Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park


History & Culture


Fought over the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most critical battles of the Civil War having occurred at a time when the fate of the nation hung in the balance- the summer of 1863. Often referred to as the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy", it was the culmination of the second and most ambitious invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee and the "Army of Northern Virginia". The "Army of the Potomac", the Union army that had long been the nemesis of Lee, met the Confederate invasion at the crossroads town of Gettysburg and though it was under a new commander, General George Gordon Meade, the northerners fought with a desperation born of defending their home territory. The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in Lee's retreat to Virginia and an end to the hopes of the Confederacy for independence.

In the aftermath of the battle, every farm field was a graveyard and every church, public building and even private homes were hospitals. Medical staff were strained to treat so many wounded scattered about the county. To meet the demand, Camp Letterman General Hospital was established east of Gettysburg where all of the wounded were eventually taken to before transport to permanent hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Union surgeons worked with members of the U.S Sanitary Commission and Christian Commission to treat and care for the over 20,000 injured Union and Confederate soldiers that passed through the hospital's wards, housed under large tents. By January 1864, the last few remaining patients were gone and so were the surgeons, guards, nurses, tents and cookhouses. Only a temporary cemetery on the hillside remained as a testament to the courageous battle to save lives that took place at Camp Letterman.

Prominent Gettysburg residents became concerned with the poor conditions of soldiers' graves scattered over the battlefield and at hospital sites, and pleaded with Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin for state support to purchase a portion of the battlefield to be set aside as a final resting place for the defenders of the Union cause. Gettysburg lawyer David Wills was appointed the state agent to coordinate the establishment of the new "Soldiers' National Cemetery", which was designed by noted landscape architect William Saunders. Removal of the Union dead to the cemetery began in the fall of 1863, but would not be completed until long after the cemetery grounds were dedicated on November 19, 1863. The dedication ceremony featured orator Edward Everett and included solemn prayers, songs, dirges to honor the men who died at Gettysburg. Yet, it was President Abraham Lincoln who provided the most notable words in his two-minute long address, eulogizing the Union soldiers buried at Gettysburg and reminding those in attendance of their sacrifice for the Union cause, that they should renew their devotion "to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.."

Established by concerned citizens in 1864, the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association set out to preserve portions of the battlefield as a memorial to the Union troops that fought the battle. In 1895, the lands were transferred to the Federal government and Gettysburg National Military Park was established. Administered by a commission of Civil War veterans, the park's primary purpose was to be a memorial to the two armies that fought this pivtol battle, and to mark and preserve the battle lines of each army. Administration of the park was transferred to the Department of the Interior- National Park Service in 1933, which continues in its mission to presevre and interpret the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address to park visitors.


Union Commanders at Gettysburg

General John Buford- The commander of a cavalry division in the Army of the Potomac, John Buford's troops encountered the head of a Confederate column on June 30th near Gettysburg. It was Buford who decided to stay in the area overnight and wait for the Confederates to return the following day. His choice would set the stage for the Battle of Gettysburg that began the following day, July 1, 1863.

General John Reynolds- One of the most highly respected Union generals serving in the Army of the Potomac, Reynolds commanded the First Corps. Though offered command of the army several days before the battle, he declined and General Meade was appointed instead. On July 1st, he was instantly killed leading his troops into battle in a grove of trees adjacent to the McPherson Farm. His death was sorely felt throughout the army.

Gen. Abner Doubleday- This New York officer took command of the First Corps after the death of its leader, General Reynolds. He deployed his experienced troops on a line west of Seminary Ridge and held the ground until overwhelming numbers forced his depleted regiments to retreat through Gettysburg. After the war he authored Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, his memoir and history of the two great battles that were his last with the Army of the Potomac.

General Winfield S. Hancock- Inspiring, bold, and daring, Hancock proved to be an outstanding field commander at Gettysburg. Meade sent Hancock as his representative to Gettysburg on July 1, where he took command of the chaotic situation. The general was everywhere the action was on July 2 and played a prominent role in sending troops to threatened areas. He nearly lost his life while directing a counterattack against Pickett's Virginians on July 3rd, an injury that would plague him for the rest of his life.

