Streetwise Professor

August 12, 2020

The Real Meaning of the Gettysburg Battlefield

Filed under: Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 4:11 pm

After Trump’s suggestion that he would give his nomination acceptance speech at the White House triggered potential legal objections, his campaign mooted the possibility of giving the speech at the Gettysburg battlefield. This triggered paroxysms of insanity that are remarkable even against the background of repeated paroxysms of insanity that have been playing on a loop for almost 4 years now.

Leading the Stupid Parade was CNN’s Jerry Diamond: “This is a President who has consistently positions himself as a defender of Confederate symbols and monuments to Confederate generals.” He was soon joined by assorted leftists, notably Meathead himself, Rob Reiner, who repeated the theme that going to Gettysburg was a dog whistle to racists and Neo-Confederates.

The clownery here is just too much. Anyone making these statements has no clue about Gettysburg, the history of the battlefield, or the monuments there. No. Clue. Whatsoever.

To start with, Gettysburg was the turning point in the war against slavery. Recognizing this, in November 1863 President Lincoln gave a speech at the dedication of the National Cemetery on the battlefield. This speech just happens to be the most famous oration in American political history, and arguably in the entire English language. For those who have forgotten, or never knew (which, alarmingly, is a very real possibility):

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 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 here 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.

“Dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” A paean to Slavocracy if I ever heard one! “A new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The authoritarian’s creed, right?

That is what Gettysburg means. That is what those who speak there pay homage to. That is what politicians who speak there want to be associated with.

Like FDR, in 1938, at the dedication of the Peace Memorial, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Third Day of the battle.

Speaking of the National Cemetery, it is the resting place of over 3,500 Union dead. Sure, there are seven Confederates buried there. By accident–they were mistakenly identified as Federals. Except for the remains of Confederate dead undiscovered in the years after the war–whose bones still rest in those lost graves–the bodies of the Johnnies were removed to the South, to places like Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

So honoring the dead there means honoring the Union dead.

As for monuments, according to the National Park Service, there are 1,328 monuments at Gettysburg. Over 1,100 are to Union units.

Anyone who is remotely familiar with the history of the battlefield (which certainly excludes Meathead and other meatheads who bloviate on the subject), the moving political force behind the creation of the park (and other parks at Chickamauga, Shiloh, and Antietam) were Union veterans. Gettysburg in a particular was intended to be a shrine to the Union cause. The most important single figure in this movement was the notorious Dan Sickels, wounded on July 2, 1863.

Many Union veterans were deeply hostile to any recognition of Confederates on the battlefield. This was a monument to their achievement, in the name of Union, and for some the end of slavery.

Virtually every Union regiment and battery that fought at Gettysburg is memorialized there in granite and bronze. The veterans, and sometimes the states their regiments were recruited in, paid to create these sentinels in stone.

Monuments to any Confederates, or any Confederate figures, were placed in the park much later. The 11 states that contributed soldiers to the Army of Northern Virginia have placed monuments there. Some–like Virginia’s and North Carolina’s–are large and impressive. Some–like Texas’–are more modest.

The larger memorials (notably Virginia’s) do have Lost Cause resonance. But for the most part they recognize the bloody toll that the citizens of these states paid on three days in July, 1863.

Interestingly, one of the most recent additions to the monuments at Gettysburg is a statue of James Longstreet. After the war, Longstreet became a Republican. He defended the Reconstruction government in Louisiana, and attempted to defend blacks against the depredations of white supremacists opposed to said government, and to the civil rights of blacks.

For which he was vilified in the South.

I have been to Gettysburg over two dozen times, the first time when I was 9 years old. I have walked every foot of that field from Benner’s Hill to Big Round Top, and probably seen well over one thousand of these monuments, and read the text on most of them. Based on that, I can state definitively that anyone who believes it is Stone Mountain in Pennsylvania is beyond delusional.

Yes, there are monuments there that might warm the cockles of a Lost Causer’s heart, but overwhelmingly it is a massive memorial to the Union cause and Union sacrifice. Indeed, Gettysburg was arguably the singlemost important milestone in making the Cause a Lost one.

Most importantly, it is the site of the Gettysburg Address, which is the seminal speech that framed the cause for which the Union fought, and set the course for the post-war order. A course (according to the Emancipation Proclamation issued six months before the battle and then months before the speech) that included the end of slavery.

But the left (particularly in the media) is totally obsessed with playing Six Degrees From Slavery. In their twisted, fevered brains, if Trump does anything that is at all associated with the Confederacy, he is doing it because it is associated with the Confederacy. But a sensible person, and one who knows the battlefield, the history of the battle, and the history of the battlefield-as I do, and have since I was a boy-knows that the greatest associations are with the fight for freedom and democracy, and the fight against slavery.

