On the day before our compound national holiday celebrating the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents, in our strange time when what passes for political discourse can include hysterical (and amnesiac) ranting about secession, I’m thinking about the battle at Gettysburg and Lincoln’s immortal words, delivered there on November 19, 1863, as part of the ceremony dedicating the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
The speech was not written on the train from D.C., nor scribbled on the back of an envelope, as myth has had it. And the Soldiers’ National Monument (with a statue known as the Genius of Liberty at the top), completed in 1869, once thought to mark the spot where the speakers’ platform stood, does not. It is likely Lincoln was 25 to 30 yards east of the Monument.
What is true is that 7,500 soldiers died in the three days of fighting. 3,152 Union soldiers (and others who sacrificed their lives in subsequent wars through Vietnam) are interred in the Cemetery, which unlike some areas of the Gettysburg National Military Park, impressive landscapes that don’t overtly bear the scars of the terrible conflict, is a place of remembrance.
(The Gettysburg Address was 272 words and I’d be horrified if this post were longer. It isn’t.)