Thursday, 19 August 2010
#31 The Gettysburg Largesse.
I spent a lot of time with my parents a couple of weeks ago. Among other places, we went to Gettysburg, the scene of the decisive battle of the American Civil War, and where Abraham Lincoln famously gloated about how great the Union was. We ate stacks of pancakes and waffles and ice cream, and I grew fat.The Gettysburg Address, and the Gettysburg Largesse.
The civil authorities of Gettysburg clearly know which way their bread is buttered: the whole town is built around the civil war. Every civil war-era house has a spiffy plaque proclaiming it as such; every other shop sells civil war costumes. There is a big market for said costumes amongst civil war re-enactors, who, in Gettysburg, are plentiful. I am curious as to whether anyone who isn't a civil war re-enactor has ever bought one, and whether, if so, he was drunk. On the better side, we went to a restaurant which served civil war-era food. I know not how genuine it was, but it was certainly scrumptious: game pie, sweet potatoes, watermelon jelly, apple butter, and so forth.
The most amazing thing about the American Civil War is how close a call it was. I know people say that about every war ("If only Hitler had continued bombing airfields/kept Stalin sweet for another month/not fired that nuclear technician/warn Swastika underpants..." my history teacher used to opine, with a hint of genuine sadness), but really, you couldn't put an Avanti condom between the Union and the Confederacy until Gettsyburg. The consensus was that Robert E. Lee (Commander of the Army of North Virginia, and the de facto head of the Confederate army) nearly had it, after major victories preceding Gettysburg. It was a truly unexpected tits-up for the Rednecks.
I like this topic a lot, as it allows me to exhibit a rare flash of Mancunian pride - the Union almost certainly would have lost the Civil War, if the City of Manchester hadn't agreed to stop buying Southern cotton. The loss of the South's major - almost only - source of income was disastrous for the Confederacy, and greatly undermined their military power. Abraham Lincoln wrote a humble letter thanking Manchester's workers, who suffered widespread hardship and famine throughout the rest of the war.
As I alluded to earlier, Gettysburg is, astoundingly, where the Gettysburg Address was given. Five months after the bloodiest battle the Western hemisphere has ever seen (in terms of the proportion of soldiers involved who perished, if you were wondering), as bodies were still being cleared away, he stood and spoke the following words to a 15,000-strong crowd:
"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 battle-field 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."
Without wishing to get drippy, standing and reading those words of peerless beauty and eloquence is a pretty amazing moment. And when you're done, you can go and get your photo taken groping a bronze statue of Lincoln in the crotch.