staff. Their conditions were aggravated by the cries of those mentally anguished and by natural scavengers in the form of blowflies, maggots, beetles, spiders, and wandering hogs.

A wounded New Hampshire soldier named Drake “had the unpleasant sensation of watching as a hog tore the flesh from the bones of his recently amputated leg. It was eaten up before his eyes. Drake recalled that he could even feel a sharp pain very clearly as it happened.” (Gregory Coco, “A Strange and Blighted Land)

More than 3,000 horses were killed outright in the 25 square mile battlefield. Injured horses and mules were being mercifully shot several weeks into July. The livestock of the civilians – carcasses of cows, pigs, oxen, sheep, and fowl – were burned along with horses and mules. On July 4th, one soldier described: “The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable… The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.”

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Sophronia Bucklin, Volunteer Nurse:

“I visited the battle ground on several occasions – the first time soon after the conflict, when the evidence of the horrid carnage…lay on every hand in fearful sights… I had grown familiar with death in every shape. Yet, when right above my head, at one place, so close that it touched me, hung a sleeve of faded army blue – a dead hand protruding from the worn and blackened cuff – I could not but feel a momentary shudder.

Boots, with a foot and leg putrifying within, lay beside the pathway, and ghastly heads, too – over the exposed skulls of which insects crawled – while great worms bored through the rotting eyeballs. Astride a tree sat a bloody horror, with head and limbs severed by shells, the birds having banqueted on it, while the tattered uniform, stained with gore, fluttered dismally in the summer air.

Whole bodies were flattened against the rocks, smashed into a shapeless mass, as though thrown there by a giant hand, an awful sight in their battered and decaying condition. The freshly turned earth on every hand denoted the pits, from many of which legs were thrust above the scant covering, and arms and hands were lifted up as though pleading to be assigned enough earth to keep them from the glare of day.”

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Abraham Lincoln 2 weeks before Gettysburg Address (Alexander Gardner)

Abraham Lincoln
2 weeks before Gettysburg Address
(Alexander Gardner)

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Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 21, 1864

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

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Lincoln at Dedication Gettysburg, Nov. 19, 1863 Matthew Brady Collection

Lincoln at Dedication
Gettysburg, Nov. 19, 1863
Matthew Brady Collection

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Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg Address

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On April 9th, 1865, Gen. Robt. E. Lee, Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Army of the Potomac, at Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia. The terms of surrender were generous, allowing the men to return to their homes with their horses and mules, to be used in spring planting.

Five days later, President Abraham Lincoln fell to an assassin’s bullet while attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. He died in the early morning hours of the following day, April 15, 1865.

The American Civil War – the War Between the States – cost nearly 1,100,000 in casualties and claimed almost 625,000 lives.

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Before the war, the country was referred to as the “united states are;”
after the war, the country was referred to as the “United States is.”
~ Shelby Foote, Historian

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5 thoughts on “Battle of Gettysburg – The Aftermath

  1. very well done:-) As I sit here I hear everyone shooting fireworks, but as i read your post…it took me back…we all have family in our history that died/survived this war….peace is something I hope to see some day in my life:-)

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