Yesterday was the 150 year anniversary of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. There are many things to note about this amazing speech, but it is ironic indeed to read one of the things Lincoln wrote: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” Not true Mr. Lincoln!
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 battlefield 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.
It is commonly thought that the Battle of Gettysburg ended the war. The eminent Civil War historian, Gary Gallagher, disagrees:
Gallagher’s argument began with an explanation of what he called “Appomattox Syndrome” — a complex in which historians study an event or era beginning with the end. (“Appomattox” references the courthouse where the Confederacy surrendered, bringing the Civil War to an end.) Gallagher said that this method of studying history is wrong because history didn’t happen backwards.
“Read forward in the evidence and you will find complexity and contingency far beyond what that other way of looking in the past allows you to find,” Gallagher said. “Do not ever start at the end in order to understand what happened if your goal is to understand how it unfolded.”
By studying the Civil War from the beginning, and from a historical point of view rather than relying only on memories, he said, it becomes very obvious that neither the Battles of Gettysburg or Vicksburg nor the year 1863 had very much to do with turning the tide of the war.
The rest of the article is here:
On the same subject, you can experience Gallagher’s engaging and informed style here:
Allen Guelzo is well-known for his many contributions to Lincoln scholarship and related topics.
Fateful Lightning showcases Guelzo’s beautiful writing along with his keen eye for capturing the telling details. I have not read James McPherson’s survey of the Civil War, so I am not able to compare it with Guelzo’s. Allen Guelzo has certainly produced a fine a piece of work which those wanting an authoritative overview will get by reading Fateful Lightning.
There are a number of classes available, but I am currently listening to this one on the Civil War:
Listen to this one minute of excitement (starts at 21:30) about the endless riches of the Civil War. Professor Gary Gallagher, an eminent scholar of the Civil War, is unashamed to gush about how thrilling it is to study the Civlil War.
Why do so many of us not have this level of enthusiasm when it comes to studying the Bible?
A wonderful series of short teaching videos on art from the Civil War era. You can learn a lot about history and culture from the art of the period.
Columbia professor, Andrew Delbanco, has memorably said, “Before the Civil War people believed in the providence of God. After the war, they believed in luck.”
Ambrose Bierce is best known for his satirical work, The Devil’s Dictionary. He experienced the brutal fighting at the Battle of Shiloh.
Allen Guelzo in his fine new book, Fateful Lightning, mentions a soldier who was “shot in the head but still alive.” Guelzo proceeds to add the graphic and oft quoted observation Bierce supplied of the scene. Here is just a bit:
“…taking in his breath in convulsive, rattling snorts, and blowing it out in sputters of froth which crawled creamily down his cheeks…”
There is a lot of reality to process when it comes to horrific events like the Civil War. As Christians, we need to be ready to offer thoughtful, compassionate, and honest reflections to life’s most vexing issues.