Study Guide

Gettysburg Address Timeline

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July 4th, 1776

The Second Continental Congress

To really get at the heart of the conflict between North and South, we have to go all the way back to the hot, sweltering Philadelphia summer of 1776.

When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, he originally included a damning statement on slavery. (Source)

Yeah. That would have been the right thing to include.

But, at the behest of both Northern and Southern delegates, the passage was scrapped, leaving future generations to grapple with the conflict of slavery in a United States founded on the principle of freedom.


Missouri Compromise

By the early 19th century, tempers over slavery had dropped from a rolling boil to a low simmer. The United States was distracted from fixing this obvious problem by war: war with Great Britain, war with Native Americans, and war with pirates. Yes, really, pirates (!).

But the country was forced to confront this split when Missouri applied to become the 23rd state. At this point, the country was evenly divided, with 11 free states and 11 slave states, but Missouri would tip the balance by allowing slavery.

In order to mediate between slavery supporters and those who wanted to stop its spread, Congress took a middle route and allowed Missouri to become a slave state, but with some caveats. Maine also joined the United States as a free state, slavery was banned in the Louisiana Territory north of 36°30', and New Jersey was designated as the country's official joke state.

September 1850

The 1850 Compromise

Not just one big compromise but a series of little compromise-y deals, this was the great last-ditch hope to reach a peaceful solution to the problem that had been dogging the country since 1776: slavery.

With new member states lining up to join like people outside an Apple store, Congress decided to balance the pro-slavery and antislavery factions by separating them into slave and free states. No iPhones for anyone, though.

November 6th, 1860

Abraham Lincoln's First Election

With an election even more heated than 2016's, Abraham Lincoln's victory signaled trouble on the horizon. Although he won the electoral college by more than 100 delegates, he lost the popular vote and (unsurprisingly) did not win a single state south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

December 20th, 1860

South Carolina Secedes

Little more than a month after Lincoln's election win, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. This was as highly controversial (and expected) as Leonardo DiCaprio finally winning an Oscar.

As the war of words over slavery grew louder in the antebellum period, several of South Carolina's politicians stated that secession (the old-timey equivalent of threatening to move to Canada) would be necessary in the event of a Republican presidential victory.

The Republicans' antislavery platform threatened their very existence; South Carolina was perhaps the state most reliant on slavery, with slaves making up 57 percent of the population. (Source)

April 12th, 1861

The Battle of Fort Sumter

The first shots of the Civil War were fired in Fort Sumter, South Carolina, about a month after Lincoln's inauguration.

After Union forces refused an ultimatum to leave a strategic harbor fort or else, Confederate artillery opened fire. Realizing the desperation of their situation, the Union surrendered the fort after a day and a half. Though no casualties occurred on either side, this was just the beginning.

Taking a note from the Boy Scouts, Lincoln did his best to be prepared and asked for 75,000 volunteers while four more states seceded from the Union.

April 30th to May 6th, 1863

The Battle of Chancellorsville

In what looked to be a slam dunk Union victory (considering the 2-to-1 manpower advantage), the brilliant Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee managed to beat the far less capable Northern army in a bloody week for both sides.

While this thrashing allowed Lee to look to Pennsylvania and menace Union-held territory for the first time, he lost perhaps his greatest subordinate officer—and WWE wrestling nickname-haver—Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

After Jackson had his arm amputated, Lee quipped to a fellow officer, "I have lost my right arm," proving that even Confederate generals can make good puns. (Source)

May 18th to July 4th, 1863

Siege of Vicksburg

Over in the Western Theater, the future head of all Union force—Ulysses S. Grant—lay siege to Vicksburg, an important Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River.

After spending six weeks cut off from any supplies, the city and army inside surrendered, giving the Union control of the river and in the process dealing the Confederacy a major blow. For decades afterward, the city of Vicksburg refused to celebrate July 4th because they were still bitter about the ordeal they endured.

Talk about holding a grudge.

July 1st to July 3rd, 1863

The Battle of Gettysburg

Lee's victory at Chancellorsville allowed him a chance to take the offensive and relieve pressure on Vicksburg.

His plan was to strike north at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and sweep east on to Philadelphia. But in early July, he was met by Union forces at Gettysburg. After three long days—capped by the Confederacy's disastrous Pickett's Charge—Lee and his army were forced to retreat back south. It was the bloodiest battle of the war.

November 19th, 1863

The Gettysburg Address

Despite a mild case of smallpox, President Abraham Lincoln attended the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery to oversee the ceremony and make some short remarks.

(Which, dang. If you didn't think Honest Abe was awesome already, he gave a speech while he had the plague.)

In the shadow of death that loomed over the battlefield, the president's words were a small beacon of light casting off the darkness and ready to show the way out of war.

April 9th, 1865

Lee's Surrender at Appomattox

By 1865, the Union's strategy was paying off big time. Gen. Lee was forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond after a month's long siege.

As he moved his army west to regroup, Lee was caught by Gen. Grant. Vastly outnumbered, Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were finally forced to surrender. The loss of their best commander sapped the will of what troops remained, and the Confederacy folded.

April 14th, 1865

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln was gunned down during the show Our American Cousin by actor/assassin/Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln's death meant that the Confederate surrender and strategy for Reconstruction were carried out by those without his vision of reintegration and forgiveness. Instead, America was stuck with one of its worst presidents.

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