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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; 1863; in the midst of the American Civil War
Gettysburg is a small town near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. It served no strategic purpose during the war, it was merely coincidence that the Union forces, pursuing the invading Rebel army, caught up with Lee there and that Lee decided to drop his plans for Harrisburg and make towards the farming village.
In 1863 the U.S. was going through severe growing pains. The thirty years preceding the Civil War were a time of territorial expansion and social development. The U.S. grew physically with the expansion west--and flexed its military muscle with the Indian Removal Act and the Mexican War. The issue of slavery boiled up in the new territories of Kansas and Texas. Meanwhile, life in the North was changing dramatically. The market revolution, the growth of cities, the rising standard of living, and the new waves of immigration all served to further isolate the backwards south.
By 1850 the U.S. was heading towards a conflict over the issue of slavery. The compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, the Dred Scott case and finally the election of 1860 all served to escalate the growing differences between the North and the South.
The Civil War changed the U.S. forever: following years of reconstruction the U.S. forged new connections between the East and the West (exemplified by the Transcontinental Railroad), industrialized, and reached out towards new territories (such as Alaska). The thirty years after the Civil War was a steady assent for the U.S. to the stage of world powers. In 1898 the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War, proving itself to be a major military power and acquiring Cuba and the Philippines.
The war was fought on two fronts: the western and the eastern. The western front included Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, and the eastern front was fought mainly in Virginia. In 1862 the Union won in the West while the Confederates successfully defended Virginia.
The third year of the war was a turning point. Gettysburg and Vicksburg were major victories for the Union and costly defeats for the South. After capturing Vicksburg, the Union was able to control the Mississippi and split the South in two. Gettysburg stopped the South’s invasion of the North. In the same year the western counties of Virginia separated and became the state of West Virginia, supporting the Union.
The year 1864 began with optimism in the North. However, a bloody campaign in Virginia illustrated that the war was not over yet. The South was able to prevent the capture of Richmond, the Confederate capital, but the North won battles at Mobile Bay, Atlanta, and Nashville.
In 1865 the Confederates began to suffer from the lack of supplies and manpower and were unable to continue to effectively sustain the war effort. General Grant captured Richmond, while General Sherman marched from Atlanta, dominating Georgia and the Carolinas. The Civil War ended in April after five years of battle.