156 years of perseverance: The Battle of Gettysburg saved the Union and America as we know it
For many, the history of July 4th begins and ends with the American war for independence against Great Britain, as well as the birth of a new nation.
However, July 4th holds significant weight during other eras of America’s history- and includes a war that threatened to tear the nation apart.
During the American Civil War, the Confederacy had gained a significant number of victories by 1863 and had managed to remain a unified force as they pushed northward. At the time, General Robert E. Lee had managed to push into a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.
The Union forces in the area at the time were in dire need of a victory and looked to Major General George Meade to bring them guidance. The Army of the Potomac dug in around the farming town of Gettysburg, determined to hold the line.
On July 1, the battle had begun, with Confederate units managing to breach the first defensive lines, sending Union troops scattering through the town as they headed to another defense line in the nearby hills.
By day two of the battle, the Union had set up a fishhook-shaped defensive perimeter and awaited the Confederate onslaught. Attacking their flank, Lee found heavy resistance and was unable to adequately breach Union lines.
In a final act of desperation, the Confederacy launched a 12,500-man assault that would later be known as Pickett’s Charge, which would result in a Union victory and massive casualties for the Confederate army.
When the sun rose on July 4, Lee had already begun retreating back to Virginia. The day prior, around 46,000 to 51,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in what remains the most costly battle in US history.
On that same day in the South, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee -who had managed to cross the mighty Mississippi River- continued their siege of Confederate Lt. Gen. John Pemberton’s Confederate Army of the Mississippi, who were dug in defensive lines around Vicksburg- the last major rebel stronghold along the Mississippi River.
By the end of July 4, the Confederate Army would be split in two, ushering in the beginning of the end for the Southern armies and signaling a major turning point in the Civil War.
If the American Revolution was fought for the creation of the United States, then the American Civil War was fought to preserve it. In reflection of such trying times, one must hope never to see such bloodshed upon our own soil again, and be content to sit back and enjoy pyrotechnics of a recreational sort.
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