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Saber and Scroll

Abstract

In November 1863, thousands descended upon the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to commemorate the thousands who had descended upon and fallen upon the fields around the town four months earlier. They came for a ceremony of official culture: the dedication of a national cemetery for thousands of citizen-soldiers of the Union. Those on this stage could not know the extent to which the hallowed ground of the battlefield – and the memory of the Civil War as a whole – would play a critical part in the struggles of twentieth century America. Lincoln’s renowned speech included the statement: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” It is true that twentieth century Americans never forgot what their ancestors did during the Civil War – but the debate over why they did it and how to memorialize it created enduring conflict that echoed the deep-set disagreements of the nation’s population, and resulted in continued battles waged on the old battlefield of Gettysburg – with the fate of the nation at stake. Several prominent events, persons, and issues can be used to examine the issue of Civil War memory as a reflection of twentieth century politics and culture.

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