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Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg Battle Of – July 1st 1863

The battle of Gettysburg is the most well known battle of the American Civil War. The battle lasted for three days from July 1st to July 3rd 1863. When it was over more than 8,000 soldiers on both sides would be dead.

The Battle of Gettysburg is considered a turning point in the Civil War because it was the last time the Confederates were able to threaten the North. For almost two years after Gettysburg the south was forced onto the defensive ultimately losing the war.

Gettysburg is important because it was the high water mark of the Confederacy.

Battle of Gettysburg Facts

  • Location: Adams County Pennsylvania
  • Campaign: Gettysburg Campaign (June-August 1863)
  • Date of Battle: July 1st to July 3rd 1863
  • Commanders: Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade vs Confederate General Robert E. Lee
  • Forces Engaged: 158,300 total (US 83,289; CS 75,054)
  • Casualties (Killed, Captured and Missing): 51,000 total (US 23,000; CS 28,000)

Gettysburg Battle Who Won

The Union army won the battle of Gettysburg defeating Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.

Visiting Gettysburg

If you are planning a visit to Gettysburg it is certainly worth the trip. There are tons of things to do and see.

When you arrive at the battlefield the first thing to do is to stop at the visitors center. There is a ton of battlefield information, original Civil War items on display, an amazing 360 degree diorama of the battle, and a really nice gift shop.

The Gettysburg battlefield is huge, so you cannot realistically walk it. If you just want to explore the battlefield on your own be sure to pick up a driving tour map available in the visitor center. The map lists all of the important locations you’ll want to visit. The visitor center also offers guided tours. These are great because you will learn lots of information from the tour guide about each location you visit.

Gettysburg is not only great because of the battlefield but the actual town of Gettysburg offers a lot of things to do and see as well, restaurants, mini-golf, shops etc… I go there all the time and it never disappoints.

Gettysburg Battle Of – The Beginning

Arriving at the Gettysburg battlefield on June 30th 1863, Union General John Buford was in command of two brigades of cavalry. These were the first Union troops to arrive at Gettysburg. Buford was never ordered to defend the town he did it on his own accord.

Dismounting his troops to fight on foot Buford set his men in a defensive position on McPherson’s Ridge. He knew his men were greatly outnumbered and could never repel a Confederate attack so his main goal was simply to buy some time while waiting for the main body of the Union army to arrive. There was no fighting at this point just observation.

If you’d like to learn more about the first day of the battle of Gettysburg check out Gettysburg–The First Day

Gettysburg Day One - General John Buford observed the first Confederate troops from this cupola

General John Buford observed the first Confederate troops from this cupola

The next morning on July 1, 1863 Confederate General Heth ordered his infantry division to attack the Union cavalry that was defending the town. The Confederates advanced with two brigades led by James Archer and Joseph Davis (nephew of Jefferson Davis).

8th N.Y. 1st Brigade Cavalry Monument

8th N.Y. 1st Brigade Cavalry Monument

The rebels thought the Union troops would be easily defeated but that was not the case, they fought very bravely and held the rebels off for two hours before Union General John Reynolds arrived with his veteran infantry corps.

Davis's Brigade

Davis’s Brigade

No sooner than Reynolds had arrived at the battle of Gettysburg he was shot in the back of the head and killed instantly. There is debate as to who actually killed Reynolds. Was it a Confederate sharpshooter, regular infantry or even friendly fire? No one knows for sure, however the most widely accepted theory is a Confederate sharpshooter.

Monument marks the location where General John Reynolds was killed

Monument marks the location where General John Reynolds was killed

Despite his death Reynolds’ men fought hard and eventually drove the rebels from McPherson’s ridge inflicting heavy casualties on the rebels. Davis’s troops were trapped in an unfinished railway cut. They were essentially in a deep hole, which was not a good defensive position. They took many casualties before retreating.

6th N.Y. Cavalry

6th N.Y. Cavalry

As for Archer he led an attack against the famous Union Iron Brigade. His men suffered heavy casualties in this assault and many were taken prisoner including Archer himself who was found hiding in some bushes.

At around two o’clock in the afternoon Ewell’s corps suddenly without orders attacked the Union line in their right flank. This proved to be a great opportunity for the Confederates and Lee immediately seized it and ordered a general attack all along the line.

Gettysburg cannons in position on the first day of battle

Gettysburg cannons in position on the first day of battle

The Union troops were outmatched. They broke from battle fleeing through the town of Gettysburg from the pursuing rebels. Union forces were being defeated all along their line prompting General Howard to order a general retreat to higher ground on Cemetery ridge. Lee realized very quickly that if the Union could establish itself on this ridge it would be in an excellent defensive position, which would be very difficult to dislodge.

Lee suggested to Ewell that Cemetery ridge be taken if it was “practicable” Ewell decided it was not and did not even attempt to take it. Despite the urging of his subordinates Ewell refused. Thus passed one of the greatest opportunities the Confederates had to decide the battle very early on.

Over on the Union side General Hancock had arrived and taken command from General Howard. He was able to calm everybody down and it was he who determined that they were in an excellent defensive position. They would stay right where they were and fight this battle.

Gettysburg Battle Of – July 2nd 1863

On the morning of July 2, 1863 the battle of Gettysburg entered its second day. The Union and Confederate armies starred at each other across an open field. During the night both sides received more troops.

The Union forces now numbered around 60,000 while the Confederates had about 50,000 troops on the Gettysburg battlefield.

At 11:00 Lee made his move. He ordered Longstreet to attack south up the Emmitsburg road toward Little and Big Round Tops which appeared to be empty of Union troops. An attack here would strike the Union in its left flank.

Since General Meade would be focused on the Confederates at Culp’s Hill which he could clearly see, this maneuver against his left flank would come as a bit of a surprise. This is what Lee had assumed would be the case.

The man in charge of leading the attack, General Longstreet was not at all convinced this was a good idea. He thought it would be better if he and his men snuck around the Union lines and came up behind them, thus forcing the Yankees to attack them.

If you would like to read more about the second day of the battle of Gettysburg check out Gettysburg–The Second Day

Gettysburg Day Two - Off in the distance is Little Round Top and Big Round Top

Off in the distance is Little Round Top and Big Round Top

Longstreet was hoping that Lee would change his mind about this attack and cancel it. He therefore took his time getting to the attack positions ordered by Lee. It took him and his troops several hours in fact to march south to where the attack would begin.

When the southern troops finally reached their attack position they quickly discovered that an entire Union corps was standing in their way. General Daniel Sickles led this corps. Sickles had on his own without orders moved his men well ahead of the rest of the Union line setting up along the Emmitsburg road which offered slightly higher elevation.

By doing this he had separated himself from his own army and was in a very exposed position that could easily be attacked and outflanked. Seeing this the Confederates had no choice but to attack this bulge in the Union line.

Union General Warren on Little Round Top

Union General Warren on Little Round Top

It wasn’t until around 4:00 in the afternoon that the Confederates finally launched their attack. General John Bell Hood and Lafayette Mclaws led the two Confederate divisions taking place in this attack. The Confederate attack would be en echelon, which would start on their right flank and swing left to hopefully outflank and roll up the Federal lines.

Memorial Tablet for the Signal Corps on Little Round Top

Memorial Tablet for the Signal Corps on Little Round Top

At this same time Lee ordered General Ewell to make a “demonstration” against Culp’s Hill to tie up as many Union troops as possible and even make a full fledged attack toward Culp’s Hill if the opportunity presented itself. This “demonstration” would prevent the Union from shifting troops to the south to reinforce their lines.

Meanwhile the main attack in the south began starting with an artillery bombardment of the Union lines. General Hood and his men began the attack. The Confederates entered Devil’s Den, which saw very bloody fighting often hand to hand. The Confederates fought their way through Devil’s Den and on to Little Round Top. It was here that they met the men of the 20th Maine under the command of Joshua Chamberlain.

Devil's Den as seen from Little Round Top

Devil’s Den as seen from Little Round Top

Closer look at Devil's Den from Little Round Top

Closer look at Devil’s Den from Little Round Top

The Confederates charged the 20th Maine three times but were beaten back each time. After the third attempt they had enough and began moving off of Little Round Top.

