Like the situation with the public-employee unions and the taxpayers, and the British and German navies, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac were sure to clash in the north once Lee crossed his own Rubicon, the Potomac, but no one could have predicted exactly where or under what circumstances. Lee didn’t know exactly where the Union army was because General Stuart, the head of his cavalry, had gotten too far from headquarters and wasn’t in a position to report, but they were moving up from Maryland into southern Pennsylvania to prevent a Confederate thrust back south toward Washington. According to the diary of Confederate General Pettigrew, his troops had gone to the small town of Gettysburg because they had heard that there was a warehouse of shoes there, which the war-deprived southern troops badly needed. When Union pickets learned of the Confederate movement toward the town, General Meade started to reinforce it, and the place of the three-day battle, now one of history’s most famous, had been ordained.
At its end, Lee’s troops had been thrown back, never again to invade the north, and on the next day in the west (on July 4th, 1863), Vicksburg had fallen to Grant, giving the Union control of the Mississippi and cutting the Confederacy in half. The war would go on for almost two more years, but Pickett’s failed charge at Gettysburg is now viewed by all historians as the high-water mark of the Confederacy. As William Faulkner wrote:
For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet…Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago…
Gettysburg was a battle in a war over federalism and states’ rights — in this case the dubious and odious “right” to treat human beings as chattel — a cause that has given the phrase a notorious name for over a century and a half. Madison (ironically, named after a Founder and drafter of the Constitution) is also a battle over states’ rights — in this case the right of a state to rein in the new slaveholders — public employee unions who extort taxpayers to give them better wages and benefits than those who provide their funding by threatening to shut down vital services if their demands aren’t met. And this time, the new slavemasters are being supported by Washington. Let us hope that in this new civil (so far) civil war, in the cold winter battle of Madison, unlike on that hot July day in southern Pennsylvania, the rebels against the central government win, because this time, it will be in defense of human liberty.