Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago...

Lincoln Address Memorial at Gettysburg
            During 1863 the residents of Harrisonburg thrilled to the guerilla exploits of Captain John H. McNeill and his Rangers – a Confederate partisan unit that harassed Federal units.  Also, in July, the citizens of Harrisonburg were well aware of the great battle in Pennsylvania.  The Register on July tenth reported a “great, glorious, and overwhelming victory over Union forces” at Gettysburg.  Over the next week the truth became apparent as large numbers of wounded Confederates passed up the Valley, many breathing their last breathe in Harrisonburg.  On November 16, Court Day, a rumor late in the afternoon spread that the Yankees would be coming in about five hours.[i]  The rumor was false.  Uncertainty charge the atmosphere.

            Three days later on November 19, President Lincoln gave a short address at the dedication of a cemetery that held the remains of many soldiers who gave their lives to the nation at Gettysburg.  In his rhetoric often borrowing from the language and concepts in the sacred national document - the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln cautions that this dedication would dishonor those who sacrificed, if the living did not continue the “great tasks remaining before us” to preserve the nation.   In his ten-sentence praise and exhortation, Lincoln uses the words “dedication” about ten times and “nation” five times.  In our time, do these words still have meaning!
First page of Lincolns draft

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.[ii]

[i] Rosemarie Palmer. Civil War Stories. 2012.


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