The military atmosphere was still full of confusion and uncertainty. And things seemed getting worse every day. Strange as it may seem, the government continued making extensive efforts to further the object of the rebel general. Fortunately for the nation, our wise rulers waked up one morning fully convinced that General Lee was in earnest, that he was already on the free soil of a northern State, with a favorable prospect for making a settlement there. The government also suddenly discovered that General Hooker, although a brave soldier and all that, was not the man to command a great army. So the government relieved him and sent him into elegant retirement, a custom very common at that time.
Then the government appointed General Meade to the command of the grand old army of the Potomac. Of this general little had been known. Still, the nation felt relieved at the change. Now, General Meade was a polished gentleman, a brave and good soldier, who had fought on the Peninsula under McClellan and commanded the Pennsylvania Reserves. To place a new general in command of an army at a time when that army is in face of the enemy and expects every minute to engage him in battle, is one of the most dangerous experiments a government can indulge in. It is also one well calculated to test to their utmost the qualities of the general placed so suddenly in command.
It was the 1st of July, 1863, General Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac, and posted it in order of battle on the hills and plains around Gettysburg. There the two armies stood, the Union and the Rebel, than whom there was none braver, awaiting for the signal for the clash of arms. Then a great battle began and lasted three days. And there was desperate fighting and great valor displayed on both sides, and the field was strewn with the dead and wounded. And the battle of Gettysburg was a great battle, and the Union army of patriots gained a great and glorious victory over the rebels. Yes, my son, and what was more, we celebrated it on the 4th of July. And the people of the North were glad of heart, and rejoiced exceedingly, and sang praises to General Meade, for he had fought the battle well and won his country’s gratitude.
Still, my son, we hesitated, and failed to take advantage of our success. In truth, we let the rebel army re-cross the Potomac at its leisure, although we might have given it serious trouble had we pressed it at once. Indeed, there were a great number of people who expected General Meade to either drive the rebel army into the Potomac or capture it. But military men know that capturing a large army, though it may have been beaten in battle, is not so easy a matter. And even a victorious army, after fighting so great a battle, needs rest and time to improve its shattered condition.
Hanging in the balance.