What was perhaps the turning point of the Civil War was the bloody battle just outside of Gettysburg, fought in July 1863 in the placid countryside of Pennsylvania. Fifty-one thousand Union and Confederate soldiers were wounded, missing, or dead as a result of the desperate battle. On 19 November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the immortal “Gettysburg Address,” only some 269 words in length but a document that will forever live in the annals of American history. It is fitting in this bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth to recall Gettysburg on the anniversary of his giving this address, not his well-known words but words about Gettysburg and its meaning for today.
The pain, like nothing he had known
Since lacerating foot on stone…
Yes, worse than tissue ripped to bone
When just a boy, one day alone;
Once more alone, with searing pain
- From head to toe a pain-link chain -
His first awareness in the rain
As consciousness he fought to gain.
His mind, befogged, began to clear,
No musketry he now could hear,
No longer…now…that rebel cheer,
Which once was music to his ear.
Flat on his back, he closed his eyes
Against the rain from graying skies
And flinched at hearing anguished cries
Of comrades facing pain, demise.
On yesterday the fight was waged,
As back and forth the lines had raged;
A sniper’s bullet rightly gauged
Had felled him in this crevice, caged.
He opened wide his cracked, parched lips,
To slake the thirst of countless trips
Through hostile fields...some canteen sips,
And chewed-up weeds, tobacco strips.
Now fighting just to stay aware,
He turned his head only to stare
At blood that oozed through matting hair
And dripped on rock…quite tombstone bare.
To turn his head was all that he
Could bear, since pain incessantly
Made movement an atrocity
More feared now than the enemy…
Still gone were sounds of musketry
As twilight settled eerily,
No pounding hooves of cavalry…
The only sound…cried-misery.
He thought of Alabama corn
Just breaking ground that April morn
When tears were shed and love was sworn
And he to shot and powder born,
And then the days of victory
And seeming death-immunity…
All now recalled despairingly,
While facing his mortality.
In haze, he pondered “civil war -
Uncivil war, this blood and gore,
Was it for this, or was there more
That made men kill their brothers for?”
As darkness crept across the slain
And earth was marked by bloody stain,
Red rivulets, formed with the rain,
Made ghastly the pock-marked terrain.
His feeble cries on deaf ears fell,
Or ears of those who shared his hell
And, thus, with him could only dwell,
But not his wretchedness repel.
The thoughts of cotton fields in bloom,
A teenage boy, a small schoolroom,
Danced in and out amid the gloom
With thoughts of an impending doom.
As night wore on, the groans grew less
Throughout the mud of helplessness -
In sound and number less and less,
As comrades entered hopelessness.
Sometimes a scream, sometimes a prayer
Would split the heavy, midnight air…
The screams and prayers of stark despair,
No loved ones…there…to know or care.
He fought to keep his consciousness
And thwart his awful pains’ duress
To make it till the dawn’s brightness,
When rescue would be his redress.
Toward daylight, thoughts consumed his mind
Of her for whom he so repined,
And parents to his will resigned,
And their entreaties he declined.
Then, slipping from his stubborn will,
No longer feeling rainy chill -
“Our Father” wafted toward the hill -
Then morning came...and all was...still.
And four months thence the president
Bestrode this place where lives were spent
And sanctioned it as monument
To those whose deaths were testament
That what was joined by rock-hard will
For four-score-seven lived on still,
Not split asunder…brought to nil,
But still a work that none will kill.
And yet in fourteen decades thence
The nation bears the evidence
That peace is simply recompense
In periodic segments whence
Its military might prevails
Against the day the nation quails
– When leadership is weak and flails –
Before its foes...and freedom fails.
And thence through terror six more years,
As those in God’s name kindle fears,
Bathe innocents in blood and tears,
Change peaceful scenes to fiery biers,
The nation once again must fight
And vows that Gettysburg was right,
Its symbol never dropped from sight –
That freedom reigns through blood-bought might.