General Strong Vincent was mortally wounded on this spot on Little Round Top

General Strong Vincent was mortally wounded on this spot on Little Round Top

Seeing the rebels withdraw Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets and swept the rebels from the hill.

Another view of Devil's Den from Little Round Top

Another view of Devil’s Den from Little Round Top

Chamberlain would go on to great fame for his actions during the battle of Gettysburg. Retreating back to Devil’s Den the Confederates continued to return fire with the 20th Maine though now they were simply trying to hold their ground.

Union defenses on Culp's Hill at Gettysburg

Union defenses on Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg

Meanwhile at around 5:00 pm Mclaws began his attack into the peach orchard easily overwhelming the Union troops defending the area. The rebels pushed the Union troops into a wheatfield where the fighting turned into a hand-to-hand melee which was extremely bloody on both sides.

View of Gettysburg from Observation Post on top of Culp's Hill

View of Gettysburg from Observation Post on top of Culp’s Hill

The rebels sustained many casualties in the fighting coupled with more Federal troops being rushed to the area the attack failed and the rebels were forced to withdraw.

At around 6:00pm Anderson began his attack toward the Union lines. General Hancock was the commander of the Union center at Gettysburg. He had weakened his own lines in order to support General Sickles who was receiving the full force of the Confederate attacks.

Weakening his lines General Hancock took a big risk because it was at this weakened spot that Anderson attacked. The rebels had initial success even reaching the top of Cemetery Ridge, if only briefly staying there. Hancock out of sheer desperation after seeing this ordered the 1st Minnesota regiment who had just arrived in the area to attack the rebels.

They of course did what they were ordered to do and in doing so suffered over 80% casualties. Their bravery was not in vain however because it bought Hancock enough time to reform his defensive position and drive the Confederates back to where they came from.

View from Observation Post on top of Culp's Hill

View from Observation Post on top of Culp’s Hill

Gettysburg day two was not over yet. At around 7:00pm Confederate forces began their attack against the Union right flank. This was the “demonstration” the Lee had ordered Ewell to make. The attack began with some success. The Confederates took some ground and inflicted many casualties on the Federal troops however the Union was able to reinforce their lines and the rebel attackers received no additional support so their attacks eventually petered out and failed.

Big Round Top as seen from Culp's Hill

Big Round Top as seen from Culp’s Hill

This last attacked ended the brutal second days fighting at Gettysburg. Lee came very close to breaking the Union lines. Fortunately for the Union he failed. Casualties were very high on both sides, each losing roughly 10,000 men each. A bit shaken up by this Meade called a meeting that night to take a vote with his corps commanders as to whether they should remain at Gettysburg and fight, or if they should withdraw. It was a unanimous decision. They would stay and fight.

Gettysburg Battle Of – July 3rd 1863

Gettysburg Artillery

Gettysburg Artillery

July 3, 1863 was the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was Lee’s last chance to break the Union lines. His plan was to charge right through the center of the Union line and split them in two.

During the night both sides were continually reinforced bringing both of their troop strengths back up to where they had been at the beginning of the battle of Gettysburg.

Gettysburg Day Three – Pickett’s Charge

Early in the morning the Union struck first. General Slocum attacked Confederate troops at Culp’s Hill to regain territory lost the previous day. This fight lasted for a good 8 hours finally forcing the Confederates to retreat off of Culp’s Hill.

General George Pickett during the Civil War

General George Pickett during the Civil War

While this was taking place Lee was planning the main attack at Gettysburg. This was of course the famous Pickett’s Charge. General George Pickett and his division had just arrived on the night of July 2nd. Followed by the arrival of Jeb Stuart and his cavalry. Lee was not happy with Jeb Stuart because of his long absence from the battle of Gettysburg, but quickly overcame his anger and set out the plan for the day’s attack.

General James Longstreet would command Pickett’s division. Pickett would command his three brigades and would also be in command of two brigades from Anderson’s division. On the left would be four brigades under the command of Pettigrew, followed up by Pender’s brigades under the command of Trimble.

This was a combined force of 12,500 men that stretched for about one mile.

General Longstreet was very distressed with this attack at Gettysburg. He did not think it would be successful. he even tried to convince Lee to call off the attack. Longstreet argued that it would require double the amount of men and even then it was questionable whether it would succeed. His effort fell on deaf ears. Lee was determined to make the attack; he believed it had a good chance of success.

To learn more about the third day of the battle of Gettysburg read Amongst Immortals Raging, Gettysburg’s Third Day Begins

Why Did Robert E. Lee Want to Attack

Despite the fact that the attacks of the previous day had all failed and many more troops were used in those attacks. Lee reasoned that those attacks were at

Confederate cavalry leader Jeb Stuart

Confederate cavalry leader Jeb Stuart

different points on the battlefield and were not done at the same time therefore they failed.

Essentially the attacks of July 2nd were many small attacks where Pickett’s Charge would be one massive attack aimed at one point in the Union line preceded with a massive artillery bombardment.

Jeb Stuart and his cavalry would also play a critical role in the attack. Stuart was to circle around the Union lines at Gettysburg and while the infantry was attacking the center of the Union forces Stuart and his cavalry would attack the Union center from the rear thus joining with their comrades and splitting the Federal forces in two.

If this attack were to succeed the Confederates would undoubtedly win the battle of Gettysburg. General Lee felt confident it would be successful.

Confederate Artillery Bombardment

It was 1:00pm when the Confederate artillery began the first phase of the battle plan. Over 150 guns opened fire on the Union center. The Federals returned fire and the most massive artillery bombardment during the Civil War had begun. The sound was so loud the gunners ears bled. The barrage was so loud it could be heard as far away as Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Confederate Artillery at Gettysburg

Confederate Artillery at Gettysburg looking over the field of Pickett’s Charge

For over an hour the artillery duel continued. At a little past 2:00pm the Union began to slowly stop firing. This was a trick to deceive the Confederates into believing they had knocked out all the Union guns. The trick worked and at 3:00pm the Rebels stopped firing. They were also dangerously low on ammunition and needed to conserve it as much as possible.

It was at this time the commander of the Confederate artillery pleaded with Pickett to attack now otherwise we will not be able to support you. Pickett rushed to Longstreet asking for permission to begin the attack. So despondent over the attack, which he knew would fail, Longstreet could do nothing more than simply nod his head and wave his hand to give the order to Pickett.

Pickett’s Charge Begins

 Pickett's Charge - View from the Confederate Starting Position

Pickett’s Charge – View from the Confederate Starting Position

Now was the moment that over 12,000 rebel troops emerged from the tree line and lined up in formation for the fateful march. Their main focus was a little copse of trees behind the Federal lines, which you can still see today.

Gettysburg Day Three - Copse of Trees

Copse of Trees at Gettysburg

General Pickett was in very high spirits and truly believed his men would be able to break the Union lines. The moral of his men was also high because they also believed the Federals would break. Pickett shouted to his men that they were all Virginians and to remember what they were fighting for. With this the Confederates started forward.

The long gray line advanced toward those copse of trees at a steady pace. At first all guns were silent including the Federals. The Union troops were in awe seeing this vast force of humanity slowly but steadily approaching them.

Halfway across the field Pickett’s division (which was not personally led by Pickett because he had stayed behind and was watching the battle with the rest of the commanders) performed a left oblique to close the gap between them and the rest of the units.

Pickett’s Charge Comes Under Attack

This was when the Union opened up with their artillery on the advancing rebels. They fired from both Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top, slamming into both flanks.

The Confederates finally reached the Emmitsburg road only to be confronted with a simple fence. This simple fence however turned out to be a very difficult obstacle. The Confederates were now in rifle range. They had to jump this fence and in doing so made easy targets for Union troops, the fence also broke up the formations and slowed the advance significantly.

Picketts Charge

Picketts Charge – This is what a Union soldier saw. In the center is the fence that runs along the Emittsburg Road.

Many of the Confederates never advanced beyond the Emmitsburg road, pinned down by heavy Union rifle fire. Several hundred of them did keep advancing and bravely pushed forward toward a low stonewall which was just in front of the little copse of trees, the goal of the southern attack. They had finally reached the Union line. This was the moment where the battle would either be won or lost.

