THOUGHTS COMING OUT OF 'GETTYSBURG'
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
151 years ago to the day this one has been posted The Green Papers, on the afternoon of Thursday 19 November 1863, then-President Abraham Lincoln delivered what is, arguably, his most memorable speech- what has come to be known as the Gettysburg Address. The occasion was the official Dedication of a National Military Cemetery at the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where only a few months before, Union and Confederate forces had met in fiercest fighting over the course of three days- the first three of same in July of that same year: the Federal Army of the Potomac was here attempting to stop an invasion- by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee- of the still-loyal to the Union Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Lee's army having done so if only to (it being, at the time of this battle, little less than a year and a half before the next Presidential Election scheduled in the Union States) most strongly persuade the voters of the North that it was high time to end the American Civil War and, thereby, allow the Confederate States of America go its own way in peace.
Although, from a military point of view, the Battle of Gettysburg was not a Union victory in the purest terms (if only because Federal forces did not directly "take" the Confederate position in the field, even though Lee thereafter decided to withdraw his own forces back across the Potomac into Confederate Virginia), it was seen, in both North and South, as a Union psychological victory- the 'High Water Mark' of what, to the North, was a Confederate 'flood' into Northern territory (because the Confederates had been unable to either break through the Union line of battle or get around either flank of said line [to which the Confederates had driven the 'Yankee's on the first day of this engagement] throughout the last two days of the battle). There was, however, a most terrible rate of battlefield casualties- on both sides- over the three-day course of this battle and, it now being a good century and a half after the Civil War itself was still being fought, this very last fact is what has become the overall legacy of the Gettysburg Battlefield.
Once the November Elections here in the United States of America are held, the votes therein are cast and counted and yet another more than likely late night- into the wee hours of the morning Eastern Time US- doing what we here at The Green Papers do on Election Night has finally come to an end (not at all here counting the "mop-up work"- such as this website's dealing with any races still uncalled- over the couple to few days after said Election), it is- often as not- time for at least this The Green Papers Staffer to "get away from it all" for at least a few (if not even more!) days. Normally, I would not at all bore the readers of these pieces of mine for this website with anything about where I actually go- or what I have actually done- on such post-Election jaunts of mine: in fact, up till now, I have not ever even bothered to tell the gentle reader about same.
This time, however, is different: for, this time round, I spent a few days visiting- for the first time- Gettysburg and its nearby battlefield. The very notion that this place is seen as having been just such a 'High Water Mark' of the old Confederacy had my seeing, as well as touring about, this battlefield- and so soon after the Midterm Elections as I had described them just prior to setting out on this journey- engendering certain thoughts in my own mind, not only in relation to the very weight of History contained within the scenes of the battlefield itself, but also about its- and, for that matter, the entire Civil War's- relationship, over the course of time, to far more recent happenings- such as the so recently concluded Election 2014...
and I want to now share at least some of these thoughts of mine- for whatever these might be worth- with the readers and users of this website.
[A NOTE about the text of the Gettysburg Address as it appears in segments below: The text I have chosen differs in detail, in at least more than a few respects, from that which has- long since- become the "canonical" (if you will) version of this speech; the 'canonical' Gettysburg Address (that which has been recited, where not also memorized, by many an American schoolchild for many decades now) is based on what has become known as the 'Bliss draft', a version of the speech President Lincoln himself produced in longhand no little time after the speech had already been given (the only version, by the way, which Lincoln actually signed and specifically titled "Gettysburg Address")- albeit the version Lincoln likely intended to leave behind as his legacy (in this, Lincoln can fairly be seen as having merely engaged in a variant of that same 'Revising and Extending of Remarks'- prior to permanence in the legislative Record- he would have been permitted as both an Illinois state legislator and a Congressman earlier in his political career: thus, a not all that uncommon a practice- even for Presidents of the United States- back then [before audio recording, radio and television would no longer allow a sitting President such a thing]).
