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This Country of Ours - H. E. Marshall

Lincoln—The Battle of Gettysburg

The day after Jackson was wounded the battle of Chancellorsville continued, and ended in a second victory for the Confederates. On the 4th and 5th the fighting was again renewed. Then the Federals retired across the Rappahannock to their former camping ground unmolested, the Confederates being too exhausted to pursue them.

After Fredericksburg the Confederates had rejoiced. After Chancellorsville they rejoiced still more, and they made up their minds to carry the war into the northern states. So leaving part of his army under General J. E. B. Stuart to prevent the Federals pursuing him Lee marched into Pennsylvania. But General Stuart was unable to hold the Federals back, and they were soon in pursuit of Lee.

At Chancellorsville Hooker had shown that although he was a splendid fighting general he was a poor commander-in-chief, and towards the end of June, while the army was in full cry after the foe, General George Gordon Meade was made commander-in-chief. Meade continued the pursuit, and Lee, seeing nothing for it, gave up his plans of invasion, and turned to meet the foe.

The two forces met near the little town of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, and a great three-days' battle took place.

The fighting began on the first of July when the Federal army was still widely scattered through the country, and Meade himself far in the rear, and again the Confederates triumphed.

Late that night General Meade arrived upon the field, and began to make preparations for the struggle on the morrow. On both sides the commanders and armies seemed to feel that a great turning point of the war had come, and they bent all their energies on winning. Both camps were early astir, yet each side seemed to hesitate to begin the fearful game, and put fortune to the test. So the morning passed quietly, the hot silence of the summer day being broken only now and again by fitful spurts of firing.

Late in the afternoon at length the Confederates attacked, and soon the battle raged fiercely. The fight swung this way and that, first the one side and then the other gaining ground here, losing it there. When night came the position was little changed. The advantage still lay with the Confederates.

Next day there was no hesitation. Both sides knew that the deadly duel must be fought to the close, and at dawn the roll and thud of cannon began. From hill to hill gun answered gun, shells screamed and hissed, and the whole valley seemed to be encircled with flame and smoke. But the Confederates gained nothing. The Federals stood firm.

At length Lee determined to make a mighty effort to smash the center of the Federal line, and split it in two. Collecting about a hundred and fifty guns he massed them along a height named Seminary Ridge, and with these he pounded the Federals on Cemetery Hill opposite. For two hours the terrible cannonade lasted. At first the Federal guns replied vigorously, then they almost ceased. They ceased, not because they had been put out of action, not because ammunition was running short, but because Meade was reserving his strength for the infantry attack he knew must come.

In the Confederate camp there was strained anxiety. Lee had determined to make the attack, but General Longstreet was against it. He did not believe that it could succeed. It was, he felt sure, only the useless throwing away of brave lives, and his heart was wrung with sorrow at the thought. But Lee insisted, and General George E. Pickett's division was chosen to make the attempt.

So Longstreet gave way. But when Pickett came to him for last orders he could not speak; he merely nodded his head, and turned away with a sob.

Pickett, however, knew neither hesitation nor fear.

"Sir," he said firmly, "I shall lead my division forward."

Again Longstreet gave a sign, and Pickett, gallant and gay, rode off "into the jaws of death." Erect and smiling, his cap set rakishly over one ear, his brown-gold hair shining in the sun, he seemed, said Longstreet long after, more like a "holiday soldier" than a general about to lead a desperate and almost hopeless attack.

The Federal lines were a mile away. Towards them, towards the bristling row of guns, the men marched steadily, keeping step as if on parade, their banners fluttering gaily, and their bayonets glittering in the sunshine. Confident and elated they swept on. They were out to win not merely the battle but the war, and they meant to do it.

Half the distance was covered. Then the Federal guns spoke. Crashing and thundering they tore great gaps in the approaching column. Still the men moved on steadily, resistlessly, until they came within musket range. Then on a sudden the whole Federal line became as it were a sheet of flame and smoke, and the first line of the advancing Confederates seemed to crumble away before the fearful fusilade. But the second line came on only faster and yet faster, firing volley after volley, scattering frightful death as they came.

Battle of Gettysburg


Nothing could stay their impetuous charge. On they came right up to the rifle pits. In a rush they were across them, and over the barricades. Then with a yell of victory they threw themselves upon the guns, bayoneting the gunners. Leaping upon the barricade a man held aloft the Confederate flag, waving it in triumphant joy. The next instant he fell mortally wounded, and the flag, bloodstained and torn, was trampled under foot.

The Confederate success was only the success of a moment. The handful of heroic men who had reached the Federal guns could not hope to hold them. They died gallantly. That was all.

A storm of shot and shell tore its way through the still advancing ranks. It became an ordeal of fire too great for even the bravest to face. The lines at length wavered, they broke, and the men were scattered in flight. Thousands lay dead and dying on the field, many surrendered and were taken prisoner, and of the fifteen thousand gallant soldiers who had set forth so gaily, only a pitiful remnant of thirteen hundred blood-stained, weary men at length reached their own lines.

This gallant and hopeless charge brought the battle of Gettysburg to an end. It brought victory to the Federal side, and the Confederates slowly retired into Virginia once more.

Yet the victory was not very great nor in any way decisive, and the cost of life had been frightful. Indeed, so many brave men had fallen upon this dreadful field that the thought came to the Governor of the state that it would be well to make a portion of it into a soldiers' burial place and thus consecrate it forever as holy ground. All the states whose sons had taken part in the battle willingly helped, and a few months after the battle it was dedicated. And there President Lincoln made one of his most beautiful and famous speeches.

Abraham Lincoln


"Fourscore and seven years ago," he said, "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are 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 cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot 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 honoured 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."