HOT TOPIC: The Gettysburg Address
Volume 3, Issue 11 - November 19, 2006

"Today is the 143rd anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Widely regarded today as a defining statement of the struggle that was the American Civil War, Lincoln’s assessment of the sacrifice required of all of us during war time is a timeless sentiment, as pertinent to us today as it was then.

Historians see Gettysburg as the turning point of the war. While a committee of Union generals had confronted Confederate troops across the South, they had not been able to stem the tide in spite of superior numbers and supplies. When Ulysses Grant won the Siege of Vicksburg earlier that year, he emerged as the leader in the Union cause. Robert E. Lee saw Grant's commitment in the deep south as an opportunity to go on the offensive. He daringly marched into the northern state of Pennsylvania to not only capture Union territory but ultimately to turn south again and capture Washington , D.C. from the north. If he had succeeded, the war would have ended earlier with southern victory.

The Battle of Gettysburg took place across three stifling hot days in July 1863. The Union’s superior positioning on the bluffs surrounding the battlefield gave them the decisive advantage, and when it was over more than 50,000 soldiers were dead, wounded or missing in action. The North won, and the push began to chase Lee back into Virginia leading ultimately to his surrender at Appomattox.

When the cemetery was dedicated at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, well-known and highly-regarded Edward Everett was invited to be the featured speaker at the ceremony. Everett had been an unsuccessful Vice-Presidential candidate in the 1860 election and a prominent member of the congress, having replaced Daniel Webster upon his death. His speech at Gettysburg lasted more than two hours, setting up an anti-climactic stage for Lincoln who was invited as a secondary speaker out of respect for his office.

Lincoln’s 271 word statement, delivered in his plain-folks style, so completely eclipsed Everett’s speech, it cut to the core reasons for fighting this just war. Consider this week’s top Web-based resources that illuminate these timeless words for today’s students."

©2005 Walter McKenzie

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