Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Abraham Lincoln and the Battle of Gettysburg

I took a trip to Pennsylvania and New Jersey last month.  The best part of the trip was seeing relatives and friends.  But I also took in a few sights will I was there.  While visiting my aunt in Harrisburg, I took a little side trip with my friend to the Gettysburg historical area.  I also recently saw the new movie, "Lincoln", with my husband.  So I thought I'd do a post on Lincoln.  What better way to start the post than with this photo of myself posed with Abe.  This was taken outside the visitors center at Gettysburg.

I visited Gettysburg countless times when I was a little girl growing up in Pennsylvania, but this was the first time I saw the area with "adult eyes".

This is just a short post about my trip with a few personal comments.  If you are interested in learning more about the Battle of Gettysburg or other Civil War history, you can start HERE.

The site of the Civil War battlefield is right outside of the town of Gettysburg.  This is the center of town- a circle with streets radiating out from this spot.  The building in the center is where Abraham Lincoln spent time when he visited the area after the battle.  This is where he put the finishing touches on the famous Gettysburg Address.  I never thought before about who heard that address.  It was given to the local residents of Gettysburg- and anyone else who was there at the time.  It wasn't a campaign speech or a big address to hundreds of "important" people.  It was the president talking to the people of the town after a historic battle changed their lives.

 I took the "Sue with the canon" photo for my husband.  Almost 40 years ago, we honeymooned through Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other eastern states.  The plan was to take a nice road trip- driving through this beautiful part of the country.  Somehow, we ended up at the sites of several Civil War battlefields along the way.  It was so funny when we looked at our honeymoon photos and many of them were pictures of each other with canons!

 The 3 photos at the right were taken in the fields where the 3-day battle took place.  It was very impactful to stand there and look out over the field and imagine the horrible scene as soldiers from our own country took arms against one another.  Such a tragedy.  Today, there are many monuments along the field.  They mark the place where lives were lost, where men fought for their beliefs.  And where President Lincoln tried to piece a nation back together.

 The site where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address is now a cemetery.  One can't help but feel mortal standing here.  There are many unmarked graves, as well as graves of many who died at Gettysburg and many people who died after the war. All countrymen with lives cut short.  The cemetery is still active. There was a funeral the day I was there.
 One thing I never thought about before is what happened (and happens) after a battle.  In July of 1863, there were no coroners' vehicles or internet or military transport planes.  There wasn't even a good way to communicate through the country that the battle had taken place  And I don't think the soldiers wore identification.  It was a very hot summer and there were about 51,000 casualties.  After the living left... the town was left with the daunting task of cleaning up.  Abraham Lincoln was there as the effort to clean up and identify and bury bodies was taking place. 

The story of Gettysburg isn't just about the reason the war started, or the strategy of generals and the battle itself.  It's also about what happened afterward.  And.... about what is there now.  The National Parks Service and Civil War historians have done a wonderful job of preserving this area and telling the story.  And to think-- this was only 150 years ago. 

The "short answer" when asked why the war took place is that it was about slavery- some wanted the right to own slaves and some wanted to put an end to the practice of owning other human beings.  This was the case.  But there was a bigger picture.  As is the case today (I suspect with all countries), the whole story is larger than the one issue.  The full story is about political leaders juggling powers and a country learning to govern itself.  And of course, it was about money.  Slaves were used to run southern plantations and without them, the economy would change.  And what would happen if huge numbers of people were suddenly "free"... they would need to have jobs, which were pretty much at the plantations that owned them.  Then there was the story of human rights- at the time, in the U.S., not only did people of color not have rights, but neither did women and children.  Change takes time, and it's not always "pretty" to get from an undesired state to a desired outcome.

There is a movie currently in theaters called, "Lincoln".  I can't recommend it highly enough.  This battlefield, and this movie, have so much to teach us.  And it shows us how much has NOT changed in 150 years.  I was moved by the movie, just as I was by visiting the battlefield.  I highly recommend a visit to Gettysburg if you can, and watching the movie.  Whatever your personal thoughts- you will be moved.

History has much to teach us.


Gale, Ky quilter said...

What a beautiful post. I live in the county where Lincoln was born, only six miles from his birthplace and every week our local newspaper prints a quote of Abraham Lincoln. We are proud he was a Kentuckian. He was a very intelligent, humble, compassionate man and so many can learn from him now. I haven't seen the movie yet, hoping to this weekend. Maybe one day I will make it to Gettysburg. :)

Queen Of The Armchair aka Dzintra Stitcheries said...

Wonderful history Sue all about places we over here have heard of...thank you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and learning a little more about The Civil War...and yes you are probably right, things haven't changed that much at all... often it's all about the money.