For as long as I can remember, one of the most recognizable and famous speeches I ever learned about was the Gettysburg Address. The image of Lincoln I have had since grade school is one of a great emancipator who cared deeply about freeing the slaves. As I have grown older and read many different works from many different authors, this image of Lincoln has transformed. However, when reading the words of the Gettysburg Address, you can see that by November 1863, Lincoln truly believed that the American Civil War was a war then waged for freedom and not just reunion. Being at the Soldier’s National Cemetery on the cold, blustery morning of November 19, 2013, I almost couldn’t fathom that 150 years earlier, Abraham Lincoln was on Cemetery Hill too, speaking his immortal words. He was not only asking for the nation to keep fighting, but invoking the idea that there was still work to be done for the future generations to create the nation that the forefathers had envisioned.
When I began my day on November 19, I was unaware how busy I would be. My friend and I went up to the cemetery around 9:45am and were shocked at the number of people who clogged the grounds. I was able to see and reunite with many of my National Park Service co-workers from the summer and one of the rangers, Matt Atkinson, got us in the sixth row of seats facing the rostrum. It was a real treat to be that close to the speakers and be able to see and hear them clearly. The Dedication Day ceremony lasted for an hour and a half and was extremely positive, with speakers like renowned Civil War historian, James McPherson, and Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel. My favorite part of the ceremony was when James Getty, dressed as Lincoln, recited the Gettysburg Address word for word. It was amazing how well Getty resembled Lincoln, making the address mind-blowing, almost as if Lincoln was in the cemetery 150 years after he spoke.
Later that day, I attended the Fortenbaugh Lecture that took place in the Majestic Theatre. Dr. David Blight of Yale University, the keynote speaker, talked about Bruce Catton’s idea of looking at the Civil war as a tragedy and not the romanticized view that revisionist history makes the conflict out to be. It was an eventful 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address that I am honored to have been a part of. As we look to the future of Civil War history, I ponder the question: how will people interpret the Address twenty-five and fifty years from now?