At this time exactly 150 years ago, news of a great battle at Gettysburg was just beginning to reach here. Time has shown us that it was one of the bloodiest and most important military confrontations in our nation’s history. But in the early days of July 1863, the significance of Gettysburg and its deadly toll had not been realized.
The Reporter, a weekly newspaper at the time, carried much news of the war in its edition of Wednesday, July 8. The news taking top billing that day was a bulletin under the headline, “Vicksburg Surrendered!” The account from Gettysburg followed it and began:
“Baltimore, July 5 – A messenger arrived this morning from the field of the three days’ battle at Gettysburg, Pa., having left there only yesterday at noon. The enemy was then believed to be retreating on the Chambersburg turnpike and adjacent routes, having left one strong corps in an admirable defensive position. ...”
The account was published under a tombstone headline beginning with “The Invasion,” and including lines reading, “The federal loss killed and wounded from 5,000 to 7,000,” “4,000 rebel prisoners taken,” and “Our loss in officers exaggerated.”
Much later, the full effect of the battle would begin to be understood. Union casualties totaled 23,055. Estimates of Confederate losses– much more difficult to calculate – range from 23,000 to 28,000. Of the 120 generals from both sides present at Gettysburg, nine were killed.
Four months after the corpses were removed from the fields, President Abraham Lincoln arrived to help dedicate a final resting place for the battle’s dead.
“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” he said in a brief address that – contrary to his prediction – will never be forgotten.