General Oliver O. Howard- Commanding the Eleventh Corps, this one-armed general took charge of the field after the death of Reynolds and secured Cemetery Hill as the final Union position for which he later received a congressional thanks. Howard later served in the Atlanta Campaign with General Sherman and in 1867 worked to establish a school for African Americans in Washington, DC, known today as Howard University.

General Henry Hunt- In charge of the Union artillery, his disciplined use of Union batteries played a major role in defeating the Confederate battle plans for July 2 and 3. Hunt's obsession with complete control of the army's artillery would conflict with infantry commanders at Gettysburg and elsewhere during the war.

General Daniel E. Sickles- A colorful politician turned general, Sickles led his Thirds Corps to Gettysburg, determined not to allow the Confederates to hold higher ground. His controversial move forward from Cemetery Ridge on July 2nd resulted in the bloodiest day of fighting, costing the general most of his corps and a leg. Awarded the Medal of Honor for his services at Gettysburg, he sponsored the 1895 legislation that made the battlefield a national military park.

Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren- Serving as Meade's Chief of Engineers, Warren was surveying the Union left when he spied Confederate forces moving around the Union left and toward Little Round Top. Realizing its importance, he rushed troops to the hill's defense, which ultimately saved the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. That evening, the exhausted Warren slept through Meade's Council of War. He later commanded the Fifth Corps in the Overland Campaign until a conflict with his superiors caused an abrupt end of his field command in 1865.

Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain- A school teacher by trade, Chamberlain had risen to the rank of colonel of the 20th Maine Infantry by Gettysburg. His battle tested veterans were pitched into a desperate fight with the 15th Alabama Infantry on July 2nd and despite nearly overwhelming odds, won the day at Little Round Top thanks to their colonel's stubborn guidance. By war's end, Chamberlain was a major general and placed in charge of accepting the Confederate surrender parade at Appomattox Court House.

Gen. George A. Custer- Long before he would meet his fate at the Little Big Horn, Custer was a newly appointed brigadier general at Gettysburg in command of a Michigan cavalry brigade. On July 3rd he displayed his dynamic ability to lead men in battle, taking in regiment after regiment in desperate charges that eventually won the day in the cavalry battle east of Gettysburg.

Lt. Alonzo Cushing- This 22 year-old West Pointer commanded Battery A, 4th US Artillery, near the center of the Union line. The battery was nearly destroyed in the cannonade prior to Pickett's Charge. Despite a painful wound, the young officer remained with his last gun, firing its last shot into the advancing Confederate attack before he was instantly killed. "Faithful unto death", his fanactical devotion to duty helped turn the tide at Gettysburg.

Dr. Jonathan Letterman- As Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, his skills at organization and support were unequaled. The task of treating countless wounded in and around Gettysburg was left up to his undermanned staff that worked diligently to save thousands of wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. Many convalesced at "Camp Letterman", the general field hospital east of Gettysburg, before transfer to permanent hospitals in the North.

Alexander S. Webb- A newly appointed brigadier general, Webb was placed in command of the "Philadelphia Brigade" during the march to Gettysburg. During Pickett's Charge on July 3rd, his troops met and threw back the Confederate breakthrough at the Angle. His dynamic leadership made a difference in the Union defense even though he was so new to command that many of the soldiers in the brigade did not know who he was.

Lt. Frank A. Haskell- A Union staff officer at Gettysburg, Haskell was a model soldier and disciplinarian who was in the center of the Union line on July 2nd and 3rd where he witnessed most of the climactic events of the battle. He described his experiences in a lengthy letter to his brother that to this day is one of the most descriptive and eloquent battle narratives ever written. Unfortunately, Haskell was killed in battle the following year.

