In 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg was fought. In the first two days of fighting, the Confederacy held strong and "the Union Army lost twenty thousand men ..." By the third day, Lee badly miscalculated and issued a command for the Confederacy to charge across open field, a change in the tactics used henceforth. The tone of the War changed on that day as the Union soldiers fired from behind stone walls. "The crest of the hill was a sheet of flame, a slaughter-house, a blazing volcano." Four-fifths of the 5,000 charging Confederate soldiers had fallen in just a few minutes. Lee confessed, "'All this has been my fault. It is I who have lost this fight.'" During the night of July 4, Lee began to retreat. The Union Army under command of "the vain and scholarly Meade" could have ended the War then but did not follow the Confederate Army as they retreated. Left on the battle field that first week of July were six thousand dead and twenty-seven thousand wounded. They could not be buried fast enough and finally a mass grave was dug to cover the dead. A commemorative ceremony was planned and as an afterthought Lincoln, who was not in the best of political favor at the time, was issued an invitation to speak "a few appropriate remarks." After Mr. Edward Everett had delivered the main oration, Lincoln got up and made his two-minute speech. The audience was disappointed. Politicians believed Lincoln had failed miserably. Lincoln himself was distressed and went to his grave believing that he had failed miserably at Gettysburg, but History would record Lincoln's ten sentences spoken that day as "the divine expression of a rare soul exalted and made great by suffering" and as one of the "literary glories and treasures of earth centuries hence, long after the Civil War is all but forgotten."
Lincoln's Gettysburg address:
Four score and seven years ago
Our fathers brought forth upon 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 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.