Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 26, 2018

Gettysburg Address 150 years later

By Linda Wenger

The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was just a couple of weeks ago on July 3. Thanks to Civil War buff Bill Tweeton, I renewed my interest in the battle and its aftermath. Bill spoke to a group about the Battle of Gettysburg and his hero, Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Infantry recently. Chamberlain played a key role in the Union victory at Gettysburg.
My keen interest is in President Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. The 150th anniversary of the Address will come on Nov. 19.
The Battle of Gettysburg and the Battle of Vicksburg, both Union victories, were extremely important victories for the Union. Up until then, the Confederate forces won battle after battle. According to Ken Burn’s documentary series “The Civil War,” Gen. Robert E. Lee arrived at Gettysburg confident that his army would win the battle, then turn on Washington, D.C., to win the war.
Between the Union and the Confederate forces, approximately 150,000 soldiers fought and a total of 51,000 soldiers died. According to Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald, thousands of the soldiers who died were “imperfectly identified and hastily buried.”
According to Donald, Lincoln was invited to make “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg. He was not the featured speaker. The main speaker was Edward Everett, a Harvard professor.
Lincoln downplayed the dedication ceremony.
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” he said in his address.
The second half of that sentence states, “but it can never forget what they (the soldiers) did here.”
Some time after both men had given their speeches, Everett complimented Lincoln for saying in two minutes, what he said in two hours.
While some Northerners talked about negotiating with the Confederacy to end the war, Lincoln wanted the country to know what was at stake and why it was important to win the war.
“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,” Lincoln began.
The thing “our fathers brought forth” was the Declaration of Independence. Rather than negotiating a conditional peace, Lincoln wanted the nation to understand the importance of remaining the United States of America.
“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 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,” he concluded.
One of the myths of the Gettysburg Address is that Lincoln wrote it on a scrap of paper while riding on the train from Washington, D. C., to Gettysburg the day before the dedication.
Donald writes that he spoke to the landscape architect, William Saunders, who was in charge of planning the Gettysburg cemetery. Lincoln wanted to know about the very geography of the Pennsylvania countryside that would become hallowed ground. He also wrote the majority of the speech on White House stationery, Donald said.
A snippet of truth in the myth is that Lincoln wrote the end of his speech on a scrap of a brown paper wrapper. He “needed only a few quiet minutes to write it all out,” Donald wrote.
Lincoln left a charge for us that rings true 150 years later.
“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,” he said.
It is still up to us to uphold the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address — that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.