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Before 1861, the United States of America “were” known as separate independent states and even created most of their own rules and regulations. A debate ensued as to whether to have each state or one central government should decide on vital issues like taxation, trade of products and in particular, the issue of slavery. Although the southern states supported slavery because their economy depended on it, the northern states strongly opposed the institution.
In 1861, the southern states seceded from the government and formed their own Confederacy of States, after realizing that the debate could no longer resolve the division. They even went as far as electing their own president, Jefferson Davis (Abnett, Verma 3). A civil war then broke out to decide whether the United States would split into two or remain one country. This is because, the then president, Abraham Lincoln believed that a house divided cannot stand.
Background of Battle of Gettysburg
Confederate armies had achieved many victories over their northern counterparts in 1861 and 1862. The astute General Robert Lee was in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia in the summer of 1863. He made your mind up to invade the north thereby pulling both armies from war torn northern Virginia, where there had been most of the fighting (Allison 1). Invading and winning victory over the north would cause northerners to pressure the Lincoln administration to pursue peace, and thus end the war. It is this decision that brought the war to a small, rural south central Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.
On the third day of the battle, while travelling north to central Pennsylvania, General Lee’s 75,000 strong Army of Northern Virginia learnt that the 95,000 men of the Army of the Potomac, led by Maj. General George Meade were pursuing them. On July 1st, 1863, Lee commanded several brigades to travel east, locate them and to forage for supplies. The two armies met northwest of the town of Gettysburg where a skirmish ensued with heated battle. Commanders of both armies sent reinforcement troops to the place. Over the next two days, Meade’s army arrived from the south and southeast while Lee’s army came together onto Gettysburg from the north and west. So this is how a battle never planned happened simply by circumstance (Abnett, Verma 7).
The Confederate Army forced the Union forces to go all the way through the avenues of Gettysburg to take defensive lines in the south. The 5 mile confederate line travelled from the Seminary Ridge on the west side of the town and eastwards towards the place called Culp’s Hill. Additional northern reinforcements arrived on the field occupying a two mile defensive position along the Cemetery Ridge and the Culp’s Hill.
The second day of the battle, which occurred on July 2nd, 1863, was marked with the battle where there were a series of uncoordinated Confederate attacks on the Union defensive position in the south. The Confederate forces drove back the Union troops in areas called the Porch Orchard, Wheatfield, Valley of Death and Devils Den with a large number of wounded troops. The Confederate Army decided to advance to the right flank, a move which was victorious, but was stopped by the Union Forces in a place called Little Round Top (Bixby 91). Having been successful in two days of battle with the Union, General Lee attacked what he thought was the Union’s weakest position on the next day. General Meade at the same time also held a council of war with his commanders and took a decision of remaining in a defensive position for the battle anticipated the next day. The decisions made by both commanders resulted in one of the most significant events of the American Civil War.
The third day of battle, on July3rd, 1863, began with an unsuccessful attempt to occupy Culp’s Hill (Burgan 26). A mile east of Gettysburg, a Confederate Calvary of 6,000 troops attacked the Union from behind. The Union cavalry of 5,000 men confronted them and turned the Confederates back. General George Custer led the Union forces with General Jeb Stuart leading the southern forces. The only Gettysburg citizen killed in the battle was Mrs. Jennie McClellan who was baking bread for the grateful Union soldiers on the morning of July 3rd. While she stood kneading dough, a bullet pierced the door killing her instantly.
A cannon fire, the largest cannonade that ever occurred on the North American continent overshot the target and devastated the farm fields behind the Union troops. 12,000 Confederate soldiers then marched from Seminary Ridge, to attack the Union center. This would be forever immortalized in history as Pickett’s Charge. The Union artillery then hit the columns of men mowing them down like blades of grass. A small number of Confederate forces reached a clump of trees but were engulfed by the Union forces from three sides.
The group of trees came to be known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. Pickett’s division and other elements in the invasion were completely destroyed (Heisser para 3). The battle ended with Confederates being defeated and retreating back to Virginia the following day (Allison 58). The heroic acts of both Armies were immortalized in history approximately five months later when President Lincoln gave the legendary speech known as “The Gettysburg Address” (Burgan 41).
The Gettysburg Address
In his address, President Lincoln said that a new nation was brought forth on the continent, four score and seven years ago, conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality. He commented that the civil war was to test whether the nation was able to endure long. He reiterated that their meeting was to dedicate a portion of the battle field as the ultimate resting place for soldiers, who gave their lives that the nation may live.
He further said that America ought to resolve that the soldiers did not pass away in futility and that the United States of America, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom (DeAngelis 39). He strongly believed that the government of, by, and for the people shall not depart from the earth (Burgan 41).
Results of the Speech
The impact of “The Gettysburg Address” in the history of the United States of America is realized in its enduring presence, in the American culture. It has remained among the most famous speeches in American history (DeAngelis 39). Martin Luther King later referenced it in another of the famed oration speeches. The constitution of France, under the fifth republic that was established in 1958, is a literal translation of Lincoln’s words, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (Burgan 41). Moreover, the address has become a part of patriotism in the American tradition. This is evident in the fact that it is a staple for memorization in schools.
Significance of the Battle of Gettysburg in US History
The battle of Gettysburg is one of the most momentous occurrences in the chronological records of the United States. This is mainly due to the fact that it was one of the most high-ranking battles that led to the end of the civil war. It is also considered one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the nation. Its significance is drawn from the fact that it was one of the game changers in the civil war for the nation.
As a result of the battle, the Southerners could not move any further. In this regard, the battle stopped the Confederacy from moving onto Philadelphia or New York, or even going back to Washington DC. Additionally, as a result of losing soldiers, the Confederacy was not in a position of replacing them. This put them in a defensive position for the rest of the war. The result of the battle was also a huge blow to the Confederates who had hoped to get some assistance from England and France, a situation which could have jeopardized the sovereignty of the United States as a nation.
Politically, it is also considered an important battle since the Union was capable of overpowering the Confederates. As a result, the Union took control of the political clout of the confederates. Additionally, since the Union was able to lead the army of General Lee, they got the power to reign over the entire United States.
The battle is also vital for the United States because the then President Abraham Lincoln got a platform to alter the significance, of why wars ought to be carried out. He was able to explain his statement at the Gettysburg Address.
Much, as the war lasted for four years with over 600,000 deaths and 3,000,000 casualties of both the northerners and southerners, the nation was reborn as in 1865 at the end of the war. Since then, the United States has always been united as one nation. Following the end of the battle, the United States underwent a popular emancipation program for the people of the United States, with the principle of liberty and equality being upheld since they are an integral part of the United States constitution.