Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Four Score and seven year ... plus another one hundred fifty years

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.

Abraham Lincoln
19 November 1863

Somehow in the excitement of losing power over the weekend I neglected to remember that yesterday was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  Given at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Monument at Gettysburg, Lincoln's words were received with mixed responses at the time.  Many observers thought that his speech was too short.  (He spoke only 10 sentences.) It received little if any applause from the assembled crowd. At the time, many newspapers criticized Lincoln's speech as being unintelligent and dull.  

Others recognized the eloquence and importance of Lincoln's words.  Lincoln was not the primary speaker of the day.  That honor fell to Edward Everett, a well-politician and orator of the time.  Everett spoke for two hours.  After the conclusion of Everett's speech.  Lincoln rose to speak briefly.  Everett later wrote to Lincoln asking for a copy of Lincoln's address with the words,

"I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

Over time, most people have come to recognize Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as on of the finest examples of the English language ever written.  

I thought I would share a picture from the Gettysburg battlefield.  

This photograph is a monument to the 24th Michigan Regiment.  The 24th Michigan was part of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  Better known as the "Iron Brigade", this unit was the first Union Infantry to arrive on the battlefield and delayed the Confederate advance long enough for other Union troops to deploy.  The largest of four regiments within the Iron Brigade, the 24 Michigan entered battle on 01 July 1863 with a total strength of 496 officers and men.  By the end of the battle 363 soldiers from the unit had been killed, wounded, or captured (73 percent!).  The Iron Brigade was so devastated by the battle that it was disbanded and merged into other units.

If you ever visit Riverside Cemetery in Mount Pleasant, you can find the graves of two men who served in the 24th Michigan - Charles H. Houk (Company I) and William H. Quance (Company C).  Both men were listed on the roster of the 24th Michigan at the time of Gettysburg and Quance is listed as wounded on the first day of the battle.  Interestingly, there are two headstones for Houk in Riverside Cemetary - one at the Grand Army of the Republic monument and another at a different location.

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