Four Score and Seven

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

87 years after the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln began what is widely marked as one of the most eloquent examples of oration in the English Language as he added his remarks to the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg.  It was written and re-written several times.  President Lincoln was, ironically, not even the featured speaker at the dedication.  Recorded as having a high, nasal voice, and without the benefit of modern loudspeakers or broadcast equipment, not many present could well hear him at all.  However, the short, clear remarks he presented are now etched in history.

148 years after Gettysburg we are preparing to celebrate our 235th anneversary this Fourth of July.  Without that key fight, we might not mark the day in quite the same way.  Historians generally concur that the three days of July 1st through the 3rd in 1863 marked the turn of the tide in our Civil War, ultimately preserving our Union.  Interestingly, on the 4th of July that same year, the day after Gettysburg concluded, General Ulysses Grant siezed the Confederate strong point at Vicksburg, Mississippi, adding a nail in the coffin of the Confederacy and yielding the entire Mississippi River over to Union forces.  The four days in July of 1863 were a kind of deadly one-two punch to the South.

The Battle of Gettysburg itself was a fearsome event.  General Robert E. Lee, seeking a strategic victory that would impact Northern anti-war sentiment and a tactical victory that would be a stepping-stone to an invasion of the North, was pulled into the fight before he was ready.  The Union forces as yet had no one key player, and the Army of the Potomac had maneuvered up through Virginia to counter Lee.  Anchored by the efforts of John Buford’s Union cavalry, the battlefield was picked.  Lines shifted back and forth, and the Confederates tried again and again to dislodge the Union forces. 

All told, 94,000 Union and 72,000 Confederate Soldiers walked or rode into the battle.  Three days later, the two opponents moved carefully apart.  Between the combatants, 27,000 wounded were carried from the field of battle.  About 8,000 dead men and 3,000 dead horses never left, lying on the Pennsylvania fields under the warm July skies.  The 2,000 townspeople of Gettysburg needed some quick help with the situation.  Later that November, the National Cemetery there was finally dedicated, and Mr. Lincoln delivered his historic address.

The other point to this somewhat gruesome tale is captured in Lincoln’s final, powerful paragraph:

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. 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 here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The past is past.  We emerged one nation and are still one today.  Not only should we take a moment to remember the sacrifices necessary we should also recognize that in many ways the struggle to preserve ourselves continues even today.

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2 Responses to “Four Score and Seven”

  1. whiteladyinthehood Says:

    My Dad is buried at out National Cemetary (are they all called that? Forgive my ignorance..my mom always called it the Soldier’s Graveyard – no offense intended) It’s beautiful as far as cemetaries go…you’re a real history buff! I always hated history..was more of a science chick..

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