On the morning of July 1, 1863, the largest battle of the Civil War began when Union and Confederate forces collided at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. To honor the men who lost their lives, here are five facts you may not know about the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil...
The Battle Had Nothing to Do with Shoes. Despite a prevailing myth that the Confederate Army marched toward Gettysburg on a hunt for new shoes for the 80,000 or so men behind General Lee, there's no historical accuracy to support that's what led to the fateful meeting. In fact, despite the fact that Gettysburg was a booming little town in 1863, there wasn't even a shoe factory anywhere close by. Instead, the real reason the Union and Confederate armies converged on Gettysburg was simply because of the ten roads that passed through the town. No one made any mention of shoes until 1877 when Confederate General Henry Heth wrote that his desire for new kicks led to the start of the bloodiest battle on American soil.
In 2014, President Obama Awarded a Medal of Honor to a Fallen Union Soldier. Since the battle concluded on July 3, 1863, American presidents have awarded 64 Medals of Honor to various soldiers whose service went above and beyond the call of duty at Gettysburg. The most recent recipient, Alonzo Cushing, received his award posthumously from President Obama in 2014. Cushing was just 22 when he was killed defending Cemetery Ridge. Cushing was struck three times — once through the shoulder, a second time in the abdomen, and third fatally in the mouth. Cushing fought through the first two wounds despite an officer ordering him to go to the rear. According to Obama's Medal of Honor Citation, Cushing's efforts killed several Confederates and helped repel Pickett's Charge.
A 75-Year-Old Gettysburg Citizen Volunteered Alongside the Union Troops. As the Confederate Army approached town, John Burns, a 75-year-old veteran of the War of 1812 and resident of Gettysburg, grabbed his flintlock musket and volunteered his services to the nearest Union regiment. Though initially greeted with some snickers and snide remarks, Burns proved ready to fight and suffered three wounds on the first day of battle. Though captured by the Confederates, they allowed him to return home to his wife. After the battle, Burns became a local celebrity of sorts and even had a chance to meet President Lincoln.
Residents of Gettysburg Collected Over 37,000 Rifles from the Battlefield. Of those 24,000 were loaded with at least one round of ammunition. An estimated 7,000 rounds of ammunition were fired at Gettysburg along with over 500 cannonballs. One estimate claims it took 100 rounds of ammunition for one casualty at Gettysburg. Rifles could shoot about 400 yards, whereas the cannons could reach up to a mile and a half.
Confederates Had a Train of Wounded Soldiers That Went for 17 Miles. Following the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate Army retreated south toward Virginia to lick their wounds and recoup. Little did General Lee know that it would be the last time his Army would come north. 8,000 wounded Confederate soldiers made the long, 10-day journey back to Virginia in horrible, rainy weather. The train of wagons stretched for 17 miles but even despite that, some 6,800 wounded Confederates remained behind at Gettysburg to be treated by Union field hospitals.