For three frantic and bloody days in early July 1863, tens of thousands of Americans fought in the streets and fields around a small town in south-central Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War’s biggest battle, occurred midway through the four-year conflict that left more than 630,000 Americans dead.
The campaign that led to the Battle of Gettysburg began in June 1863 when General Robert E. Lee’s supremely confident Army of Northern Virginia invaded Pennsylvania. The North’s Army of the Potomac, which had lost the two previous battles with Lee’s army, followed the Rebels north.
Neither side expected to fight at Gettysburg. However, a skirmish on the morning of July 1 escalated as both sides rushed reinforcements into the growing fight. The second day of the battle was particularly bloody, and by day’s end, the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den and Little Round Top were etched in American military history. On the final day of the battle, 13,000 Rebels followed General George Pickett in one of the war’s most dramatic charges. By the end of the three-day battle, more than 51,000 Americans were casualties (killed, wounded, missing or captured). On July 4, Lee’s battered army limped back to Virginia.
Of the nearly 4,000 Michiganians who fought at Gettysburg, more than 1,110 Michiganians became casualties. Many of the dead were buried in the Michigan plot at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Years after the Civil War, Union veterans placed stone monuments at Gettysburg. Today, these tributes are among the more than 1,400 monuments, markers and cannon scattered over the Gettysburg National Military Park.
There are ten monuments to the Michiganians who fought at Gettysburg.
One monument honors Colonel Harrison H. Jeffords of Dexter, the 26-year-old commander of the Fourth Michigan Infantry, who was mortally wounded while defending the American flag in the Wheatfield.
The most impressive Michigan monument honors the contribution of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, which consisted of four regiments (First, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh). The brigade’s commander was 23-year-old General George A. Custer, who was in his first battle as a general. The forty-foot-high monument was placed where the Michiganians stopped Confederate General JEB Stuart’s famed horsemen in what one historian later claimed was one “of the most dramatic saber charges of this or any other war.”
For more great stories on Michigan’s past, look to Michigan History magazine. For more information or a free trial issue, call (800) 366-3703 or visit http://www.michiganhistorymagazine.com/.