“All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of "Liberty to all"--the principle that clears the path for all--gives hope to all--and, by consequence, enterprise, and industry to all.” Abraham Lincoln, Unpublished Fragment on the Constitution, 1861.
During this Memorial Day weekend much of the TV coverage has been focused on our veterans — veterans of the Second World War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and rightfully so. I would like to step back a few years to the bloodiest war in our nation’s history — a war that finalized lofty purpose of our Declaration of Independence — the Civil War. For the purpose of this blog I will use the term “Civil War”, although it is synonymous with “War Between The States” of as Lincoln called it “Insurrection.”
Lincoln stated in in first Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861:
“All profess to be content in the Union, if all constitutional rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right, plainly written in the Constitution, has been denied? I think not. Happily the human mind is so constituted, that no party can reach to the audacity of doing this. Think, if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. If, by the mere force of numbers, a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution—certainly would, if such right were a vital one. But such is not our case. All the vital rights of minorities, and of individuals, are so plainly assured to them, by affirmations and negations, guaranties and prohibitions, in the Constitution, that controversies never arise concerning them. But no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to every question which may occur in practical administration. No foresight can anticipate, nor any document of reasonable length contain express provisions for all possible questions. Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or by State authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.”
Lincoln believed that there was no Constitution right or right so expressed in the Declaration for the southern states to rebel against or succeed from the Union. There was a Constitutional means for these sates to continue with slavery — the amendment process. The southern states knew that such an amendment would not carry the 75% of the states needed for passage so they elected to rebel and succeed from the Union — a totally unconstitutional act.
The causes of the Civil War were complex, and have been controversial since the war began. The issue has been further complicated by historical revisionists, who have tried to improve the image of the South by lessening the role of slavery. Slavery was the central source of escalating political tension in the 1850s. The Republican Party was determined to prevent any spread of slavery, and many Southern leaders had threatened secession if the Republican candidate, Lincoln, won the 1860 election. Following Lincoln's victory, many Southern whites felt that disunion had become their only option.
While not all Southerners saw themselves as fighting to preserve slavery, most of the officers and over a third of the rank and file in Lee's army had close family ties to slavery. To Northerners, in contrast, the motivation was primarily to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln consistently made preserving the Union the central goal of the war, though he increasingly saw slavery as a crucial issue and made ending it an additional goal. Lincoln's decision, after the Battle of Antietam, to issue the Emancipation Proclamation angered both Peace Democrats ("Copperheads") and War Democrats, but energized most Republicans. By warning that free blacks would flood the North, Democrats made gains in the 1862 elections, but they did not gain control of Congress. The Republicans' counterargument that slavery was the mainstay of the enemy steadily gained support, with the Democrats crushed at the 1863 elections in Ohio when they tried to resurrect anti-black sentiment.
In the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, had campaigned against expanding slavery beyond the states in which it already existed. The Republicans strongly advocated nationalism, and in their 1860 platform they denounced threats of disunion as avowals of treason. After a Republican victory, but before the new administration took office on March 4, 1861, seven cotton states declared their secession and joined to form the Confederate States of America. Both the outgoing administration of President James Buchanan and the incoming administration rejected the legality of secession, considering it rebellion. The other eight slave states rejected calls for secession at this point. No country in the world recognized the Confederacy.
Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each state to recapture federal property, which led to declarations of secession by four more slave states. Both sides raised armies as the Union seized control of the border states early in the war and established a naval blockade. Land warfare in the East was inconclusive in 1861–62, as the Confederacy beat back Union efforts to capture its capital, Richmond, Virginia, notably during the Peninsular Campaign. In September 1862, the Confederate campaign in Maryland ended in defeat at the Battle of Antietam, which dissuaded the British from intervening. Days after that battle, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal.