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  1. Well said. Visiting the battlefield is a very moving experience.

    Comment by Funktacular — August 12, 2020 @ 7:24 pm

  2. One of the things I admire about the less than perfect men who fought in the Civil War was that after the war was over they recognized that their enemies were now their fellow citizens. The American way of war has always been about treating the vanquished with respect. Once the shooting has stopped, even in the case of the last “round” being fired being the force of an atomic bomb, we did not seek vengeance against our foes even though they in many cases started the war. We see fellow human beings and send them back home to their families and lives beyond war.

    Comment by Mark Liveringhouse — August 12, 2020 @ 8:35 pm

  3. Well done professor. I even turned the volume off on the tv to read the “Address” yet again. 🙂 If I may suggest Garry Wills book “Lincoln at Gettysburg” as a very good follow up to your peroration. High dudgeon indeed!

    Comment by Donald Wolfe — August 13, 2020 @ 5:42 am

  4. @SWP…Definitely off-topic, but the anniversary of a particular strange event you certainly recall is coming soon. I remember that happening clearly, and I thought it was theater from the very beginning.
    Perhaps you could do a post on it.
    On August 19, 1991, there was a coup attempt in the USSR which seemed to me completely contrived. No reportage questioned the specific events, which were staged.
    It began with the Red Army conspicuously marching into Moscow. Right in time for the CNN morning broadcast (“were we too early, comrade? Camera wasn’t ready? OK, we will redo!”)
    Lenin would have been puking from the start. In a real coup, the coupsters have already taken power when the populace wakes up. They take the means of communication, max-prison the leaders they have targeted, and otherwise take no prisoners.
    But in this case, it was choreographed to get the best ratings in North America.
    Lenin would also proscribe isolating the deposed leader totally. Such as bound, gagged, in a box in a box, perhaps some more gruesome measures.
    Is that what happened? No. Somehow, ‘detained’ in his dacha, slips his bonds, takes the Scotch tape off his mouth, and videotapes a message to the USSR. He is not ‘disappeared’, beaten, nor even scratched.
    Right there, Lenin would have left the theater in disgust.
    It was entirely bloodless. Well, not entirely, if you believe the report that one poor East German tourist was shot and killed. Offstage, at 1 AM or so. Is that even believable?
    The Duma is under siege. How do we know that? There is a big pile of furniture in front of the Duma, ostensibly to deter Soviet tanks and rockets. Those heroic Duma members threw their chairs and desks into a pile in front of the Duma.
    But in fact, the pile of rubble looks exactly like the iconic pile in Les Miserables, which was a big hit at the time. You don’t even need to Google this, you can remember it clearly. This script was brazenly plagarized.
    And did this pile of rubble work to deter entrance to the Duma. You betcha!
    Except…a blonde agent of the deep state working at ABC News, Diane Sawyer, somehow manages to get into the Duma and do an interview. You know, past the rubble keeping tanks at bay. Makes Yeltsin’s day. Yes, this is what really happened. And viewers around the world suspended all disbelief.
    There were other made-for-TV events, like some car chase through the streets of Moscow and the capture of some government officials who get shot. Those were fishy elements to this story also, but by then the worldwide audience was just believing whatever was said.
    Professor, I remember questioning this three-day episode from the grand entrance of the army, and all the way through each act and scene.
    I have no idea what the motivation was for anyone involved. Why? For whom?
    Again, I hope you can do a post one day on your recollection and analysis of events.

    Comment by Richard Whitney — August 13, 2020 @ 9:31 am

  5. When I was in Erfurt, just east of the Elbe, I saw a small Red Army cemetery among the various amphitheater and park structures, inconspicuous but neatly kept, with maybe 30 or so graves from 1944, in characteristic socialist-realist style and symbolism. I am no fan of world Communism and consider the ideology to be the font of immeasureable evil. I can still, however, respect the graves of such fallen soldiers, as clearly did the local Germans, and the thought of removing or hiding them would have shocked me. Not so the modern left: moral preening and posturing, for them, is all there is.

    Comment by M. Rad. — August 13, 2020 @ 4:58 pm

  6. @RW: “On August 19, 1991, there was a coup attempt in the USSR which seemed to me completely contrived.” I thought so at the time ; I walked into a stockbroker’s office and bought some shares – any old shares, effectively. I had never previously visited a stockbroker but the news from Moscow was obviously so fake that the chance of a bet was irresistible.

    The conclusive clue for me was when a reporter on the radio commented that the rebel tanks had stopped for red street lights.

    But I digress in pursuit of your digression.

    Gettysburg: shame on the Left. What loathsome creatures they be.

    Comment by dearieme — August 14, 2020 @ 8:45 am

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