But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we can not consecrate
-- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who
struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or
detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but
it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be
dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus
far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task
remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion
to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here
highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under
God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by
the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Gettysburg Address)
These words presented by Abraham Lincoln have long epitomized not only the bloody battle of Gettysburg, but the entire Civil War. One of the bloodiest conflicts in history, the Civil War represents much of what the United States stands for: freedom, and the right to choose an individual course of action. But, unlike many other conflicts, there was no true right or wrong. Both sides had valid points of contention, and both sides had the right to support their cause. Both sides fought valiantly for what they believed was right--brother against brother, friend against friend, father against son. Regardless of the intentions of the fighting men, their commanders, or the powers in Washington and Richmond, in the end, the Civil War was an impossible war. Military strategies on both sides, difficult terrain, and political manipulations all created an untenable and uncontrollable situation that ultimately determined the outcome of war.
Over the course of the Civil War, there were over 10,000 armed conflicts, with approximately 380 considered major military campaigns (Principal Civil War Battlefields). It would be impossible to analyze every battle for its terrain, its commander’s strategies and the political machine underlying the conflict, but of these 380, there are several major campaigns that stand out as decisive battles within the Civil War. First, there is the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the war, fought on July 21, 1861. Second, there is the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the few battles fought in the North, raging over three days, July 1-3, 1863. Third, there is the Battle of Chickamauga, the most important campaign of the western theatre, fought September 19-20, 1863. Finally, there is the Battle of Five Forks, the final conflict before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, fought on April 1, 1865. These four battles were decisive for both sides, constantly swinging the war from one side to the other. The leaders of these campaigns had many...