I got an email recently from a Battle of Gettysburg student (Mike B.) asking me to clarify something I said about the battle on the Interwebs.
I mentioned something along the lines of “Gettysburg is not as important as you might think it is.” Thanks for the note, Mike – lets see if I can clear things up a bit.
When analyzing history from the vantage point of the present (as I have warned people not to do), one could surmise that the battle was indeed the turning point. The Confederates never again could claim a decisive victory along the lines of Chancellorsville or Fredericksburg. But the Union victory here was not by any means the stepping off point towards guaranteed victory.
The participants and citizens of their respective countries certainly didn’t think so. Just read a newspaper from the period. The Confederates, with Lee at the helm the Army of Northern Virginia, still firmly believed that victory was within their grasp – Gettysburg or not. The Union Army was bogged down in Virginia, the northern civilian population was growing increasingly weary of the war, and even Abraham Lincoln thought he was going to lose the election of 1864 and perhaps the war along with it.
Sure as shit – the letters home from the Confederate Army indicated that morale was up. I have read them myself…tons of these letters are housed at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Go there yourself and check them out if you don’t believe me.
So all this “High Tide of the Confederacy” stuff is a postwar creation. Sure, the citizens of the North and South thought the battle was important to be sure, but perhaps for different reasons than many Americans believe today.
And…if you read all the way to the end of this post I have a got a surprise for you – you can get the super-uber-deep- discount on my Gettysburg web-course HERE. You’re welcome 🙂
The Spring issue of The Americanist Independent, at long last, is live on the Internet. And yes, that’s LBJ on the cover – all smiles. This issue features studies on the early career of LBJ, by Jena Fuller; Civil War era coal mining, by Jake Wynn; and Germans in Milwaukee during WWI, by Kevin Kolesari.
Subscriptions are, and always will be, FREE. Click HERE to subscribe or log on and enjoy the Spring issue!
PS – this issue wraps up volume one. Stay tuned for a year in reflection post.
This is the inscription on the frontpiece of my personal copy of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg: Report of the Pennsylvania Commission (Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, c1913). Or what I simply call the “Pennsylvania Report.” I bought the book in Gettysburg back in 2001 from a small book store specializing in battle ephemera. I wish I could remember the name of the store…or where exactly it is (or was) located. Anyway…it’s pretty cool when you can trace a book’s history. I did a little digging and found a great image of Francis H. Hoy – who, as stated, served as the Senior Vice Commander of the Department of Pennsylvania, GAR in 1915. In 1919, as I discovered, he served as the department’s Chief of Staff.
But enough about Hoy. The book is full of photographs from the 1913 Blue-Gray reunion at Gettysburg, marking the 50th anniversary of the battle. A significant number of the images clearly depict a reconciliatory spirit…and these images have dominated much of the scholarly analysis of the reconciliation movement. I take issue with some of these ideas and underscore a number of the most “forgive and forget” images in the August issue of The Americanist Independent. It would it worth it to you to check it out.