Gettysburg Day Three – The Bloody Angle

Bloody Angle Plaque - High Water Mark of the Confederacy

Bloody Angle Plaque – High Water Mark of the Confederacy

The rebels rushed the stonewall and brutal hand-to-hand combat quickly ensued at an angle at the wall. It was now that Confederate General Lewis Armistead famously put his hat on the tip of his sword and urged his men forward. Pushing the Union defenders back the rebels went forward over the stonewall.

Bloody Angle - Confederate Side of Wall

The Confederate View of the Angle as they approached

Bloody Angle - Union Side of Wall

Bloody Angle – Union Side of Wall

Armistead only had about 300 men following him at this point but still they pushed on. Here was an artillery battery commanded by Colonel Alonzo Cushing and while his men were falling back Cushing ran up to one of his guns to “give them one more shot” which turned out to be his last words. He was immediately shot in the chin and killed instantly falling over his gun.

Gettysburg Day Three - Cushing Monument

This is the spot where Cushing was killed

High Water Mark of the Confederacy

At this very moment was the “high water mark of the Confederacy” at the “ bloody angle”. This was the closet point the South ever came to winning the Civil War.

The rebels reached Cushing’s guns and Armistead now with his hat falling to the hilt of his sword urged his men to turn the guns on the Yankees.

Cushing's Guns at Gettysburg

Cushing’s Guns at Gettysburg – The Rebels desperately tried to capture these

Before achieving this however Armistead was shot three times and fell to the ground. His wounds were not believed to be fatal, he was captured and taken to a Union field hospital for treatment. He died on July 5th. The cause of death is not officially known.

Union Army Counterattacks

The Union quickly poured in fresh troops to fix their broken line and counterattacked.

Jeb Stuart and his cavalry attempted to meet the infantry attacking the Federals in the rear of their line. Stuart never showed up. He and his men ran into Federal cavalry commanded by George Armstrong Custer and were defeated forcing them to withdraw.

The remaining men of Pickett’s Charge were overwhelmed by Union troops and forced to retreat. The rebels fled back to their original lines. It was all over. Pickett’s charge had failed.

After Pickett’s Charge

The attack was a disaster, over half of the 12,500 troops that started the attack were gone. They were dead, wounded, or missing. Pickett’s division only had 800 men left out of 5,000.

Gettysburg Day Three - Union and Confederate Dead

Gettysburg Union and Confederate dead

Lee took full blame for this failure and greeted the troops as they returned back to the Confederate lines. He tried to encourage them to pick up rifles and prepare for a Federal counterattack, which he believed, would be forthcoming.

The next day July 4th the two armies glared at each other across the open field. Lee still thinking General Meade would attack prepared a defensive line and hoped for an attack to come so he could do to the Union what the Union did to his men.

Meade however had other ideas and decided that his troops had done more than enough at Gettysburg and did not launch an attack. With that the battle of Gettysburg ended. Four months after the battle Abraham Lincoln gave one of his most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address.

On the night of July 4th General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia left the Gettysburg battlefield forever. Against President Lincoln’s wishes General Meade did not attack the defeated Confederates and finish the job at Gettysburg.

He essentially let the Confederates retreat, which ultimately led to his replacement as commander of the Army of the Potomac. The Union suffered 23,000 casualties and the Confederates suffered 28,000 casualties.

Battle of Gettysburg2020-02-09T22:42:53-05:00

Civil War Uniform

The Civil War uniform for both Northern troops and Southern troops was one of the most basic and important things a solider could have. Uniforms were more than just clothes to wear.

They showed your friends and enemies alike what side you were on, they showed what branch of service you were in Infantry, Cavalry or Artillery.

Union Soldier Uniform

The United States controlled the factories and had massive industrial capacity which was able to produce high quality wool uniforms for all of their troops.

United States troops looked like soldiers, they all looked the same and were outfitted very well. One of the most recognizable Union uniforms were worn by the Zouaves. Their uniforms consisted of a red cap and bright red pants.

civil war union uniform

Union Uniform

A typical Union soldier uniform during the Civil War consisted of:

  • light blue pants
  • blue overcoat with a cape
  • dark blue jacket
  • heavy shoes
  • woolen socks
  • a cap called a kepi
  • gray woolen shirt
  • knapsack
  • haversack

Along with the Civil War uniform, Union soldiers wore a belt which held a cap box, cartridge box, bayonet with scabbard, canteen, and a blanket roll which contained a wool blanket, a shelter half and a rubber blanket and poncho.

The Confederate Civil War Uniform

The Confederacy was not an industrial powerhouse, they did not have many manufacturing plants that could easily create thousands of uniforms. The south was primarily an agricultural society.

civil war confederate uniform

Confederate Uniform

They had plenty of cotton for uniforms, they were also made of wool and jean but they didn’t have the means of producing proper uniforms in large quantities like the Union did. The Confederate uniform was usually a hodgepodge and often the soldiers looked very different from each other.

Ideally Confederate uniforms would look like Union uniforms just in a different color. In reality the common soldiers of the south had poor quality uniforms that were inferior to their Union counterparts. Officers uniforms were generally of much higher quality than the typical infantry soldier.

Confederate Uniforms

Confederate soldiers traveled very light and did not want to be encumbered by carrying a lot of items. Their uniforms were as bare bones as possible. A typical Confederate Civil War uniform consisted of:

  • slouch hat
  • jacket
  • shirt
  • one pair of pants
  • one pair of underwear
  • one pair of shoes
  • one pair of socks
  • blanket
  • rubber blanket
  • haversack

Confederate soldiers typically did not carry a knapsack, they fit everything they could into their haversacks, knapsacks were far too large and cumbersome to carry on a long march.

They did not carry cap boxes and cartridge boxes opting instead to use their pockets to hold their caps and cartridges.

Many of them also threw away their canteens in favor of a tin cup, which was smaller, could be used to boil water and was more convenient than lugging around a canteen.

Confederate soldiers traveled much lighter than their Northern counterparts. This made marching and fighting much easier but it came at a cost.

Rebel soldiers would often have to capture Union provisions, clothing and weapons in order to sustain themselves.

If you are interested in reading more about the different uniforms from both sides some fantastic choices are

Don Troiani’s Regiments & Uniforms of the Civil War
The Civil War Catalog
An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Uniforms of the 19th Century

As the war progressed it became increasingly more difficult for the Confederacy to produce and supply uniforms to their men.

Southern uniforms during the Civil War were usually dyed to make them gray or sometimes brown, this was done to at least try to give uniformity throughout the army.

Union soldiers often referred to confederate soldiers as Butternuts or gray jackets because of the grayish brown color of their uniforms.

Southern soldiers also wore short jackets and vests as well as shirts and underwear that were usually mailed to them from home. Shoes were also a major problem for the Rebel army. They didn’t have enough of them and the ones they did have were of very poor quality.

A soldiers haversack or knapsack if he carried one held their rations, an extra pair of socks, writing paper, stamps and envelopes, ink and pen, razor, toothbrush, comb and any other items that each individual soldier decided to keep with them.

Civil War Uniforms Identify Branch of Service

Civil War Uniforms identified individual soldiers and the units they belonged to. Identification included buttons, colors, and rank markings.

Civil War Uniform Union ButtonsConfederate Civil War Uniforms Buttons

Confederate Soldiers were also identified by the color of the hat they wore. Early war kepis in the south used solid colors.

These were later changed to a thin band with the color of the branch wrapped around the base of the cap to identify the area of service.All uniforms regardless of being Union or Confederate had prominent markings on them which identified whether a soldier was an enlisted man or an officer.

Uniforms Identify Rank

Confederate and Union soldier ranks were identified with chevrons.

Confederate Civil War Uniforms ChevronsCivil War Uniform Union Chevrons

Union Officer Insignia

Union officers were identified by epaulets and shoulder straps.

Civil War Uniform Union EpaulettesUnion Shoulder Straps

Confederate Officer Insignia

The Confederate army identified their officers with collar badges and sleeve badges.

Confederate Civil War Uniforms Collar BadgesConfederate Civil War Uniforms Sleeve Badges

Did the Confederates Attack Gettysburg to Capture Shoes?

The Confederate army was always in dire need of new shoes. They wore out quickly and they couldn’t produce enough to keep up with demand. If they could capture them they did. There has been a persistent myth about why General Robert E. Lee decided to attack Gettysburg Pennsylvania.