Suggested Reading


Across Five Aprils; 1964; Hunt, Irene; the experiences of Jethro Creighton, an idealistic youth whose family and community are split by the Civil War; grades 5-8.

The American Civil War; 1987; TimeLife; a series of 28 volumes with excellent maps, illustrations, and historic photographs; highly informative; grades 5-12.

Battle Cry of Freedom; 1988; McPherson, James, H.; prewar years including the political and social events leading up to and including the Civil War, complete with photographs, maps and illustrations; grades 9-12.

Battle in the Civil War; 1986; Griffith, Paddy; well written and nicely illustrated booklet highlighting strategy, tactics, and weaponry from the Civil War; grades 8-12.

A Battlefield Atlas of the Civil War; 1983; Symonds, Craig L.; short, descriptive articles about key Civil War battles accompanied with excellent maps, some photographs; grades 5-12.

Billy Yank: The Union Soldier in the Civil War; 1995; Archambault, Alan; coloring book complete with stories of soldier life during the war; easy reading, high interest level; grades 3-6.

The Civil War; 1974; Catton, Bruce; encompasses entire war, has maps and photographs; grades 6-12.

Civil War! America Becomes One Nation; 1992; Robertson, James, I. Jr.; Excellent overview of the war, complete with maps, pictures, and photographs; grades 5-8.

The Civil War Day by Day - An Almanac 1861-1865; 1971; Long, E. B.; excellent chronological listing of the wars events; grades 5-12.

Civil War Days: Everyday Life; 1987; Bowen, John; nice overview of soldier life during the Civil War; grades 5-12

The Civil War Era, A House Divided, Vol. 1; 1996; Holzer, Harold, Ed.; Cobblestone Publishing; history magazine for young people; grades 4-8.

Dog Jack; 1990; Biros, Florence W.; Civil War life as seen through the eyes of a young, runaway African American slave, and his loyal dog, Jack; easy reading, part fiction; grades 5-8.

First Book of Civil War Land Battles; 1960; Dupuy, Trevor N.; grades 5-12.

Gods and Generals; 1996; Shaara, Jeff; prequill to Michael Shaara's novel, "Killer Angels", deals with the Civil War up to Gettysburg, fiction; grades 8-12.

Golden Book of the Civil War; 1961; Flate, Charles; covers entire war, has maps, photographs, excellent for young readers; grades 4-8.

The Image of War: 1861-1865; 1981; The National Historical Society; 6 vol. dealing with the war from its origins through its aftermath using extensive photographic approach; grades 5-12.

Johnny Reb: The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War; 1995; Archambault, Alan; coloring book complete with stories of soldier life during the war; easy reading, high interest level; grades 3-6.

The Photographic History of the Civil War; 1957; Miller, Francis, T.; 10 vol. pictorial nicely illustrating all areas of the entire Civil War; grades 5-12.

Red Badge of Courage; 1895; Crane, Stephen; excellent novel dealing with a soldier's (Henry Fleming) fears of battle; grades 5-12.

Red Cap; 1991; Wisler, Clifton G.; excellent novel dealing with a young boy's experiences during the war in which he is eventually captured and endures prison life, based on a true story; grades 5-8.

Sacred Ground, Americans And Their Battlefields; 1993; Linenthal, Edward Tabor; Second Edition, University of Illinois Press; discussion of public attitudes toward five American battlefields, including Gettysburg; teachers and grades 8-12.




Arms and Equipment of the Civil War; 1961; Coggins, Jack; Showcases the tools of the Union and Confederate Armies including infantry, cavalry, artillery and navy, over 500 illustrations dealing with equipment, clothing and weapons, good source book; grades 8-12.

Cannons: An Introduction to Civil War Artillery; 1985; Thomas, Dean; introduction to Civil War artillery, ammunition and its use during the war, complete with photographs and illustrations, reference booklet; grades 8-12.

Ready … Aim … Fire: Small Arms and Ammunition in the Civil War; 1981; Thomas, Dean; describes various types of ammunition used by each army corps and cavalry, numerous illustrations, reference booklet; grades 8-12.




