Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On Gettysburg, briefly.


Last summer, my mother and I took a history nerd's dream vacation to Gettysburg, PA. We took a six hour self guided battlefield tour, spent an entire day in the museum (I sat in a room with Lincoln painted on the walls where they played the Gettysburg Address on a loop for about twenty minutes) and, on the last morning, before heading out of town (and South towards Jefferson's Monticello, naturally), we walked through the National cemetery. 


That's where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address 150 years ago today. The President wasn't the big speaker that day and the Address is only 268 words long. Walking around the cemetery that morning, we found the unmarked graves. My Civil War obsession is recent, because it wasn't something I grew up around. That War feels more like it belongs to the South, to Virginia, because that's where so many of the major battles took place. But part of what is so beautiful about the Gettysburg Address is that it attempts to make us feel okay with these deaths, to understand that the War, despite its violence, was worth the sacrifices. It attempts to bring us together and make the War worth it for all American citizens.


Over the course of the three day Battle at Gettysburg, more than 3,500 Union soldiers died (as did more than 4,000 Confederates).  The Address is still so powerful to me because I feel like we can be so apologetic about the Civil War when in reality it was a necessity for the progress of our nation.


I love the Gettysburg Address. I am fascinated by Abraham Lincoln. I want everybody to take the time to read it today (or, watch/listen: LearnTheAddress.org) because I am such a nerd and I want everybody to be as excited about this speech as I am. But also because, like Lincoln says, "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." Of course that isn't true--because we remember "four score" and not things like Pickett's Charge on day three. 


The Address getting all this attention today and this past week is a good way to spread a little light on the violence that took place that day and what it really meant. I like to believe, because it makes it easier for me, that all those people died at Gettysburg and the war in general for that "new birth of freedom," for the beginning of the end of slavery. That's enough for me. Slavery had to be abolished, the North had to win the War, and a lot of people had to die. I am just doing my best to take the Gettysburg Address to heart and not take those deaths for granted.