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I’d like us to take a trip back in time.
About 160 years ago.
It would be a warm and humid summer day on the hills and valleys surrounding the small town. The temperature would reach the low 80s. Thunderstorms and rain would be added to the mix.
From July 1 to July 3, 1863, one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on American soil would pit over 70,000 soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia against more than 100,000 soldiers of the Army of the Potomac in what has come to be known as the Battle of Gettysburg.
The battle resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, with estimates of around 50,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing. The Union army successfully defended its position, repelling several Confederate assaults and ultimately forcing Lee's forces to retreat.
Gettysburg marked the first major defeat for Lee's army and proved to be a critical moment in the war. It boosted Union morale, shattered Confederate hopes for a quick victory, and shifted the tide in favor of the Union. The battle also paved the way for President Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address, emphasizing the importance of preserving a united nation.
A little over four months after the battle, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery was dedicated in Gettysburg, and one of the speakers was President Abraham Lincoln.
In his short talk of 271 words, Lincoln challenged his listeners not to let the lives of the thousands of men who fought and died in the battle to be in vain.
'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 cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot 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.'
Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863.
We now live in a time where we are the ones who will decide if those who have fought and died before us will have died in vain.
We will we be the ones to see if this nation, which was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, will perish from the earth.
Or, we will be the ones who are inspired by the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, and we will work so 'that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.'
I hope you have a great Memorial Day.