Civil War Heroines; 1994; Canon, Jill; short biographical sketches of many Civil War era heroines, nicely illustrated, very readable; grades 3-8.

A Separate Battle: Women and the Civil War; 1991; Chang, Ina; excellent book for young readers seeking to know more about the female role during the Civil War; grades 5-12.




Army Life in a Black Regiment; 1962; Higginson, Thomas, W.; written by their first commanding officer, vivid account of the trials and triumphs of army life in a black regiment; grades 9-12.

Marching Toward Freedom: The Negro in the Civil War; 1967; McPherson, James, M.; service of African American perspective in the Civil War is presented via key extracts from newspapers, articles, books, speeches and letters; grades 8-12.




Clara Barton: Angel of the Battlefield; 1982; Bains, Rae; biography of perhaps the most famous nurse during the Civil War; grades 4-12.

Hospital Sketches: An Army Nurse's True Account of Her Civil War Experiences; 1869; Alcott, Louisa, M.; personal account of the author's brief experience as a nurse during the Civil War; grades 8-12.

In Hospital and Camp: The Civil War Through the Eyes of its Doctors and Nurses; 1993; Straubing, Harold, E.; accomplishments and hardships of the medical profession described during the Civil War; grades 8-12.




The Civil War Songbook; 1977; (Introduction) Crawford, Richard; numerous Civil War songs, biographic sketches on era composers, history of Civil War music dealing with soldier life, patriotic songs and home scenes, music arranged for piano and voice; grades 5-12.

A Pictorial History of Civil War Instruments; 1985; Garifalo, Robert and Elrod, Mark; pictorial history of Civil War musical instruments, includes 33 1/3 RPM record of military band playing selected songs; grades 5-12

Singing Soldiers: A History of the Civil War in Song; 1968; Glass, Paul; chronicles various aspects of the war through music from the period, categories include patriotism, politics, army life, love songs, battles and soldiers, musical arrangements for voice, piano, and guitar, good source book; grades 8-12.




At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw & Heard of the Battle

;1889; Pierce, Tillie A.; interesting first hand account of the battle as witnessed by the author when she was a young girl; grades 4-12.

The Battle of Gettysburg; 1988; Cobblestone; numerous short stories about the Battle of Gettysburg, complete with photographs, map, drawings, and crossword puzzle; grades 4-8.

The Battle of Gettysburg; Coffee, Vincent; describes prelude to Gettysburg, the battle itself, and aftermath, complete with photographs, nicely illustrated maps and color illustrations; grades 4-8.

The Battle of Gettysburg; 1994; National Park Service Series; well written booklet detailing the Battle of Gettysburg, complete with sketches, photographs & maps; excellent beginning source; grades 5-12.

Days of Darkness: The Gettysburg Civilians; 1986; Williams, William A.; novel dealing with personal experiences of Gettysburg civilians as a result of their involvement with the battle; grades 5-12.

Early Photography at Gettysburg; 1995; Frassanito, William A.; Thomas Publications; grades 8-12.

Gettysburg; 1952; Kantor, MacKinley; Battle of Gettysburg; fast moving, easy reading; grades 5-12.

Gettysburg; A Battlefield Atlas; 1992; Symonds, Craig L.; Battle of Gettysburg with numerous maps and articles; grades 5-12.

The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command; 1968; Coddington, Edwin, B.; definitive study on the campaign and Battle of Gettysburg, scholarly piece of work; grades 11-12.

Gettysburg: The Final Fury; 1974; Catton, Bruce; Battle of Gettysburg; good source for young readers; grades 5-12.

Gettysburg: High Tide of the Confederacy; 1987; TimeLife; one of the 28 volumes previously mentioned; excellent use of maps, illustrations, and photographs; grades 5-12.

Gettysburg: A Journey in Time;1975; Frassanito, William A.; excellent photographic approach to Battle of Gettysburg depicting where photos were taken after battle and contrasting with modern day photos; grades 8-12.

