The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln HTML version

The Turning Point Of The War
In the summer of 1863 the Confederate armies reached their greatest strength. It was then
that, flushed with military ardor, and made bold by what seemed to the southern leaders
an unbroken series of victories on the Virginia battlefields, General Lee again crossed the
Potomac River, and led his army into the North. He went as far as Gettysburg in
Pennsylvania; but there, on the third of July, 1863, suffered a disastrous defeat, which
shattered forever the Confederate dream of taking Philadelphia and dictating peace from
Independence Hall. This battle of Gettysburg should have ended the war, for General
Lee, on retreating southward, found the Potomac River so swollen by heavy rains that he
was obliged to wait several days for the floods to go down. In that time it would have
been quite possible for General Meade, the Union commander, to follow him and utterly
destroy his army. He proved too slow, however, and Lee and his beaten Confederate
soldiers escaped. President Lincoln was inexpressibly grieved at this, and in the first
bitterness of his disappointment sat down and wrote General Meade a letter. Lee "was
within your easy grasp," he told him, "and to have closed upon him would, in connection
with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged
indefinitely. . . . Your golden opportunity is gone and I am distressed immeasurably
because of it." But Meade never received this letter. Deeply as the President felt Meade's
fault, his spirit of forgiveness was so quick, and his thankfulness for the measure of
success that had been gained, so great, that he put it in his desk, and it was never signed
or sent.
The battle of Gettysburg was indeed a notable victory, and coupled with the fall of
Vicksburg, which surrendered to General Grant on that same third of July, proved the real
turning-point of the war. It seems singularly appropriate, then, that Gettysburg should
have been the place where President Lincoln made his most beautiful and famous
address. After the battle the dead and wounded of both the Union and Confederate armies
had received tender attention there. Later it was decided to set aside a portion of the
battlefield for a great national military cemetery in which the dead found orderly burial. It
was dedicated to its sacred use on November 19, 1863. At the end of the stately
ceremonies President Lincoln rose and said:
"Fourscore 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 battlefield 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 cannot dedicate--we cannot consecrate- -we cannot 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