I, however, have chosen- instead- a version of the speech based on that which was most widely reported in the newspapers of the time and which, more than likely, reflects the Gettysburg Address as actually delivered by Lincoln on site. There were at least three different transcriptions of Lincoln's speech telegraphed out of Gettysburg the evening after the Dedicatory Ceremony had taken place (so that the speech could appear in the next morning's newspapers across the country): one- the most widely distributed- was that put out by the Associated Press; another was put out by the New York Times (which had two reporters on scene-- it is assumed they compared notes and, thus, the Times transcription was, almost certainly, a combination of their respective efforts); yet at least one other was put out by (so it is variously reported) either Chicago- or Philadelphia-based reporters (if not both).
These three (or, perhaps, more) transcriptions by the Press differ slightly one from another- yet, at the same time, they are actually far closer in agreement than the five surviving "drafts" of the speech in Lincoln's own hand (only two of which- the so-called 'Hay draft' and 'Nicolay draft' [each of which is claimed to have been the draft Lincoln actually held in his hand while speaking, although this cannot be confirmed] can be conclusively determined to have been written before Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg). It is obvious that, in an age without microphones with which to amplify a speaker's voice, at least some words were, likely, misheard- and, thereby, mistranscribed- by these reporters (for instance, the phrase "refinished work" appears in each transcription where, in context, work left "unfinished" would make much more sense [I have, thereby, chosen to use "unfinished" here]; it is possible, however, that Lincoln did actually say "refinished" [perhaps caught, while extemporizing, between saying "refinishing" and "unfinished"]).
And speaking of extemporizing: from the texts of the Gettysburg Address in these pre-speech drafts, it can be clearly discerned (once these are compared to the transcriptions of the speech as it appeared in the Press) that one also has to deal with the added complication that speakers (and Lincoln was certainly no exception!) very often added words to- or stated clauses, or even whole sentences, differently from- that which they had already written on paper (whether these were potential corrections already held in mind as the speaker began or outright improvisation/extemporization "on the fly")- an example of this is that which begins Lincoln's own summing up towards the end of his speech...
in the early, pre-speech drafts, Lincoln wrote along the lines that "[i]t is rather for us, the living, to here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us- that, from these honored dead, we take increased devotion..." but, as the reporters' transcriptions all have it (with the exception of that single likely error in transcription ['refinished' instead of 'unfinished'] noted a couple paragraphs back), Lincoln, instead, said "It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on" immediately after which there was, so these reporters all note, much applause; Lincoln then (presumably once the applause had subsided) went on to say "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..." (pretty much that which was already in the pre-speech drafts): this reads very much as if Lincoln was improvising here- only to have his extemporization interrupted by unexpected applause- after which he decided to then "stick to the script" upon 're-start' (hence his repetition, with the words in slightly different order, of the "It is, rather, for us to be dedicated" line)...
by contrast, the 'canonical' Gettysburg Address has Lincoln here saying (without any reference to breaks caused by applause, of course [even though the reporters' transcriptions all note that the speech was interrupted by applause at least four, perhaps five, times- not here counting any applause after Lincoln had finished speaking (about which there is much dispute)]) "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..." (thus, this same repetition- again, likely a byproduct of having been so interrupted by applause- has also found its way into the 'canonical' version of the speech). None of the newspaper transcriptions, by the way, have Lincoln actually saying the phrase "who fought here" after the 'they' as seen in that first sentence in the portion of the 'canonical' text just quoted; in addition, they all agree on that sentence ending with "carried on", rather than the "advanced" of the 'canonical' text.
In the end, then, I have chosen to follow the best text I could discern from the contemporaneous newspaper version(s)- rather than the 'canonical' version of this Gettysburg Address- if only because I am trying my utmost to recount, below, what words might actually have fallen from Abraham Lincoln's lips at the site at which he had actually once spoken them, a site I myself have now so recently visited. I admit, however, that such an approach, on my part, risks engendering no little controversy, as those who hold the very words of the 'canonical' Gettysburg Address so close to heart may well find the differences they will find in my version below at least somewhat jolting.-- REB-A]
However, for those who might prefer same, here are links to
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...
Not much else is more sobering- few other things can cause one to so often pause for reflection- than a Civil War battlefield site (besides Gettysburg, I also visited Antietam- as well as Harpers Ferry [site of John Brown's pre-Civil War 'Raid']) on my most recent vacation)--- especially so soon after yet one more election in which the furies of many an American voter were, indeed, so evident.