High Tide at Gettysburg; 1958; Tucker, Glenn; Battle of Gettysburg and the campaign; excellent beginners' source; grades 5-12.

Jimmy at Gettysburg; 1993; Beitler, Margaret Bigham; true story of young boy (Jimmy Bighams) experiences at Gettysburg; highly readable and quite short; grades 3-8.

Killer Angels; 1976; Shaara, Michael; Pulitzer prize winning novel dealing with the Battle of Gettysburg from which the movie "Gettysburg" was based; grades 8-12.

The Slopes of War; 1984; Perez, N. A.; excellent novel on the Battle of Gettysburg, fictitious characters intermixed with true personalities makes for an interesting read; grades 5-8.

Thunder at Gettysburg; 1975; Gauch, Patricia Lee; Battle of Gettysburg as seen through the eyes of young Tillie Pierce; based on a true story, recommended for young persons who struggle with reading; grades 2-6.

Window of Time; 1991; Weinberg, Karen; Battle of Gettysburg and life in Westminster, Maryland as experienced by a young time traveler; grades 5-8.




Killed In Action; 1992; Coco, Gregory A.; Thomas Publications; short sketches of the deaths of many soldiers at Gettysburg; grades 8-12.

The Last Full Measure; 1998; Busey, John W.; Longstreet House; reference book on soldiers buried in National Cemetery; teachers and grades 8-12.

Lincoln And The Human Interest Stories Of The Gettysburg National Cemetery; 1995; Cole, James M. and Roy E. Frampton; Sheridan Press; grades 6-12.

Report of the Select Committee Relative to the Soldiers' National Cemetery, 1865. House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; reference material for teachers and good primary source for grades 9-12.

A Strange And Blighted Land; 1995; Coco, Gregory A.; Thomas Publications; grades 9-12.




Abraham Lincoln Coloring Book; 1987; Smith, A. G.; coloring book providing story of Lincoln's life from boyhood to presidency; grades 3-6.

Abraham Lincoln, A Documentary Portrait Through His Speeches And Writings; 1964; Fehrenbacher, Don E. (Ed.); Stanford University Press.

Abraham Lincoln In Print And Photograph; 1997; Byrd, Cecil K. and W. Ward Moore, editors; Dover Publications, Inc.

Abraham Lincoln And A Nation Worth Fighting For; 1996; Rowley, James A.; Harlan Davidson, Inc.

Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years And The War Years; 1954; Sandburg, Carl; One Vol. Edition, Harcourt Brace & Co.

The Emancipation Proclamation; 1995; Franklin, John Hope; Harlan Davidson, Inc.

Lincoln At Gettysburg; 1992; Wills, Gary; Simon & Schuster; grades 11 and 12 and adults.

The Historian's Lincoln; 1996; Boritt, Gabor, S. Ed.; University of Illinois Press.

The Last Best Hope On Earth; 1993; Neely, Mark E. Jr.; Harvard University Press.

Lincoln; 1995; Donald, David Herbert, Simon & Schuster.

The Lincoln No One Knows; 1993; Garrison, Webb; Rutledge Hill Press.

Lincoln: A Photobiography; 1987; Freedman, Russell; biography on Lincoln's life with numerous photographs, Newbury Medal Winner; grades 5-12.

Lincoln, A Pictorial History; 1993; Steers, Edward, Jr.; Thomas Publications.

Lincoln, The War President; 1992; Boritt, Gabor, S. Ed.; Oxford University Press.





  1. Gettysburg 1863 documentary that imaginatively recreates the three day battle using the monuments that dot the battlefield today in silent vigil to the men who fought and died at Gettysburg. Color 18 minutes.
  2. These Honored Dead provides background for Lincoln's immortal Gettysburg Address. Color 11 minutes.

