A catastrophe for the republic — Lee’s army retreats from Gettysburg.
Gettysburg: a terrible victory
As the calendar closes in on November 3, we’re getting a stream of favorable news for Democrats. Some of the things that work in our political favor are beyond our control and just awful for America. A pandemic death toll that didn’t have to be that bad will forever stain the reputation of the Republican Party, but is nothing for Democrats to celebrate.
By casual observation, Donald Trump is not only sick with the coronavirus, he has gone insane. Which means hunger and homelessness for many Americans as possibilities of Washington coming through with some sort of relief fade away and the northern temperatures get colder. The polls indicate a presidential race turning into a rout, which has part of the white supremacist Trump bas e talking about a civil war. Some of these crazies style themselves as “Neo-Confederate.”
This is an email, not a book, so all of the carefully created myths about the Civil War will have to wait for another time.
At the terrible Battle of Gettysburg, under General Meade’s command the Union lines ultimately held against Robert E. Lee’s desperate gamble, Picket’s Charge. The battlefield was strewn with bodies and Lee’s army withdrew.
Lee’s army was allowed to escape. It was a terrible catastrophe.
The following spring, more than 60,000 Union soldiers died fighting as the circle was closed around Richmond.
Seven months before the armies fought at Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect and black men who had been slaves were flocking to the ranks of the Union Army, which was taking heavy losses both in the battlefields and to diseases that swept through the camps. For the black soldiers, the post-Gettysburg war was worse. Many Confederate units took no black prisoners.
Great victory, in a microcosm, but Meade’s failure to order his army to pursue and destroy was an historic blunder. Lee’s battered army, which could have been completely annihilated right then, was allowed to get away to Virginia and fight on for nearly two more years. Meade was replaced by the more thorough and hard-driving General Grant. European military observers thereafter took careful notes about what Grant did. He waged bloody trench warfare in Virginia, the model for the horrors of World War I.
At great cost in human lives on the Virginia front, and as General Sherman burned a 30-mile-wide corridor through Georgia and a civilian guiding Union troops – Harriet Tubman – organized mass slave escapes from coastal plantations, the Confederacy was blasted and starved into surrender.
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And will we Democrats, in another sort of battle for America, treat the end of the Trump presidency as good enough, and let the Republicans escape with control of the US Senate?
The core of Donald Trump’s base is militantly ignorant. They attack history just like they attack science. Like so many other victims of so many other con men, against all evidence the cling to the scam pitch, because otherwise they’d be admitting that they were taken for chumps and fell for it.
We Democrats should know better. For one thing, we are the party that has the backing of the unions to which many a history teacher belong. Our determination to build back better is not just bricks and mortar, it’s the renovation and expansion of American education.
When the foe is fleeing a rout, you pursue. When, in the boxing ring, the adversary’s knees begin to wobble, you don’t dance, you punch. When, in a general election, the other party’s presidential campaign begins to collapse, you pursue that party into states and districts they had considered safe and drive them out of office up and down the ticket.
[Editor’s note: a prior version of this story had some Civil War history errors.]
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