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July 2018

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U.S. Census Bureau History: The Battle of Gettysburg

20th Maine at Gettysburg

Led by Lt. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, the 20th Maine played a decisive role in the Union victory
at Gettysburg. Running low on supplies and ammunition, the 20th held its position on Little Round
, preventing the Confederates from flanking the Union line.

When the smoke cleared, 29 of the 20th Maine's 386 men were killed, 91 wounded, and 5 missing.
Chamberlain and Sgt. Andrew Tosier received the Medal of Honor for their actions defending Little
Round Top on July 2, 1863.

Photo courtesy of the National Guard Bureau.

On the morning of July 1, 1863, the quiet town of Gettysburg, PA, became the focal point of one of the greatest battles of the American Civil War as Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia clashed with George G. Meade's Union Army of the Potomac. The ensuing 3-day battle would become the bloodiest in U.S. history as the Union sought to block the Confederate's invasion of northern territory.

Following his victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee ordered his army to move north into Union territory. By late June, elements of the Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Mason-Dixon Line (the boundary separating the "North" and "South") and were reconnoitering the area of Gettysburg, York, and Harrisburg, PA.

Upon entering Gettysburg on June 30 in search of supplies, Confederate troops under General Henry Heth were surprised to find Union cavalry defending the town. The next day, Heth ordered his division to engage the Union cavalry. The cavalrymen delayed the Confederates long enough for reinforcements to arrive. As the day wore on, more and more troops were thrown into the engagement. Fierce fighting eventually overwhelmed the Union lines and pushed them south of the town by day's end.

Overnight, the Armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia—approximately 175,000 troops—converged on Gettysburg. On July 2, Lee hoped to capitalize on the previous day's success by ordering Generals James Longstreet and Richard Ewell to attack the Union flanks. Despite suffering heavy losses, the Union's strong defensive position, heroic resistance, and Meade's skillful movement of reinforcements prevented Lee from striking the decisive blow on northern territory that he desired.

Unable to dislodge the Union on the left and right, Lee believed victory would be achieved with an assault on the Union's center at Cemetery Ridge on July 3. That afternoon, the general ordered a massive artillery bombardment followed by a 15,000-man assault. General George Pickett led the Confederate charge across nearly three-quarters of a mile of open fields. As they advanced, withering musket and cannon fire from the front and sides ripped through the Confederate ranks. Although small groups of Confederates penetrated the Union line, reinforcements quickly captured, killed, or forced the rebels to retreat. By sunset of the third day, less than half the men who participated in Pickett's Charge returned to the Confederate lines.

That evening, the Army of Northern Virginia moved to defensive positions in anticipation of a Union counterattack that never materialized. They retreated to Virginia on July 4. Approximately 51,000 (28,000 Confederate and 23,000 Union) soldiers were dead, wounded, or missing. One civilian died as a result of the battle—Mary "Ginnie" Wade was killed by a stray bullet as she kneaded dough in her sister's house.

Four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg to dedicate the Soldiers' National Cemetery. During the ceremony, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address defined the war as not only a struggle to preserve the Union, but also for the principle of human equality.

Leading a demoralized army and facing criticism of his actions in southern newspapers, Lee offered his resignation to President Jefferson Davis. Davis refused. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia would continue fighting until their surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.

