2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
Life and the Civil War
The Hazards of Shot and Shell

Musket ball damage to gettysburg home
As you drive through the town of Gettysburg today, reminders still linger of those dangerous days of July 1863. A careful and observant eye will notice the many pits visible on the gray painted southern facing side of this home. Most of these worn chips in the brick exterior wall were born of Union minie balls zipping from Union musket fire stemming from Cemetery Hill. They targeted Confederate sharpshooters finding shelter on what would have been a home on the outskirts of the town. As many civilians hid in their cellars or left town, this home withstood an obvious barrage of withering fire. Despite finding themselves host to the largest battle ever seen on this continent, only one civilian was killed during the fighting, with at least three others wounded.

Continuing through town, you may notice other homes with similar marks. There are yet a few which still have artillery shells lodged in the brick of homes standing in the way of conflict in July of 1863. Click here to see one of the homes in Gettysburg with a cannon shell still embedded in the exterior wall.

Another measure of the intense ferocity of the fighting endured by the civil war soldier is pictured here. Of course, each of the over 160 thousand men who fought at Gettysburg as well as those who braved other battlefields possessed a painful awareness of the horrors always lurking. With some exceptions, those previously on garrison duty for example, most had weathered the storms of war before and bore witness to terrific slaughter and suffering. Yet for three days, they threw themselves onto the fields in southeastern Pennsylvania, braving a hailstorm of lead and iron never before witnessed. This picture of minie balls that collided mid-air, taken at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor's Center, provides a chilling glimpse of what each man faced with every tear of the cartridge and pull of the trigger.

Allowing some idea of what the soldiers and civilians faced during the battle of Gettysburg, this picture of another display in the Gettysburg Visitors Center's Museum graphically reveals damage done by cannon fire to a long row of floor joists from a home once located on the Battlefield near Oak Ridge. During those three days in July 1863, soldiers regularly advanced in the face of such staggering and deadly firepower. A ten pound solid iron ball moving at over 1,000 feet per second (or about 680 miles per hour) should give pause to most anyone facing such a hazard. Certainly, a line of advancing soldiers would pose less of an obstacle to shot and shell then did these rows of thick, hardened floor boards.

After the Battle of Antietam, Private David Thompson of the 9th New York said, "The truth is, when bullets are whacking against tree trunks and solid shot are cracking skulls like eggshells, the consuming passion in the breast of the average man is to get out of the way. Between the physical fear of going forward and the moral fear of turning back, there is a predicament of exceptional awkwardness." But, on they came. Some estimates contend that in excess of 560 tons of ammunition assailed the stalwart men of both lines during Gettysburg's three days of battle. Other reports claim that the massive artillery duel preceding Pickett's Charge was heard as far away as Pittsburgh, 140 miles to the west.

DISTURBING IMAGE - Soldier killed by artilleryNot all examples of the devastation caused by civil war weaponry is as intellectually sterile as those noted above. Pictured here is the disturbing image of a soldier apparently eviscerated by an artillery shell during the Battle of Gettysburg. This image is included on this site not for any sensationalistic purposes but to underscore the grim, savage realities of warfare.

Please do not click on this image if you may find the image of a dismembered soldier disturbing. Children should do so only with parental supervision.