Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gettysburg Gets the Union Going

The Civil War was by no means an easy venture for either the Union or Confederacy; however, leading up to the battle of Gettysburg, the Confederacy had an advantage in the eastern theatre. The events at the battle of Gettysburg result in a major turning point in the Civil War. Under the aggressive and opportunistic leadership of Robert E. Lee, the confederate army was winning the majority of the battles in the east. However, these victories came at a cost. The southern resources were being ravaged by the armies that needed them to continue fighting. The presence of the armies was taxing the southern towns and farms beyond their capacity, and Lee needed to press north for more resources. As can be seen from this war map, the majority of major campaigns took place in the south.
Dashed lines represent Confederate campaigns, solid lines represent Union campaigns
A win in the north would not only have helped resupply Lee's army, but it also would have served as a massive morale boost to the Confederacy. The potential reward of winning a battle in the north, and forcing the Union to retreat, along with the need to travel north to resupply, forced Lee to make a daring move into a battle at Gettysburg. The northern people were afraid of the damage that Lee could potentially cause with a northern campaign. The newly appointed Union general, Meade, wrote to his wife saying, "(Lee) has assumed the offensive and is going to strike a blow... and that it will be a very (big blow) is equally certain." This shows that the Union generals themselves are in apprehension of the arrival of Lee's army. Although the amount of casualties for both the Union and Confederacy were similar, the Union had much more troops to replace those lost, so the impact was greater on the Confederate armies. Fortunately (for the union) the defeat of Lee's army at Gettysburg resulted in his retreat, and Lee conducted no more offensives for the rest of the war, Lee only responded to Grant's advances. After the victory at Gettysburg, Lincoln was able to deliver his famous "Gettysburg Address" which eloquently inspired the Union to continue its fight for a "new birth of freedom." Even with such a strategic victory such as the one at Gettysburg, the war was still far from over, and the Union wished to find a new tactic that would expedite the war as much as possible. 

The tactic that was developed is called "total war," which involves intentionally pillaging and destroying all of the supplies and infrastructure in an area so that the opposing army loses the ability and the will to fight. This method of total war has been frowned upon by many as destructive and excessive, but in my opinion, it was necessary and justified. By destroying the crops, railroads, cities, and towns, the Confederate army loses its ability to support itself, and it's ability to effectively fight a war. Not only were the union armies preventing the Confederates from having the resources, but they were taking them for themselves. Sherman's advance through the south can be summarized in this quote; "After leaving Atlanta in ruins, Sherman's soldiers cut a nearly 300-mile-long path of destruction across Georgia. The Union troops destroyed bridges, factories, and railroad lines. They seized and slaughtered livestock. Grain that had recently been harvested for the Confederate troops went to Union soldiers instead." The method of destroying railroads became known as "Sherman's Neckties" and involved heating and then bending railroad tracks so that they became unusable.
The railroad tracks are bend out of shape.
 This violent and crippling form of war obliterated the Confederate army's ability to fight. This gruesome form of war was acknowledged by Sherman himself, saying; “War is cruelty, There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” This means that war will always be terrible, but if the war is more terrible, the opposing army will lose the will and ability to fight, and surrender. The method of total war definitively resulted in a quicker end to the war, and helped cause the Confederate surrender. 

The Confederate surrender had a myriad of impacts on people throughout the now re-United States of America. The Union soldiers present at the site of the surrender were excited, but also reflective on the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and the hard fought war. Ulysses S. Grant was full of respect for his opposing general, Robert E. Lee. Back in Washington, there were massive celebrations, and many people were ecstatic for the long-awaited news. The soldiers of both sides were emotionally ravaged, and tired both physically and mentally tired beyond any reasonable measure. President Lincoln was relieved, as well as exhausted after finally having the weight of the Civil war lifted off of his chest. For the southern men, they were honored to have served under a general as honorable, and intelligent as Lee, and they understood that they were now needed to help rebuild the south. However, the end of the civil war was tainted by the horrific assassination of President Lincoln. The Lincoln supporters were outraged at the conspiracy and murder of their beloved President. The conspirators were apprehended and hung for their crimes against the country, and the feelings of the American people were now fully converted into mourning. The citizens of America were devastated by the loss of their president, and appreciative of all that he accomplished for them while he was in office. 

These poems show how "The Nation Mourns" and "our hearts felt sick and sore." The solemn funeral procession in New York shows a massive turnout of citizens to see their president off to his final resting place. The death of Lincoln tainted an otherwise magnificent celebration for the north, and it is not likely that Americans will forget the things that Lincoln accomplished in his shortened life.

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