In a few weeks I will be heading to Gettysburg College for the annual Civil War Institute. Some of the most memorable experiences are spent on the battlefield walking with guides that have thought deeply about how to interpret historic landscapes. There is a short list of historians and guides who have mastered the ability to leave visitors with a meaningful and even transformative experience. Continue reading
I thought it might be nice to start the end of the work week on a lighter note. Looking forward to two trips to Gettysburg this summer. The first is the annual Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. This year will be my busiest institute yet. I will deliver a talk on the Crater, lead a breakout session on Confederate morale in the summer of 1864 as well as a dine-in on Pat Cleburne’s proposal to arm slaves. The highlight for me, however, will be the opportunity to once again work with the high school students.
A week later I head back to Gettysburg to take part in the 2014 Sacred Trust Talks. My talk is at 3:30pm on July 5 with a book signing at 4:30pm. Hope to see some of you between these two events.
Yesterday the 2014 Lincoln Prize winners were announced. This year the prize was split between Allen Guelzo for his book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion and Writing the Gettysburg Address by Martin Johnson. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Guelzo’s book, but have not have yet had a chance to read the second. It’s worth pointing out that Guelzo’s book is the first military campaign study to be awarded the prize since George Rable’s Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which won in 2003.
Last May I wondered how the Licence Battlefield Guides at Gettysburg and Gettysburg enthusiasts generally would respond to Guelzo’s book. Continue reading
Yes, President Barack Obama deserves some criticism for not attending celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. You can’t spend as much time as this president has over the years identifying with Lincoln without having to deal with questions about why you refuse to attend the sesquicentennial of the most important speech in American history. One of the more absurd arguments (not surprisingly) comes from a FOX News interview with a Wall Street Journal columnist, who actually argues that given the president’s popularity right now it was probably the right decision not to attend. Participation would have just added coal to the fire.
It would be interesting to have poll numbers for Lincoln’s popularity in November 1863. If we follow this argument to it logical conclusion, it is likely that Lincoln himself should have stayed away from Gettysburg altogether. Can you imagine a president so unpopular and still have the nerve to show up at a battlefield in the middle of a civil war to dedicate a new cemetery? Continue reading
We would do well to remember that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was delivered at the height of a civil war, whose outcome was far from decided. I am reminded of this after having read Carole Emberton’s thoughtful editorial in The Morning News:
Although Lincoln’s prose is magisterial, its might depended in no small part on the ability of the Union Army to achieve battlefield victories in 1864 and 1865. In this case, the pen was only as powerful as the sword.
Lincoln issued a rallying cry on the Gettysburg battlefield in November 1863:
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…
The “unfinished work” that Lincoln referred to was begun voluntarily in 1861 when the government and tens of thousands of citizens chose to end the rebellion militarily. Lincoln and others had every reason to doubt as to whether the nation would find the strength in 1863 and beyond to see the “great task” to its successful conclusion? The outcome would ultimately determine whether the dead had indeed “died in vain.”
Is it possible for Americans today to appreciate the sense of uncertainty that hung over the yet-to-be completed cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863 given how disconnected we are from the sacrifices of so many of our military men and women over the past ten years?
To what extent does Lincoln’s hard truth apply to our own wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did these men and women die in vain? Perhaps we shouldn’t look too closely.
Ultimately, Lincoln’s words serve as a reminder of the responsibility of every citizen when our nation utilizes its military and places our fellow Americans in harm’s way.