Battle of Gettysburg: 150th Anniversary

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle of the Civil War and the first major defeat for Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Estimates of the three-day toll for both sides exceed 45,000 casualties, including more than 7,500 killed or mortally wounded.


The Battle of Gettysburg stamp is a reproduction of an 1887 chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup (1848-1930), a Swedish-born artist who became an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly after the Civil War. Thulstrup’s work was one of a series of popular prints commissioned in the 1880s by Boston publisher Louis Prang & Co. to commemorate the Civil War.

In the spring of 1863, General Lee had conceived a bold plan to invade Pennsylvania and perhaps deal a decisive blow to the Union. Fresh from his brilliant victory in Virginia at the Battle of Chancellorsville in early May, Lee confidently informed Confederate president Jefferson Davis that the invasion would relieve pressure on war-ravaged Virginia as well as on Rebel forces in the West.

Notwithstanding Lee’s optimism that he could follow up his recent triumph with a major offensive, the position of the South was increasingly desperate. Union forces were closing in on Vicksburg, Mississippi, jeopardizing the entire western theater. The Confederates sorely needed an offsetting victory in the East.

In early June, Lee began moving troops from his Army of Northern Virginia out of Fredericksburg. Before the end of the month, the bulk of the army had crossed the Potomac River into Maryland on their way to Pennsylvania. As Union forces discerned Lee’s intent, they raced north to meet the threat.

On June 28, President Abraham Lincoln, still seeking an aggressive general who could defeat Lee on the battlefield, replaced Joseph Hooker after his disappointing performance at Chancellorsville and put Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac. Meade developed a plan to fight a defensive battle in Maryland, but the armies collided instead along the ridges and hills near the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Each of these envelopes carries one of the two Forever® stamps depicting significant conflicts of 1863—Battle of Gettysburg and Battle of Vicksburg—cancelled with an official First Day of Issue color postmark. Click the image for details.

The battle began on July 1, when a Confederate infantry division approached Gettysburg, stumbling prematurely into a Union cavalry division on McPherson’s Ridge, west of the town. Lee planned to engage Meade’s army only after massing his own scattered troops. However, unaware that Meade’s 90,000 Federal troops were only a short distance behind the Yankee cavalry, the Confederates attacked and the fighting quickly escalated. By the time Lee actually arrived on the scene, his troops had pushed the Federals back to Cemetery Hill, just south of the town. Lee ordered General Richard Ewell to seize the high ground “if practicable.” But as the sun was setting, Ewell decided it was too risky to attack. Union troops were then able to consolidate their position on Cemetery Hill during the night.

Meade arrived on the scene during the night and quickly decided that Cemetery Hill, and the ridge that ran southward from it, made a good defensive position. With most of Meade’s army arriving the next morning, July 2, the Union troops formed a line whose shape resembled a fishhook, with the curved part of the hook on Culp’s and Cemetery Hills and the shank running along Cemetery Ridge to the Round Tops. Lee’s most trusted subordinate, James Longstreet, recognizing the strength of the position, urged Lee to make a flanking move and find defensive terrain farther south of Gettysburg, but Lee was determined to stay on the offensive. Pointing to the Union line, he told Longstreet, “The enemy is there, and I am going to attack him there.” The ensuing attack on the afternoon of July 2 resulted in bloody fighting at places soon known across the nation as the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, and Devil’s Den.

The following day (July 3), Lee ordered the ill-fated attack commonly known as Pickett’s Charge (after the lead officer, General George E. Pickett) on the Union center at Cemetery Ridge. Some 13,000 infantry crossed an open field under heavy artillery fire, incurring high casualties in an attempt to overrun the Union’s position. At the end of the day, Lee admitted his mistake, telling one of his generals, “All this has been my fault.” He ordered a retreat on July 4, the same day Vicksburg fell to Ulysses S. Grant in the West.

CivilWar1863-Forever-pane-BGv1For the Union’s much-maligned Army of the Potomac, the battle marked an important turning point. For Lee’s forces and the South, Gettysburg has often been called the “high water mark of the Rebellion.”

The Civil War: 1863 souvenir sheet, featuring 12 self-adhesive Forever® stamps commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg and the Battle of Vicksburg (6 stamps of each design), is , by calling  (), and in Post Offices nationwide. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.

