Abraham Lincoln: February 12, 1809, The Last Best Hope of Earth.

Upon my retirement I cancelled all my professional & magazine   subscriptions, allowed all of my professional certifications to expire, and discontinued my membership in The Lincoln Forum.  I chose this path as the first act of responding to a significant reduction in my salary and to start a new chapter in my life.  By cutting all ties with my past I hoped to minimize the temptation to look back.  Who would want to be turned into a pillar of salt for looking back?  Things went well in regards to my plan until the approach of February 12, 2009.

Lately, with the celebration of  Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday soon to commence, I found myself longing for the Lincoln Forum monthly newsletter to arrive in my mail box with interesting articles on Lincoln and the registration form for attending the Annual Symposium in Gettysburg, PA, where Lincoln experts further the understanding of our 16th president & the Civil War, and perpetuate the memory of both; and don’t forget the Soldier’s Home restoration project.  I must sadly report that registration is closed for this year’s symposium scheduled for November 16-19,2009.  I never attended the Annual Symposium before as I always suffered a cash flow problem around that time of the year, preparing for the Christmas celebration and the expense that goes with it.  A wonderful time of the year but costly just the same.  My wife always told me I was selfish so I determined to prove her wrong.  Well, I tried, but her opinion of me did not improve for I hear regularly the same old comment, “You’re selfish and you only think of yourself.  You say I, I, I, way too much.”  After 31+ years of hearing her say this, I’m beginning to believe her.  Yes, I know; I’m a slow learner.

What better place than Gettysburg to hold the Annual Symposium where President Lincoln on November 19, 1863 delivered his few remarks in about two minutes that redefined the meaning of the war.  He asked the people at the dedication to devote themselves, and by proxy the whole nation, under God, to that great task before us so that our extraordinary form of government  “… shall have a new birth of freedom … [and] … shall not perish from the earth.” What better place than Gettysburg to hold a  symposium where the confident Northern Virginia Army led by the gifted general, Robert E. Lee, gained a new found respect for the fighting spirit of the Union Army.

By happenstance, the Northern Army of Virginia led by General Robert E. Lee, and the Army of the Potomac led by General George Gordon Meade bumped into one another when Pettigrew’s brigade spotted Buford’s Calvary on a ridge a mile west of town and engaged the Yankee horse soldiers.  The battle of Gettysburg was on.  Imagine seeing the two great armies clash as they struggled heroically for three days to prevail against one another at  McPherson’s Ridge, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, and culminating in the climax of Pickett’s charge.  A last desperate effort by the gray army to break through the blue lines and win the day and the battle.

To soften up the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge the Confederate artillery pounded the strongly defended Union position on Cemetery ridge with a sustained, powerful barrage of ineffective cannonade that overshot its mark.  When the cannon fire ceased 15,000 men in gray marched in line & column up Cemetery Ridge in open terrain for 3/4 of a mile into a hail of artillery grape shot and mini balls.  Suffering 50% casualties the gallant charge failed and the Southern Army withdrew from the battlefield and limped home after crossing the swollen Potomac River several days later.  The South never again seriously threaten the Union on its home territory.

General Meade received criticism from an unsent note by President Lincoln for failing to aggressively pursue the crippled Confederate Army after it was halted  by the swollen Potomac river.  Unable to ford the swollen river the army lay trapped for a time and vulnerable to further attack and annihilation, which would have ended the war in President Lincoln’s mind.  While the opportunity was there, most Civil War  scholars believe the Northern Army had spent itself, exhausted by the three day battle & in need of rest and recuperation.  The Army of the Potomac half-heartedly followed the Northern Virginia Army at a distance until it crossed back into Confederate territory.

As the war neared its end President Lincoln addressed the nation during his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, just ten days before his assassination.  In that address he reaffirmed that the initial political reason for the war was to save the union.  He confessed  surprise in the severity & duration of the war. He placed the burden of starting the war squarely on the South’s shoulder for their insistence “To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest [as it] was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war…”   This interest was the slave interest.  He lets the South off the hook somewhat by saying, “… let us judge not, that we be not judged.”  A reference to a verse in the Old Testament known by Christians everywhere.

A few sentences later in his speech President Lincoln offered a spiritual explanation for the the high cost paid in blood and destruction by America in her long struggle to resolve the slavery issue.  Lincoln suggested to his audience to suppose the institution of slavery is an offense to God; and if so, then the offended God might, if slavery has gone past its appointed time, mete out justice upon the offender.  Perhaps, God’s judgment stipulated that the destruction of property and the blood spilled in battle shall continue until  it equaled the wealth wrought by the slave’s hand and the blood shed by the lash over the last 250 years.  He quoted again from  Old Testament scripture to strengthen his contention that perhaps God judged America and found her wanting:  “… as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.

As a professional lawyer and vastly experienced in preparing legal documents, President Lincoln chose his words carefully and never stated definitively that America was being punished by God for  its sin of slavery, but he did reach the conclusion that it was time for slavery to end and that the cost of ending it might have been punitive.  I believe he had personally come to the conclusion that God had judged America, but his dealings with matters of this sort would not allow him to go further than suggest that possibility to others as it was not in is character to impose upon others explanations of a religious nature.  In the last paragraph of his address President Lincoln asked for charity for all, peaceful existence with all, and to provide for the brave man who had borne the brunt of battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.  He knew the end of the war was at hand, but he would remain silent until the rebels laid down their weapons and denounced their insurrection.

Ten days later on April 14, 1865 President Lincoln, while watching the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater, was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth.  President Lincoln, fatally wounded by a .44 caliber bullet entering his head just behind his left ear and lodging behind his right eye ball,  lived through the night before taking his last breath at 7:22 a.m., April 15, 1865.  With that, President Lincoln joined George Washington as historical figures of weight who led America during perilous times to victory and a new beginning.

On May 4, 1865 Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest in Springfield, IL at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in a temporary holding vault.  President Lincoln along with Mary, his wife, and three of his four sons, Edward, William, and Thomas (Tad) now rest inside the Lincoln Tomb, a 117 foot marble structure made of Quincy granite.  It was dedicated in1874.  His oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926) is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  garland dale

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Walt WhitmanO Captain! My Captain!:  A poem of sorrow for the martyred Lincoln

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