7 Things You Should Know About the Battle of Gettysburg

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The battle bolstered badly sagging Union morale.

The spirits of a war-weary North had reached a low ebb at the beginning of the summer of 1863. The Union had endured a string of losses, and now Lee had brought the war to their territory. A loss at Gettysburg could have devastated Union morale and pressured the Lincoln administration to negotiate a peace that would have resulted in two nations. Linked with news of the victory at Vicksburg on July 4, however, Gettysburg renewed public support for the war. Davis called Gettysburg the “most eventful struggle of the war” because “by it the drooping spirit of the North was revived.”

Gettysburg ended Confederate enslavement of free blacks from the North.

Thousands of slaves served in support roles for the Army of Northern Virginia, and as Lee’s army marched north into Pennsylvania, they seized as many as 500 African-Americans—some former slaves, some free their entire lives—and brought them back to Virginia to be sold into slavery. One resident of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, reported seeing some of the town’s African Americans “driven by just like we would drive cattle,” and at least one Confederate brigade threatened to burn down any Union house that harbored a fugitive slave.

The battle led to the Gettysburg Address in which Lincoln redefined the Civil War as a struggle for freedom and democracy.

Land preservation efforts began immediately after the Battle of Gettysburg and resulted in a national cemetery, consecrated by Lincoln on November 19, 1863. In a mere 272 words, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address recast the war as not merely a struggle to maintain the Union, but as a battle for larger human ideals. Lincoln called for “a new birth of freedom” and asserted that the survival of democracy itself was at stake. He told his countrymen that the task remaining was to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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