Numerous Civil War and Gettysburg videos are available at the Visitors Center Bookstore. For more information please phone or write:

Eastern National Park and Monument Association
C/O Gettysburg National Military Park
97 Taneytown Road
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 17325
Phone (717) 334-1124 Ext. 439

The Gettysburg Cyclorama

The unusual art form called a "Cyclorama" was a very popular form of entertainment in the late 1800's, both in America and Europe. These massive oil-on-canvas paintings were displayed in special auditoriums and enhanced with landscaped foregrounds and life-size figures. The result was a three-dimensional effect that surrounded the viewers who stood on a central platform, literally placing them in the center of the scene. Most cycloramas depicted historic events such as great battles, religious themes or scenes from great works of literature. Hundreds were painted and exhibited in Europe and America during the 1800's, yet most were lost or destroyed as their popularity died out with the introduction of a more entertaining art form, motion pictures.

The "Battle of Gettysburg" Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Military Park is one that has survived. This fantastic painting brings the fury of the final Confederate assault on July 3, 1863 to life, providing the viewer with a sense of what occurred at the battle long touted as the turning point of the Civil War. The culmination of the battle was captured on canvas by the French artist Paul Philippoteaux, a professional cyclorama painter and artist. Philippoteaux was not present at Gettysburg, but came to the United States in 1879 when he was hired by a group of entrepreneurs to paint this monumental work for a special display in Chicago. Philippoteaux arrived in Gettysburg in 1882 armed with a sketchbook, pencils, pens, and a simple guide book to help him locate the site of the climactic charge. The artist spent several weeks on the battlefield, observing details of the terrain and making hundreds of sketches. To help him recall the landscape with accuracy, Philippoteaux hired a Gettysburg photographer to produce a series of panoramic photographs for his use. These images are some of the earliest detailed photographs of Cemetery Ridge, the Angle and the "High Water Mark", and the field of Pickett's Charge. Philippoteaux was also lucky enough to interview a number of veterans of the battle, who helped with suggestions on how to depict the chaos of battle.

Armed with a vast amount of information and ideas, Philippoteaux returned to his studio where he immediately set about laying out the great work. A team of assistants helped him sketch out every detail including soldiers, trees, crops, fences and stone walls, and then began applying tons of oil paint. The phenomenal work took over a year and one-half to complete. The "Cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg" opened to the public in Chicago in 1883, complete with a three-dimensional earthen foreground littered with the relics of battle, stone walls, shattered trees and broken fences. Visitors were awed by the painting's spectacular realism. Veterans of the battle, including General John Gibbon whose troops threw back Pickett's Division on July 3, wrote of its splendor.

Hearing that the Boston cyclorama was up for sale, a Gettysburg-area entrepreneur purchased the painting and moved it with the props and accoutrements of its foreground to Gettysburg. The painting arrived in good condition, though several of the panels were ripped and torn and some had rotted around the bottom from moisture in the soil of the foreground. Repairs were made to the rips by taking portions of the skyline, the upper portion of which was evidently discarded, and stitching them into place where they were over painted by artists as each panel was hung. The cyclorama opened for public exhibition just in time for the 1913 Anniversary celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg in a specially constructed building on Baltimore Street, where it remained for approximately forty years.

Purchased by the National Park Service in the late 1940's, the painting was moved to the new park visitor center in 1962. The artistic work underwent a massive restoration project that required hours of hand labor to repair water damaged portions of the painting and two large sections faded by years of direct sunlight. The project was completed and the cyclorama re-opened for public viewing in 1962 with the dedication of the National Park Service Visitor Center, which is the Cyclorama Center today. The Gettysburg Cyclorama is 359 feet long, 27 feet high and weighs an estimated 3 tons.

The Gettysburg Cyclorama closed in November 2005 to undergo a projected nine million dollar rehabilitation project that began in 2003. Conservation specialists will repair unstable sections of the canvas and restore original details lost in the numerous repair and preservation attempts. Eventually it will be hung in its own unique viewing auditorium with a restored skyline and foreground, in the new National Park Service Visitor Center and Museum at Gettysburg, scheduled to open in the spring of 2008.