But say what you will about the "battles" between the two Major Parties for, say, control of the houses of Congress- say what you even might about, for instance, intraParty differences between, say, a more moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine and a more conservative Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama (both of whom were re-elected to their respective fourth six-year terms in the United States Senate earlier this month): at least they haven't been shooting live ammunition at each other as once were Mainers defending the furthest left flank of the Union line against an assault up Little Round Top by Alabamians during the late afternoon of 2 July 1863!
Looking over the terrain of the battlefield at Gettysburg- even with all its various and sundry monuments and markers added over the decades since that battle- one cannot help but think of the most serious consequences if and when differences in politics and/or economics, even society and/or culture, between sections and regions of the United States of America should themselves get so out of hand!
Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that Nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure...
The slogan, as it were, for Gettysburg National Military Park is 'Our Country's Common Ground': it is direct recognition that, whatever color uniforms those who fought- even bled, perhaps died- therein might have worn those first three days in July of 1863 (blue or gray), all who so fought, bled and/or died were Americans. No distinction is- or, for that matter, should be- made, all these years and decades after the Civil War, between Federal and Confederate in this regard: for Johnny Reb's blood stained the ground of the battlefield at Gettysburg no less than did that of Billy Yank and, indeed, the commonest color of all between those dead and wounded who wore blue and those same who wore gray during those three days of battle was, sadly, quite red.
A case in point is the 'Friend to Friend' Memorial just outside the walls of the National Cemetery itself. Erected by the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania, it is topped by a statue of Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead- who had been commanding a brigade within Pickett's Division (that which, on the final day of the battle, attempted to storm the Union center in what has become most famously known as 'Pickett's Charge') when he was mortally wounded- lying on the ground while being comforted by Union Captain Henry Bingham, at the time serving on the staff of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock; Armistead and Hancock were personal friends, separated at this time only by their respective loyalties to their own home States (for Armistead, North Carolina; for Hancock, Pennsylvania) which, in turn, had determined just which color uniform each would be wearing to battle that particular day.
But even more telling than the image provided by the statue itself is that which envelopes both it and its pedestal: a semicircular alphabetical arrangement of the names of every State- carved in stone- that had provided those troops which fought at Gettysburg. No distinction whatsoever is made between those States which had joined the Confederacy and those which had refused to secede from the Union and, by sheer coincidence of the alphabet, ALABAMA is first (furthest to the left) and WISCONSIN is last (farthest to the right), fairly completing this particular monument to reconciliation between once-contending States.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war: we are met to dedicate a portion of it 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, of course, when Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg to be among the speakers at the Dedication of this National Cemetery back in mid-November 1863, the Civil War was then still ongoing and, most certainly, there was- as yet- no real thought of such reconciliation: for the South was, at the time, still at war against a North in which a large majority considered the Federal Government of the United States of America to be the only legitimate national government for both North and South alike. Thus, at the time Lincoln spoke, "those who here gave their lives that that Nation might live" included only those who had been wearing blue whilst expiring on the fields, or amongst the rocks, in and around Gettysburg; those in gray who had also passed away- whether in, say, the so-called 'Slaughtering Pen' near the foot of Little Round Top or, perhaps, among the meadow grasses after having participated in 'Pickett's Charge'- were surely not being so honored that afternoon (nor, given the times, could they have been)!
Lincoln, of course, could not- as he spoke at Gettysburg- yet know that he would, come his second Inaugural on 4 March 1865, be so plaintively asking that the wounds of a Civil War (by then already seen as at least winding down, even though Lee- and other Confederate generals leading whole armies in gray- had not yet surrendered) be so 'bound up' (his words) "[w]ith malice toward none, with charity for all- with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right"; but one can fairly wonder just how much what he had already said at his first Inaugural on 4 March 1861 (where he- as the clouds of impending civil war were already, back then, well gathering- closed with "We are not enemies, but friends- we must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory- stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land- will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature") was still- come 19 November 1863 at the site of such a horrific battle which had engendered so many Union dead (and, again, at that particular moment in time, it was all about the Union)- well in his own mind: or, for that matter, in the minds of his audience (not only those physically present at the Dedicatory Ceremony in Gettysburg, but those who would read transcriptions of his Gettysburg Address in newspapers all across the country [including the South])...
put another way: just how strained were passions in the North still at the very time of the Dedication of a National Cemetery located adjacent to where the soldiers of the Union had successfully- yet with a high rate of casualties of their own (never mind the casualties they themselves inflicted)- turned back that final Confederate assault on their line known as 'Pickett's Charge' less than half a year before? All of which makes any and all strained passions (however heartfelt) of, say, an Election 2014 campaign so recently completed fall into veritable meaninglessness, if only in mere comparison!
