I’d Mail This To You But …

… I don’t have an Address.

Wah. Wah. Wahhhhh.

Ahem.  Yes, so.  November 19 marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg.  Unfortunately, that falls on a workday so I had to go up over the weekend instead of the actual date.  It was pretty quiet but the NPS volunteer said they were estimating about 8,000 people would come on the date itself, when all the events happen that I will miss.  This also means that I missed Ken Burns (KEN BURNS!) who will be there on Tuesday signing books or something.

Gettysburg National Cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863, only a few months after the pivotal battle.  Edward Everett, a politician from Massachusetts, was the featured speaker at the dedication and his speech took over two hours.  (I hope he wore a coat – wouldn’t want him to go all Wm. Henry Harrison.)  His oration, a model of Victorian flourishes, placed the battle firmly in the progression of Western civilization, from ancient Roman times to his present day.  Before the dedication, he dashed off a quick note to Lincoln because he thought it might be appropriate for the President to say a few words.  Well, we all know what happened afterwards, for one man is remembered for his remarks and the other man is not.  In fact, afterwards, Everett remarked to the President that he (Lincoln) had summed up the dedication as neatly in 2 minutes as he (Everett) had done in two hours.

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Taken at about 2pm on a balmy November afternoon.

Most of the information I found on the Gettysburg Address referenced the speech itself and the differences in the extant copies.  Each copy has slightly different wording, so which one is the correct version?  The Bliss copy – the draft given to Alexander Bliss – is generally accepted as the version closest to the words delivered by Lincoln.  It turns out there is much debate over this*, as well as the influences (Classical, Biblical, etc.) in Lincoln’s writings.  What they DON’T mention is how the Soldier’s National Cemetery came to be and need dedicating.

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The main monument.  Lincoln allegedly gave his speech close to this site.
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History, flanked by War and Plenty.

The first time I really actually thought about making the connection from Point A to Point B was earlier this summer at the Small Press eXpo, which is basically a convention for small comic book and print artists.  [ I volunteered at SPX (aka Skinny Pants eXpo) this year and for a bunch of talented creatives trying to assert their individuality, it’s interesting to note everyone’s hair was dyed the exact same shade of blue.  I was the asshole dressed like a Ralph Lauren model on Sunday.  What?? The whole event was counter-cultural.  Everyone was wearing superhero tshirts, so I was being counter-counter-cultural.  Please note the guy at 2:06 – he was possibly my favorite and be aware that while his shirt was playful, his pants were a thick, violent black and white check pattern. ] One of the exhibitors had a graphic novel of the Gettysburg Address, which tells the story from the town’s perspective.  He skimmed over the battle, but then showed the aftermath, how both armies left town after the battle but left thousands of dead and dying on the battlefield for the townspeople to clean up.  According to the graphic novel, there were a total of maybe six army surgeons from both sides left behind to tend to wounds.  A Living Historian nurse this summer said that, by tradition, there were so many dead the cloud of flies and carrion birds could be seen as far as Baltimore.  To try and keep ahead of disease and pestilence, the dead were buried in shallow graves, often on the battlefield itself.  A committee was formed to find a more appropriate resting place for those who gave the last full measure of devotion, and thus the Soldiers’ National Cemetery was born.  Most of the graves belong to Union soldiers, although as a National Cemetery, there are many graves of conflicts from the 20th Century.

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In the Annex, erected and dedicated to Freemasonry. From the artistic perspective, the sculptor really knew how fabric worked. I am professionally jealous.

If I have one gripe about how the history of this country is taught, it is how we focus on events and not things between the events.  At Gettysburg, the focus is always on the battle (strategy, tactics, if Jackson/Stuart/Grant had been there, Chamberlain, numbers) or the Address (linguistics, oratorical delivery, where the speech was given).  Perhaps it is just me, but I tend not to fill in between the points, which is why I had never really thought about all the dead left behind who needed burying.  The camera of history tends to ask instead why Meade didn’t pursue Lee more aggressively.  But the dedication of the cemetery is a fitting tribute to what was sacrificed at the battle.  While Everett’s address frames the battle in the fight for Western Civilization since the time of Caesar, Lincoln’s strikes home because it frames the battle in a uniquely American way and the dead as martyrs for the Founding Fathers’ dream.**

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* Personally, I think Lincoln wrote several drafts but continued editing it even at the point of delivery, and then continued to edit while writing it down.

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Many people believe the platform from which Lincoln gave the speech is in the neighboring cemetery.

** This is coming from a pretty Northern perspective.  I’d be interested to hear what a Southern perspective has on the Gettysburg Address and its meaning/legacy.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “I’d Mail This To You But …

  1. Most of the historical fiction I’ve read is either by Jeff Shaara (I will have a post dedicated to him later) or young adult stuff. The YA stuff is pretty good, like that one that got me interested in Robert the Bruce. But until recently, I think, in my purely unscientific analysis, it seemed like most historical fiction could be found in the trashy romance section. So the figures on the cover would be in historical dress but her bodice would be ripped and he would be gazing into a burning castle with his pectorals glistening in the firelight.

    Do come to Gettysburg! I can give you a tour as thorough as the one I gave my British Paratrooper pals!

  2. Anonymous

    In regards to the two hour versus two minute thing: less is often more. This is true from my English major writer perspective as well. And yet, I still do NaNoWriMo. Go figure.

    The in-between parts of various historical events often fascinate me more than the actual battle or what have you. When done really well, historical fiction can satisfy me somewhat on this. Don’t know your opinion on that genre.

    Thanks for reminding me of the beautiful simplicity of the Gettysburg Address. I’m still hoping to make it to the site someday myself.

    -AzulSaber

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