On November 19th, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered what we now call the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Once upon a time all American students could recite it. If your homescholars can’t yet, perhaps learning it would be a worthy goal for the week:
“Fourscore 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.“
This six-minute segment from Ken Burns’ famous documentary The Civil War (1990) will fill in some of the historical background for your students (including uncensored images of the battlefield), to help them understand the context of the address a little better:
And if you want to expand into an educational reflection on the passage of time, from four score and seven to seven score and seventeen — the Civil War is more remote from us today than the Revolution was from Lincoln — you can add the picture below of the Gettysburg fields and read Carl Sandburg’s famous poem of remembering and forgetting, “Grass” (1918):
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work —
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
You can learn more about the history of the Gettysburg Address at a special online exhibition prepared by the Library of Congress. The text of the Address is available in your River Houses almanac (riverhouses.org/books), and a beautifully illustrated outline of Abraham Lincoln’s life and work is available on pages 316–317 in your history encyclopedia. Your atlas will point you to the location of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
What historical anniversaries are you marking in your homeschool this Cygnus Term?
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