Remembering Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863

The peaceful agricultural town of Gettysburg lies in southern Pennsylvania, where good farmland lies among rocky ridges and outcrops of the ancient Appalachians. Five roads meet in the town. In 1863, General Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia,  of the Confederate States, decided to move his army north into the better pasturage and richer pickings of Maryland and Pennsylvania, bringing the war to the northern states. The rebels had every reason to feel confident. The Union army had been whipped at Chancellorsville, repelled with great loss at Mary’s Heights, and no matter how much better equipped they had been, the Union never managed to combine its forces in such a way as to soundly thrash the Confederates, once and for all. After one particularly bloody engagement outside of the confederate capital of Richmond in 1862, a Confederate general said: “Give me Confederate infantry and Union artillery, and I could rule the world”. The Union artillery was covering a retreat of its forces from the James Peninsula at the time.

While the Union army showed increasing combat effectiveness, its generalship was lacking. Its commander in the east, General George McLellan, was the worst kind of general: he exaggerated the strength of the south at every turn, he never pressed his advantages, he did not actually believe it would be necessary to defeat the South, and in short, he was a self-aggrandizing weakling. By contrast, Lee was ready to throw away the lives of his men like chaff in the wind, so long as he was convinced the losses would gain victory. Lee was the exemplar of the Napoleonic doctrines of decisive battle. President Lincoln fired McLellan after he failed to follow up his victory at Antietam (1862) by crushing Lee when he could have done so.

Lee’s army wandered into Pennsylvania and there began what the military call a “meeting engagement” to the west of Gettysburg. When armies collide the generals have to fight it out there or decide to disengage. Lee engaged, and drove the Union armies through Gettysburg onto a ridge line to the east of town, from which they proved, after two more days of intensive combat, utterly immoveable.

Before Gettysburg, the cause of the Union was in doubt. After the news of Gettysburg (July 3) and the fall of Vicksburg (July 4th), the bloody struggle would continue another two years, but the cause of slavery and the Southern states upon which it stood was finished. It took way more killing than anyone could have expected, but the capacity of men to fight bravely and well in miserable causes is a well-known feature of war.

On the occasion of the dedication of the cemetery to the Union dead, Lincoln said:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


America is in one of its low points. Obama will be poorly remembered for many reasons: his weakness, the poor economic situation, his capitulations to militant Islam, and his soon to be revealed medicare mess. It is important to remember the America that was, has been, and will be again.
God bless America, because right now it needs divine help. May the light of wisdom shine forth on its political class, and its people, to fix their self-created disasters.