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Gettysburg National Military Park and National Cemetery commemorate the pivotal Civil War battle

November 2022

Gettysburg National Military Park, near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is an open-air museum that preserves and tells the story of the pivotal battle fought during the American Civil War. Located at the actual battle site, the story of the battle, fought from 1 – 3 July 1863, is told using historical plaques, commemorative monuments to regiments that fought in the battle, statues of some of the significant participants and assorted period artifacts.

Managed by the National Park Service, Gettysburg National Military Park features 1,320 monuments and markers, 410 cannons, 148 historic buildings, and 41 miles of roads. It is the largest concentration of monuments in the United States.

Gettysburg is where the Union’s Army of the Potomac, led by Major General George Meade, faced off against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Lee hoped that by invading the Northern States as far as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or even to Philadelphia, this would put pressure on Northern politicians to abandoned their support for continuing the war. However, MGen Meade succeeded in stopping Gen Lee, forcing him to retreat back to Virginia. It proved to be a turning point in the war, along with a concurrent victory at the Siege of Vicksburg. which up to that point, had been going in favour of the Confederates.

By the time the three-day battle was over, between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in the three-day battle, the costliest in U.S. history.

One of the most notable engagements of the battle occurred on the third day, when an infantry assault by 12,500 Confederates against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge was repelled by the Union Army; an engagement known as Pickett’s Charge.

44th and 12th New York Infantry Monument – The Battle of Little Round Top

The largest regimental monument on the Gettysburg battlefield is the “Castle,” a monument to the 12th and 44th New York Infantry Regiments, who fought in the Battle of Little Round Top, an unsuccessful assault by Confederate soldiers against the Union Army’s left flank on 2 July 1863.

In one of the most well-known engagements of the Battle of Little Round Top, the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, led a dramatic downhill bayonet charge against the 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment. Thirty years after the battle, Colonel Chamberlain received the Medal of Honour for “daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and ordering the advance position on the Great Round Top.”

A hard-fought battle, it came at a heavy price, especially for the Confederate forces. Of the 2,996 Union troops engaged at Little Round Top, there were 134 killed, 402 wounded and 29 missing. Confederate losses were at 279 killed, 868 wounded and 219 missing, out of 4,864 soldiers.

Amongst the Union dead were Brigadier General Strong Vincent, command of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps, Colonel Patrick O’Rourke, commander of the 140th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and Brigadier General Stephen Weed, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps.

The 28-foot by 21-foot castle, with a 44-foot-tall tower (representing the 44th NY), is comprised of Prospect Hill undressed granite blocks and a stone base. Two arched entrances on the front and back of the castle lead to the interior chamber, which is 12 feet square (representing the 12th NY), has a spiral staircase to the 2nd floor observation deck with parapets. Atop the tower is a Maltese Cross, the symbol of the Fifth Army Corps. It was dedicated on 3 July 1893.

Other monuments at Little Round Top:

  • Memorial tablet to the Signal Corps, embedded in the rock of Little Round Top.
  • Monument for the 30th Infantry, First Pennsylvania Reserves, at the base of Little Round Top.
  • The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment monument, the most popular monument at Gettysburg National Military Park.
  • Monument to Colonel Patrick O’Rorke and the 140th New York on Little Round Top.
  • Monument of Major General Gouverneur Warren overlooking the battlefield from Little Round Top.
  • Monument to the 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers at Little Round Top.

The Pennsylvania State Memorial

The Pennsylvania State Memorial commemorates the 34,530 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. Officially dedicated on 27 September 1910, although not completed in 1914, it is the largest of the state monuments at Gettysburg, standing at 110 feet tall.

Situated along the Union battle line on Cemetery Ridge, the memorial features a square, granite pedestal, 100 feet on each side, with bronze tablets on its exterior face that list the names of the 34,530 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought in the battle.

The granite pavilion, which consists of four corner towers linked by arches that form an arcus quadrifrons, or 4-sided triumphal arch, sits atop the pedestal. Engaged Ionic columns at the corners and flanking the arches form niches for the eight bronze statues, two on each of the four sides, of President Abraham Lincoln, along with Governor Andrew Curtin, General George Meade, General John F. Reynolds, General Winfred Scott Hancock, General David McMurtrie Gregg, General Alfred Pleasonton and General David B. Birney. Additionally, a white marble Shield & Laurel Wreath bas-relief sits in the niche above each statue.

The memorial’s entrance on the west side has a wide flight of steps leading up to the pedestal terrace, with half-flights of steps beneath each arch leading into the pavilion’s 60 square foot central hall.

An observation level sits atop the parapet, below the dome base, which is accessed by a spiral staircase.

The pavilion is capped with a granite dome, featuring a 21-foot-tall bronze Nike figure, the Goddess of Victory and Peace, atop the dome. She holds a sword in one hand and a palm branch, a symbol of victory through peace, in the other.

The stunning monument is also adorned with four marble bas-relief panels along the four sides of the parapet depicting Artillery, Cavalry, Infantry and Signal Corps, along with a pair of white marble bas-relief goddess figures in the spandrels above each of the four arches.

The perimeter wall of the pedestal features 75 bronze plaques memorializing Pennsylvania regiments who fought at Gettysburg and listing the names of all the soldiers

The inscriptions flanking the front entrance:

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
In honor of her sons who on this field fought for the Preservation of the Union July 1.2. & 3. 1863

Pennsylvania at Gettysburg
69 Regiments Infantry
9 Regiments Cavalry
7 Batteries Artillery
Total Present 34530
Killed and mortally wounded 1182
Wounded 3177 Missing 860

Some of the other monuments found at Gettysburg National Military Park include:

Gettysburg National Cemetery

Any trip to Gettysburg National Military Park would not be complete without visiting the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the site of the iconic Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln.

Established in the months that followed the battle, a portion of the battleground was set aside for the Gettysburg National Cemetery, Soldiers’ National Cemetery, the final resting place of the over 3,500 soldiers who died at the Battle of Gettysburg .

The focal point of Gettysburg National Cemetery is the Soldiers’ National Monument, erected in 1869, a 60-foot-tall granite monument. Surrounding the monument are concentric semicircles of graves, divided into 18 sections for Union states, a section for U.S. Regulars and 3 sections for unknown soldiers.

At the official dedication ceremony on 19 November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave his historic Gettysburg Address to honour the fallen soldiers, along with redefining the purpose of the war.

The Gettysburg Address:

“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.”

Abraham Lincoln

A virtual tour of the battlefield, making the same stops as the self-guided auto tour, can be found here:

https://www.nps.gov/gett/learn/photosmultimedia/virtualtour.htm

Sacrifice of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Gettysburg, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_National_Cemetery, https://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/gettysburg-photo-gallery/little-round-top-photo-gallery/little-round-top-from-the-valley-of-death, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/44th_New_York_Monument, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Round_Top, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_State_Memorial,_Gettysburg, https://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/pennsylvania/state-of-pennsylvania, https://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=61BF97F8-E72C-FA52-DB3586E03BEB60BC, https://www.nps.gov/gett/learn/historyculture/cemetery.htm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_monuments_of_the_Gettysburg_Battlefield.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/gettysburg-national-military-park-and-national-cemetery-commemorate-the-pivotal-civil-war-battle/

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