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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Historical Tidbit: The Battle of Gettysburg

So this is the week we will celebrate the birth of our country and the glory it has been since its inception. I come from a very patriotic family. My great-grandfathers on both sides fought on World War II and I have had lots of family in the military since then as well. So, in celebration, many of my posts this week will have a patriotic bent, and I may start out each one with a true story about the patriots in my family, or just a patriotic story in general.

Today, the historical tidbit has to do with patriotism by definition, so I'll let it stand on its own.

Did you know...that the Battle of Gettysburg almost lost the war for the North, as much as it won it for them?

It's true. The Battle of Gettysburg is generally seen as the turning point in the Civil War. It was a three-day, bloody battle in which American fought American on American soil. Horribly tragic and heartwrenching for both sides, the combined estimated losses of the campaign exceed 57,000 men. Think about that 57,000 Americans killed one another over a three-day stretch, and they didn't even have the weapons technology we do today. They did have guns and cannons, but their gun ammunition was of the powder variety, and the majority of this fighting was done hand to hand.

The battle is considered the turning point of the war for several reasons. Thereafter, General Lee, who led the Confederate, or Southern, army never again conducted any offensive campaigns. He simply defended against Northern aggression. Months later, the pangs of Gettysburg were still resounding with the entire country, as evidenced by the Gettysburg Address and the way it re-defined the war, as well as the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery. In short, most people see it as being all down hill for the Confederacy after Gettysburg; just a matter of time until a Union victory.

However, there are theories that, had the Confederacy won out at Gettysburg, it might have not only resulted in an overall Confederate victory, but it might have ended the war then and there. 

So the next question is, how likely was a Confederate victory? Very likely, actually. The two sides were fairly evenly matched, with mostly comparable numbers and weapons, legendary generals, and well-thought-out strategies that would probably both been successful against lesser leadership. Basically, the fate of the country balanced on the edge of a knife and, from a purely physical (i.e. military, logistical or historical) standpoint, could have gone either way.

So why the Union victory over the Confederates? Simple chance? I don't think so, and most people don't. While there were undoubtedly good, decent, god-fearing people on both sides of the conflict, the north was fighting for all the same things the south was (home, family, way of life) but they were also fighting for one extra things: the freedom and equality of all men, which is an elevated, godly ideal. I believe this gave them just slightly more power on a level that can be neither seen nor measured, and that is where their victory ultimately came from.

Today Gettysburg is known as one of the most haunted places on earth. I've never actually been there so I can't say for sure, but I've heard stories, and none of them surprise me. I belive that everything intelligent beings (i.e. humans) do leaves a mark, whether good or bad, even on things we don't generally consider intelligent, like the earth. Too many men lost their lives in that valley for there not be a residue of it left today.

Today, July 1, is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Perhaps, as we come upon the birthday of our great nation, we can all take a moment to remember all the lives lost at Gettysburg and what they were lost in service of. Twenty years before the Civil War, while giving the closing remarks before the Supreme Court in the trial of the Amistad slaves, John Quincy Adams said in defense of freeing the slaves: "Give us the courage to do what is right. And if it means civil war? Then let it come. And when it does, may it be, finally, the last battle of the American Revolution.

What do YOU think? Was it possible for the Union to have lost the Battle of Gettysburg?

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