It was in May 150 years ago that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee made the fateful decision to invade the north with the Army of Northern Virginia.
He aimed to capture or at least threaten Washington and force President Abraham Lincoln to sue for peace and recognize the Confederacy.
Lee’s decision led to the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg. Over three days, from July 1 to 3, 1863, more than 50,000 men fell on those Pennsylvania fields and hillsides, more than in Korea or Iraq or Afghanistan and almost as many as in Vietnam.
The bloody battle forced Lee to retreat to Virginia, beginning the inevitable trek to Appomattox and surrender.
Today, as we observe Memorial Day and honor all those men and women who gave their lives in service to their country in all our nation’s wars, we pay special tribute to those whose sacrifice at Gettysburg 150 years ago preserved the Union and our freedom.
Gettysburg is inextricably entwined with Memorial Day. The day was originally called Decoration Day, as the day when survivors of the Civil War dead decorated their graves with flags, flowers and other tokens.
In November 1863, Lincoln spoke the words that made immortal the sacrifice of those who fell at Gettysburg five months earlier and made clear why we observe a memorial day.
Lincoln’s words still resonate because they are not only a tribute to the fallen but also a stern reminder to “us the living” of the debt we owe to them and our obligation to dedicate ourselves to defending the cause for which they fought and died, our nation’s freedom.
We reprint Lincoln’s address here this Memorial Day in honor of the dead of Gettysburg and of all our fallen warriors and as a reminder of our responsibility to them.
“Four score 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.