You can learn more about the American Civil War and its combatants using census data and records. For example:
  • During the Civil War, the nation's 36 states and territories were divided among the Union, Confederate States of America, and border states. According to the 1860 Census, the 20 Union states had a population of approximately 19.2 million. The five border states (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia) had a population of about 3.5 million; and the 11 Confederate States of America had 8.7 million. Seven of the nation's ten largest cities were in northern states, including New York City, NY (813,669), Philadelphia, PA (565,529), and Boston, MA (177,840). Two border state cities had populations of more than 100,000—Baltimore, MD (212,418), and St. Louis, MO (160,773). New Orleans, LA, was the only southern city that qualified as one of the nation's ten largest, with a population of 168,675. New Orleans fell from the list of ten largest cities in 1890. A "southern" city did not return to the list until Houston, TX, qualified with a population of 938,219 in 1960. In 1970, Dallas, TX, with a population of 844,401, joined Houston. San Antonio, TX,with a population of 935,933 followed in 1990. In May 2017, the Census Bureau reported that states in the South Region were home to ten of the nation's 15 fastest growing cities.
  • Gettysburg is the county seat of Adams County, PA. In 1860, Gettysburg's population was 2,390, and it grew to 3,074 in 1870. The town's population peaked in 1960 with a population of 7,960. At the time of the 2010 Census, 7,620 people called Gettysburg home.
  • In 1863, Gettysburg's economy relied upon agriculture, a railroad line providing freight and passenger services, and a college and seminary. Today, museums, historical sites, and similar institutions (NAICS 7121) (including the Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site) and associated retail (NAICS 44-45) and accommodation and food services (NAICS 72) establishments drive the town's economy. In addition, healthcare (NAICS 62) and educational services (NAICS 61) employ thousands.
  • Although the 1862 Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single-day of the Civil War, Gettysburg was the war's bloodiest battle with 51,116 Union and Confederate casualties. In total, the Civil War Trust Link to a non-federal Web site estimates that the war resulted in approximately 1.5 million casualties, including 620,000 killed, 476,000 wounded, and 400,000 captured or missing. War casualties led to increases in many occupations between 1860 and 1870. For example, the number of artificial limb manufacturers rose from 5 in 1860 to 24 in 1870; there were 642 coffin manufacturers after the war compared to 210 before; and the number of undertakers grew from 835 in 1860 to 1,996 in 1870.
  • During the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the best known speeches in American history—the Gettysburg Address. In this short speech, Lincoln stated that the Union must win the war to preserve the Union and ensure equality for all citizens of the United States. Union General George B. McClellan (who Lincoln removed from command of the Union Army in 1862 following the Battle of Antietam) challenged Lincoln's commitment to equality as the Democratic Party's candidate in the 1864 Presidential Election. The Democratic platform promised war-weary voters that it would permit slavery if this concession would end the war and preserve the Union. Lincoln won the election with 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 electoral votes vs. McClellan's 21 votes.
  • Union General George G. Meade remained in command of the Army of the Potomac through 1865. Following the war, he oversaw reconstruction, as commander of the Third Military District, and died while leading the Military Division of the South in 1872. His opponent during the 1863 battle—Robert E. Lee—was unable to return to his home (the "Curtis-Lee Mansion,") after the war. The U.S. government confiscated it and the surrounding land to establish Arlington National Cemetery. Lee moved to Lexington, VA, after accepting the presidency of Washington College (Washington and Lee University Link to a non-federal Web site) in October 1865. He served as the college's president until his death on October 12, 1870.
  • Although fire destroyed the majority of the 1890 Census records, genealogist looking for relatives who were Union or Confederate soldiers during the Civil War may find interesting information in the surviving 1890 Veterans Census. Conducted at the request of the U.S. Pension Office, the 1890 Veterans Census questionnaire collected the name and address of surviving Union (and some Confederate) soldiers, sailors, marines, and widows; rank; company; regiment; enlistment and discharge dates; length of service; and information about disabilities (if any). Learn more about the availability of the 1890 Veterans Census, First in the Path of the Firemen: The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 2.
  • Interested in using census data and records to learn more about the Civil War? Visit our Web pages dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, the 1862 Battle of Antietam, and the 1865 Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

Francis Amasa Walker Staff Photo

Winfield Scott Hancock (center, right of tree) distinguished himself during the Battle of Gettysburg along Cemetery Ridge where he bore the brunt of Pickett's Charge
and was wounded, but refused evacuation until hostilities ended.

The next year, Hancock was at Ream's Station, outside of Petersburg, VA, with future superintendent of the census Francis Amasa Walker (far right). Confederates
captured Walker on August 25, 1864, as he carried orders from Hancock to Generals John Gibbon and Nelson A. Miles.

Learn more about Walker's military service, capture, and imprisonment in Captured! The Civil War Experience of Superintendent of the Census Francis Amasa Walker.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This Month in Census History

On July 10, 1820, J.D.B. DeBow, who headed the Census Office from 1853–1857, was born in Charleston, SC.

DeBow oversaw the tabulation and publication of the 1850 Census. Included in these publications was the Statistical View of the United States. It featured the "DeBow Map"—the first map in a census publication.

Lincoln at Gettysburg
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Lincoln at Gettysburg

President Abraham Lincoln was possibly suffering from the early stages of smallpox when he attended (above) the November 19, 1863, dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA.

He was quite ill one week later, but recovered sufficiently to attend a play at Ford's Theater on December 6. His personal valet, William H. Johnson, was not so lucky. After tending the president during his illness, Johnson died from the disease in January 1864.

In 1860, smallpox claimed the lives of 1,263. Ten years later, the census reported that, thanks to vaccination efforts, the disease killed 4,507. In 1980, the World Health Assembly reported that naturally occurring smallpox had been eradicated worldwide.

Image courtesy of the National Parks Service.

Charles Seaton
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Directors at War

Francis Amasa Walker oversaw the 1870 and 1880 Censuses. He was wounded during the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville and captured during the 1864 Siege of Petersburg, VA.

Seaton Device inventor Charles W. Seaton (pictured above) led the Census Office from 1881 to 1885. He served in the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters from August 1861 to May 1863, and was wounded during the 1862 Battle of Malvern Hill.

Carroll D. Wright was superintendent of the census from 1893 to 1897. In 1862, he enlisted in the 14th New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment. By the 1864 Shenandoah Campaign, he was assistant adjutant general to General Philip Sheridan.

Image courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 14, 2023