The myth says that he chose Gettysburg because it was believed there was a large number of shoes located in the town. This was not the case, there were no shoes in any quantity in Gettysburg that would have supplied the Army of Northern Virginia.

The reason this myth occurred was because on June 30th 1863 Confederate General Henry Heth ordered General Pettigrew to go to Gettysburg and search for army supplies (shoes especially). This order from General Heth is what started the myth about shoes at Gettysburg.

The problem with the theory is that Confederate General Jubal Early and his men were actually in Gettysburg four days earlier on June 26th 1863. General Early demanded that the authorities hand over supplies.

The authorities of Gettysburg claimed that they had very few supplies to give them. The Confederates then searched the town for anything of value before deciding there was not much to take.

If there was a large quantity of shoes in Gettysburg and there was a Confederate mission to find a large quantity of shoes, General Early would have certainly informed General Heth if he had found or captured a large stash of shoes.

Two days later on June 28th General Early and his men entered the town of York, Pennsylvania. Again they demanded supplies.

This time however, they received from the authorities between 1,200 – 1,500 pairs of shoes, 1,000 hats, 1,000 pairs of socks, and $28,600.

If Gettysburg had shoes General Early would have known about it.

Why Did the Gettysburg Battle Happen

The reason the Confederates ended up at Gettysburg is because all roads in that area lead to Gettysburg, it was only natural the Confederate and Union armies would find themselves meeting there after crossing into Pennsylvania.

Civil War Uniform2020-02-09T22:51:53-05:00

Civil War Weapons

There were many types of Civil War weapons ranging from muskets to ironclads.

In the roughly 80 years between the American Revolution and the start of the Civil War, weapon technology had advanced greatly.

Despite advancements in technology the arsenals in both the Union and Confederacy were still mostly stocked with the old style smooth-bore muskets.

These were the same types of muskets primarily used during the Revolutionary War almost a century before. These were fine guns during their time however they had no place on a Civil War battlefield.

In 1861 after hostilities had erupted into all out war, both sides quickly began to convert from the old smooth-bore muskets to the new Civil War rifles.

Civil War Rifle

Civil War Rifle

These were rifled muskets. The rifling in these new guns put a spin on the projectile as it left the barrel which gave the rifles great accuracy. It’s like throwing a football.

The new rifles also used a new type of ammunition. Instead of the old round ball used in smooth-bore muskets, the new rifled muskets used a minie ball.

This projectile has the same pointed shape as today’s modern bullets and was much more accurate and inflicted much more damage than round ball ammunition.

Examples of Civil War Rifles

Sharps Rifle

Spencer Rifle

Springfield Model 1861

Henry Rifle

Of all of the Civil War weapons the rifled musket was the most widely used weapon of the entire war and in fact more than 90% of the casualties during the war were caused by rifles, this figure also includes Civil War Pistols

You’ve seen the scene where hundreds or thousands of soldiers on either side all nicely lined up firing into each other until one side decides it’s had enough and runs away.

Those tactics were fine and necessary during the Revolutionary war when both sides were using smooth-bore muskets. However with the advent of rifles these tactics became suicidal. The commanders on both sides were not quick to adapt their tactics to the new technology which resulted in huge casualty rates.

Civil War Weapons: Artillery

Civil War Cannons were the lions of the battlefield. They were big, loud, and packed a punch. They were instrumental in defeating General Robert E. Lee at the battle of Gettysburg. They inflicted huge casualties on the 12,500 men who attacked the Union lines during Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd 1863.

Civil War Cannon at Fort Woodbury, Virginia

Civil War Cannon at Fort Woodbury, Virginia

Examples of Civil War Artillery

Parrot Rifle

Whitworth Cannon

Napoleon Cannon

Ordnance Rifle

Every major battle involved the use of artillery. They were instrumental in the fighting for both sides. Despite this all the artillery fired throughout the entire war only inflicted roughly 5% of casualties on both sides.

The generals loved artillery and they certainly had a psychological effect on soldiers who had to face them in battle.

Civil War Weapons: Bayonets

The Civil War Bayonet was a sharpened piece of steel that would attach to the end of a rifle. The bayonet had many uses during the Civil War from fighting to opening cans it was always a useful tool for every soldier to have.

Civil War Soldier with Bayonet

Civil War Soldier with Bayonet

Hand to hand fighting did occur in several battles during the war in which the bayonet was used. Some famous examples of this were the Union attacks at Fort Wagner, the 20th Maine attacking and chasing the Confederates down Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and during the Battle of the Crater.

While the bayonet saw fighting in these and other battles soldiers more often than not used the bayonet for more practical purposes. Such as cutting meat, stirring food, cooking food over a campfire, or using it as a can opener.

Civil War Weapons: Swords

Civil War Swords

Civil War Swords

Civil War Swords are a recognizable symbol of the Civil War. However with the advent of much more sophisticated and powerful gunpowder weapons the sword was mostly relegated to more of a ceremony weapon for the officers.

While swords were used in combat by officers leading their men. It was the cavalry units that did most of the fighting with them.

They used a saber which is a curved sword, good for slashing. Even this however was very limited. Cavalry troops preferred either pistols or carbines rather than a sword in combat.

Civil War Weapons: Ironclads

At the start of the Civil war, ships were made of wood and canvas. As the war progressed Civil War ships started to be clad in iron. They were still made of wood and used sails however they were much stronger and more impervious to attack.

These ships became known as ironclads. The USS Galena is an example of an ironclad ship.

Ironclad USS Essex in 1862

Ironclad USS Essex in 1862

Eventually both sides created ships made entirely covered in iron. The Confederate navy developed the CSS Virginia and the Union navy created the USS Monitor were the first of these new ships. They had no sails and were powered by steam engines. The monitor had a rotating turret as you would see on a modern day warship.

The CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor fought a monumental battle against each other at the Battle of Hampton Roads in Virginia on March 8th and 9th 1862.

CSS Virginia fights the USS Monitor

CSS Virginia fights the USS Monitor

Neither ship could get the advantage over each other and they were pretty evenly matched. The battle ended in a draw. It was however considered a Union victory since the USS Monitor prevented the CSS Virginia from attacking and breaking the Union naval blockade.

The new advancements in Civil War technology and Civil War weapons played a crucial part in the war. The Civil War was the first war to be fought on an industrial scale.

Massive amounts of Civil War weapons were produced and massive casualties were the result. These advancements helped to develop many new ideas and theories however the cost was high for the people on the receiving end of these new weapons.

Civil War Weapons2020-02-09T23:04:32-05:00

Anaconda Plan

The Anaconda Plan was the Union’s strategic plan to defeat the Confederacy at the start of the American Civil War.

The main purpose of the Anaconda plan was to defeat the rebellion by blockading southern ports and controlling the Mississippi river.

This would cut off and isolate the south from the outside world. The plan was developed by General Winfield Scott at the beginning of the Civil War following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12th 1861.

Anaconda Plan

The Anaconda Plan drawn in 1861

The strategic plan would have eventually ended the Civil War, ideally with minimal casualties on both sides.

It was a humanitarian way of defeating the rebellion as opposed to invading the south with massive numbers of troops, killing, burning and capturing everything in sight.

General Scott’s Anaconda Plan was a very passive way of defeating the Confederacy.

The problem General Scott had with his idea wasn’t the rebels. His problem was convincing fellow Union commanders that this was a good idea.

Pretty much all of the Union commanders disliked this plan and referred to it as being too complacent.

They wanted to attack the south and defeat them with the Union’s overwhelming military and industrial might.

General Scott’s plan would require patience and time. The other generals wanted to crush the rebellion quickly and permanently as soon as possible.

For an in-depth look at the tactics of the Civil War a great book is the Atlas of the Civil War: A Complete Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle

The Anaconda Plan Was a Good Idea

Complacent or not, the plan, if allowed full implementation and support from Northern military commanders would have saved many lives.

General Winfield Scott during the Civil War

Creator of the Anaconda Plan General Winfield Scott during the Civil War

Theoretically if the plan was implemented at the start of the war the giant battles fought later in the war may never have happened.

The south would have been slowly deprived of food and supplies by the Union blockade. Union armies would have taken up defensive positions in the North repelling any Confederate attacks.

