Gettysburg – a battle that changed the course of history

US Army War College Historian, Colonel Douglas Mastriano, says the Battle of Gettysburg changed world history. Copyright: A Nelson/ICRC

US Army War College Historian, Colonel Douglas Mastriano, says the Battle of Gettysburg changed world history. Copyright: A Nelson/ICRC

The Battle of Gettysburg is arguably the most famous and decisive battle of the American Civil War. It took place 151 years ago this week, during three unbearably hot days – from July 1 to 3, 1863.

Today, the area surrounding the town of Gettysburg is a beautiful, almost bucolic setting made up of wheat fields, a peach orchard, rocky hills, tourist shops, wooded outcrops, and well-preserved historic homes.

But just over 15 decades ago it was the scene of the American Civil War's bloodiest confrontation – and the largest battle in North American history – involving more than 150,000 men, 70,000 horses, and 550 cannon combined. Around 50,000 soldiers from both sides were killed during those three days. (Remarkably, despite the fact that tons of artillery shells and an estimated seven million bullets were fired, just one civilian, a 20-year-old seamstress named Jennie Wade, was killed. That's in sharp contrast to today's armed conflicts.)

In the end, the Battle of Gettsyburg resulted in the triumph of the Union Army over the Confederate forces, marking not only a tipping point in the Civil War but a pivotal moment that changed the course of world history, according to Colonel Douglas Mastriano, a historian at the US Army War College, who recently took Intercross on a tour of the battlefield. 

In this short, narrated photo gallery, Colonel Mastriano takes us back to those sweltering summer days when the battle was about to begin and describes both the horror and the humanity that could be found as the sound of guns rang out in and around this Pennsylvania crossroads town. 

To learn what Gettysburg and Europe's Battle of Solferino have in common, read this piece we published last summer.