The battle of Gettysburg was a meeting of engagement, neither General Robert E. Lee, General George Meade nor President Lincoln expected this battle to happen when and where it did. The two armies just ran into each other at this little town in southern Pennsylvania.
The engagement resembled a three-act play, growing as more and more actors converged on Gettysburg. General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, had only been in his position for three days when the battle started. Before these three days ended, 165,000 soldiers descended on these few acres in the bloodiest battle of all of North America. More than 50,000 men fell as casualties in this brutal battle.
Like the unpredictability of a game of poker, the first day’s battle went the way of the South on July 1. If Lee could have withdrawn, he would have been declared the victor, but the next two days took the victory away. On July 3, 1863, General Lee put all his cards on the table when he sent 13,000 soldiers into the Union middle. The result was a crushing defeat and a massacre for the South. Lee retreated toward Virginia in the rain. Unfortunately, it took 10 days for General Meade to mount a pursuit against the Army of Virginia and by that time, Lee and his men had crossed the Potomac. Otherwise, the war might have come to an end much sooner than it did.
A few weeks after the battle, David Wills, a Gettysburg attorney, coordinated plans for a national cemetery. Up until this time, men had been buried where they fell. The date was set for November 19, 1863, Edward Everett would be the main speaker, and the President would be the secondary speaker at the dedication ceremony.
Edward Everett spoke for 2 hours and eight minutes while Lincoln’s address was a mere 272 words that were delivered in about two minutes. The speech stirred the nation and continues to speak to us today.
Lincoln started his speech with a look back at the founding of the nation with the words, “all men are created equal.” Was this proposition true, and did it really mean anything? Lincoln thought that it did. In 1776, the nation experienced a birth of freedom, and now 87 years later, it was experiencing a second birth of freedom. The first birth brought freedom from tyranny from abroad, and the second birth brought freedom for those still living under oppression at home.
Lincoln made a comparison with what “we say here and what they did here.” He pointed out that though this was a dedication ceremony, “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.” Lincoln finished the speech pointing out what the nation’s part was—“to make sure these brave men did not die in vain.” We must make sure we preserve this freedom—freedom that endures— “and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Now 243 years later, we see what has been given us in our freedom. We must ask for God’s help to preserve these liberties. We need insight to not be beguiled by enemies within and courage to defend our freedom that came at such a high cost. We are hearing that socialism will bring us such prosperity. Can we not remember those failed political attempts? There have always been demagogues who have promised a paradise they could not deliver. But, in pursuing these utopias, those poor people lost their freedom. God help us to hang on to what we know to be dear and precious—our freedom!