ECW: Harvest of Death the Days after Gettysburg

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Feb 5, 2017

“A Harvest of Death”: The Days After Gettysburg

Posted on July 8, 2019 by Paige Gibbons Backus


A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Image taken by Timothy O’Sullivan and printed by Alexander Gardner. Getty Museum.

In the days following the Battle of Gettysburg, the most of both the Union and Confederate armies had already left the area. However, approximately 30,000 soldiers of both armies still remained in Gettysburg. About 21,000 of these soldiers were receiving treatment in the hospitals (often people’s homes or barns) or they were still out in the field needing treatment. About 7,000 more lay dead on the recent battlefield awaiting burial as were about 3,000 horses. To put this into perspective, the population of the town of Gettysburg in 1863 was about 2,400 people.[1] Unlike many other battles throughout the war, Gettysburg was accessible to Northern citizens who were not yet exposed to the carnage of war. Gettysburg residents, curious visitors, and even seasoned soldiers were horrified by what they saw.

…I saw a small portion of [the battlefield], but I saw all I wished to. The rebel dead and ours lay thickly together, their thirst for blood forever quenched. Their bodies were swollen, black, and hideously unnatural. Their eyes glared from their sockets, their tongues protruded from the mouths, and in almost every case, clots of blood and mangled flesh showed how they had died and render a slightly ghastly beyond description…I thought I had become hardened to almost anything, but I cannot say I ever wish to see another sight like that I saw on the battle-field in Gettysburg. [2]

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