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The people of Gettysburg in the United States are readying themselves for a busy year ahead.
2013 is the 150th anniversary of both the American Civil War’s most bloody battle and President Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address.
With a packed roster of battle re-enactments, military parades and museum openings, the small Pennsylvanian town is expecting up to four million visitors.
But as William W. Coe – a re-enactor and great-great-nephew of a Gettysburg veteran – notes himself, you’ll find few complaining here:
“We want to keep the history alive that isn’t really taught in the schools anymore. I want to honour those who fought on both sides of the war.”
Despite its iconic reputation,
Lincoln’s speech in the aftermath of the fighting was actually only two minutes long.
And yet these 270 words – reaffirming democratic principles of freedom and an end to slavery – have since become seared in collective American memory.
The same can also be said of the battle itself; 51,000 soldiers perished in the mud on July 3rd, 1863, and the lessons of the greatest loss of life on American soil remain as pertinent as ever.
This is not lost on Park Ranger and local historian, Chris Gwinn: “I think there are hundreds of things you can learn from this battle. You can learn about the costs that it takes to achieve a democracy, you can learn about compromise and what happens when we don’t compromise, what happen when we fail to compromise.”
Tapping into the historical fervor, Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ is the latest movie to memorialize the man who led America through some of its greatest constitutional, military, and moral crises.
If that were not enough already, Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre in 1865 transformed him into a national martyr, endowing him with a recognition of almost mythic proportions.
Tellingly, since the Library of Congress in Washington DC made the the original manuscript of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address public for viewing earlier this year, the queues have been snaking round the corner.
Michelle Krowl, Civil War Historian at the Library of Congress, gave her own insight as to why the exhibition has proved so popular:
“I always find Lincoln very inspiring, particularly what he was having to accomplish, what he was having to do to keep the nation together during the Civil War, to try to win as many people in the North over to the abolition of slavery as he could.”
But with American war wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan walking the streets of the capital, and violent polemics up on its Hill, the past feels as fresh as ever.
Whatever the cleavages, those on both side of the political divide would agree that whilst the Union victory at Gettysburg may well have paved the way for the rebirth of a nation, that same nation still has plenty of wounds in need of nursing.