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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

Topic: Abraham Lincoln

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July 3, 2012 at 6:45 AM

Lives, Honor, and Words From Gettysburg Echo in 2012

The First Minnesota Infantry Monument, dedicated in 1893, honors a unit that surged forward at great personal toll to stop Confederate troops on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. I visited the battlefield on April 15, 2012. (Photo by Elizabeth Wiley/UW Election Eye)

GETTYSBURG, Penn. — I’ve wanted to come here for years.

I have read a number of books about the epic Civil War battle on these rolling fields in southern Pennsylvania. I have watched movies. I have listened to historians talk about the soldiers and their lives. For me, coming to Gettysburg was more than a visit: it was a pilgrimage.

Still, I was unprepared.

I was not ready for the knee-buckling sense of history that I felt atop Seminary Ridge, where Robert E. Lee and his Army of the Northern Virginia made headquarters. I was not ready for the awe I felt standing in the footsteps of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain—a college professor who led the 20th Maine Regiment as it held the left end of the Union line on Little Round Top. I was not ready for the intense sense of history that hangs over the rock wall that marks the high water mark of Pickett’s Charge on the final day, July 3, 1863—exactly 149 years ago today.

This is sacred ground.

Everywhere are monuments and markers: more than 850 on the battlefield. They invoke those who can no longer speak. As a people, we create monuments so that we might never forget the past.

Unfortunately, I think we have forgotten too much of what happened here—on the battlefield and in the words of Abraham Lincoln afterward.

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