The fate of the other Gettysburg Cycloramas has been less fortunate. The Chicago painting was eventually sold and was in private ownership until its donation to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The painting has survived, though it is in desperate need of restoration and a permanent home. Two more versions of the Gettysburg Cyclorama were painted and exhibited, including one shown in Denver, Colorado. One of these was cut up for use as tents by native Americans on a Shoshone Indian Reservation after the turn of the century. The fate of the other painting is unknown.


General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate "Army of Northern Virginia".  
Born on January 19, 1807 at "Stratford" in Westmoreland County Virginia, Lee was the son of Anne Hill and Henry Lee, a distinguished cavalry officer during the American Revolution where he gained the nick-name "Light Horse Harry". Financial problems forced the elder Lee to move his family to a home in Alexandria where Robert attended school and enjoyed outdoor activities along the river. In 1825, the young Lee entered the US Military Academy at West Point. He excelled in his studies and military exercises, graduating second in the class of 1829. Two years later he married Mary Ann Randolph Custis, a direct descendent of Mary Washington and the family moved with Lee's assignments to the midwest and then Washington. At the outbreak of the War with Mexico, Lee was assigned to the army under General John E. Wool and General Winfield Scott and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec. Lee distinguished himself during the war and received several promotions in rank after the war ended. In the decade that followed, he briefly served as superintendent of West Point and accepted a command in the 2nd US Cavalry. It was by chance that Lee was in Washington in 1859 when the violent abolitionist John Brown raided the US Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Placed in command of Federal troops to secure the arsenal, Lee was in charge of the soldiers who stormed Brown's last holdout and took he and his fellow conspirators prisoner.

Lee declined an offer to command the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War and offered his services to his native state. After serving in several administraive and field postions, he was assigned to command the Confederate Army at Richmond, which he named the "Army of Northern Virginia". Under his command, this army exploited Union mismanagement on numerous battlefields, making Lee one of the most victorious commanders in the Confederacy.

Lee's army was noted for its cadre of southern commanders who were veterans of numerous, hard-fought battles. Some performed better than in the summer of 1863.

George Gordon Meade, commander of the Union "Army of the Potomac".
Born in Cadiz, Spain on December 31, 1815, Meade was primarily raised in Philadelphia though his family later moved to the Baltimore area. Meade entered the US Military Academy at West Point in 1831 and graduated 19th in the Class of 1835. Appointed to the 3rd US Artillery and transferred to Florida at the beginning of the Seminole Wars, Meade became ill and was reassigned to the Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts for administrative duties. Disillusioned with military life, he resigned his commission in 1836 to work for a railroad company as an engineer but re-entered military service in 1842 to provide a stable home for his new wife. His army assignments took him to Texas in 1845 where he was assigned to General Winfield Scott's Army during the War with Mexico. After the war, Meade returned to Philadelphia where he engineered lighthouses for the Delaware Bay. 

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Meade offered his services to Pennsylvania and was appointed brigadier general of volunteers in command of a brigade of Pennsylvania regiments. Meade gained a reputation for being short-tempered and obstinate with junior officers and superiors alike, garnering him the nickname "The Old Snapping Turtle". At the Battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862, he was seriously wounded though refused to leave the field until the loss of blood so weakened him that he could not remain in the saddle.

Meade recovered and was placed in command of the division of "Pennsylvania Reserves", which he led at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam, Maryland, and Fredericksburg, Virginia. Subsequently assigned to command the Fifth Army Corps, he participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, and then marched northward that summer once Lee's Army had crossed the Potomac River. It was still dark on June 28, 1863, while the army camped near Frederick, Maryland, when a courier arrived at Meade's tent bearing the news that he was appointed to command the Army of the Potomac. A surprised Meade protested at first but accepted his assignment and rode to army headquarters.

Later that morning, he finished a plan to set the army in motion northward to find Lee. Fortunately, the general had a group of excellent commanders in charge of his army.