An Anniversary Worth Revisiting

Sunday November 26, 2023

I was thrilled to share my "In Thanks, for Giving" special music service this morning for my friends at the UU Church in Gettysburg PA. This historic American touchstone is only 70 miles from home, despite two state border crossings en route. As I often do when I come to UUG, I entered town via Baltimore Avenue, the main drag on the southeast side of the battlefield. As you climb Cemetery Ridge just before reaching town, the monuments against the skyline on the hilltop always command attention. I've been here many times, but never actually walked this part of the battlefield. On this Thanksgiving weekend, with the words of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address still ringing in my ears from that anniversary a week ago, I resolved to leave town the same route so I could stop and walk around.

Of course, those famous words were delivered softly and somberly in the national cemetery right across the street. Since the on-street parking was free until 1pm, I took the time to walk around a bit on the ridge, and then crossed the street to visit that hallowed ground that Lincoln so plainly and eloquently seared into the conscience and memory of a hurting nation, even as the Union dead were still being properly interred;

“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.”

With apologies to my New England and Tidewater friends, I also was visiting the origin of our modern Thanksgiving holiday. During that summer of 1863, Lincoln felt that providence was finally favoring the survival of the American experiment, with victory not only at Gettysburg but also for taking control of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg. Following the lead of several Union state governors, he decided to call for a national day of Thanksgiving, to be permanently established on the fourth Thursday of November. That first Thanksgiving was observed exactly a week after he delivered to American history his words that "the world will little note, nor long remember."

Those words, and those noble ideals - “of the people, by the people, for the people” - continue inspiring generations of Americans. Including this one, who had to stop and share some gratitude on that hallowed ground on the 160th anniversary of that first modern Thanksgiving.

The crest of Cemetery Ridge in November gloom.

Looking out over the scene of a Confederate charge, in a scene long restored to its pastoral nature.

The Gettysburg National Cemetery near where Lincoln delivered his words to a nation, and to the ages.

Leave a comment