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate— we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow— this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our own 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...
Indeed, for that generation of Civil War veterans that had fought on the side of the Union, those whose deeds were not to so be forgotten by the world (even though Lincoln was, of course, wrong about his own words- at least- being "little note[d]" and not "long remember[ed]" by that same world) were those who wore blue during those three days of battle at Gettysburg. An age of northern Republicans "Waving the Bloody Shirt" for both political effect and much electoral success against Democrats North and South, an age that lasted throughout at least the remainder of the 19th Century, could not be expected to much think and feel otherwise. Lincoln's own death had, unfortunately, unleashed northern notions of, somehow, "punishing" the States of the one-time Confederacy for their rebellious audacity; thereby, "With malice toward none" itself had, effectively, fairly died in that same moment in which the Great Emancipator took his last breath the morning of 15 April 1865.
As a result, Gettysburg was- at first- a symbol of Union (meaning "Northern") resilience and strength- even well after the States which had once seceded had been "welcomed back into" that same Union ('welcomed back into' in quotation marks here because the Federal Government had never formally recognized they had even left in the first place!): the vast majority of the earliest monuments and markers placed about the battlefield were, therefore, those honoring various and sundry Union brigades and regiments, battalions and companies (beginning in the late 1870s). Only when the then-War Department began utilizing major Civil War battlefields (including Gettysburg) as, more or less, "open-air classrooms" for courses in Military History in the 1890s (and, to further this endeavor, large markers explaining [in no little detail] the movements- throughout the Gettysburg Campaign in the specific case of Gettysburg, obviously- of such individual military units- Confederate, as well as Union- were placed in their proper geographical positions) was there all that much of a Southern presence once again on the battlefield site (although a monument marking where the aforementioned Confederate General Armistead fell mortally wounded dates back to the late 1880s and a marker honoring a Confederate unit from Maryland [although Maryland never seceded from the Union, the Old Line State was seriously split as regarded her loyalties during the Civil War] dates to even earlier).
Only with the Turn of the Last Century was it possible for more recognition to be granted those who had fought, bled and died on the Confederate side (a growing sentiment which culminated in the Gettysburg Battlefield being designated a 'National Military Park' about a decade into that Century). A new generation had, by then, come of age and those of that generation in the South very strongly wished that the sacrifices of their fathers and grandfathers on such battlefields as Gettysburg be the more acknowledged no less than were those made by those who had fought, bled and died for the Union; in addition: a South, once impoverished by the very ravages of the Civil War on that section of the country, now had more money in the public coffers with which to fund such markers and monuments while, at around the same time, Civil War veterans' committees overseeing the placement of such markers and monuments within a northern battlefield site such as Gettysburg no longer were so 'Yankee'-centric in their own attitudes towards the battlefield's history.
Thus, come the early 20th Century, more and more such markers and monuments began appearing about the Gettysburg Battlefield honoring Confederate brigades and regiments, battalions and companies and Southern States that had had troops in the field of battle (only in 1917 [when Virginia became the first Southern commonwealth to put up such a state monument at Gettysburg] was General Robert E. Lee- in the form of an equestrian statue- able to once again look out over the battlefield from Seminary Ridge and directly at the by then-already placed [in 1896] equestrian statue of his Union counterpart as overall commander of his own troops in the field, General George Gordon Meade, up on Cemetery Ridge opposite).
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, 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.
