Revisiting the Mythic Battle for America

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 13, 2013 | Go to article overview

Revisiting the Mythic Battle for America


Byline: Michael Taube, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On July 1, Civil War historians and enthusiasts will mark the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

Over the course of three days of intense fighting, the Union Army defeated the Confederate States Army on the bloodstained battlefield. It has become widely known as a crucial turning point in this tumultuous period of U.S. history. The loss of human life was extensive, families were torn apart and the country would never be the same again.

Allen C. Guelzo, one of America's pre-eminent historians of this period, has written a superb account of this battle. He is the Henry R. Luce professor of the Civil War era, director of Civil War-era studies at Gettysburg College and an author of numerous books on Abraham Lincoln. His book Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is a stirring compendium of personal stories, passionate observations and blow-by-blow details of each excruciating day. It is also the story of two great armies, bound for the greatest and most violent collision the North American continent had ever seen.

The Civil War was fought for different reasons from both sides. As noted by Mr. Guelzo, for most in the Union Army, the war was a campaign to save liberal democracy from a conspiracy to replant European-style aristocracy in America. The Confederates, meanwhile, saw themselves as fighting for home and country, or for 'sectional and financial interests,' and some 'for the inestimable right of self-government.' The twin issues of slavery and freedom obviously played significant roles in the break between the Northern and Southern states. Many unique historical figures, including Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade, also emerged from the shadows to play vital roles in this civil war and incredible battle.

In particular, Lee was a highly respected individual and well-decorated soldier. He wasn't a perfect fit with the Confederate mentality on specific issues. Although he owned slaves, he thought as early as 1856 that in this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil in any Country. When war broke out, President Lincoln gave Lee an offer of high command for the Union Army - but he chose to defend the kith and kin of his beloved Virginia when it sided with the Confederacy. The fact that he was offered high-ranking positions for both armies remains one of the great Civil War stories.

Lee's army of Northern Virginia - the premier Confederate military group in the eastern theater - had successful battles in Fredericksburg (December 1862) and Chancellorsville (May 1863), and a bad loss at Antietam Creek (September 1862). …

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