The Union would have slowly and methodically cut the Confederacy in half by taking the Mississippi river and the rebellion would have withered on the vine from a lack of food and supplies and forced to surrender.

Key Elements in the Anaconda Plan

The Anaconda Plan consisted of two main objectives:

  • Naval blockade of all Confederate ports on the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Capture the Mississippi river in order to cut the Confederacy in two

Blockading all southern ports would cut off all trade to and from the rebellious states which would eventually cripple their economy.

The second objective of the plan was to transport roughly 60,000 Union troops in 40 steam transports escorted by upwards of 20 steam gunboats down the Mississippi river. Union troops would capture and hold forts and towns all along the Mississippi.

After these forts and towns along the Mississippi were captured, reinforcements would be sent to fortify and secure these areas. Troops would secure the Mississippi river down to the Gulf of Mexico which would link up with and keep their lines of communication open with the ongoing naval blockade.

The federal troops along the Mississippi river would be in a strong defensive position which would make it impossible for any Confederate forces to defeat them.

Capturing the Mississippi river would cut the Confederacy in half. Along with the naval blockade the Confederacy would be completely surrounded and cut off.

It would not be a quick victory but given enough time it had a chance of being successful. This was a good plan but it was never given the opportunity to be put into action.

General Winfield Scott and Staff Officers

General Winfield Scott and Staff Officers

General Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan was Rejected

Many people did not approve of the anaconda plan seeing it as too passive and slow to implement.

General George McClellan had a different idea and came up with his own plan. He wanted to raise an army of 80,000 men in Ohio (he was the military commander in Ohio at this time) and send them on an overland campaign through Virginia and capture Richmond.

Many people however including President Lincoln, Union generals, and most civilians believed all they needed to do was

  1. Raise an Army in Washington DC
  2. Invade Virginia
  3. Win One Decisive Battle
  4. Capture the Confederate Capital of Richmond
  5. War Would Be Over in a Few Weeks

These ideas were rejected by General Scott in favor of the Anaconda Plan.

President Lincoln Ordered Attack

This aggressive and optimistic plan was actually carried out. An army was raised in Washington DC and this army commanded by General Irvin McDowell triumphantly marched into Virginia.

The army even had civilians following along hoping to see a great battle which would lead to the inevitable Confederate defeat.

The Union army and civilians did get their decisive battle. July 21st 1861 was a beautiful sunny day, the civilians following the Federal army laid out blankets and sat casually on the grass.

People set up picnics, chatted, and had some laughs. They were eagerly anticipating the victory of the Union army which would ultimately lead to the end of the Confederacy. It was all very exciting.

As the battle began excitement was in the air. As the battle continued the excitement began to turn into concern, followed by some anxiety, and then horror.

This brand new army was rapidly running back toward the lounging civilians. People quickly realized the entire army was running away, the bystanders were now in the way getting tangled up with the retreating troops.

The surprise and panic of this defeat was so great the troops along with their civilian followers didn’t stop running until they got back to the safety of Washington.

This battle became known as the First Battle of Bull Run also known as First Manassas. It was a decisive Confederate victory.

A book that takes a look at the Civil War using maps is The Civil War: The Story of the War with Maps

Problems With the Anaconda Plan

General Scott retired at the end of 1861 and his subordinate General George McClellan took over command of the Union army.

The Anaconda plan was a good idea in theory however it would have been difficult for it to have actually succeeded in it’s original form.

While the Union navy did set up a blockade at the start of the rebellion, it was not strong enough at the beginning of the war to adequately blockade the entire south.

The naval blockade alone would not have defeated the rebellion, even if the Union also controlled the entire Mississippi river.

Confederate leaders were also not going to stand by and do nothing as the Union tried to starve them into submission.

The Confederacy had a strong army and was more than capable of taking on the Union army especially at the beginning of the war.

The Anaconda Plan Revisited

The Union looked to put an end to the war as quickly and decisively as possible. The tactics that were eventually used were reminiscent of Scott’s plan yet they also involved horrific combat.

After a long siege General Ulysses S. Grant captured the city of Vicksburg on July 4th 1863 giving the Union control of the Mississippi river and effectively cutting the Confederacy in two.

Abraham Lincoln with his generals

Abraham Lincoln with his generals

General William Tecumseh Sherman led his army on a rampage through the south during his march to the sea in 1864 depriving the south of vital food and materials as he and his men destroyed or captured anything that stood in their way.

This included the burning of Atlanta Georgia in 1864.

These victories coupled with the big battles in the north and the always increasing strength of the Union blockade eventually forced the Confederates to go completely on the defensive.

This inevitably resulted in their defeat and the crushing of the rebellion.

Whereas with General Scott’s plan for a more peaceful resolution to the rebellion, General Grant, General Sherman and the other Union commanders accomplished virtually the same things as the Anaconda plan proposed.

The main difference being brutal combat and many casualties on both sides.

The original strategic plan was a failure, as it was never given the support it required to succeed.

However in the end, the general framework of the plan was a major contributing factor that brought about the surrender of the Confederacy and the end of the American Civil War.

Anaconda Plan2020-02-09T22:30:38-05:00

Civil War Technology

Civil War Technology made the American Civil War the first industrial and modern war. Technologies ranged from hot air balloons to submarines.

Old style smooth bore muskets were quickly phased out and rifles were now mass produced in huge quantities on both sides. These rifles allowed soldiers to fire accurately at long distances causing massive casualties.

The use of Photography meant that the war was the first conflict to be recorded on a large scale with actual photographs instead of paintings.

Civil War Technology - Locomotive J.H. Devereux

Civil War Locomotive J.H. Devereux

Commanders in the Civil War also made great use of the telegraph on a massive scale. Never before in warfare had communication been made so easy and instantly.

The telegraph allowed generals to relay information in real time with each other. The use of railroads on both sides became critically important in transporting troops and supplies.

Civil War Technology – Weapons

Of all of the technological advances made by the time of the Civil War, the rifle made the biggest impact. The rifle was created long before the Civil War.

It was used in limited numbers and typically by specialized troops during the Revolutionary War. At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 both sides were still primarily using the old smooth-bore muskets.

These muskets were not accurate and did not have a long range. The musket had a smooth barrel which used a round lead ball as ammunition.

Union Soldiers with Rifles

Union Soldiers with Rifles

When fired the lead ball would bounce around inside the barrel. This resulted in very inaccurate results. The reason soldiers lined up shoulder to shoulder in the Revolutionary War was because muskets needed to be used in a massed volley in order to have any chance of actually hitting anything.

After the Civil War had begun arsenals began mass producing rifles instead of the old smooth-bore muskets.

Rifles were a far superior weapon in every way. They had groves in the barrel that gripped ammunition tightly which put a spin on the bullet allowing for deadly accurate and long range fire. With the new rifle came a new bullet.

Minie Ball

Gone was the round lead ball. In it’s place was a bullet that resembles today’s modern bullets. It is called a minie ball, this bullet exited the barrel of a rifle spinning and at a high velocity.

The bottom of the minie ball had little groves in it that helped it grip onto the inside of the rifles barrel. These groves also carried bacteria, when a soldier was shot this bacteria entered the wound and caused infections.

The only way to deal with these infections during the Civil War was to amputate.

Gatling Gun in the Civil War

The Gatling gun was a Civil War technology invented by Richard Jordan Gatling in 1861 and patented in 1862. The Gatling gun was essentially the first machine gun.

It used multiple barrels driven by a hand crank allowing the gun to shoot at a rapid rate of fire. It was first used by General Benjamin Butler during the siege of Petersburg in 1864 and 1865.

The below images are an improved version of the Gatling patented in 1865.

Gatling Gun Patent Drawing 1865 - National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office

Gatling Gun Patent Drawing 1865 – National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office

Gatling Gun Civil War

Gatling Gun Civil War – National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office

The Gatling gun was never used on a large scale during the Civil War. The gun required large amounts of ammunition which the Union saw as being wasteful.

The United States did not begin using this weapon until after the Civil War. The Gatling gun was formally adopted into the United States army in 1866.

Civil War Technology – Torpedoes (Landmines and Naval Mines)

During the war the Confederacy was always trying to come up with innovative ways of stopping the Union army. One of these ideas was by using torpedoes, this was just another name for landmines and naval mines.

