The most important Fourth of July in American history, aside from the first one, was July 4, 1863, when it was decided that the Civil War, no matter how much the Union might screw up hereafter, would probably be won by the soldiers in blue. Grant took Vicksburg, splitting the Confederacy in half, and Meade defeated Lee at Gettysburg, and all this happened just before the holiday.

Grant’s battle was a work of genius. Gettysburg, however, was a catalog of incompetence, stupidity, bad judgment, and no judgment at all on both sides. It began with Lee colliding with Union troops because his cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart, had run off seeking headlines and leaving Lee blind. It ended with Meade losing his nerve and failing to crush Lee and end the war when it lay within his grasp.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote of the United States War Department and the men who ran it that “…on our part there is neglect, ignorance, folly, imbecility in the last degree.”

It’s jarring to read about any war and realize that this is the norm; that the lunatics very often run the asylum, and that if we prevail it’s because a very small number of people who know what they’re doing manage to prevail against overwhelming odds.

Thus it has always been. Thus it is now. Thus it forever shall be. We may, against all logic, survive our present situation, too. I find that comforting to think about on the Fourth, and I hope you all have a fine time of it and get your hands on some serious fireworks.