Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg was a decisive and bloody part of my nation’s history. It was the battle with the largest number of casualties in the Civil War, and is considered a major turning point of that war.

When I was in Hawaii, my mission president taught us three lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg, one from each day of the battle. Lest there be any Civil War buffs reading this blog, keep in mind that these lessons simplify a very complex battle.

I also won’t work too hard to apply each of these lessons. They fit many different situations, and perhaps you can get the most out of them applying them to your lives yourselves.

Day 1 – Recognize and Seize the Moment

On the first day of the battle, Confederate forces met Union forces at Seminary Ridge. During the course of the day, the Confederate forces pushed Union forces back to Cemetery Ridge.

But it was getting late. It was 4:30pm on a hot, southern afternoon, and the troops had been fighting all day. They were tired, and they were hungry. The Confederate troops called it a day.

But the Union forces did not rest. They spent the night reinforcing their line.

The Confederate army never regained this advantage, and they lost their chance to take the hill.

I like the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, particularly the last stanza:

We have not wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
The cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone
That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
Are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear
Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
As we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

Day 2 – Hold the High Ground

The Confederate forces wanted to take hills south of Cemetery Ridge. Cannons there could overlook the entire battlefield, and would be a significant advantage.

The Confederate force (the 15th Alabama) attacked the Union force (the 20th Maine) on Little Round Top several times. By the end of the fourth attack the 20th Maine, led by Lt. Chamberlain, had only 200 men and no ammunition.

The Confederate forces readied themselves for the fifth attack on Little Round Top. What did the Union men decide to do? They fixed their bayonets and charged the Confederate forces climbing the hill. The 15th Alabama fled in fear.

Have faith that you will be supported, sometimes even miraculously, as you hold to higher ground. Don’t be afraid to fix your own bayonets in defense of the high ground.

Day 3 – Strengthen the Core

The Battle of Gettysburg ended on its third day. Having failed in attacks on both Union flanks, Confederate forces engaged in what has come to be known as Pickett’s Charge. With around 12,500 men, the Confederates attacked the very core of the Union line.

How was the Union able to repel such a force? It was because their core was strong; their fundamentals were solid and their commanders involved.

In preparation for the main advance, the Confederate army fired at the Union line to soften up artillery and infantry. Unfortunately for the Confederate forces, Union artillery was unaffected by a Confederate barrage. Union commanders wisely ceased artillery fire slowly, giving the appearance that their cannons were being destroyed one by one. When Confederate infantry begin crossing the 3/4 mile plain towards the Union front line, they were exposed to heavy Union cannon fire (from the intact cannons) and suffered great casualties.

Union forces also flanked the Confederate forces. When Union fighters began to take casualties, Union leaders bolstered their moral. One commander, General Hays, had two horses shot from under him while he rode across the battle line shouting, “Hurrah! Boy’s, we’re giving them hell!”

Ultimately, Confederate forces suffered over 6,500 casualties because the Union was prepared to defend their core.

This is an age of political correctness, but we should not stand unprepared for attacks at the very center of our beliefs because we’re waiting for dogs nipping at the periphery.

Conclusion

Hopefully these lessons will have application to you. Good luck in the battle.

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