On this date in 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg raged into the second of three days of savage and deadly fighting.
It was perhaps the most important battle in American history, as it turned the tide towards the Union. In the first two years of the Civil War, the Confederacy had shown itself to be a very formidable foe. The future of the United States as one country looked bleak, and many were pressuring President Lincoln to end the war.
At Gettysburg, there were soldiers as old as eighty and as young as twelve years old. The most common age was 19. These were the men and boys who would decide the future of our country, and whether we were capable of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” as President Lincoln would later say. There were over 50,000 casualties in that three day battle. Young people who gave their lives so that you and I might be able to enjoy a country based on freedom and self government.
My favorite story to tell is not about the battle or the war, but about the reunion of these soldiers that happened 50 years later.
In early July 1913, over 53,000 thousand veterans of the battle of Gettysburg returned for a week long celebration. There were Civil war veterans from the ages of 62 (yes, that means he was 12 during the battle) to 102 who showed up to participate.
Many states passed legislation to fund the journeys of their veterans to be a part of this event.
There were speeches, games, music, and healing.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress
There is a great story of a a Union soldier from Oregon and a Confederate from Louisiana who had never met before the reunion embracing at the train station when it was over, both with red eyes.
A small group of Union and Confederate soldiers went to a local hardware store. They all pitched in to buy a small hatchet, which they would later bury on the battle field.
Photo Credit: Business Insider
They understood that the civil war was over, and we were one country. A country that learns from its mistakes, forgives them, and moves forward.
On July 4, President Woodrow Wilson came to Gettysburg to give a speech to the Veterans in attendance. In it, he said words we could all learn from:
“We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”
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