Washington, D.C., was in a panic! 72,000 Confederate troops were just sixty miles away near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee was under a time deadline. Mounting casualties of the war were causing Lincoln’s popularity to fall, so if Lee could get a quick victory at Gettysburg, he could pressure Lincoln to a truce.
But this window of opportunity was fast closing, as Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was about to capture Vicksburg on the Mississippi, which would divide the Confederacy and free up thousands of Union troops to fight Lee in the east.
Unfortunately for Lee, his tremendously successful general, “Stonewall” Jackson, had died two months earlier, having been mistakenly shot by his own men. On the Union side, Lincoln replaced Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker with Maj. Gen. George Meade to command the 94,000 men of the Union Army of the Potomac.
The Battle of Gettysburg began July 1, 1863. After two days of intense combat, with ammunition running low, General Robert E. Lee ordered a direct attack. Confederate General James Longstreet disagreed with Lee’s plan, resulting in his delayed advance till after all the Confederate artillery had been spent, leaving no cover fire.
Historians speculate that if General Longstreet had made a timely attack, the Confederates may have won the day. As it happened, 12,500 Confederate soldiers marched across a mile of open field without artillery cover to make “Pickett’s Charge” directly into the Union position at Cemetery Ridge. An hour of murderous fire and bloody hand-to-hand combat ensued, followed by the Confederates being pushed back.
The Battle of Gettysburg ended July 3, 1863, with over 50,000 casualties.
The next day, Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant, giving the Union Army control of the Mississippi River. When news reached London, all hopes of Europe recognizing the Confederacy were lost. For the next two years, the South was on the defensive.
On July 5, 1863, President Lincoln and his son visited General Daniel E. Sickles, who had his leg blown off at Gettysburg. General James F. Rusling recorded that when General Sickles asked Lincoln if was anxious before the Battle, Lincoln answered: “No, I was not; some of my Cabinet and many others in Washington were, but I had no fears. …”
Lincoln continued: “In the pinch of your campaign up there, when everybody seemed panic-stricken, and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went to my room one day, and I locked the door, and got down on my knees before Almighty God, and prayed to Him mightily for victory at Gettysburg. I told Him that this was His war, and our cause His cause, but we couldn’t stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. And I then and there made a solemn vow to Almighty God, that if He would stand by our boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by Him. …”
Lincoln added: “And He did stand by you boys, and I will stand by Him. And after that (I don’t know how it was, and I can’t explain it), soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into his own hands and that things would go all right at Gettysburg.”
Twelve days after the Battle of Gettysburg, July 15, 1863, Lincoln proclaimed a day of prayer: “It is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father and the power of His hand equally in these triumphs and in these sorrows. … I invite the people of the United States to … render the homage due to the Divine Majesty for the wonderful things He has done in the nation’s behalf and invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue the anger which has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion.”
In his Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln ended: “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.”
Years later at the Gettysburg Battlefield, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated May 30, 1934: “On these hills of Gettysburg two brave armies of Americans once met in contest. … Since those days, two subsequent wars, both with foreign Nations, have measurably … softened the ancient passions. It has been left to us of this generation to see the healing made permanent.”
In his third inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, Jan. 20, 1941: “The spirit of America … is the product of centuries … born in the multitudes of those who came from many lands. … The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history. It is human history. … Its vitality was written into our own Mayflower Compact, into the Declaration of Independence, into the Constitution of the United States, into the Gettysburg Address. … If the spirit of America were killed, even though the nation’s body … lived on, the America we know would have perished.”
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