The Battle of Gettysburg Timeline

The battle of Gettysburg timeline gives a brief summary of everything from the events leading up to the battle at Gettysburg to life after the Civil War. My goal here is to briefly summarize the battle at Gettysburg and basic Civil War facts in a chronology.

I hope that this overview will make the order and sequence of events understandable. This is not a timeline of the entire Civil War, but only covers how troops ended up in Gettysburg and how the town became what it is today.

The Battle of Gettysburg Timeline
Key Events Leading up to the Battle at Gettysburg

  • 1820 Congress passes the Missouri compromise, prohibiting slavery in most of the western territories.
  • 1854 Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repeals the Missouri Compromise.
  • 1854, July Antislavery northerners found the Republican Party.
  • 1857 In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court rules that congress cannot prohibit slavery in the territories.
  • 1859 White northerner John Brown, who hoped to start a slave rebellion, attacks the government with a raid at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.
  • 1860 Upon Republican Abraham Lincoln's election as president, 11 southern states secede from the Union.
  • 1861, April 12 The Confederates attack Fort Sumter and the Civil War begins.
  • 1863, May 1-3 General Lee leads Confederate troops to victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia.
  • 1863, June 28 General Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant General James Longstreet are in Chambersburg, PA and receive word that the Federal Army of the Potomac is heading into Pennsylvania.
  • 1863, June 30 Two brigades from John Buford's Union cavalry division scout ahead and enter Gettysburg. Finding signs of Confederates nearby to the Northwest, Buford sends word to Major General John Reynolds in Emmitsburg, Maryland to bring his infantry as soon as possible.

The Battle of Gettysburg Timeline
Gettysburg Battle Summary for Day One: Wednesday, July 1, 1863

  • 7:30am First shot fired 3 miles NW of Gettysburg at intersection of Knoxlyn Rd and US Rt. 30 Chambersburg Pike by Lieutenant Marcellus Jones of the Eighth Illinois Calvary, Buford's cavalry division, against Major General Henry Heth's division of A. P. Hill's corps as they march towards Gettysburg.
  • 10:30am Major General John Reynolds and two brigades of the Union First Corps infantry arrive and join the line along McPherson Ridge. One is the Iron Brigade, the other is the PA Bucktail Brigade. A bullet through the base of his skull kills Reynolds. Major General Abner Doubleday takes command of the Union First Corps.
  • 11:00am Two divisions of the Union Eleventh Corps arrive and take positions north of town.
  • 2:00pm One of one-legged Confederate Lieutenant General Richard Ewell's divisions arrives and engages the right flank of the Union First Corps.
  • 2:10pm General Robert E. Lee arrives to find Heth preparing for a new attack.
  • 2:15pm Another division of Ewell's attacks the Eleventh Corps position.
  • 3:00pm Where the Eternal Light Peace Memorial now stands, Confederate Major General Robert Rhode's division launches an attack. With five brigades, it's the largest division in either army.
  • 4:00pm Jubal Early's division of Ewell's corps arrive from the northeast on Harrisburg Rd and cause the right flank of the Eleventh Corps, two small divisions known as the Dutch Corps (mainly German-Americans), to buckle. This sets off a chain reaction down the 2 mile Union line. The First and Eleventh Corps retreat through town to Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. Major General Oliver Otis Howard, one-armed commander of the Eleventh Corps, had reserved a third smaller division to fortify Cemetery Hill incase of retreat.
  • 5:00pm Confederates appear to have won, but to complete the job, Lee tells Ewell, whose third division is arriving, to attack Cemetery Hill "if practicable." Ewell decides against it.
  • After midnight Union General Meade arrives and decides to stay and fight the next day from the strong defensive position.

The Battle of Gettysburg Timeline
Gettysburg Battle Summary for Day Two: Thursday, July 2, 1863

  • Before dawn All of the Rebel Army of Northern Virginia reaches Gettysburg except Major General Jeb Stuart's cavalry and, from Longstree's corps, Major General George Pickett's division and Brigadier General Evander Law's brigade. They arrive during the day after marching all night.
  • 4:00pm After a long march to avoid observation, Longstreet's troops attack, led by Evander Law's brigade. The army's chief of engineers, Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren, spots them coming, and Brigadier General Strong Vincent leads his men into position on Little Round Top. The Twentieth Maine, commanded by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (and made famous in the novel The Killer Angels and in the movie Gettysburg), is positioned on the left side. Over the next three hours, battle rages across the Wheatfield. Confederates take Rose farm, the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Trostle farm, and Devil's Den. Major General Daniel E. Sickles has a leg shot off, which he has preserved in formaldehyde.
  • 7:00pm In a desperate defensive position on Little Round Top, Chamberlain gives the order, "Bayonet!", and the Union men charge down the hill.
  • 8:00pm The Confederates still hold the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Trostle farm, and Devil?s Den. They will control Spangler's Spring overnight. Fighting between Brigadier General George S. Greene's brigade and Major General Edward Johnson's division with two brigades of Early's division becomes intense across Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill as dusk approaches.
  • Overnight There is frequent firing by pickets. On the Confederate side, Pickett's division and Stuart's three cavalry brigades arrive. On the Union side, Major General John Sedgwick's Sixth Corps arrive. In Meade's headquarters, he takes a vote from his generals and they decide to stay and fight.

