As we look back through time and try to imagine Gettysburg on the morning of July 3, 1863, we are confronted by several ironies of fate. General Robert E. Lee and his Army of North Virginia were one attack away from victory over the Union's Army of the Potomac and maybe of winning the entire war that day. Could it be possible that the Confederacy would win its independence as the anniversary of our nation's birth was to be celebrated?
That attack would be a charge across an open field directed at the center of the Union's forces. Pickett's Charge. General James Longstreet was Lee's senior corps commander. He would later recall: "My heart was heavy. I could see the desperate and hopeless nature of the charge and the cruel slaughter it would cause. That day in Gettysburg was the saddest of my life."
General George Meade, the commander of the Union forces, would report back to Lincoln that evening:
"The enemy opened at 1 p. m. from about 150 guns, concentrated upon my left and center, continuing without intermission for about three hours, at the expiration of which time he assaulted my left center twice, being upon both occasions handsomely repulsed, with
severe loss to him...The enemy left many dead upon the field and a large number of wounded in our hands...My cavalry have been engaged all day on both flanks of the enemy, harassing and vigorously attacking him with great success...The army is in fine spirits."
The next day--July 4th--Lincoln and the Union would celebrate the victory at Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksburg to General Ulysses S. Grant. It was the beginning of the end of the war. The United States would remain united states.
However there were many dead left upon that field in Gettysburg. Which brings us to the prologue of our book. Next week we will begin to read and think about the words that remade America.
For those of you wanting to learn more about Pickett's Charge, I highly recommend viewing the two segments devoted to this topic from Ken Burn's film, The Civil War, that can be found on YouTube. Part One and Part Two.
[The Gettysburg monument image is by Alan Cordova and can be found on his Flickr site.]