In honor of Pvt. Nathan R. Oakes, CSA

150 years ago, my great grandfather, Nathan Richardson Oakes, served as a private in Company D of the distinguished 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in the Army of Tennessee. He participated in the great Civil War campaigns, including the battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and Bentonville. I am writing about his engagements as well as some details about fighting for the Lost Cause. I hope to honor him and commemorate the events and individuals that contributed to making this a renowned unit in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, 1863

Abraham Lincoln delivered his "Gettysburg Address" 150 years ago on this date, November 19, 1863, nearly 5 months after Robert E. Lee's army left that famous field in defeat. About 15,000 people were in attendance to hear the president speak. The speech, only 2 minutes in length, is by far his greatest, and one of the most beloved in American history.1  But is it really what it seems?

While Lincoln ostensibly spoke to honor the thousands of Federal troops who fell on that horrific battlefield,2  his speech actually recast their fight against the South as, ironically, a struggle for freedom.3  In doing so he co-opted the South's war cry and, more significantly, sounded the death knell for state sovereignty. In that brief moment, states' rights were conceded to an emerging and powerful federal government unknown in American history. This monumental shift was, in Lincoln’s own words, "the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced… that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion." It really is superb rhetoric—and also a masterstroke for authoritarian central government. His address foretold the erosion of political and social freedoms for generations of Americans to come.

Lincoln was the first Republican president, and his political descendants today are proud to point out that fact. But perhaps Lincoln's "Grand Old Party" faithful ought to reread his address more closely... and weep for the founding freedoms he sought to destroy.

1 Read the entire text of Lincoln's address and see other interesting information at the Library of Congress website.
2 Union casualties were over 32,000, and many of its dead are buried there. The Confederate loss was at least as high. However, since Confederate soldiers fought against the Union, their sacrifice for self-determination is not commemorated at the National Military Park, although by the early 20th century, Southern states were able to erect monuments to mark their part in the fighting. The last Confederate state monument, Tennessee, was dedicated in 1982.
3 The Gettysburg National Military Park website seems to agree. The lead caption refers to the battle and Lincoln's celebrated address as "A New Birth of Freedom."  See also my other post about Lincoln's speech.

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