Skip to main content


March 2023
2min read

One Hundred and Twenty-five Years Ago

After their hard-fought victory at the battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee led his troops northward, through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. The battered Army of the Potomac followed. On July 1 the two armies clashed near the small town of Gettysburg. The Army of the Potomac had a new and untried commander in Gen. George G. Meade. Three days before the battle, Gen. Joe Hooker had resigned his command in a dispute with Lincoln. The early fighting favored the Rebels, who drove the bluecoats back through the town to the high ground south of it.

While Lee uncharacteristically hesitated, the Federals had time to concentrate troops and secure their position on Cemetery Ridge. Late in the afternoon of July 2, the Confederates struck hard against the Union left, leaving thousands dead in wheat field and peach orchard and a maze of rocks known as Devil’s Den. But in the end the Union ranks held. The next day, in a last, desperate bid, forty-two gray regiments started toward Cemetery Ridge in the doomed and gallant charge that will forever bear the name of one of the generals who led it, George Pickett. Although artillery pounded the attackers, inflicting appalling losses, the Rebels pushed forward until they reached the Union line. But they couldn’t hold; in the end five thousand men managed to get back to the place where fifteen thousand had started out not long before.

The Army of Northern Virginia was finished as a fighting force. Lee retreated on July 4. Meade was reluctant to pursue. “We had them within our grasp,” said a frustrated President Lincoln. “We had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours. And nothing I could say or do could make the Army move.”

But the North was nearly as shaken by victory as the South was by defeat; the three days’ fighting had cost Meade some twenty-three thousand casualties—over a quarter of his force. All told, more than fifty thousand men were killed, wounded, or captured at Gettysburg.

By the time Meade’s army was ready to go back on the offensive, the Army of Northern Virginia had retreated to the other side of the Potomac River, ending the last Confederate offensive in the North.

Less dramatic than Gettysburg, and far less bloody, Gen. Ulysses Grant’s siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, played an equally crucial role in turning the tide against the South. Grant and his army held the strategically vital city in a choke hold. As one Confederate soldier put it, “A cat could not have crept out of Vicksburg without being discovered.”

Gen. John Pemberton and his thirty thousand Rebel soldiers held out for two months, but when supplies dwindled to nothing, there was little choice. On July 3, as Pickett and his men charged up Cemetery Ridge, Pemberton was discussing terms with his besiegers. He surrendered the city the next day. The fall of Vicksburg put the Mississippi River into Northern hands and divided the Confederacy in half.

Sam Houston, the soldier and statesman who enjoined Texans to “Remember the Alamo!” during the battle of San Jacinto, died in his Huntsville home on July 26 at the age of seventy. The Tennessee native had served as the president of the short-lived Republic of Texas and then, after statehood, as one of its first senators. In 1859, Houston was elected governor. Though his anti-secessionist stance threw him into disfavor with his fellow Texans, forcing him to resign the governorship in 1861, Houston passed away in true Lone Star style. As his wife Margaret sat at his bedside, Houston uttered his last words: “Texas! Texas! … Margaret!”

The border war between antislavery Kansas and proslavery Missouri reached its grim peak on the morning of August 21 when a band of 448 Missouri guerrillas led by William Clarke Quantrill rode into Lawrence, Kansas, a center of abolitionist activity. Quantrill’s raiders set fire to most of the town’s buildings and butchered more than 150 people.

The Phrenological Journal of New York published a special issue in August. “Noses Illustrated” featured “Noses of Americans, English, Irish, French, Germans, Hungarians, Russians, Negroes, &c.”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "July/August 1988"

Authored by: Fredric Smoler

Gallows Humor from the First October Catastrophe

Authored by: The Editors

Two Hundred and Twenty-five Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

One Hundred and Twenty-five Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

One Hundred Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

Seventy-five Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

Twenty-five Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

Fitz Hugh Lane’s seemingly traditional harbor scenes are now considered pioneering works of a unique artistic movement

Authored by: Edward Hoagland

He lived alone for two years in a small cabin on Walden Pond, but he was neither misanthropic nor solitary. Perhaps more than any other American writer, he can teach us how to live with ourselves.

Authored by: Fredric Smoler

A lifelong student of military history and affairs says that nuclear weapons have made the idea of war absurd. And it is precisely when everyone agrees that war is absurd that one gets started.

Featured Articles

Rarely has the full story been told how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

Often thought to have been a weak President, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or political fallout.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.