“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 battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here have given their lives that that nation might live . . . 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.”
Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address 19 November 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
“Their valor was not the fury of the non-combatant; they have no voice in the thunder of the civilians and the shouting. Not by them are impaired the dignity and infinite pathos of the Lost Cause. Give them, those blameless gentlemen, their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills”
-Ambrose Bierce, A Bivouac of the Dead
“A new birth of freedom.” Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg months after those horrifying and terrible three days in July 150 years ago this month 1 July, 2 July, 3 July to say something about the second chance the entire nation both North and South was getting in perfecting that Union of the States and our whole people that our founders first set in motion in 1776. He also knew, as his audience knew beyond doubt, that four million human beings who were yet chafing under the yoke of human bondage or the hundreds of thousands who had run to freedom, many picking up the musket and the crossbelt and blue uniform to save the Union and bring their brothers and sisters to freedom were creating that re-birth of human freedom that would so transcend what had gone before.
The United States of America, and its temporarily wayward Confederate States of America, Americans all, had been engaged in unspeakable death and carnage in order to decide which way we were to go in being true to the great overiding principle in the Old Declaration that “all men are created equal” and that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Truthfully, white men North and South were having great difficulty in moving toward that great overarching principle of liberty, though Northern men wearing blue were found to be the most faithful and true in preserving our Union. African-Americans forced them to confront the great question, and to confront what was to be done with the crumbling Union. Looking back a century-and-a-half later it is crystal clear that the maintenance of the Union and the freeing of four million people of color–abolishing human slavery and opening up a whole new battlefield for human rights in this country– has providentially been granted to us all with the mortal help of so many– yes on all sides of the question.
For the politicians and so many people who had so long avoided the great question before the nation concerning the “all men are created equal” principle and all that that implied, had given to millions of young men what they could not or would not do that was theirs to settle justly. Instead the mortal task was given to hearty New England Yankees, Northerners from the old Western Reserve and emerging Northwestern Frontier and good Southron gentlemen the duty, the honor, and the horrible sacrifice of settling the question by force of arms. There were so many people of color who were free or had emerged from bondage who held the same deadly responsibility in their trembling hands and who offered them up on a thousand fields of sacrifice for five years at a nexus, an intersection, the most fundamental pivot point of all of our nation’s history.
And that both real,actual, and symbolic place, Gettysburg, was where the geographical and temporal elements met so that the heavens themselves shook with trepidation at the outcome for three bloody days. All of them who fought there deserve our remembrance, our compassion, our honors to bestow. They transcended the ordinary and mundane. This was something that had seemingly cosmic stakes for the future of the American experiment in democracy and republican government. These were the stakes set upon the altar of the nation across the entire continent; East and West, North as well as South. Any man or woman who made a contribution there at that place and at that time in 1863 are truly deserving of “their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills.”
Now they sleep across that dark river together. None live today any longer to tell us what it all meant–how it felt–all about their fears and sacrifice for something larger and higher than mere mortal man could devise, yet who are nevertheless compelled to play their part. It is left to us to mark this Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and do them all justice and honor. To come there in body or in spirit and commune with them this summer of 2013 and to reflect upon their sacrifice and its meaning to us now and to pledge yet again our resolve “that these dead shall have not died in vain” and to come forward and become the latest of the standard bearers for the American Union– the United States of America. Stop, become quiet in medidation or prayer and remember them this day.
Dr.Thomas Martin Sobottke
for Struggles for Justice