Diplomacy abroad had prevented recognition of the Confederacy, but the Federal army made little progress in defeating Lee’s army in Virginia. In early May, General Hooker’s 130,000 federal troops advanced against Lee’s army of 60,000. The two armies confronted one another at Chancellorsville between Richmond and Washington. Lee sent General Stonewall Jackson to attack Hooker on his right flank. In a fierce battle in an area of vines and briars called the Wilderness, Union troops retreated in confusion, saving Richmond from being captured. More Southern troops than Northern troops were killed in this engagement, including the invaluable Stonewall Jackson.
Grant undertook a siege at Vicksburg. Surrounded and starving a 50,000 soldier strong Confederate force finally surrendered this key outpost in July. The North now controlled the Mississippi River and had cut the Confederacy in two. In a move of desperation, Lee decided to attack the North. In the confusion of troop movements, both sides lost track of one another, until a chance encounter at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania brought the two sides face to face in a great battle with 150,000 combatants. The use of canon and the introduction of a mechanized machine gun – the Gatling gun – slaughtered soldiers. Lee was finally forced to retreat. More than 7000 men were killed and over 40,000 men from the two armies had been wounded or missing. Gettysburg marked the turning of the tide of war to the North’s favor.
“Fourscore 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.”
- What event is Lincoln referring to that happened “Fourscore and seven years” ago?
- Have the dead “died in vain?” Or does the United States still have a government “of the people, by the people,” and “for the people?
- What are the greatest risks to this? What are our greatest strengths preserving it?
This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook. Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers. Click here to download the Common Sense American History materials.
Timothy H. O’Sullivan/Library of Congress. 4, July 1865 Battle of Gettysburg Day 1 [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <cbsnews.com/news/battle-of-gettysburg-day-1-robert-e-lees-temporary-victory/>.