It happened in a three day battle during the spring of 1863 and along a quiet valley in Eastern Pennsylvania. By the end of 72 hours, history would record over 7,800 killed and over 43,000 casualties; many of those killed and maimed were brothers, sons, fathers, and, in some cases, mothers or daughters.
The battle at Gettysburg has been called the turning point in a war that would ultimately take the lives of over 750,000 men, women and children – all Americans fighting each other over ideals that would forever frame our nation.
Whether you believe the civil war was fought over the right of secession or because some thought they had the right to own other human beings; it changed the world’s view of the United States and it altered our course.
On November 19, 1863, an assemblage of notable people gathered near Gettysburg to dedicate the battlefield. Among them a famed speaker of the day, Edward Everett, was the “keynote speaker” and spoke for some (2) hours.
President Abraham Lincoln rose and delivered a speech that although only a few minutes in length has gone down in history as one of the greatest of all speeches ever made:
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.
November 19, 1863
Today, we celebrate not just a great man or a great speech. We celebrate what this great man wrought: a nation that remained intact; the freeing of an enslaved people; and an arguably earlier march toward equality in our adolescent society.
We are a young nation and we should never fall prey to the trap of forgetting history. To forget history is to forever repeat it and with all its mistakes.