On July 3 1863, 157 years ago today, the US Army of the Potomac (c.105,000 men) and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia (c.75,000) clashed outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. By the end of three days of intense conflict, 51,116 Americans were casualties.
The crux of the Civil War that had sparked the bloodiest battle ever fought on the American continent was the secession of 11 southern states from the USA, primarily over the issue of the right of those states to run their economies using slave labour.
Between 1861 and 1865, the total Union casualties were 642,427, while the Condeferate casualties were 483,026. Given the brutal nature of the war, frequently involving hand-to-hand combat, between combatants sharing the same social backgrounds (and sometimes family blood) post traumatic stress disorder would have been rife.
"During the American Civil War, soldiers were particularly vulnerable to intimate violence. Family members and friends were often assigned to the same company of around 100 men, who were not replaced as they died. When companies suffered substantial losses, survivors were left with few remaining friends or male family members. Soldiers readily identified with the enemy (who were sometimes from the same state or county), making the sight of mutilated corpses even more gruesome. Although guns and cannons were used, frontal assault was common, and hand-to-hand combat, with no trenches or barriers, resulted in row after row of dead bodies and the sight of comrades blown apart. Unlike in other documented wars, young adolescents and older men were allowed entry into military service (ranging from under 10 to over 70 years).
Overall, the Civil War qualifies as one of the bloodiest in American history, exposing thousands to incomparable traumatic experiences. If intimate violence is particularly detrimental, increased exposure to such violence should consistently predict negative health outcomes."
Physical and Mental Health Costs of Traumatic War Experiences Among Civil War Veterans.
US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
Given the brutal nature of the war, frequently involving hand-to-hand combat, between combatants sharing the same social backgrounds (and sometimes family blood) post traumatic stress disorder would have been rife.
The photograph was taken during the commemorations for Gettysburg's 50th anniversary, in 1913, when 53,000 veterans from both armies met for a week of events at the site of the battle. Veterans of the Army of North Virginia re-enacted 'Pickett's Charge,' when 12,500 rebel soldiers advanced over open-ground in a last-gasp attempt to turn the battle's tide. They were repelled, suffering 50% casualties, an action that became known as the 'high-tide of the Confederacy,' effectively sealing victory for the US Army. In 1913, the veterans marched over the same ground and were met with the outstretched hands of friendship of their former enemies.
President Woodrow Wilson said, "We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten."
The spirit of peace and reconciliation exemplified by those proud handshakes is the horrific war's enduring legacy; that, and the fact slavery was abolished by the US 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6 1865.