The Battle of Gettysburg, waged from July 1 to July 3, 1863, in the southern Pennsylvania hamlet of Gettysburg, involved more than 165,000 Union and Confederate troops. By the time the three days of fighting were over, there were over 50,000 casualties, including at least 4,000 Union and 3,000 Confederate dead. This Union victory, coupled with the Union conquest of Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 4, proved to be the turning point of the Civil War. At Gettysburg, Union Major General George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac repulsed Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia’s recent invasion of the North, placing the Confederate armies on the defensive for the remainder of the war. Historians differ as to the strength of the armies that fought at Gettysburg. The Army of the Potomac is believed to have consisted of 85,000 to 97,000 men; Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia numbered from 70,000 to 75,000.
As was the case with other Civil War engagements, civilians living in the battle zone were swept up in the violence and chaos of the fighting. Even though Gettysburg residents—men, women, and children—were helpless to protect their property from destruction by artillery and cannon fire, they volunteered to assist wounded Union and Confederate soldiers.
Weeks after the stunning Confederate victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville (Virginia) in early May 1863, Lee persuaded President Jefferson Davis and other top leaders of the Confederate government and military that the Army of Northern Virginia should undertake an invasion of the North in June 1863. Despite its recent triumphs, the Confederate military was struggling with problems that were overwhelming its fighting force. A lack of supplies—particularly food, clothing, shoes, and horses—was draining the military’s strength. Lee reasoned that a campaign into the fertile farmland of Pennsylvania would feed and strengthen his troops while providing them with desperately needed supplies. Lee also argued that battle victories in the North would convince Britain and France to recognize and assist the Confeder-