Weather & the Battle of Gettysburg

July 4th, 2012 at 11:49 am by under Weather

Historical battles – we often think of the events that happened and the people involved.  But, how often do we think about the weather?

149 years ago, July 3,1863, the Battle of Gettysburg ended.  It was one of the largest battles ever fought in America.  In total, there were over 51,000 casualties.  Even though you may not think about it, the weather affected those who fought.

Rev. Dr. Michael Jacobs, who taught at Pennsylvania College as a Professor of Mathematics and Science, recorded temperatures and sky conditions during the Battle of Gettysburg.  He recorded conditions at 7 AM, 2 PM, and 9 PM.

On July 1st, (the first day of the battle) Jacobs recorded temperatures in the mid-70s at 2 PM.  He recorded that it was cloudy most of the day – with cumulostratus, cirrostratus clouds, and a light warm breeze.  He said the entire sky was covered by clouds, but since cumulostratus and cirrostratus clouds tend to be thin, we can assume there might have been some sunshine peaking through the overcast sky.

July 2nd, Jacobs recorded temperatures in the low-80s at 2 PM.  He recorded light winds, with cumulostratus clouds at 8 AM.  At 2 PM, he said the sky was 3/10 clear, then at 9 PM, there were cirrus clouds.

On the final day, July 3rd, Jacobs reported temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s at 2 PM, with cumulostratus clouds covering the sky.  That afternoon, Jacobs said the sky was 4/10 covered by clouds.  Jacobs said there were cumulus clouds, or as he put it, “the thunderclouds of summer”.  He goes on to say that the sky was 7/10 covered with cumulus clouds by 9 PM.  He also noted that there was a “thunderstorm in neighborhood at 6 PM”.  He said the thunder “seemed tame, after the artillery firing of the afternoon.”

According to Major B.F. Eshleman, who was the Chief of Artillery in the First Corps, the march to Gettysburg was “a severe one” because of “excessive heat, dry weather, and dust.”  Despite the arid weather, he said the soldiers arrived at Gettysburg “in good fighting condition”.

July 3rd would’ve been the most uncomfortable day weather-wise.  It was warm and likely humid, since a thunderstorm was reported in the vicinity.  Confederate uniforms were made of cotton, which may have been slightly more comfortable than the Union uniforms, which were made of wool.

On July 3rd, when Pickett’s Charge took place, it was humid and the temperature was about 87-degrees.  The Confederates had to walk about a mile for the Charge.

Even though the weather didn’t have a large impact on the battle, you can imagine what it must have been like for the people who were affected by it.  Weather has played a role in the lives of the people of the past, it plays a huge role in the present, and will continue to affect the lives of the people in the future.

-Eileen Carmody, 22 News weather intern

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