Gettysburg, November 19, 1863

 

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12:40 P.M. Harrisburg July 4, 1863
For G. G. Meade The glorious success of
the army of the Potomac has
electrified all I did not believe
the army of  the Potomac could
be whipped when fought in a
body Unquestionably the rebels have fortified
the passes in south mountains such
information was given me a week
ago from Gettysburg signed D.N. Couch hot

Such was the telegram sent by General Couch on the victory by the Union Army of the Potomac when it was clear that the battle at Gettysburg was won. It did indeed electrify all, and Gettysburg became one of the defining battles of the United States Civil War. It also became the site of commemoration, beginning with the dedication and consecration of the Nation Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. It was on this date that Lincoln delivered these famous lines:

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.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has become a touchstone in American Memory. It still has the power to evoke strong emotions of loss and hope. But Lincoln’s words, and those spoken by others on that November day in 1863, were not to be the only monument to the soldiers who fell on the fields and hills of Gettysburg.

After the Civil War, monuments began to be erected at Gettysburg in honor of the various units who had fought there. Among the images available online at the Huntimonument_honoring_the_90th_pennsylvania_infantry_2nd_brigade_2nd_division_1st_corpsngton Digital Library are a set of photographs that depict monuments at Gettysburg taken by photographer William H. Tipton. Some were elaborate, such as the one honoring the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry, is in the form of a shattered tree trunk, with a cannon ball lodged in the heart of the tree at the top, the bark peeled away. Others were very simple like that of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry which is a large puddingstone boulder on top of a carved base. These monument_honoring_the_20th_massachusetts_infantry_3rd_brigade_2nd_division_2nd_corpsphotographs were collected as keepsakes by a veteran, Lindsey M. Gould. They provided him a touchstone, no doubt, to those he fought with and those who died.

Let us take a moment, then, to reflect on this anniversary of the consecration of hallowed ground at Gettysburg. Let us reflect on Lincoln’s words. Gettysburg did electrify the Nation in 1863. Let that spark electrify you today.

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