Friday, July 06, 2012

Gettysburg exposed the unvarnished truth

Pickett's Charge:  Confederate delusion reaps its just desserts
One hundred forty-nine years ago this week, General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of General George Meade and the Army of the Potomac near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  The three-day engagement was the culmination of Lee's second foray into Union territory and, like the previous episode, ended in defeat for the Confederacy.  Although Lee's reputation as an invincible commander had already been shaken at Antietam some 9 months previous, Gettysburg, as this battle would be named, forever dispelled the mystique.

The total number of casualties from the battle are some 46,000.  (Forty-six thousand casualties in three days.)  Although this number is divided nearly evenly between the two armies, it was a much greater loss, proportionally, to the smaller and less adequately supplied Army of Northern Virginia. 

Although it was not clear at the time, historians today point to the battle of Gettysburg as the high-water mark for the Confederacy.  It was all downhill thereafter.  When Lee abandoned the field, two days after Pickett's disastrous charge up Cemetery Ridge, his army was mortally wounded. 

The war lasted another two years, but after Gettysburg, any quaint, idiotic notions about honor and righteousness were cast aside in favor of the unvarnished truth.  "War is cruelty," as Union general William T. Sherman so famously said.  The Union generals, Meade, Sherman, and Ulysses S. Grant, understood the new reality: attrition, economic destruction, total war.  Although Meade failed to press his advantage in the battle's immediate aftermath, once General Grant assumed command, they set about systematically crushing the Confederacy. 

Perhaps General Lee and his generals understood as well.  But, if so, how could they have imagined that there was any possibility of Confederate victory?  And why would they continue?  How much blood was owed to the antiquated and ridiculous notion of honor?  How much blood would sate the appetites of fanatics like Jefferson Davis?

Meade and Lee:  victor and vanquished
Were it not for the abolition of slavery, it is difficult to see how anything positive came out of the war.  The practical reality of the Civil War is that it was not so much a victory for Union and abolitionism as it was a triumph of industrialism over agrarianism. 

Put aside President Lincoln's beautiful words at the consecrated graveyard.  The Civil War was ruthless capitalism subjugating and destroying delusional aristocratism. Pick your poison.

1 comment:

Penny2265 said...

War - It is the unfortunate nature of man!