Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Gettysburg Day 3 (and the Forgotten Victor of the Battle)

On July 2, 1863, Meade's line had held. Both armies had lived to fight another day. The next day, July 3, the Army of the Potomac, under its new commander George Gordon Meade, would finally defeat the Army of Northern Virginia.

It's a surreal experience walking the field of Pickett's Charge, as I've done numerous times. 

As Lee's troops advanced across the field, the fate of the battle -- and of the union itself -- appeared to hang in the balance. Lee's troops began to thin as Federal soldiers poured fire into their ranks. General Lewis Armistead, hat atop his sword, fought his way over the stone wall. It was all for nothing. The last and bloodiest attack of the battle of Gettysburg was over. 

At first, Meade was unwilling to believe the news of his victory. "Is the attack already repulsed?" he asked Lt. Frank Haskell. "It is, sir." replied Haskell. The enemy had retreated. "Thank God" was all Meade could say. 

Four months later, the Gettysburg Address would become etched into the memory of Americans. Lincoln had come to Gettysburg to dedicate the National Cemetery. "Four score and seven years ago," he said, "our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." The past is always present. History -- its good and its bad -- is alway with us. To state the obvious, I am proud to be an American. Were I in Gettysburg today during this 161st anniversary commemoration, I would be swept along by the thousands of my fellow citizens, from North and South alike, who came to honor the dead. 

Meade's war wounds took him to an early grave. His name is largely forgotten today except for a stubborn core of Gettysnerds who refuse to forget. The victor of Gettysburg seems to have disappeared from the nation's consciousness. But at Gettysburg, Lee had finally met his match. 

The battle had saved the union.