Perspective - 19th Century America

 

  Mississippian historian and author Shelby Foote took 20 years of his life and wrote a three volume series of historical novels titled The Civil War. In 1990 he served as consultant and presiding spirit on the celebrated nine-part PBS television series The Civil War.

 

  He remarked at the time "Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is necessary, if you're going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads."

 

  Reprospective of history is a series of 'what ifs'.  What if the Confederates had won at Gettysburg? Would we be two nations now - The United States of America and The Confederate States of America? The battle was close and could have gone either way. The Union prevailed because Pickett's charge failed.

 

  Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett was tasked by his commander, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet to charge up the hill and defeat the Union defense forces under Union Maj. Gen. Winfield Hancock positioned behind a low stone wall at the top of Cemetery Ridge. He was annihilated. Why? The Confederates had launched an artillery barrage to soften up the Union forces before Pickett's infantry charge. But the artillery barrage was mostly ineffectual. Most of the shells landed two hundred yards beyond the Union forces. Why?

 

  Union artillery used fusing mechanisms produced in factories. Confederates produced fusing mechanisms handmade in cottage industries of inferior design and with poorer quality control. The fuses used by the Confederates that day on July 3rd 1863 were of poor quality. Under the cloak of smoke from the gunpowder, the Confederate command could not see that the artillery had done no damage and proceeded with Pickett's infanty charge resulting in a disaster and loss of the battle of Gettysburg. 

 

  In this instance, and many others throughout the war, superior industry brought defeat to the Confederacy. After this turning point, the Confederates fought a losing defensive war for two more years and were ultimately defeated at Appomattox in April 1865.

© 2019 by David Claire Jennings

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