“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is perhaps the most famous speech in American history, delivered at our most famous battlefield.
I’ll leave it to Civil War historians to dissect the strategies the competing armies employed on July 1-3, 1863. Suffice it to say it was the most lethal battle of the entire conflict, with some 50,000 casualties. Robert E. Lee had taken the fight to the North, and the defeat of his army by Union forces caused him to retreat to Virginia, and is generally considered the turning point of the war.
Lincoln visited the site four months later to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery, using the opportunity to say ten sentences, no more than three minutes, that would resonate forever among his countrymen. All Americans, not just Northerners, share Lincoln’s dream that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Today, the National Park Services administers Gettysburg National Military Park, 6,000 acres of battlefield and surrounding land. A new Museum and Visitor Center that opened a year ago provides perspective not just on the Battle of Gettysburg, but the entire Civil War. There are also a variety of Ranger-led walks and programs around much of the sacred grounds.
America is one nation, and romantic notions of Southerners notwithstanding, we are fortunate to have a unified country. That ideal was in jeopardy – until three days in 1863 in a little Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.