Communities across the United States will celebrate our nation’s 237th birthday on July 4 with speeches, parades and fireworks.
There’s another anniversary this week of note, one that helped ensure the United States would stay just that — united.
On a muggy July 1 morning in a small Pennsylvania town 150 years ago, the men of Confederate Gen. Henry Heth began moving toward Gettysburg. They ran into dismounted cavalry under the command of Union Gen. John Buford, whose men included units from Illinois and Indiana.
Those first scattered shots that started even before 8 a.m. marked the beginning of what would become the largest battle of the Civil War and one of the true turning points in the conflict.
For three days — July 1-3 — the armies of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. George Meade smashed together on the hills outside of Gettysburg. More than 160,000 men would find themselves locked in combat of the type few had imagined possible.
On the final day, when the smoke from Pickett’s Charge had cleared and the Confederate army withdrew to begin its retreat into Virginia, the carnage came into focus. More than 20,000 men had been wounded, with more than 7,000 killed during the three days of battle. In addition, more than 5,000 horses and mules also lay about the battlefield.
The Union victory, coupled with another Federal win at Vicksburg during the same week, marked the beginning of the rapid end for the Confederates.
Men had decided union — the United States of America — was worth fighting and dying to preserve. And the effort also led to the end of slavery, opening the door to freedom for all Americans.
Two Julys — one in 1776 and the other in 1863 — stand out in our nation’s history. Every American should celebrate the Fourth of July — our Independence Day — this week and every week. The freedom it represents should never be taken for granted.
This editorial first appeared in the Commercial-News, Danville, Ill., and was distributed by CNHI News Service.