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The Battle That Shaped a Country
You can hardly read a newspaper or watch television these days without being reminded of a piece of U.S. history: the Battle of Gettysburg. This year marks the battle’s 150th anniversary. We learn about it – not so much in school these days, as history seems to have taken a back seat there – but we pick it up anyway and begin to put together the historic event.
Gettysburg wasn’t just a battle, a battlefield, a memorial, or a historic address by President Abraham Lincoln. It was the turning point of the Civil War, a battle that could have gone either way. In fact, many historians say the South should have won it, but lost due to poor leadership.
Good people can disagree on what might have happened, but it is likely that the South would have continued the secession from the North, and Texas would have left the South, establishing its own country, as would California, and the conglomeration of the western states. Slavery would have continued on for a time. The United States would not have become the super power that it is. How exactly the country might have been different can be debated, but different, it would be.
The Battle of Gettysburg lasted three days: July 1-3, 1863. At the end of Day 1, the South had the advantage. On the second day, Gen. Robert E. Lee gave orders to his generals to attack the Union soldiers occupying the hills around the town. But they were slow in carrying out the orders, allowing the Union troops to better fortify their positions and enabling them to hang on through the end of Day 2.
On July 3, hoping to press forward and win the war, southern forces attacked again. This was the infamous “Pickett’s Charge,” a line of infantry a mile wide, marching toward the fortified Union position. Fierce fighting ensued for several hours, including hand-to-hand combat with bayonets. At the end, Lee was forced to withdraw his forces.
On July 4, the Confederate Army loaded its wounded and began the trek back south. They had to leave their dead, which were buried near Gettysburg. The Union’s dead were buried on the battlefield.
The numbers are staggering: About 160,000 men were involved. The Confederates lost 28,000 out of 75,000; the Union lost 23,000 out of 88,000. Picket’s Charge, alone, cost the South 7,500 men. Gettysburg remains, to this day, as the single, bloodiest battle on U.S. soil.
A total of 160,000 men may have taken part, but, ultimately, it all came down to the actions of just a couple of them. It can be argued that, while Gen. Lee was somewhat indecisive when it mattered most, Gen. Meade exhorted his troops to keep the high ground and control the battle.
As sometimes happens, leadership comes down to carefully analyzing where you are and developing a strategy to accomplish your goal. But the implementation of the tactics has to be swift and sure. Meade’s was.
So was President Lincoln’s strategy when, on June 28, he determined that Gen. Meade was to take over as commander of the Army of the Potomac. That action just might have saved the Union.
Just four months later, on Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln came to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg and gave one of the most poignant and shortest speeches ever, which has come to be known as the Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created 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 honored 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.
As we consider all that we have been blessed with as a nation, may we never forget the huge price that has been paid for us—paid in blood—at places such as Gettysburg, so that we might have the freedoms we still enjoy.
If there is to be any memorial to the challenges you and your business have been facing, then let it be the spot where you stared into the face of adversity, kicked it in the butt and then planted it in the ground. That’s your Gettysburg!