GETTYSBURG, PA – One hundred fifty years ago this morning a sleepy farm town awoke into a cacophony of death.
The smell of sulfur smoke from musket bullets and cannon fire lingered in the air as tales of bravery and tears of broken dreams cloaked a battlefield thick with blood.
Located just seven miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania will forever be known as the crossroads where Union soldiers from The Army of the Potomac defeated famed Confederate General Robert E. Lee in what has become known as the iconic battle of America’s Civil War.
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1-3, 1863. When it was over, more than 50,000 American’s had been killed, wounded or were missing. It was the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere.
The deadly lessons of battle strategy learned from The Wheat Field, Cemetery Ridge, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill and Pickets Charge have been reconstructed and debated at War College of West Point and in countless classrooms and campfire’s around the world.
Occupation of a township versus claiming the high ground. Building fortifications versus marching in standard lines. The demoralizing effects of an artillery barrage. And of heroic last stands versus an all-out charge.
On November 19, 1863, less than five months after these deadly lessons were forged into the American consciousness, President Abraham Lincoln, delivered what is now considered his most famous speech.
The Gettysburg Address was Lincoln’s attempt to grasp the magnitude of the great battle and to convey its lessons to the American people.
“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.”
This morning we reflect on President Lincoln’s words of wisdom and pay tribute to all soldiers who have paid the ultimate price in the name of Liberty and Freedom.
Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler. The text above is from the so-called "Bliss Copy," one of several versions which Lincoln wrote, and believed to be the final version. For additional versions, you may search The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln through the courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Association.