Five-Year Civil War Sesquicentennial Stamps Series Continues

Two of the most important events of the Civil War were memorialized on Forever® stamps yesterday at the sites where these conflicts took place—Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Vicksburg, Mississippi.


The Battle of Vicksburg stamp is a reproduction of an 1863 lithograph by Currier & Ives titled “Admiral Porter’s Fleet Running the Rebel Blockade of the Mississippi at Vicksburg, April 16th, 1863.” The Battle of Gettysburg stamp is a reproduction of an 1887 chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup (1848-1930), a Swedish-born artist who became an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly after the Civil War. Thulstrup’s work was one of a series of popular prints commissioned in the 1880s by Boston publisher Louis Prang & Co. to commemorate the Civil War.

This issuance is the third in a five-year series commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The sheet of 12 stamps includes two stamp designs: one depicting the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle of the war, and one depicting the Battle of Vicksburg, a complex Union campaign to gain control of the Mississippi River. (USPS began the Civil War Sesquicentennial series in 2011 with the issuance of the Fort Sumter and Battle of Bull Run Forever stamps. Last year, we issued stamps memorializing the Battles of Antietam and New Orleans.)

CivilWar1863-Forever-pane-BGv1The background image on the 1863 souvenir sheet is a photograph taken by Mathew Brady shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg of captured Confederate soldiers, who reportedly posed for Brady on Seminary Ridge. The souvenir sheet includes comments on the war by Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, Rufus R. Dawes (a Union soldier), and William Tunnard (a Confederate soldier). It also includes some of the lyrics of “Lorena,” a popular Civil War song by Henry D. L. Webster and Joseph P. Webster. The stamp series was designed by art director Phil Jordan of Falls Church, Virginia.

“Unquestionably, the Civil War was a horrific four years for our country. There was nothing ‘civil’ about it, and the devastation inflicted on the country as a result was on a scale that is hard to fully comprehend,” said U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors Vice Chairman James Bilbray in dedicating the Vicksburg stamp in the city where his great, great grandfather, a member of the Sixth Alabama Infantry Battalion, died during the siege.

Joining Bilbray in dedicating the stamps at the USS Cairo Museum were Vicksburg National Military Park Superintendent Michael Madell, author and Louisiana State University Associate Professor of History Gary Joiner, and award-winning broadcaster Walt Grayson.

“Today, we are humbled by the opportunity to dedicate this new stamp honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice so our country could be whole and we could all prosper,” said Gettysburg College alumnus and U.S. Postal Service Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Jeff Williamson at the Gettysburg dedication ceremony. “In issuing these stamps, it is our fervent hope that it will help to strengthen what President Abraham Lincoln called the American people’s ‘mystic chords of memory’ that stretch ‘from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land.’”

Joining Williamson in dedicating the stamps at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center were Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site Superintendent Bob Kirby, Gettysburg Mayor William Troxell, College of Gettysburg President Janet Morgan Riggs, and Gettysburg Foundation President Joanne Hanley.

To obtain the obtain first-day-of-issue postmark for your collection, purchase stamps at a local Post Office, online at, or by calling 800-STAMP-24. Affix the stamps to envelopes of your choice, address the envelopes to yourself or others, and place them in larger envelopes addressed to:

Civil War: 1863 Stamp (Vicksburg, MS)
3415 Pemberton Blvd.
Vicksburg, MS  39180-9998

Civil War: 1863 Stamp (Gettysburg, PA)
115 Buford Avenue
Gettysburg, PA  17325-9998

After applying the first-day-of-issue postmark, USPS will return the envelopes through the mail. While the first 50 postmarks are free, there is a five-cent charge per postmark beyond that. All orders must be postmarked by July 23, 2013.

are being issued as Forever® stamps, which are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce price.

New Civil War Stamps to be Issued Tomorrow

The year 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of not only the largest battle of the Civil War (Gettysburg) but also the longest and most complex military campaign of the conflict (Vicksburg). Tomorrow we’ll be on the site of both battles to officially unveil the new .

CivilWar1863-Forever-Block-v2The stamps will be dedicated at at two ceremonies. The first will take place at 10 a.m. CDT in the USS Cairo Museum at Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The other will take place at 11 a.m. EDT in the visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Please come join us!