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Civil War Trust

2013 Essay Contest Third Place, Senior Division

Camila Cardenas, 8th Grade

Teacher: Karen Thompson
School: East Forsyth Middle School | North Carolina

Preserving 150 Years of History: 1862-1863, Shifting Tides

The battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1-3 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was the battle with the largest number of fatalities in the American Civil War and is often portrayed as the war's turning point because the Confederates were losing hope of winning. General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac River and marched into Pennsylvania. On July 1, Confederates forced Union defenders through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill. The next day, Lee struck the flanks of the Union line and engaged in severe fighting at Devil's Den. The Confederate Army expanded their ground, but was unsuccessful in removing the Union host. On the morning of July 3rd, fighting raged at Culp’s Hill with the Union recapturing its lost ground. That afternoon, after an enormous artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge and was repulsed with heavy fatalities in what is known as Pickett’s Charge. Lee's second invasion of the North had failed. As many as 51,000 soldiers from both armies were killed, wounded, captured or missing in the three-day battle.

Four months after the battle, President Lincoln used the perseverance ceremony for Gettysburg's Soldiers National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and explain the purpose of the war in his Gettysburg Address speech. This later became one of the most famous speeches in U.S. History. I think that President Lincoln said the Gettysburg Address to make sure that the living would know that this should not happen again and that the soldiers did not die in vain. They died for the well-being of their country. He was apologizing for all the fatalities as well as preventing the war from occurring between the states.

Civil War battlefields must be preserved because they are living reminders of the bloodiest conflict in American history. Over 600,000 men died, more than all other American wars before or since combined. The result was a cataclysmic shift in the dynamic of American political and social hierarchy. It ushered in the Reconstruction, which some historians refer to as America’s unfinished revolution. For the first time in American history, African Americans were allowed to vote and to hold office. Civil War battlefields are a reminder of the tragedy that was racism, slavery, and the struggle between the state and federal government. These wars also help change peoples’ feelings, thoughts, and actions towards African Americans. Unfortunately, some of the U.S. citizens did not change at all. They kept their prejudice against African Americans because of their arrogance and the bitterness of no longer having slave labor at no cost. The slaves also had some prejudice against whites for enslaving them and stealing them from their native homeland. It took 100 years after the Gettysburg Address—when Martin Luther King Jr. said “I Have a Dream” for them to finally forget their prejudices against each other. African Americans now have equal rights and they began to think as themselves as equals. That’s why I think we as Americans should preserve battlefields because it helps us to remember that we can move forward amidst the tragedy of the Civil War.

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