Gettysburg and the Civil War: Did Lincoln Have Another Option?

Written by William Pauwels on December 6, 2017

The other night, Public Television broadcast an emotional history summarizing the gruesome Civil War in which over 620,000 young men (average age 25.8) were slaughtered and countless more were injured – to preserve the Union and to free the slaves.

The video depicts Lincoln’s personal involvement and personal anxiety and sacrifices in leading the execution of the war – enabled by his daily use of the newly invented telegraph.

The program concludes by depicting the gruesome battle at Gettysburg, where over 50,000 men were killed and buried, and where Lincoln gave perhaps the most powerful presidential speech in the history of our nation: The Gettysburg Address (read below.).

Although only 270 words, the speech was dissected during the program for its profound meaning and elegance and brevity. See it below. Read it slowly and thoughtfully.

With all due respect for President Lincoln as a war leader and defender of the United States Union, I cannot help wondering if the war was a political mistake. Were the war’s objectives worthy of its cost: 620,000 young deaths and many more gruesome injuries? Why would it have been so bad having a nation, the Confederate States of America, to our south – just as we have Canada to our north?

Certainly slavery would have ended sooner versus later via international political pressure and migration to the north. Anti-slavery was taking hold all over the world at that time. 40,000 Black lives would have been saved!

Think about it: 620,000 dead! Recent studies estimate the death toll at more like 850,000. A credible number of surviving casualties is apparently unknown.


Following is the only version of The Gettysburg Address to which Lincoln affixed his signature, and the last he is known to have written:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Image: By Ron Cogswell –, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.

Share if you think Gettysburg and the Civil War still deserve some more thought.

William Pauwels
William A. Pauwels, Sr. was born in Jackson Michigan to a Belgian, immigrant, entrepreneurial family. Bill is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and served in executive and/or leadership positions at Thomson Industries, Inc., Dow Corning, Loctite and Sherwin-Williams. He is currently CIO of Pauwels Private Investment Practice. He's been commenting on matters political/economic/philosophical since 1980.