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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

And crossing a strip of Maryland he invaded Pennsylvania


We

must now turn back to the military operations. Lee had once more broken through, and was able to choose the point where a _sortie_ might most effectually be made. He resolved this time to strike directly at the North itself, and crossing a strip of Maryland he invaded Pennsylvania, his ultimate objective being probably the great bridge over the Susquehanna at Harrisburg, the destruction of which would seriously hamper communication between North and West. At first he met with no opposition, but a Federal army under Meade started in pursuit of him and caught him up at Gettysburg. In the battle which followed, as at Valmy, each side had its back to its own territory. The invader, though inferior in numbers, was obliged by the conditions of the struggle to take the offensive. The main feature of the fighting was the charge and repulse of Pickett's Brigade. Both sides stood appalling losses with magnificent steadiness. The Union troops maintained their ground in spite of all that Southern valour could do to dislodge them. It is generally thought that if Meade had followed up his success by a vigorous offensive Lee's army might have been destroyed. As things were, having failed in its purpose of breaking the ring that held the Confederacy, it got back into Virginia unbroken and almost unpunished.

Gettysburg is generally considered as the turning-point of the war, though perhaps from a purely military point of view more significance ought to be attached

to another success which almost exactly synchronized with it. The same 4th of July whereon the North learnt of Lee's failure brought news of the capture of Vicksburg by Grant. This meant that the whole course of the Mississippi was now in Federal hands, and made possible an invasion of the Confederacy from the West such as ultimately effected its overthrow.

Lincoln, whose judgment in such matters was exceptionally keen for a civilian, had long had his eye on Grant. He had noted his successes and his failures, and he had noted especially in him the quality which he could not find in McClellan or in Meade--a boldness of plan, a readiness to take risks, and above all a disposition to press a success vigorously home even at a heavy sacrifice. "I can't spare that man; he fights," he had said when some clamoured for Grant's recall after Shiloh. For those who warned him that Grant was given to heavy drinking he had an even more characteristic reply: "I wish I knew what whisky he drinks: I would send a cask to some of the other generals."

Meade's hesitation after Gettysburg and Grant's achievement at Vicksburg between them decided him. Grant was now appointed to supreme command of all the armies of the Union.

Ulysses S. Grant stands out in history as one of those men to whom a uniform seems to be salvation. As a young man he had fought with credit in the Mexican war; later he had left the army, and seemingly gone to the dogs. He took to drink. He lost all his employments. He became to all appearances an incorrigible waster, a rolling stone, a man whom his old friends crossed the road to avoid because a meeting with him always meant an attempt to borrow money.

Then came the war, and Grant grasped--as such broken men often do--at the chance of a new start. Not without hesitation, he was entrusted with a subordinate command in the West, and almost at once he justified those who had been ready to give him a trial by his brilliant share in the capture of Fort Donelson. From that moment he was a new man, repeatedly displaying not only the soldierly qualities of iron courage and a thorough grasp of the practice of fighting, but moral qualities of a high order, a splendid tenacity in disaster and hope deferred, and in victory a noble magnanimity towards the conquered. One wishes that the story could end there. But it must, unfortunately, be added that when at last he laid aside his sword he seemed to lay aside all that was best in him with it, while the weaknesses of character which were so conspicuous in Mr. Ulysses Grant, and which seemed so completely bled out of General Grant, made many a startling and disastrous reappearance in President Grant.


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