Robert E. Lee and his army were soaked through when they marched south on the morning of July 4, 1863.
The blood and sweat poured out over the past three days had been for naught. And the gloom of the Army of Northern Virginia matched the gloom of the weather.
Lee had marched his more than 70,000 men into the Pennsylvania countryside on June 30. His plan was to threaten Washington D.C. from the lightly defended north in hopes of forcing a peace settlement with Abraham Lincoln’s government.
But on July 1, a portion of Lee’s army stumbled into a scrape with a portion of George Meade’s Army of the Potomac on the outskirts of the hamlet of Gettysburg. Lee’s army came to Gettysburg to “requisition” shoes from the factory there, not to fight a battle. But the battle that ensued over the next three days would prove to be the bloodiest on American soil.
The first of July at Gettysburg wasn’t the time or place of Lee’s choosing to engage the google-eyed Meade. But once engaged, and once his blood was up, Bobby Lee was a like a bulldog—he latched on and would’t let go. Gettysburg would be the place and July 1 would be the time the Confederacy either established itself as an independent nation or ended its rebel experiment.
We know the outcome of the battle—Meade was victorious and Lee was defeated. When Robert E. Lee and his vanquished men marched away from the 50,000 Confederate and Union dead, wounded, and missing at Gettysburg, he took the hopes that the Confederate States of America would ever be independent with him. The experiment didn’t die suddenly—the war would rage on for two more years—but the Confederacy had suddenly become the Lost Cause.
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