They used torpedoes in land and at sea. They did some damage here and there but it wasn’t something that was going to win the south the war.

Civil War Technology – Ironclads

The Civil War also saw the beginning of modern naval ships. These new ships were clad with iron earning them the nickname “ironclads”. Some ironclads like the monitor class of ships are very similar to today’s warships.

Civil War Technology - Union Ironclad Monitor Onandaga

The Union Ironclad Monitor Onandaga

They sat low in the water and had either one or two rotating gun turrets, which enabled them to fire in any direction without having to turn the ship.

After the introduction of ironclads in the Civil War naval warfare never went back to wooden sailing ships. After ironclads came dreadnoughts.

Civil War Technology – Submarines

Civil War technology also saw the first successful use of a submarine. The Confederates created a submarine called the Hunley, named after it’s creator. The Hunley was powered by eight men who sat on a bench and turned a propeller with a hand crank.

It was a crude method of propelling a boat but it worked. The Hunley only went on one mission against the Union navy. In February 1864, the Hunley quietly approached and attached a naval mine to the USS Housatonic.

When the mine exploded the USS Housatonic became the first ship in history to be destroyed by a submarine. Only minutes after successfully sinking the USS Housatonic the Hunley also sank. It is still unclear what actually sank the Hunley.

Civil War Technology – Railroads

Railroads proved to be a vitally important Civil War technology. Railroads were essential for keeping the war moving and keeping troops supplied. The Union Railroad Train system was far superior to Confederate Railroads.

Nashville Tennessee Railroad Depot, 1864

Nashville Tennessee Railroad Depot, 1864

The north was a very industrialized society with large cities and massive infrastructure. The south was an agricultural society, with little infrastructure.

Most of the United States railroad system prior to the war was built in the North. The south had railroads as well but they had far fewer tracks and locomotives than the north.

This would hinder the south’s ability to wage war, however they used what rail they did have to great effect. One example was the timely reinforcement by rail of Confederate troops during the First Battle of Manassas.

These reinforcements helped the Confederates win a devastating victory over the Union. Rail transport was also instrumental for the Confederacy when they captured Harper’s Ferry.

Civil War Technology – Telegraphs

The telegraph was perhaps one of the most effective technologies used during the Civil War.

Civil War Technology - Telegraph Operators for the Army of the Potomac, August 1863

Telegraph Operators for the Army of the Potomac, August 1863

It allowed commanders to instantly communicate with each other and provide almost real time information about battle results, enemy troop movements, unit locations etc…

Abraham Lincoln used the telegraph daily. He often spent long nights in the telegraph office issuing orders to his generals and waiting for news from the front. He wanted to know exactly what was happening on the various battlefields.

Telegraph lines were strung up as soon as an army arrived at any location. Civil War soldiers grew adept at putting up telegraph lines since they were doing it so frequently.

Civil War Technology - Union Observation Balloon during the Battle of Fair Oaks, 1862

Union Observation Balloon during the Battle of Fair Oaks, 1862

In conjunction with the telegraph the Union military also employed observation balloons during the Civil War to watch battles and monitor enemy troop movements.

These movements were then relayed to ground commanders who could adjust their own troop movements accordingly or telegraph back to headquarters what they had witnessed.

Civil War Technology – Pictures

Civil War pictures showed war in a way that had never been seen before. In prior wars and even during the Civil War painters often accompanied armies on battlefields.

They later sat and painted what they saw. These paintings looked nice with gallant soldiers bravely fighting in a battle, however they failed to capture the brutality of war. They never showed the bloated corpses littered across a battlefield, or the destroyed cities, or the starving prisoners of war.

Painting of the Battle of Shiloh, April 6th - 7th 1862

Painting of the Battle of Shiloh, April 6th – 7th 1862

Photographs showed these things. Warfare could never be seen the same way again after the Civil War. The most famous Civil War photographer was Alexander Gardner.

Most of the pictures you see today of the Civil War were taken by him. His boss and studio owner Mathew Brady is usually the person who gets credited for most of the photography of the Civil War.

It was however, Alexander Gardner and his team who were out in the field taking the pictures.

Civil War Technology – Food

Civil War technology was not very good when it came to food. Food is one of the most important things to any soldier in an army.

Union Soldiers Eating

Union Soldiers Eating

However the only thing technology really had going for it when it came to food was canned food. Napoleon Bonaparte is credited as being the first person to use canned food to feed his army.

When the Civil War started cans were commonly being used on both sides. Canning certainly made it easier to transport and store food, however they were also difficult to open and they were heavy.

Civil War Technology – Aftermath

Often during wartime technology advances at a far greater speed than it ever does during peacetime. This is simply because during war there is a great need to get an edge on the enemy.

The technology that came out of the American Civil War had long lasting implications.

The Civil War can be seen as a precursor to World War 1.

Union troops in Rifle Pits

Union troops in Rifle Pits

Many technologies from the Civil War such as Gatling guns, mines, ironclads, observation balloons and submarines became much more advanced as the years went on.

Toward the end of the war both the Union and Confederate armies began to dig themselves into trenches just like World War One. The largest example of this was during the Siege of Petersburg in 1865.

After the Civil War armies would never again line up in nice formations and stand across from each other firing volley after volley until one side ran away.

It took years for the Union and Confederate generals to update their tactics to reflect the new weapons in the hands of their armies.

Civil War Technology2020-01-22T22:56:45-05:00

Civil War Artillery

Civil War artillery played a very important part during the American Civil War. It was used against infantry, buildings, fortifications, and ships. Artillery was limited during the Civil War to firing at targets the gunners could actually see.

There were no forward observers who could direct fire onto a target. Artillery fought side by side with the infantry on the battlefield.

Most artillery during the Civil War were muzzle loading guns, breech loading was a new technology and was not used much during the war. One example of a breech loader was the Whitworth cannon.

Civil War Artillery - 12 Pounder Napoleon

12 Pounder Napoleon

Civil War Artillery Types

Civil War artillery barrels came in two varieties. They were either smoothbore or rifled. Smoothbore artillery such as the Napoleon were made of bronze and shot round iron cannonballs.

Rifled artillery pieces such as the 10-pounder Parrott rifle and the 3-inch Ordnance rifle were made of cast iron and wrought iron and used conical shaped shells.

Field artillery during the Civil War were referred to as 10 pounders, 12 pounders or inches such as the 3 inch ordnance rifle etc…

Pounders simply referred to the weight of the projectile that the gun would fire. A 12 pounder Napoleon cannon shoots a 12 pound cannonball. Inches are simply the diameter of the bore. A 3 inch ordnance rifle has a barrel 3 inches in diameter.

Civil War Artillery Organization

A Civil War battery in the Union army typically had 6 guns of the same size and type. When moving an artillery piece each gun was attached to a limber. The limber contained a limber chest which held ammunition. The gun and limber were pulled by a team of 6 horses.

Civil War Artillery Battery

Artillery battery during the Civil War

Each gun also had a caisson which held additional ammunition and supplies, the caisson was also pulled by a team of 6 horses. Extra horses were needed to pull forges, haul supplies, or for officers to ride on. A typical Union battery would require around 18 horses per gun.

The Confederate army was not able to maintain this uniformity. Throughout the war the Confederate military was always short on cannons and horses. They usually had 4 to 6 horses per gun and 4 guns in a battery.

The guns in a Confederate artillery battery were not the same types and size. The Confederates gathered whatever guns they had available and threw them into a battery. They did not have the luxury of having uniform artillery batteries like the Union artillery had.

Civil War Artillery Projectiles

civil war artillery

civil war artillery shells

There are four types of Civil War cannon projectiles that were used during the war.

  • Solid Round Shot – This is a solid iron ball attached with metal bands to a wooden sabot. The powder bag is attached to the wooden sabot.
  • Explosive Shell – This is a hollow iron ball filled with black powder. This projectile uses a fuse that can be cut at a certain length so that the iron ball explodes when it arrives at the target.
  • Case Shot – Like explosive shell it is filled with gunpowder and uses a fuse. The difference is it has a hollow area that contains small iron balls, the shell explodes when it arrives at the target.
  • Canister Shot – This is a canister filled with small iron balls that when used at close range acts as a giant shotgun. Canister shot is used against infantry and cavalry at close range. It is generally only used as a last ditch effort when the gun is about to be attacked. Cannons can be loaded with double canister which multiples the shotgun effect against the target.

