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Gettysburg Battlefield

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863 in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Adams County, which had approximately 2,400 residents in 1863. It was the center of a road network that connected ten nearby Pennsylvania and Maryland towns, including well-maintained turnpikes to Chambersburg, York, and Baltimore, so was a natural concentration point for the large armies that descended upon it.

To the northwest, a series of low, parallel ridges lead to the towns of Cashtown and Chambersburg. Seminary Ridge, closest to Gettysburg, is named for the Lutheran Theological Seminary on its crest. Farther out are Herbst's Ridge (known also as McPherson's, for the farm owner in the area), Herr's Ridge, and eventually South Mountain. Oak Ridge, a northward extension of Seminary Ridge, is capped by Oak Hill, a site for artillery that commanded a good area north of the town.

Directly south of the town is Cemetery Hill, a modest 100-foot slope named for the Evergreen (civilian) cemetery of the time; the famous military cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln now shares the hill. Adjacent, due east, is Culp's Hill, higher by 80 feet, heavily wooded, and more rugged. Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill were subjected to assaults throughout the battle by Richard S. Ewell's Third Corps.

Extending south from Cemetery Hill is a slight elevation known as Cemetery Ridge, although the term ridge is rather extravagant; it is generally only about 40 feet above the surrounding terrain and tapers off before Little Round Top into low, wooded ground. At the northern end of Cemetery Ridge is a copse of trees and a low stone wall that makes two 90-degree turns; the latter has been nicknamed The Angle and The High Water Mark. This area, and the nearby Codori Farm on Emmitsburg Road, were prominant features in the progress of Pickett's Charge during the third day of battle, as well as General Richard H. Anderson's division assault on the second.

Dominating the landscape are the Round Tops to the south. Little Round Top is a hill with a rugged, steep slope of 160 feet above its surroundings, strewn with large boulders; to its southwest, the area with the most significant boulders, some the size of living rooms, is known as Devil's Den. [Big] Round Top, known also to locals as Sugar Loaf, is 130 feet higher than its Little companion. Its steep slopes are heavily wooded, which made it unsuitable for siting artillery without a large effort to climb the heights with horse-drawn guns and clear lines of fire. However, both Little Round Top and Cemetery Hill were excellent sites for artillery, commanding all of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge and the approaches to them. Little Round Top and Devil's Den were key objective of General John Bell Hood's division in Longstreet's assault during the second day of battle.

Northwest from the Round Tops, towards Emmitsburg Road, are the Wheatfield, Rose Woods, and the Peach Orchard. As noted by General Sickles in the second day of battle, this area is about 40 feet higher in elevation than the lowlands at the south end of Cemetery Ridge. These all figured prominantly in General Lafayette McLaw's division in Longstreet's assault during the second day of battle.

Visitors to Gettysburg today will find that there is more wooded land than in 1863. (The National Park Service has an ongoing program to restore portions of the battlefield to their historical non-wooded conditions, but this is a politically delicate process for reasons that are easy to imagine.) There are also considerably more roads and facilities for the benefit of tourists visiting the battlefield park.

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