The American public has little appreciation of just how close the United States came to collapse a century and a half ago before the Battle of Gettysburg, National Review editor Rich Lowry tells Newsmax as the nation honors the fallen on the 150th anniversary of the historic event that began on July 1.
Lowry is author of the new bestseller "Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream — and How We Can Do It Again
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"We tend to think big historical events are inevitable — the way they turned out, that's just inexorably the way they had to go," said Lowry. "It's never the case. And if a few things had bounced a different way in Gettysburg, we might have an entirely different Civil War."
Editor's Note: Click Here Now to Order a Copy of "Lincoln Unbound."
The three-day battle that started 150 years ago Monday marked the turning point of the Civil War as it ended Robert E. Lee's invasion of the north and set in motion the events that won the war for the Union forces.
But now the tens of thousands of men who lost their lives in the Pennsylvania countryside are largely forgotten, says Lowry.
"Altogether, between the Confederates and the Union troops, there were about 50,000 casualties over the course of those three days — killed, wounded, missing," said Lowry. "And of the 3,900 dead who were buried there at Gettysburg, a quarter of them were unknown, so you couldn't figure out who they were, which gives you an idea of just how astonishingly bloody this was."
Lowry said even before the key battle, it was clear the South could not have conquered the North, "but there was a chance it could force the North to give up."
But any hope of that outcome was lost as Gen. George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac routed Lee's forces at Gettysburg, says the author of "Lincoln Unbound."
President Abraham Lincoln — who was to give his famous Gettysburg Address more than four months later at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery — was keeping an eye on events from the White House.
"He famously monitored military operations very closely, spending a lot of time in the telegraphy office," said Lowry. "It hadn't been good times generally for the Union Army.
"On July 2, the second day of the battle, Lee really thought he had won and nearly had won on that day. The Confederate troops nearly broke the Union lines, and that's why on July 3, the final day of the battle, Lee thinks it just takes one final push — this is the famous or infamous Pickett's Charge — 10,000 or so troops going straight at the Union line.
"They have to run about a mile through fearsome Union artillery and it turned out to be just kind of a meat-grinder. ... It broke the Confederate Army. Lee was defeated, he had to retreat, he offers his resignation to Jefferson Davis. It's not accepted because now the only way it seems the South can survive is by relying on the kind of magical generalship of Robert E. Lee, but he'll never again regain the military initiative after that."
Even so, the Gettysburg victory was "bittersweet" for Lincoln, said Lowry. He felt the Union should have pursued Lee's forces as they retreated and destroyed them, but Meade was more cautious.
"President Lincoln, throughout the war, had been frustrated because he knew it was absolutely essential strategically to destroy the Confederate Army. That was a center of gravity in the war. And here he saw it again slipping, he believed, from the Union Army's fingers and he was just despairing over that.
"So it meant the conflict would continue, it meant that the meat-grinder for both sides would continue, and it meant the draft, which was extremely unpopular obviously, in the North especially."
Now when most people mention Gettysburg, it is Lincoln's 272-word speech — starting "Four score and seven years ago," that comes to mind rather than the three bloody days of conflict.
Lincoln followed noted orator and statesman Edward Everett, who spoke for more than two hours. By contrast, Lincoln's speech was done in two minutes.
"It was a very word-oriented culture," Lowry pointed out. "That's why people tend to contrast Lincoln's short brilliant speech with the supposed windbaggery of those who spoke before him who went on for two hours, two-and-a-half hours.
"Lincoln's words are so brilliant, because as many people have commented, they're really a kind of prose poem, and Lincoln loved the musicality of words. He was soaked in the Bible, soaked in Shakespeare, he loved poetry," said Lowry. "He was a little bit of an amateur poet himself. He wrote a little ditty in the White House after the battle, kind of mocking General Lee.
"There's a myth that he just kind of wrote it on the train, jotted on the back of an envelope and that was it. That's not how he prepared any of his speeches.
"He cared so much about words, especially what was going to be such an important speech at such an important occasion. So he revised it repeatedly before he delivered it, and revised it even after it was delivered for the newspapers," Lowry said.
Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review and a Fox News contributor, has authored the new bestseller "Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream — and How We Can Do It Again." Charles Krauthammer says "Lincoln Unbound" makes "an impassioned case for a contemporary Republican renewal on truly Lincolnian lines."
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