Civil War Artillery Gun Crews

It took eight highly trained artillerymen to crew one artillery piece. Each crew member was cross-trained so they could do each job that was required with the loading and firing of the weapon. If one member of the gun crew was wounded or killed, any member of the crew could step in and take their place.

Civil War Artillery at Antietam

Civil War Artillery at Antietam

Civil War cannons were very expensive, they were meticulously maintained and artillerymen had very strict discipline and rules to keep them operating, and in proper working condition.

Gun crews had a very important job so they were the most well trained soldiers in both the Union and Confederate armies.

Each member of the crew was assigned a number. The gunner was in overall command of his artillery piece.

The gun crew consisted of:

  • Gunner
  • Number 1
  • Number 2
  • Number 3
  • Number 4
  • Number 5
  • Number 6
  • Number 7
Civil War Cannon with Limber Box

Civil War Cannon with Limber Box

Each crew member had a specific task to complete in the reloading process. After a shot was fired the crew used the following procedure to reload the cannon.

  • Number 3 – Uses a piece of leather over the thumb called a thumb stall. Places thumb over the vent opening on the back of the barrel. This prevents air from getting inside the barrel which could create a spark.
  • Number 1 – Uses a rammer with a sponge dipped in water to clean the bore of the gun and extinguish any remaining sparks. This prevents the gun from exploding when it is loaded for the next shot.
  • Number 7 – Opens limber chest while number 6 prepares shell
  • Number 6 – Removes shell from limber chest when gunner calls for it. If they are using an explosive shell he cuts fuse to the proper length.
  • Number 5 – Receives shell from number 6 and takes it to the muzzle of the gun.
  • Number 2 – Receives shell from number 5 and loads the projectile into the gun.
  • Number 1 – Uses the other end of the rammer which has a wooden block on the end to push the projectile down the barrel of the gun.
  • Number 3 – Removes thumb from vent hole. Pushes a vent prick into the powder bag inside the barrel.
  • Number 4 – Places friction primer in vent hole which is attached to the lanyard. When the friction primer is pulled it causes a spark which ignites the gunpowder in the cannon. Pulls lanyard tight and waits for command to fire.
  • Gunner – While these steps are taking place he is aiming the gun. Elevation changes are made using a handscrew located at the rear of the barrel. Side to side changes are made by moving the trail of the gun carriage either left or right.
  • Number 3 – Helps gunner aim the gun by moving the trail from side to side.
  • Gunner – After aiming is complete everyone moves out of the way to avoid the guns recoil. The gunner gives the order to fire the cannon.
  • Number 4 – Pulls the lanyard and fires the cannon.

After the shot is fired the recoil would push the gun back 8 feet or more. It would have to be rolled back to it’s original firing position after each shot and the whole process would start again.

Civil War Artillery at Gettysburg

Civil War artillery was extremely important, it even turned the tide of many battles during the course of the war. The artillery bombardment on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg is one of the best examples of this.

The artillery bombardment preceding Pickett’s Charge was so loud it could be heard sixty miles away in Baltimore. The people of Baltimore could hear a low rumbling sound coming from the west that lasted well over an hour. Imagine the sound of distant thunder from an approaching storm.

As the Confederates attacked they were riddled by Union artillery which was not destroyed during the Confederate bombardment.

Union guns raked southern ranks killing and wounded hundreds of men. When the remaining rebels finally reached the Emmitsburg road they came under rifle fire from the defending Union troops.

Only a couple of hundred Confederates were able to actually make it to the Union line but they were quickly driven back with heavy casualties. Union artillery effectively stopped Pickett’s Charge by greatly reducing their ability to break through the Union line.

Artillery played a pivotal role during the conflict. Destroying or capturing the enemy’s artillery became an important goal for both sides during the Civil War.

Civil War Artillery2020-02-09T22:40:39-05:00

Civil War Diseases

There were a whole host of Civil War diseases during the American Civil War.

The major cause of death during the Civil War was disease.

Disease killed more people than everything else combined including gunshots, artillery, accidents, drowning, starvation, suicide etc…

The worst disease in the Civil War was Dysentery. Dysentery accounted for around 45,000 deaths in the Union army and around 50,000 deaths in the Confederate army.

The reason Dysentery and so many other diseases were able to spread so rapidly through both armies was primarily because of a lack of sanitation practices and contaminated water. Proper hygiene during this time was nonexistent.

Treating Civil War Diseases at Armory Square Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Patients at Armory Square Hospital, Washington, D.C.

This was not because doctors and nurses were negligent. They just did not know any better. Civil War Medicine was not yet advanced enough to connect a lack of hygiene with disease.

For example during a typical Civil War surgery cleanliness was a mere afterthought. Surgeons would often use the same tools continuously on patient after patient never cleaning them. They might wipe them off on their apron, but that was about as much cleaning as any piece of equipment received.

Surgeons and Stewards at Harewood Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Surgeons and Stewards at Harewood Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Cross contamination was not known, so there was no thought of washing and sanitizing instruments after they had been used. Needless to say surgeons did not wash their hands between patients either.

Unfortunately for people back then they didn’t realize that there was a link between hygiene and health. Civil War nurses also helped to tend to sick soldiers. Often they put themselves at risk for disease in doing so.

Disease and Contaminated Water

Simple things such as placing a latrine downstream and away from the clean water supply were often overlooked. This foul water would quickly lead to water contamination which made the development and spread of disease much more frequent.

An interesting book that provides a great deal of information about Civil War diseases is Nature’s Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia (Civil War America). It describes what the soldiers really had to endure just to keep themselves healthy in such an unhealthy environment.

Civil War Field Hospital

Civil War Field Hospital near Brandy Station, 1864

Civil War Disease List

So what diseases were there in the Civil War? Here is a look at some of the major Civil War diseases that people had to contend with:

Civil War Diseases: Typhoid

Typhoid was another major killer. This disease was a result of contaminated water or food. Typhoid killed around 30,000 Confederate and 35,000 Union troops during the war. 1 out of every 3 people who contracted this disease died of it.

Civil War Diseases: Pneumonia

Pneumonia was responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Union and 17,000 Confederate troops. 1 in 6 people who got this disease died from it. Stonewall Jackson died from Pneumonia after being shot by his own men during the battle of Chancellorsville.

Pneumonia was more of an opportunistic type of disease. It looked for weak people to inject itself into. If you became wounded on the battlefield or became sick with something else there was a good chance Pneumonia was going to find you.

Civil War Diseases: Measles

Measles killed a lot of people during the Civil War around 11,000 soldiers in total. Not as many as other diseases did but it had its fair share. With so many people gathered in such small areas this disease was able to spread rapidly. About 1 in 20 people who got this disease died as a result of it.

Civil War Diseases: Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis killed about 14,000 soldiers during the war. There was no known cure for it during the war. Even today there is no real cure, it can be treated but never cured. Once you get this disease you get it for life.

Civil War Diseases: Malaria

Malaria was also prevalent during the war killing roughly 30,000 soldiers. This number is high but considering around 3 million people contracted the disease it was not often fatal. This was due in large part to the readily available supply of quinine, which was used to successfully prevent and treat the disease.

The biggest thing that all of these Civil War diseases had in common was that nobody had any idea how to cure them. With the exception of Malaria.

This spelled bad news if you were one of the unfortunate ones to come down with any of these diseases.

Civil War Diseases2020-01-18T17:19:33-05:00

Civil War Food

Civil War food came in many shapes and sizes. Suppose you’re a Civil War soldier and you’ve marched all day in the grueling heat.

You’re exhausted, but you have one more duty before you can retire to your tent to dream of better days; you have to cook your dinner.

Civil War soldiers never had the luxury of standing in a mess line waiting for army cooks to dish out the chow.

Civil War Soldiers Eating Food

Civil War Soldiers Eating Food

How Did Soldiers Get Food in the Civil War

Civil War food for both Union and Confederate soldiers was provided by their respective Commissary Departments, but the daily rations were given to the soldiers uncooked.

