The biggest and bloodiest battle of our nation’s Civil War took place at Gettysburg 150 years ago this week. A confluence of events created the perfect storm that resulted in the deaths of 160,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. The most well known participant never fired a shot himself though.
It was at Gettysburg, shorlty after the battle ended, that President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most important speeches ever given in human history. In 270 words, he reminded Americans of our founding and the price that is paid for freedom:
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
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 battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, 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, 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 — 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.
Many Americans today could afford to read this speech again and take the time to really understand it. Too many people are quick to dismiss our history, and in so doing give up a true appreciation of the gift that is freedom in the United States. We would be wise to remember that so many have died to achieve and maintain it. And although most of us are not asked to give the “same level of devotion” required of those that died at Gettysburg, we should be willing to fight harder than we do to defend it these days.