The Confederate Government had always been eager to carry
the contest into Northern territory. It was satisfying to the natural pride
of the South, and it was thought that some experience of the evils of war
might incline the Northern mind to peace. Lee was ordered to march into
Pennsylvania. lie gathered all the troops at his disposal, and with 75,000
men he crossed the Potomac, and was once more prepared to face the enemy on
his own soil. The rich cities of the North trembled. It was not unlikely
that lie should possess himself of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Could he once
again defeat Hooker's army, as he had often done before, no further
resistance was possible. Pennsylvania and New York were at his mercy.
Lee advanced to the little Pennsylvanian town of Gettysburg. Hooker, after
marching his army northwards, had been relieved of the command. A battle was
near; and in face of the enemy a new commander had to be chosen. Two days
before the hostile armies met, General Meade was appointed. Meade was an
experienced soldier, who had filled with honour the various positions
assigned to him. It was seemingly a hopeless task which he was now asked to
perform. With an oft-defeated army of 60,000 to 70,000 men, to whom he was a
stranger, he had to meet Lee with his victorious 75,000. Meade quietly
undertook the work appointed to him, and did it, too, like a brave, prudent
The battle lasted for three days. On the
first day the Confederates had some advantage. Their attack broke and
scattered a Federal division with considerable loss. But that night the
careful Meade took up a strong position on a crescent-shaped line of heights
near the little town. Here he would lie, and the Confederates might drive
him from it if they could.
Next day Lee attempted to
dislodge the enemy. The key of the Federal position was Cemetery Hill, and
there the utmost strength of the Confederate attack was put forth. Nor was
it in vain. Part of the Federal line was broken. At one point an important
position had been taken by the Confederates. Lee might fairly hope that
another day's fighting would complete his success and give him undisputed
possession of the wealthiest Northern States. His loss had been small, while
the Federals had been seriously weakened.
Perhaps no hours
of deeper gloom were ever passed in the North than the the hours of that
summer evening when the telegraph flashed over the country the news of Lee's
success. The lavish sacrifice of blood and treasure seemed in vain. A
million of men were in arms to defend the Union, and yet the northward
progress of the rebels could not be withstood. Should Lee be victorious on
the morrow, the most hopeful must despond.
The day on which
so much of the destiny of America hung opened bright and warm and still. The
morning was occupied by Lee in preparations for a crushing attack upon the
centre of the Federal position; by Meade, in carefully strengthening his
power of resistance at the point where he was to win or to lose this
decisive battle. About noon all was completed. Over both armies there fell a
marvellous stillness—the silence of anxious and awful expectation. It was
broken by a solitary cannon-shot, and the shriek of a Whitworth shell as it
rushed through the air. That was the signal at which one hundred and fifty
Confederate guns opened their fire. The Federal artillery replied. For three
hours a pro- (hgious hail of shells fell upon either army. No decisive
supremacy was, however, established by the guns on either side, although
heavy loss was sustained by both. While the cannon- tide still continued,
Lee sent forth the columns whose errand it was to break the Federal centre.
They marched down the low range of heights on which they had stood, and
across the little intervening valley. As they moved up the opposite height
the friendly shelter of Confederate fire ceased. Terrific discharges of
grape and shell smote but did not shake their steady ranks. As the men fell
their comrades stepped into their places, and the undismayed lines moved
swiftly on. Up to the low stone wall which sheltered the Federals, up to the
very muzzles of guns whose rapid fire cut every instant deep lines in their
ranks, the heroic advance was continued.
General Lee from
the opposite height watched, as Napoleon did at Waterloo, the progress of
his attack. Once the smoke of battle was for a moment blown aside, and the
Confederate flag was seen to wave within the enemy's position. Lee's
generals congratulate him that the victory is gained. Again the cloud
gathers around the combatants. When it lifts next, the Confederates are seen
broken and fleeing down that fatal slope, where a man can walk now without
once putting his foot upon the grass, so thick lie the bodies of the slain.
The attack had failed. The battle was lost. The Union was saved.
General Lee's business was now to save his army. "This has been a sad day
for us," he said to a friend, "a sad day; but we can't expect always to gain
victories." He rallied his broken troops, expecting to be attacked by the
victorious Federals. But Meade did not follow up his success. Next day Lee
began his retreat. In perfect order he moved towards the Potomac, and safely
crossed the swollen river back into Virginia.
The losses sustained in this battle were terrible.
Forty-eight thousand men lay dead or wounded on the field. Lee's army was
weakened by over 40,000 men killed, wounded, and prisoners. Meade lost
23,000. For miles around, every barn, every cottage contained wounded men.
The streets of the little town were all dabbled with blood. Men were for
many days engaged in burying the dead, of whom there were nearly 8000. The
wounded of both armies, who were able to be removed, were at once carried
into hospitals and tenderly cared for. There were many so mangled that their
removal was impossible. These were ministered to on the field till death
relieved them from their pain.
The tidings of the victory
at Gettysburg came to the Northern people on the 4th of July, side by side
with the tidings of the fall of Vicksburg,. The proud old anniversary had
perhaps never before been celebrated by the American people with hearts so
thankful and so glad. Mr. Lincoln, who had become grave and humble and
reverential under the influence of those awful circumstances amid which lie
lived, proclaimed a solemn day of thanksgiving for the deliverance granted
to the nation, and of prayer that God would lead them all, "through the
paths of repentance and submission to the divine will, to unity and
The deep enthusiasm which, in those
anxious days, thrilled the American heart, sought in song that fulness of
expression which speech could not afford. Foremost among the favourite
poetic utterances of the people was this :-
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming
of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift
His Truth is marching on.
I have seen If in the
watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar
In the evening dews and damps;
I have read His righteous sentence by the
dim and flaring lamps;
His Day is marching on.
read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel—
"As ye deal with My
contemners, so with you My grace shall deal;"
Let the Hero born of woman
crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh! be swift, my
soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet,—
Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory
in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy,
let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
These strangely musical verses were sung at all public meetings in the
North, tile audience ordinarily starting to their feet and joining in the
strain, often interrupted by emotion too deeply stirred to be concealed.
President Lincoln has been seen listening to the hymn with tears rolling
down his face. When the Battle of Gettysburg was fought there were many
hundreds of Northern officers captive in the Libby prison—a huge, shapeless
structure, once a tobacco factory, standing by the wayside in a suburb of
Richmond. A false report was brought to them that the rebels had gained.
There were many sleepless eyes and sorrowing hearts that night among the
prisoners. But next morning an old negro brought them the true account of
the battle. The sudden joy was too deep for words. By one universal impulse
the gladdened captives burst into song. Midst weeping and midst laughter the
Battle-Hymn of the Republic was caught up until five hundred voices were
joining in the strain. There as elsewhere it was felt with unutterable joy
and thankfulness that the country was saved.
The victory at Gettysburg lifted a great load from the
hearts of the Northern people. There was yet a work—vast and grim —to be
accomplished before a solid peace could be attained. But there was now a
sure hope of final success. It was remarked by President Lincoln's friends
that his appearance underwent a noticeable change after Gettysburg. His eye
grew brighter; his bowed-down form was once more erect. In the winter after
the battle part of the battle-ground was consecrated as a cemetery, into
which were gathered the remains of the brave men who fell. Lincoln took part
in the ceremony, and spoke these memorable words: "It is for us the living
to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have
thus far so nobly advanced. It is for us to be here dedicated to the great
task remaining before us; that from these honoured 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 and for the people—shall not
perish from the earth."