Once again I am leading a group of my students on a Staff Ride at Gettysburg. We left the Staff College later than I like to but even so we made much better time getting up here than we usually do, only a little traffic to slow us down on I-495 on the way out of Washington D.C. This got us into Gettysburg earlier than I expected so after getting my stuff in my hotel room I took a walk around Cemetery Hill and through the Soldiers Cemetery.
As always I was astounded and humbled as I walked the ground. This really is hallowed ground. I think that Abraham Lincoln, who spoke “a few words” at the dedication of the Soldiers Cemetery said it the best:
“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…”
As I walked around Cemetery Hill and through the Soldiers Cemetery I felt the presence of the men that fought and died to preserve this remarkable Union. But when I got to the Masonic Memorial on the western slope of the hill was touched by an image of one of the more human things that happened on the battlefield. That image is a statue of a Union officer, a Captain Bingham rendering aid to Confederate General Lewis Armistead as the latter lay mortally wounded after leading his troops to the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. The story of Armistead is tragic, I have written about it before and it was movingly portrayed by Richard Jordan in the movie Gettysburg.
But when I come up here it is always Lincoln’s words, as well as the gallantry of the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac that inspire me more than anything. Please don’t get me wrong, while I admire the bravery and many of the cities of the Conferate soldiers, I despise the cause that they died for, and no, it is not the myth of states rights. It is the reality that Confederate leaders seceded because they had failed in Congress and at the ballot box to expand slavery outside of where it was legal.
I guess that is why Lincoln’s conclusion of the address resonates with me so much, “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.”
So anyway, I hope that you are enjoying my latest Gettysburg posts.