2014 Essay Contest Third Place, Senior Division
Isabella, 11th grade
Teacher: Lora Penola
School: Homeschool | Indiana
Preserving 150 Years of History: Life at War
In his famous Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln said of the soldiers who bravely risked and gave all for the cause of freedom, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”1
While he might have been wrong about no one remembering his celebrated speech, President Lincoln was right about the weight of the soldiers’ sacrifice and how the world must retain the memory of their actions. Going to war, especially a war between those who were once fellow countrymen, was far from easy, but the Union soldiers did it because they believed in the strength of America and the value of her ideals of liberty and equality, despite the cost it took to preserve them. Indeed, at the Battle of Gettysburg alone, there were about 23,000 Union casualties and between 20,000 and 28,000 Confederate ones.2 Perhaps the most powerful example of the incredible pain and loss that came with the American Civil War is the Battle of Antietam in 1863, in which the combined tally of Union and Confederate soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in just one day of battle adds up to a shocking 22,719.3
With brother fighting brother, father fighting son, for a soldier to engage in this devastatingly painful war, he was required to possess immensely strong personal convictions, whether they were the southerner’s passion for states’ rights or the northerner’s for freedom, equality, and unity as a nation. Living as a soldier during the American Civil War meant that one’s life was centered around actively putting everything on the line in defense of abstract ideas.
It is because of this that we must take to heart President Lincoln’s words regarding the preservation of the memory of these soldiers and the reasons for which they fought. It is only right to honor those who risked and gave everything for the sake of a unified nation and the freedom of her people. In remembering what they did and why they did it, we are motivated and inspired to uphold and believe in the same principles. In preserving and studying history, we honor those who tried to give us a better present, and we are inspired to better our descendants’ future.
1. Lincoln, Abraham. The Gettysburg Address. Documents of American History. Ed. Henry Steele Commager. 7th ed. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963. 428-429. Print.
2. "Battle of Gettysburg". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 01 May. 2014
3. Bennett, William J. America: The Last Best Hope. Nashville, TN: Nelson Current, 2006. Print.
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