Atop Oak Hill at the northwestern end of the Gettysburg Battlefield- which overlooks the scene of the opening stages of that battle back on 1 July 1863- sits the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. Formally dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the 75th Anniversary Reunion of Gettysburg Battle survivors in 1938 (most of whom, by then, were approaching- if they had not already passed- the century mark in age!), it had a rather long pre-history (dating back to the eve of the 25th such Anniversary in 1888, when a grand memorial to 'American Heroism' [in the context of the time, Union heroism only, however] was first seriously proposed): the idea was revisited prior to the 50th Anniversary of the battle in 1913 (by then, the notion of a publicly-financed 'Peace Memorial' recognizing the sacrifices of both North and South at Gettysburg had- for reasons already stated above- become more tenable) but Congress, at the time, was not forthcoming with any funding for just such a memorial (which, as originally planned, would have been placed at the so-called 'High Water Mark', where Pickett's Charge against the Union center had been repulsed [near where the aforementioned Confederate General Armistead had fallen]- at what had become known as 'the Angle' adjoining the 'Copse of Trees' [in front of which stands the 'Bronze Book' memorializing the Union States whose fighting units were most instrumental here, which may well have been why this particular site was quickly abandoned as one for a monument to North/South reconciliation in any event])...
Things got moving on such a monument- even in the midst of the Great Depression- when, in the mid-1930s (with the 75th Anniversary of the battle looming [it was already abundantly clear- if only because the march of Time ever marked by the calendar itself so indicated- that this would be the last great reunion of Gettysburg Battle survivors, North and South]), Pennsylvania began planning its own Peace Monument to be placed atop Big Round Top [!!] and, further, began providing the funds for just such a project: the Federal Government then jumped in (with both of its then-New Deal feet!) and took over planning and funding of the project, moving the site of such a monument/memorial to an area nearer where the battle started than- as would have been the case with the original plan a quarter century earlier- where it ended (such permanent reconciliation between one-time 'Billy Yank's and 'Johnny Reb's- for seven decades, by then, fellow countrymen again- seemed to be more appropriate where their respective armies first engaged in battle in any event).
The memorial that was, eventually, constructed has, on one side of its pedestal (atop which sits the Eternal Flame) the words of Lincoln from his second Inaugural Address- 'With Firmness in the Right as God Gives us to See the Right'; on the opposite side are the words 'An Enduring Light to Guide us in Unity and Fellowship'-- meanwhile, the motto of the memorial is 'Peace Eternal in a Nation United'. Only once this memorial was in place could one then truly say that Lincoln's admonition, in his Gettysburg Address, "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" was, by then, most fully accepted by- and itself became a legacy of- South as well as North, whatever differences in politics and culture between the two once-so antagonistic sections of the country might have yet remained.
There was, of course, to be quite a bit more "antagonism"- if you will- between North and South after 1938, of course: the Civil Rights Movement's challenge to so-called 'Jim Crow' laws in those States once part of the old Confederacy as the 1950s became the 1960s being but one such case in point. But such "antagonism" (perhaps "strife" would be the much better word to put in quotes here) between American sections and regions as there might have been, over recent decades, was- and has been- generally handled within the context of a political struggle and did not erupt- and has not at all erupted- into a 'Second Civil War' (and whatever violence there has been, however to be both condemned and lamented, has tended to be both sporadic and local [however much, or little, attention such violence has been given nationwide]), as neither have any even more recent contentious electoral battles (including Election 2014) within that 'Yankee' vs. 'South' political dynamic that has long been a source of, at best, "creative tension" within that federation known as the United States of America.
Then again, as American newspaper commentator Walter Lippmann opined nearly 90 years ago now, "an election based on the principle of majority rule is historically a sublimated and denatured civil war, a paper mobilization without physical violence". I myself happen to not be so jaded as regards the electoral process as he appears to have been, especially within just this quote-- yet Lippmann's point here is still well taken.
One of the many things that keeps me from being at all jaded in this regard, however, is my own awareness that- despite such a 'Yankee' vs. 'South' dynamic, historically, within American Politics- things have certainly well changed in the now nearly a century and a half since the Civil War ended (especially when one considers one of the main issues that first triggered it): for earlier this very month, two African-American United States Senators- one a Northerner and a Democrat (Cory Booker of New Jersey), the other a Southerner and a Republican (Tim Scott of South Carolina), each of whom has hitherto been filling out a term in the wake of a vacancy- were each elected to a full six-year term in the upper house of the Congress of the United States.
But certainly, touring the scene of a major battle in the American Civil War as is that in Gettysburg yet brings well home a conception of what might well be the direst consequences should such "creative tension" within- and among- these United States ever, once again, get so out of hand as it once- in fact- did back during the seventh decade of the 19th Century!