The Bloody Gettysburg Battlefield, the perfect example of the uselessness of war, ended as much in America as it began.
Carnage at a Bloody Gettysburg Battlefield
You drive through the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania, passing the little towns where Confederate General Robert E. Lee led his troops.
Tens of thousands filled the road bed for more than a mile, but you cannot really imagine it. 71,000 men and boys march into slaughter.
Their blood will soak the Gettysburg Battlefield.
We have a pretty good idea about the numbers. But the human details, the horror and destruction, is more than one mind can hold.
Our imaginations just aren’t built for the magnitude of such slaughter.
Horror The Days Ahead
In the three days, 5,000 of the men following Lee down the pike will die. Many miles from home, almost all will be buried there.
We can’t let the catastrophe of the Civil War and Gettysburg resolve into statistics.
Recruited in the South, 5,000 men and boys as young as fifteen will never leave the battlefield. Their lives are lost. Families fatherless, brother-less…
There are so many bodies only some can be buried before the the Army of Northern Virginia retreats.
Lee’s master plan for overwhelming the Union Army and sweeping toward Washington soaks in blood. 5,000 lives are wiped out in desperation to save slavery.
That’s not all. More than 3,000 Union soldiers die too.
Do the math.
8,000 men and boys are killed in three days in a small Pennsylvania town. Gettysburg has only 2,400 permanent residents.
But there’s more.
27,000 soldiers, men from both sides, are wounded. Some wounds are so severe the soldiers will never again be fit for work. Their labor wont feed and clothe families back home.
Farmers won’t farm. Tailors won’t stitch. Even teachers will not instruct students.
Bloody Gettysburg Battlefield as a Symbol
Gettysburg is symbolic of the Civil War because two massive killing machines collided. Visceral passions survive to poison the future.
Was either side right enough to justify the carnage?
In the Civil War, three-quarters of a million soldiers died, and thats more than all other American wars combined.
The strategies for both sides at the Battle of Gettysburg were simple.
General Lee wanted to draw the battle lines out of Virginia and take the war to the North. Invading Pennsylvania, he hoped to crush the Union spirit and prove the Union could not keep the nation whole
The Union forces, lead by General George Meade for only a few days, were determined to stop Lee. They needed to reverse the course of a war they’d been losing from the start.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point in the Civil War.
Lee, defeated, remained ferocious, master of America’s most formidable killing machine, but he never mounted another offensive campaign. Ulysses S. Grant took over the Union Army, and the two men rammed their forces against each other until one wore out.
Cruelty after Gettysburg was recorded in General William Tecumseh Sherman’s scorched earth march across the South. He burned Atlanta to the ground and destroyed civilian lives and livelihoods without remorse.
That was romantically fictionalized in Gone With The Wind.
Only fools thought the United States was one nation again or anything more than a legal association. One hundred and fifty years later, scars all over the present day South burn barely below the surface.
Bitter legacy of war lives on
The battle’s importance was magnified when Abraham Lincoln traveled there to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
Four months after the battle, Lincoln was asked only to make a “few appropriate remarks,” and he made the most of it.
After a two hour oration by Edward Everett Horton, he changed the meaning of the Civil War and all that it meant in just two minutes.
Starting with, “Four score and seven years ago,” President Lincoln tied the Union cause to the Declaration of independence. He tied it to equality for all, as set out by the Declaration, and declared that the Union mission was the preservation of the democracy,..
What did we learn from the Civil War?
We learned that, driven by passions, men and boys will sacrifice everything up to and including their lives on behalf of a principle. Leaders just have to sell it well enough.
We learned that savagery can be cultivated in people who, outside the war, are gentle and kind.
In a war where many brothers died, sometimes fighting on different sides, we learned that politicians can goad civilians into horrific battles to achieve goals from which they may never benefit, even if lucky enough to survive.
Current history suggests we also learned that a nation as big and inclusive as the United States is not guaranteed internal peace by its principles or best intentions.
All politics are local and no war will ever change that, here or anywhere else.
David Stone is a New York City based writer. His books can be found on his Amazon Author Page.