Gettysburg: The Cost of War

The Civil War was a war of immense proportions by any measure. The Confederacy put 750,000 to 850,000 men up against a Union force of approximately 2.2 million, only to taste possible victory for the first two years of the war--1861 to 1863--then see all hope of victory vanish with the death of General Stonewall Jackson (May 1863), the loss at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), and the loss at Vicksburg (May 18-July 4, 1863). 

Of these events, Gettysburg stands out as a microcosm of the war itself, in that the Confederacy won the first day of battle (July 1), just as they appeared to win the first two years of the war. Then they gave up these gains on the second day (July 2), just as they began giving up their fighting momentum during the summer of 1863. And on the third day the Army of Northern Virginia lost in Gettysburg, removing any doubt that the successes that marked the first day of the battle were swallowed up in a Union victory. In the same manner, the Union would use the momentum it gained in the summer of 1863 to bring General Robert E. Lee to surrender in 1865.

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Think about this--In the Civil War, approximately 258,000 Confederates died, with another 200,000 (approx.) wounded in combat, according to historian Gary W. Gallagher. "Death thus ran to about one in three of all men in uniform." In the Union, the numbers were higher on paper--approximately 360,000 dead, approximately 275,000 wounded--but as Gallagher points out in The Confederate War, when measured against the greater number of men the North had in uniform, this means death ran to about one in six for the Union.

In this regard, Gettysburg is again a perfect microcosm of the Civil War itself. For Gettysburg was bloody, it stank of death, and sun-blackened, swollen bodies, and was marked by the screams of the wounded.

At Gettysburg, each army lost approximately 25,000 men. This was much worse for the South than it was for the North, and it was indicative of things to come. 

Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins


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