Beginning this weekend, the entire nation will join the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Many historians consider Gettysburg a turning point in the Civil War and a watershed event in American history. Through it all, Western Pennsylvania played a critical role in the Union victory.
In the summer of 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee sought to move the fighting out of the South to take advantage of Northern resources and claim a decisive military victory. News of a Confederate invasion spread throughout Pennsylvania, and many cities, including Pittsburgh, braced for an attack by mustering militias and building fortifications.
In late June, the Army of Northern Virginia evaded Union cavalry patrols at Chambersburg, Shippensburg, Carlisle and Mechanicsburg before concentrating on Gettysburg.
On June 27, President Abraham Lincoln replaced Union Gen. Joe Hooker and appointed a Pennsylvanian, Gen. George Meade, to take command of the Union Army of the Potomac and destroy Lee's army.
The Battle of Gettysburg began on July 1, 1863, and when the smoke cleared three days later, more than 50,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were casualties. Meade's army forced Lee to retreat to Virginia.
Western Pennsylvania played a significant role in the victory at Gettysburg, supplying thousands of troops and ammunition to aid the Union's effort. Approximately 15,000 Pennsylvanians fought for the Union Army during the battle, including the 140th Pennsylvania regiment, comprising soldiers from Beaver, Green, Mercer and Washington counties.
Crippled by the extensive losses of personnel, supplies and morale stemming from its defeat at Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River on July 4, the Confederacy eventually surrendered 21 months later to end the Civil War.
Visitors to the Heinz History Center's new exhibition, "Pennsylvania's Civil War," presented by Mylan, can see a lifelike museum figure of Gettysburg hero Strong Vincent along with photos and artifacts related to the pivotal battle. For more information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org/civilwar.