July 3, 2013: One hundred and fifty years ago today, the Confederate army was turned back at Gettysburg by Union forces. Although not known at the time, this was the high water mark of the rebel cause and began the slow slide to its surrender.
Historians may disagree on the pivotal point of the battle, was the first day when the Confederates failed to push the advantage they gained, was it the Union's gaining the high ground of big and little round top, or Lee's ill-advised decision to execute a frontal assault on the final day.
For me and many others, the battle's pivotal point was when the 20th Maine held the Union flank at little round top. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain confronted with a relentless Confederate foe, and running out of ammunition made the fateful decision to order a bayonet charge. Chamberlain's unexpected move finally broke the will of the Confederate force and saved the Union flank.
Had the Union army not carried the day at this little town in middle Pennsylvania, we would now be living in a very different country today. There may not even be an America, as the idea of secession might have run through the remaining Union states causing the entire country to collapse. Meanwhile, the Confederacy having been borne of rebellion would have likely seen similar secession forces tear it apart.
So, instead of one United States the American continent would likely be dotted with dozens of little countries and republics. Our present situation would more closely resemble modern Europe or worse the Balkans.
America is not perfect, but it was not meant to be. Rather, the founding fathers stated in the Constitution that America is an ongoing experiment one that requires each generation to form a more perfect Union. America is a verb, not a noun.
The Union victory at Gettysburg preserved the opportunity for future generations to play their part in this experiment. For this I am grateful.