In 1863, Confederate general Robert E. Lee's northward advance ended in defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg. To the west, the Union gained control of the Mississippi River after the Battle of Shiloh and Siege of Vicksburg, splitting the Confederacy in two and destroying much of their western army. Due to his western successes, Ulysses S. Grant was given command of the eastern army in 1864, and organized the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan and others to attack the Confederacy from all directions, increasing the North's advantage in manpower. Grant restructured the union army, and put other generals in command of divisions of the army that were to support his push into Virginia. He fought several battles of attrition against Lee through the Overland Campaign to seize Richmond, though in the face of fierce resistance he altered his plans and led the Siege of Petersburg which nearly finished off the rest of Lee's army. Meanwhile, Sherman captured Atlanta and marched to the sea, destroying Confederate infrastructure along the way. When the Confederate attempt to defend Petersburg failed, the Confederate army retreated but was pursued and defeated, which resulted in Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The Union lost 365,000 and the Confederacy 260,000 for a total 625,000 with a total 412,000 wounded and maimed. The population of the Northern States was about 22 million while the South had about nine million persons. That doesn't say it all, because there were almost 3.5 million slaves included in the South's population count which were a liability. The slave population required guarding and supervision. They were unavailable as troops, because if they were ever given access to arms a slave revolt was certain. This meant that total causalities amounted to about 3.5% of the entire population. Compare this to WWII when the population was 133 million and our total casualties in WWII were 416,000 or 0.31% of the population.
Most historians believe, as I do, that the turning point in the Civil War was the three day Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-4, 1863) fought around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania sitting astride US 30 (the Lincoln Highway). The fighting was fierce at places named the Peach Orchard, Devils Den, and Round Top where the Col. Joshua Chamberlain led the 20th Maine in a bayonet charge against advancing Confederate forces. But the action that finally broke Lee’s back was Picket’s charge from the Confederate position near Seminary Ridge across an open field to the Union guns positioned on the higher ground to the east on Cemetery Hill.
The third day began when the Confederate artillery under the command of 28-year old Colonel Alexander began the bombardment of the Union positions. Lee had given General Longstreet the order to advance toward the Union position on Cemetery Hill. Longstreet would command Pickett's Virginia division of his own First Corps, plus six brigades from A.P. Hill's Corps, in an attack on the Federal II Corps position at the right center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Prior to the attack, all the artillery the Confederacy could bring to bear on the Federal positions would bombard and weaken the enemy's line.
Around 1 p.m., from 150 to 170 Confederate guns began an artillery bombardment that was probably the largest of the war. In order to save valuable ammunition for the infantry attack that they knew would follow, the Union Army of the Potomac's artillery, under the command of Brig. Gen. Henry Jackson Hunt, at first did not return the enemy's fire. After waiting about 15 minutes, about 80 Federal cannons added to the din. The Army of Northern Virginia was critically low on artillery ammunition, and the cannonade did not significantly affect the Union position.
It was at this time Colonel Alexander pleaded with Pickett, for God’s sake, to attack now otherwise he would not be able to support him as he was running low on ammunition. Pickett rushed to Longstreet asking for permission to begin the attack. So despondent over the attack, which he knew would fail, Longstreet could do nothing more than simply nod his head and wave his hand to give the order to Pickett. Now was the moment that over 12,500 rebel troops emerged from the tree line and lined up in formation for the fateful long march. Their main focus was a little clump of trees behind the Federal lines.
Around 3 p.m., the cannon fire subsided, and 12,500 Southern soldiers stepped from the ridgeline and advanced the three-quarters of a mile to Cemetery Ridge in what is known to history as "Pickett's Charge". As the Confederates approached, there was fierce flanking artillery fire from Union positions on Cemetery Hill and north of Little Round Top, and musket and canister fire from Hancock's II Corps. In the Union center, the commander of artillery had held fire during the Confederate bombardment, leading Southern commanders to believe the Northern cannon batteries had been knocked out. However, they opened fire on the Confederate infantry during their approach with devastating results. Nearly one half of the attackers did not return to their own lines. Although the Federal line wavered and broke temporarily at a jog called the "Angle" in a low stone fence, just north of a patch of vegetation called the Copse of Trees, reinforcements rushed into the breach, and the Confederate attack was repulsed. The farthest advance of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead's brigade of Maj. Gen. George Pickett's division at the Angle is referred to as the "High-water mark of the Confederacy", arguably representing the closest the South ever came to its goal of achieving independence from the Union via military victory.
What Lee and Longstreet did not factor in to their plans was the fence along the Emmitsburg Road, a wooden post and rail fence that sat about two feet above the sunken road. As Picket’s troops began climbing the fence they were decimated by Union artillery fire, mainly canister and grapeshot that was used for anti-personnel fire. Many of Picket’s were killed or wounded as they attempted to climb the fence while others simply turned and ran.
It is estimated that over 1,700 Confederate soldiers died in this futile charge. One might say that Union was saved by a rail fence.