The Battle of Gettysburg Timeline
Gettysburg Battle Summary for Day Three: Friday, July 3, 1863

  • 4:30am Union troops renew the fight at Culp's Hill. Attacks and counterattacks continue for nearly seven hours.
  • 8:30am Sniper fire between Confederate troops barricaded in town and Union troops on Cemetery Hill continues throughout the day. Twenty year old Mary Virginia "Jenny" Wade is shot by a stray bullet in her sister's kitchen on Baltimore Street as she makes biscuits for Union soldiers. She is the only civilian casualty of the battle.
  • 1:00pm Stuart leads his Confederate Calvary around to confront the Union rear, including Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer, along Cemetery Ridge.
  • 1:07pm Two cannon shots fire from Seminary Ridge, the signal for Confederates to harden the attack near the now famous copse of trees on Cemetery Ridge. The Union side retaliates. There are almost two hours of rapid fire from 250 cannons. It is reportedly heard in Pittsburgh, 150 miles west, but not in Chambersburg, only 15 miles west.
  • Between 2:00pm and 3:00pm The Confederate batteries run low on ammunition. Major General George E. Pickett asks Longstreet, "General, shall I advance?" and receives a nod to carry out the now famous Pickett's Charge.
  • 4:00pm Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistad and about 200 men make it through the angle in the stone wall, but he is mortally wounded as he places his hand on an enemy cannon to capture it. The high water mark of the Confederacy is reached and the survivors retreat.
  • 5:00pm Union cavalry division commander Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick learns of the successful repulse and organizes his own counterattack against Confederates west of the Round Top hills. It is unsuccessful without infantry.

The Battle of Gettysburg Timeline Aftermath and Life After the Civil War

  • 1863, July 4 Rain.
  • 1863, July 5 Troops leave Gettysburg.
  • 1863, July 13 The last of Lee's troops cross the Potomac River back into Virginia.
  • 1863, November 19 Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address at the opening of the cemetery for Union soldiers killed in the battle.
  • 1865, April 9 Lee surrenders his army at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.
  • 1865 April 14-15 Lincoln is assassinated at Ford?s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
  • 1868, July 9 The Fourteenth Amendment is passed, giving all former slaves equal rights by law.
  • 1872 The Soldiers' National Cemetery is completed.
  • 1895 Congress establishes the Gettysburg National Military Park based on a bill introduced by veteran Dan Sickles who is serving as a New York congressman.
  • 1913, July 1-3 Approximately 54,000 veterans reunite for the 50th Anniversary of the battle. Veterans of Pickett's Charge reenact the attack on July 3rd but shake hands with their former enemies upon reaching the wall.
  • 1933 The National Park Service, created in 1916, takes over management of the battlefields from the US War Department.
  • 1938, July 3 President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicates the Eternal Light Peace Memorial on the 75th Anniversary with over 1,800 battle veterans in attendance.
  • 1955 President Dwight D. Eisenhower runs the nation from his farm in Gettysburg while recovering from a heart attack. America is in the Cold War, so the site of a fight for freedom and unity is a fitting background.
  • 1963, July 1-3 The town celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the battle.
  • 1992 The movie Gettysburg is filmed in Gettysburg. Fifteen thousand reenactors participate.
  • 1993, October 8 The movie Gettysburg is released and sparks renewed interest in the battle.
  • 1996, April A Fort Clapsop National Park ranger on vacation in Gettysburg finds bones in a railroad cut just north of Chambersburg Pike. They are identified as the remains of a soldier who suffered a slight head wound and massive trauma to the spine on the first day of fighting, but nothing remains to identify which side he fought on.
  • 1997, July 1 The unknown solider is interred in the national cemetery with full military honors. Two Civil War widows, a white woman from Alabama and a black woman from Colorado, attend. They were widows in their nineties who had married Civil War veterans in the 1920's when they were teenagers.
  • 2000, July 3 The huge Gettysburg National Battlefield Tower is demolished live on TV as the Gettysburg National Military Park launches into an era of battlefield restoration. Just before the implosion, reenactors symbolically fire cannon toward the tower.
  • 2008, April 14 The new visitors center opened in a spot that did not receive major action. The old center will be demolished and the site restored.
  • 2013, July 1-3 The town celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

I hope this chronological Gettysburg battle summary will make things easier to understand when you tour the battlefields. Check the historical battle of Gettysburg map to see where the events in the battle of Gettysburg timeline occured. Civil War facts make more sense when you can visualize where things happened.

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