With resources running low for his Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee decided on a desperate plan to take the war north, destroy the railroad bridge at Harrisburg, then "turn my attention to Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington as may seem best for our interest."

Confederate troops were spread from Chambersburg, through Carlisle, and into York, "exploring" for supplies to continue the Southern offensive. While looking in Gettysburg, a Confederate brigade spotted Union cavalry on a ridge a mile west of town.

Today, the site of this epic battle is only 45 minutes from Hagerstown, East on I-70 and North on Route 15 at Frederick.

July 1, 1863
The Battle of Gettysburg began with Confederate troops attacking that Union cavalry division on McPherson Ridge, west of Gettysburg. Out-numbered Union forces drove the Confederate army back and prevailed until afternoon, when they were overpowered by additional southern troops, and driven back through town. In the confusion, thousands of Union soldiers were captured before they could rally on Cemetery Hill, south of town. Overnight, Union troops labored over their defenses while the bulk of Meade's army arrived and took positions.

July 2, 1863
The two armies were nearly a mile apart on two parallel ridges; Union forces on Cemetery Ridge in the famous "fish hook", faced Confederate forces on Seminary Ridge to the west. Lee ordered an attack against both Union flanks.

On the south, James Longstreet's thrust broke through lines at the Peach Orchard, left the Wheatfield and Plum Run (now known as Bloody Run) strewn with dead and wounded, and turned the rocky area called the "Devils Den", at the base of Little Round Top, into a shambles. Only a very observant General G. K. Warren saved Little Round Top for the Union, when he saw that the strategic hill was unmanned.

To the north, R. S. Ewell's attack ultimately proved futile against the entrenched Union right on East Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill, even though they were able to take possession of the southern slope of Culp's Hill on one occasion.

July 3, 1863
On July 3, Lee decided to press the attack to the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. At 1 in the afternoon, the southern artillery opened a bombardment that for a time engaged the massed guns of both sides in a thundering duel for supremacy, but did little to soften up the Union battle lines.

Then came the climax of the Battle of Gettysburg...with a salute from Longstreet, General George E. Pickett, in a desperate attempt to recapture the partial success of the preceding day, spearheaded one of the most incredible efforts in military history...a massed infantry assault of 15,000 Confederate troops across the open field toward the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. One mile they marched, while being pounded by artillery and rifle fire. Through it all, Pickett's men reached but failed to break the Union line, and the magnificent effort ended in disaster. In 50 minutes, 10,000 in the assault had become casualties, and the attack - forever to be known as Pickett's Charge - was now history.

With the failure of Pickett's Charge, the battle was over - the Union was saved. Lee's retreat began on the afternoon of July 4. Lee would never again attempt an offensive operation of such proportions. Meade, though he was criticized for not immediately pursuing Lee's army, had carried the day in the battle that has become known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy

City of Hagerstown
Doing Business in Hagerstown
Washington County
Battlefield Preservation
Calendar of Events
Tourism Information