Prelude to Gettysburg
One of the great debates of our Country's history and legacy is what scholars call "the two Civil Wars": the first a matter of campaigns, generals, and troop movements and the second focusing on the ways that the great conflict affected the daily rhythms of life on farms, and in communities.
Regardless, Gettysburg was the site of the largest battle ever fought on American soil and it involved a great deal more than the resources of one single, famous town.
In six counties near Gettysburg, civilians and militia answered the first call to arms and bravely endured relentless threats and the destruction of their property. Here, women raised funds to support the war and nursed tens of thousands of wounded soldiers left behind from the battles fought in the orchards and fields. Interestingly, part of the battlefield was owned by Freeman, Abraham Brien. Although a number of Gettysburg area Black men joined volunteer militias or USCT regiments during the war, no Black veteran was interred in Soldiers' National Cemetery until 1884. Still, free men and freed men alike enlisted to fight for their own rights, and children sacrificed their security, sometimes their lives. Their combined efforts provided the turning point for the Union cause.
Gettysburg ShowdownLearning of the approach of the Union army through Maryland the Confederate army canceled its effort to capture Harrisburg and began to concentrate toward Gettysburg in preparation for a showdown battle. The events of that battle forms the treasure chest of offerings at Gettysburg National Military Park.
After the battle the Confederate army retreated along different roads through Adams County. The pursuit by Union cavalry sparked several engagements, including a fierce skirmish at Monterey Pass, in the small community of Blue Ridge Summit near the border of Franklin and Adams county.
In a matter of three days, 165,000 troops converged on the small community of Gettysburg. By July 4, as the armies retreated, they left behind 22,000 injured soldiers (out of the 51,000 total human casualties), thousands of dead horses, ravaged fields, undrinkable water and little to no food. Gettysburg, a town of 2,400, found that every farm field was a graveyard and churches, public buildings, and even private homes were hospitals. Well past the date of President Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, men like Basil Biggs were still assisting moving slain soldiers to proper burials. It would be years before the southern soldiers' families made their way to Gettysburg to take their husbands, sons, and brothers home. This small southern Pennsylvania community would never be the same - for in those three hot days in July 1863, Gettysburg became the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy" and the turning point of the Civil War.