The Battle of Gettysburg

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 1, 2013

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What happened at Gettysburg, was this: Lee invaded Pennsylvania, and at a small crossroads town about 8 miles north of the Maryland border, 170,000 men fought for three days, often hand-to-hand, in encounters so epic they are known by name: the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Ridge, Pickett’s Charge, Seminary Ridge. There were 50,000 casualties; Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and, in that the Union finally won and Lee finally lost, its turning-point. Here, a letter from that battlefield tells how this all felt to a soldier in the thick of it. 

On the sultry afternoon of July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a twenty acre wheatfield, golden with ripening grain, became a morass of terrible noise, fierce fighting, and brutal, unrelenting death. By the end of the day, the wheat trampled, the ground soaked with blood, the place was a no-man’s land, separating the Union and Confederate lines. Here a soldier, Private Ellis Strouss, having somehow survived The Wheatfield intact, writes home to his mother: he is unharmed, he says; the Battle of Gettysburg has been won; and they are confident that now, they  “will whip Lee’s Army so that he will not be fit to do anything more for some time to come.”

“The Battle of Gettysburg is fought and thank God The Army of the Potomac has been victorious. I took part in the battle with my Regt on the 2nd inst and it has been my good fortune to escape unharmed. I am well and so are the rest of the boys in the Co. I cannot tell yet what the loss of our Regt is. We have many missing who may be either killed, wounded or taken prisoners…. The Loss in the Regt is (as far as I know) Killed 10 Wounded 53 Missing 68… Our Corps (the 3rd) has not started yet but we are expecting to go every minute. The Boys are all confident that we will whip Lee’s Army so that he will not be fit to do anything more for some time to come.”

Union and Confederate dead, Gettysburg Battlefield, Pa., July 1863. Photographed by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. National Archives.

ELLIS C. STROUSS.  1840 – 1908. A gunsmith from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Federal Army in 1861 as a private; was wounded twice; and served until the end of the Civil War, mustering out as a captain.

Autograph Letter Signed, 2 pages, recto and verso, Gettysburg, July 6, 1863. To “Mother.”

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