The importance of Gettysburg was evident instantly. In his diary, New York lawyer George Templeton Strong recognized that the battle removed Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore from danger of raids, or perhaps even occupation, by Confederate forces even as it ended the cult of invincibility that Union soldiers had built up around their rival, Robert E. Lee.
Grant and his Army of the Tennessee would prevail at Vicksburg after a siege of nearly seven weeks, the Confederate surrender coming a day after the end of the conflict at Gettysburg. Together Gettysburg and Vicksburg provided unmistakable evidence of the superiority of the Union effort. The Confederacy was sliced into two parts and its hold on the Mississippi was broken, prompting Lincoln to conclude, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”
The America that would emerge out of the Civil War would be riven by the tensions produced by an industrializing nation struggling to reach its economic potential, redeem its political promises, rebuild its ravaged countryside and heal its deep emotional wounds, all at the same time.
It was in this period that the Dostoyevsky brothers published Alexander Ostrovsky’s play “Sin and Sorrow Are Common to All,” which provides the leitmotif for the year, a year in which the soldiers of Gettysburg died to make men free and in which a country lawyer, while dedicating and consecrating the cemetery at Gettysburg, gave his country a new birth of freedom.
North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.