After news of the victory at Gettysburg a crowd assembled outside of the White House clamoring for Lincoln to say a few words about the victory. Lincoln responded to the crowds request with these words:
I am very glad indeed to see you to-night, and yet I will not say I thank you for this call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. How long ago is it -- eighty odd years -- since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that "all men are created equal." That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the Fourth of July has had several peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men in the framing and support of the Declaration were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams -- the one having penned it and the other sustained it the most forcibly in debate -- the only two of the fifty-five who sustained it being elected President of the United States. Precisely fifty years after they put their hands to the paper it pleased Almighty God to take both from the stage of action. This was indeed an extraordinary and remarkable event in our history. Another President, five years after, was called from this stage of existence on the same day and month of the year; and now, on this last Fourth of July just passed, when we have a gigantic Rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men are created equal, we have the surrender of a most powerful position and army on that very day, and not only so, but in a succession of battles in Pennsylvania, near to us, through three days, so rapidly fought that they might be called one great battle on the 1st, 2d, and 3d of the month of July; and on the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal, "turned tail" and ran. Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion. I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the war. There are trying occasions, not only in success, but for the want of success. I dislike to mention the name of one single officer, lest I might do wrong to those I might forget. Recent events bring up glorious names, and particularly prominent ones, but these I will not mention. Having said this much, I will now take the music.”
On November 19, 1863 on the occasion of the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery two speakers were invited to address the assembled throng. One was the renowned politician and orator Edward Everett and the other Abraham Lincoln. Everett, a Whig, served as U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, the 15th Governor of Massachusetts, Minister to Great Britain, and United States Secretary of State. He also taught at Harvard University and served as president of Harvard. Everett spoke for nearly two hours preceding Lincoln and not many remembered what he had to say.
On the other hand Lincoln gave his short, 271 words, address, probably one of the finest and most memorable speeches ever given to the American People and the world — The Gettysburg Address:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here 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, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
If you notice in Lincoln’s opening paragraph he deferred to the Declaration of Independence, something he was deeply committed to. Lincoln believed the Declaration was the “Apple of Gold set in the silver frame of the Constitution.”
Over the years the libertarian right has branded Lincoln and a statist and a tyrant while the progressive left has attempted to highjack Lincoln as one of theirs. Neither is true. Lincoln firmly believed in the Declaration and Constitution. He did not violate the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution by branding succession as an insurrection. It was not, as Libertarians claim, and act against state’s rights. There was no clause in the Constitution allowing a right for slavery or rebellion; therefore there was no warrant in the Declaration for revolt against the national government.
On the other hand the progressive left has attempted to highjack Lincoln as one of their own. Lincoln, unlike Wilson and Roosevelt believed all unalienable rights came from God and were not granted by government as the progressives believed.
Lincoln was neither. He believed in the precepts the Declaration and the law of the Constitution. He also believed that states had the powers not expressly granted Congress in the Constitution and that slavery was not one of those rights. Lincoln believed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
No unalienable rights of the southern states were violated. The simple fact is that the southern states were violating the unalienable rights of 3.5 million slaves.
In his second Inaugural Address given on March 4, 1865 Lincoln stated:
“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it—all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
365 thousand died for the Union cause many believing they were fighting for the unalienable rights of all men to be free while 260 thousand died for the Confederacy believing they were fighting for state’s rights. Both were partially right. The union cause was based on the preservation of the union and the liberation of the slaves. The Confederate cause was based on an erroneous interpretation of the Constitution as there was no right for slavery expressed.
I have visited the Gettysburg Battlefield three times and each time I am amazed at what happened here in 1863 and how perilously close the Union came to losing this battle and the war. I have walked the hallowed were Buford’s Calvary attacked and along the Cashtown Road. I have seen the wood and rail fence along Emmitsburg Road and looked over the site of Picket’s charge from Cemetery Hill. Each time I have thought of all of those brave and sometimes foolish men who perished here. It is a sobering site to behold
This Memorial Day take some time from your BBQ, burgers, and hot dogs to give some thought to the men who gave their lives at Gettysburg to preserve the Union and insure liberty for all men. Also if you have a chance rent the great 1993 Turner film Gettysburg. It’s well worth 271 minutes of your time. Most of the filming took place in and around the Gettysburg Battlefield and the dialog and costuming is as authentic as it can get. It also has a haunting musical score. While the film is long it does a good job of accurately depicting the events of July 1-4, 1863.
If the Union had lost this battle would live in a much different nation today. States would have been split off from states and then other states would have split from those states. Our nation would look more like the Balkans then the Union of States under one Constitution as it does today.