Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 6. Segment 6

By the summer of 1863, General Lee has decided to march north. It is an enormous gamble—to try to beat the Yankees on their home ground-but Lee's daring has made him successful in the past. After Antietam, Lee had two spectacular victories in Virginia: at Fredericksburg and at Chancellorsville. The South now seems to be winning the war. Lee heads for Pennsylvania. There he meets the Union army at a quiet college town named Gettysburg, where roads come together See It Now - Gettysburg Landscape. It is postcard-pretty land: green and peaceful. A sign on Cemetery Hill says anyone firing a gun in the area will be fined $5.00. If, on the first three days of July in 1863, the town could have collected those fines, it would have been the richest place in America. No question: This would be the bloodiest three days of the entire war Check The Source - Tillie's Diary—The Battle of Gettysburg. On July 1, when the fighting begins, it looks as if it will be another Union defeat. The Rebels push the Union forces through the town. Warren Goss, a private in the Union Army, said: "The flowers in bloom upon the graves at the cemetery were shot away. Tombs and monuments were knocked to pieces, and ordinary gravestones shattered in rows."

July 2 comes; the fighting begins early and is even more murderous than on the day before. Men fight and die with a frenzy that is still hard to believe See It Now - Dead Soldiers at Gettysburg. A Northern regiment—the 1st Minnesota—has 262 men when the day begins; only 42 survive the day unwounded. By nightfall the land is cluttered with the bodies of men and horses. Colonel William C. Oates commanded the 15th Alabama troops. He observed that "blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks."

And then July 3 dawns, and the battle that some say will decide the war. General Lee has fewer men than General Meade. That doesn't scare Lee; he has been outnumbered before. The Confederates begin by blasting the Union line with two hours of nonstop artillery fire. Major General George E. Pickett See It Now - George E. Pickett has arrived in Gettysburg with fresh Rebel troops. He will lead the most famous charge in American history—across three-fourths of a mile of open fields. It is an awesome sight. Line after line of gray-uniformed men march out of the woods. Elbow to elbow, like a grand parade, 15,000 fighters step forward in an incredible, orderly, moving rectangle almost a mile wide and half a mile deep See It Now - Pickett's Charge. It is eerily quiet. Captain W.W. Wood is among the attackers. He later writes: Hear It Now - Capt. W.W. Wood "We believed the battle was practically over, and we had nothing to do but march unopposed to Cemetery Hill and occupy it."

On the heights, Union General Winfield Scott Hancock See It Now - Winfield Scott Hancock gives a hushed order: Hear It Now - Gen. Hancock "Let them come up close before you fire, and then aim low and steadily."

Then suddenly the order comes for the Union artillery to fire. The cannons shoot more than cannonballs. The Union firepower includes cans that explode and send off a hail of metal that murders the oncoming soldiers. Bravely they close ranks and keep coming. The Confederates, a tight mass of men in light gray uniforms, are caught in deadly fire. The Yankees are shooting at them from different angles all along Cemetery Ridge. This is a massacre. A Union soldier from Massachusetts describes it: Hear It Now - Union Soldier "Foot to foot, body to body, and man to man they struggled and pushed and strived and killed. The mass of wounded and heaps of dead entangled, hatless, coatless, drowned in sweat, black with powder, red with blood."

The charge is over. And so is the battle Check The Source - The New York World: The Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederates have lost one-third of their army; that's 28,000 men Check The Source - General Robert E. Lee to President Jefferson Davis Check The Source - General George G. Meade's Gettysburg Campaign. When news of the victory at Gettysburg arrives in Washington on the Fourth of July, the city celebrates. In a few days people will learn that on this same July 4, Union General U.S. Grant has also won a major victory, in Mississippi.

Like his Confederate counterpart Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant is a leader who has only one goal: to win. And he knows when and how to break the rules. In Mississippi, back in May, Grant moved his army where no one thought an army could be moved. He left his supply base (no general is supposed to do that) and laid siege to Vicksburg See It Now - Fort Hill, Vicksburg. The navy blocked the river entry to the city. Vicksburg's citizens were trapped. Then cannons began shelling the city. The siege lasted forty-eight days. Dora Miller was one of those trapped inside. She wrote: "We are utterly cut off from the world, surrounded by a circle of fire. The fiery shower of shells goes on, day and night."

Before the siege was over the people of Vicksburg were eating rats—and anything else they could find. Grant starved and bombed them into surrender. The 30,000 Confederate soldiers in the city surrendered, too. Control of Vicksburg means control of the Mississippi River. Those two victories—Gettysburg and Vicksburg—reverse the war Check The Source - The Vicksburg Campaign.

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