Civil War Generals and other officers had the luxury of a cook, however the vast majority of soldiers gathered in small groups each evening to prepare their own food.

They called these groups “messes” and referred to others in the group as “messmates”. Messmates took turns watching the meals they cooked. Food in the Civil War was cooked over an open campfire in a cast iron skillet or kettle or occasionally on a spit.

If they had the time, soldiers tried to devise ways of making their dull diet a little more varied, occasionally catching wild game or picking wild berries.

Food during the Civil War was not high quality and did not taste good. Confederate soldiers usually didn’t receive much food at all especially as the war dragged on. Union troops were well fed but the food was not that much better than what the Confederates were eating.

Soldier life was not pleasant on either side during the Civil War. The old saying that an army marches on it’s stomach is very true.

Cooking Civil War Food

Cooking Civil War Food

Without Civil War food and water an army soon disintegrates into nothing more than a lot of starving people with no energy or will to fight. If a general has no food he has no army.

What Kind of Food Did They Eat During the Civil War

Civil War food supplied to soldiers of both sides was plain and monotonous. Since rations had to be transported long distances, the commissary departments relied on foods that could be preserved, so the primary ingredients available to soldiers were salted meat and canned goods.

Union Officers Eating in Camp

Union Officers Eating in Camp

Civil War Food Hardtack

Union soldiers also received a hard, unsavory cracker-like biscuit that the soldiers dubbed hardtack while Confederate soldiers were lucky if they received a good supply of cornmeal.

During battles and when food was scarce a Union soldier’s primary source of substance often came from hardtack.

Hardtack is basically bread, it’s three inches long and half an inch thick. Soldiers would often soften hardtack up by soaking it in water or coffee in order to make it easier to bite into. Hardtack is probably the most well known Civil War food.

Even if you know nothing about the American Civil War you’ve probably heard of hardtack.

Civil War Camp Kitchen

Civil War Camp Kitchen

What Was the Food Like During the Civil War

There were plenty of other Civil War food options a soldier typically had.

Salt pork was given to soldiers during the war. It was a stinky kind of blue extra salty meat, with hair, skin, dirt, and other junk left on it. It was however, a soldiers main supply of protein.

Letters from Civil War soldiers contain numerous references to bacon, but historians believe that the term bacon was used for all salt and smoked pork, not just the strips of meat that we now call “bacon”. Salted beef and jerky were also given to the soldiers.

Many ate salt beef only out of necessity. This was especially true for the Confederates. Salt beef was basically all of the very worst parts of a cow that you could think of. Parts included organs, neck and shanks, but the basic meat was pork.

Civil War soldiers were also given rice, potatoes, onions, molasses, and other non-perishable or slow to perish items, but hardtack (or cornmeal) and salt meat were favored because they were both easy to ship and easy to carry on a march or into battle.

Civil War Food Rations

Soldiers were given Civil War food rations in three-day allotments; before a march or battle, they cooked their raw food so that they could carry it with them. A canvas haversack with a removable lining was used to carry Civil War food on the move.

Although soldiers removed the lining and washed it when they had a chance, the haversacks soon smelled of old meat. Sometimes the salted meat given to the soldiers was past its prime, so they nicknamed it “salt horse”.

Naturally soldiers grew tired of this monotony. In Union camps, sutlers (civilian merchants) sold items like canned fruit, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Confederate soldiers did not usually have sutlers stores. They were forced to rely on the generosity of local farmers for occasional treats such as fruit.

If you are interested in reading about or trying some authentic Civil War food recipes the Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book has the original recipes for a wide variety of food that people actually ate during the time of the Civil War.

Of course you might need something to cook all this wonderful food you create. The Lodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven will do that job perfectly.

Civil War Sutlers Tent

Civil War Sutlers Tent

Foraging For Food

Civil War soldiers did occasionally have fresh meat to eat. They did this by taking cattle, pigs, and sheep.

Armies would have entire herds following them while they were on campaign. When in enemy territory, soldiers frequently helped themselves to chickens, fruit, vegetables, and other items from local farms and households, considering these the spoils of war.

Commanders might reprimand soldiers for such acts, but this seldom stopped a hungry man from seeking extra food. During Sherman’s march from Atlanta to the sea, Union soldiers feasted on captured cattle, hogs, vegetables and fruit and destroyed anything they could not carry.

Civil War Meat Hanging in Tent

Civil War Meat Hanging in Tent

Civil War Food Shortages

The Union never really had any problems with food shortages. The Union had a robust transportation network which could supply their troops with everything they needed throughout the entire war.

There were occasions when Union troops didn’t receive supplies for one reason or another but typically Union troops had no trouble with food shortages.

The Confederacy was the complete opposite. The south always had food shortages during the war which only became worse the longer the war lasted. Civil War food rations in the south were given to the most important people first.

Politicians and other leaders ate first, followed by soldiers, civilians, slaves and finally captured Union soldiers located throughout the south in various Civil War prison camps received whatever food was left.

Despite their high priority to receive food Confederate soldiers often went without. The poor condition of the Confederate railroad network and overall bad transportation system meant any food that was produced had a hard time finding it’s way to the army or anyone else.

The Union blockade of southern ports also restricted any food and other supplies the Confederacy desperately needed just to survive.

When times were thin soldiers sometimes resorted to eating their horses and mules. In extreme desperation, rats were consumed. As the war continued food shortages in the Confederacy became so bad for civilians that it led to food riots throughout many southern cities.

Fruits and Vegetables 

Corn was really only available when things were going well for a particular side. The same goes for beans, as they could not be consumed uncooked or improperly cooked.

This would result in very bad stomach situations. Peas were plentiful in supply and could be eaten as a meal in times of desperation. When there were no peas around, potatoes and rice would suffice. Fresh fruits were really important to have in good supply.

Civil War Disease

Lack of fresh fruits could cause sickness and disease. One example is Scurvy which is a horrible disease that resulted in tooth loss, receding gums, night blindness, rotting lips, jaws, and cheeks, and even internal hemorrhaging.

Civil War medicine was not very advanced during the Civil War, however Scurvy was easily prevented by simply eating oranges.

Volunteer nurses and the volunteers who collected supplies back home for the soldiers tried to alleviate their monotonous diet by collecting fresh fruits and vegetables for them.

Although these items were not easy to send into the field, they were supplied in abundance to sick and wounded soldiers in northern hospitals. Southern hospital workers also did there best to get fresh food for their patients, despite wartime food shortages.

Fruit was a favorite treat for ill soldiers; Abraham Lincoln often brought gifts of fresh fruit to the soldiers at the Washington army hospital, as did poet Walt Whitman who volunteered at the hospital. Baked goods were another treat for sick soldiers.

It was not uncommon for volunteer nurses to stay up late at night baking for their sick and wounded soldiers. Gingerbread was considered nourishing and easy to digest; it was often given as a comfort Civil War food to hospital patients.

Coffee

The men in the war loved their coffee, and drank it whenever possible. Coffee was a treasured beverage during the war. Soldiers soon recognized it’s properties to keep them awake after many hours of weary duty.

Civil War Soldiers Drinking Beverages

Civil War Soldiers Drinking Beverages

Raw green coffee beans were given to Union soldiers who roasted them in a pan over an open fire. Confederates frequently had to use coffee substitutes, such as chicory or roasted acorns.

Soldiers Traded With Each Other

During lulls in the fighting Confederate and Union soldiers would often meet up with each other and trade items.

Confederates usually traded tobacco with Union soldiers who gave them coffee beans in return. Of course these trade deals had to be made in secret since fraternizing with the enemy was punishable on both sides.

Conclusion

Civil war food was extremely important during the war but it was far from a balanced diet. Not surprisingly, a poor diet along with unsanitary conditions contributed to a high disease rate among soldiers on both sides.

If we went back in time to the Civil War we would enjoy some of the familiar foods of today like gingerbread and coffee that the soldiers enjoyed. However we would also find some of the food like hardtack or salted beef rather unappetizing.

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Civil War Games

Civil War games were common on both sides during the war. Games did a lot to keep the troops entertained and ease the constant boredom of soldier life. While in camp soldiers wanted to socialize with each other, there is no better way to socialize then to play games, especially if you are living in a Civil War tent with one or more men for a long period of time.