July 1-3 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Nevada was not yet a state, and was mostly part of the Utah Territory and the present day Utah Historical Society does not have a list of those from Nevada who served in the Civil War.
However, in 1864, Nevada did send around 1,200 troops as part of the lst Battalion Nevada Volunteer Cavalry and Infantry.
Historians say there were a number of Southern sympathizers living and working in the territory at the time. One who had been with the Confederate Army, albeit just a very short time, was Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). However, that was before he came to Virginia City to work on the Territorial Enterprise newspaper.
In 1861, Clemens joined a Confederate militia in Missouri, the Marion Rangers, but only lasted two weeks, before he quit, and headed west.
He wrote of his experience later in story called Private History of a Campaign That Failed, in which he admitted he was duly frightened by a fast approaching regiment of Union soldiers, commanded, as he was to learn later, by no less than the then unknown Ulysses S. Grant.
Sam P. Davis in his 1912 book History of Nevada writes Nevada had proportionately more Southern sympathizers. But in Virginia City, the largest city in the territory, it was fairly evenly divided, and both groups even lived on opposite sides of town from one another.
Davis noted, “Many of them went to join the rebel army, but enough remained to impress a superficial observer by their loud demonstration with the idea that they were in the majority and ruled the territory.”
But, Davis does not write if any soldiers from Nevada participated in the Battle of Gettysburg. It is possible some might have.
In the early summer of 1863, the war was two years old, the South had achieved more victories than the North and was feeling quite good about itself.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s force of nearly 75,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia had recently inflicted a stunning defeat on Union forces under Gen. Joseph Hooker at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia in early May, when Gen. Stonewall Jackson made a nighttime forced march behind the Union lines and attacked from the rear.
Following this victory, Lee then decided to turn north, go along behind the Blue Ridge Mountains to screen the movements, cross the Potomac River and head toward Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The main objective was the draw the Union Army out into the open where it could be destroyed.
Brimming with confidence from the victory at Chancellorsville, Gen. Lee knew that a letter had been prepared, offering peace, to be placed on the desk of President Lincoln the day after Lee had destroyed the Army of the Potomac, somewhere north of Washington.
Union General George Meade, who had just succeeded Hooker as commander of the federal Army, learned of Lee’s movements and moved north as well, taking his 122,000 troops on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
By late June, the stage was set for the greatest battle of the Civil War.
It began on July 1, when advance troops from both sides engaged near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a small town about 35 miles west of Harrisburg.
The first major development occurred that morning when the Union troops that were defending McPherson Ridge were driven out of the town of Gettysburg, but still held the high ground on positions just south of town.
However, before Lee could take advantage of the situation, he was forced to wait for the arrival of Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps, and the Confederates failed to capture an important hill position, which the Union quickly reinforced during the night.
This allowed Gen. Meade to size up the situation and strengthen his main line of defense along Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, a little south, southeast of the town.
On the second day, July 2, Lee sent Longstreet’s corps to attack the Federal’s south flank, which involved desperate hand-to-hand fighting at places known as Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard, and Devil’s Den.
Although the Confederates could have seized the advantage at this point, they delayed, and again Meade was able to plug up the gaps with newly arrived troops and reorganize.
The third day, July 3, was highlighted by Confederate Gen. George Pickett’s frontal attack at the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. This action, later immortalized as “Pickett’s Charge,” involved 15,000 Confederates moving across nearly a mile of open grasslands and wheat fields toward 10,000 Union defenders who held the high ground.
Lee’s plan was to use Pickett to soften up the Union center, then commit Longstreet’s corps to complete the taking of Cemetery Ridge.
For two hours prior, 150 or more Confederate cannon pounded the Union positions, before running low on ammunition. However, their aim was long and the Union troops simply moved a little forward and for the most part, the shells landed behind them.
Then the battlefield fell silent.
Suddenly, out of the woods on the other side emerged an astonishing sight –15,000 men in Confederate grey, their regimental colors waving, advancing in tight formation a mile long, moving toward the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge.
Soon the Union artillery, up to 450 guns all along the line, including those on both Big and Little Round Top, opened up with deadly accuracy, tearing gaping holes in the long grey line.
As some of the advance groups crossing the fields neared the crest of the ridge, the main Union infantry, which had been concealed behind stone walls, rose up and riddled the Confederate forces unmercifully.
The Confederate charge quickly lost its discipline and a frantic rush was made toward the Union lines with anything they had, but there would be no victory for the South today.
Suddenly again, it became every man for himself and the Confederates scrambled back across the fields and fences to their own lines at Seminary Ridge, some even walking backward to avoid being shot in the back.
Casualties were incredibly high. General Pickett’s division alone lost 75 percent of its strength, a loss for which Pickett would never forgive Lee the rest of his life.
Estimates of all Southern dead, wounded, and missing ran to 28,000, while Meade’s army lost 23,000 in all.
The following day, July 4, it began to rain. Lee started his retreat to Virginia, the myth and aura of his being invincible destroyed forever, and the wagon train of rebel wounded stretching behind him was 17 miles long.
Meade followed slowly behind, too cautious to attack though, with his badly mangled army, and allowed Lee to cross back over the Potomac.
While the war would go on for nearly two more devastating years, never again would the South invade the North, or recover from the decline.
Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant April 9, 1865, at Appomattox, Va.