The American Civil War (1861-1865) was the genesis for Lincoln's famous "Gettysburg Address". More specifically, this speech was Lincoln's reaction to the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle and turning point of the American Civil War. However, the significance of the speech went beyond the Battle of Gettysburg or the American Civil War by making references to the American Independence War and to the ideals that independent America embraced as its goals. This is to say, this speech became the most famous speech of Lincoln's presidency, and one of the most widely quoted speeches in history.
The Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) fought in and around the town of Gettysburg was among the grimmest of the battles of the American Civil War. This battle caused the largest number of casualties and is often described as the Civil War's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee's invasion of the North. The battle lasted for three days leaving more than 51,000 confederate and Union soldiers wounded, missing, or dead on the Gettysburg war field.
At the end of the battle, the Union's Army of the Potomac had successfully repelled the second invasion of the North by the Confederacy's Army of Northern Virginia. The Gettysburg Address was delivered (in 272 words, and three minutes) by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, during the American Civil War, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the decisive Battle of Gettysburg.
Beginning with the now-iconic phrase "Four score and seven years ago," Lincoln referred to the events of the Civil War and described the ceremony at Gettysburg as an opportunity not only to consecrate the grounds of a cemetery, but also to dedicate the living to the struggle to ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." He defined the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as a new birth of freedom that would bring true equality to all of its citizens, and that would also create a unified nation in which states' rights were no longer dominant.
The redefining of the American nation is the most important feature of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." Lincoln redefined the American nation here in the sense that he saw a new birth of freedom emerging in America out of the ashes of the Civil War with the principles of liberty and equality being the cornerstone of American socio-political culture. In this new America, Lincoln hoped, there will no longer be any divisions among the citizens based on skin colour. Although Lincoln expressed disappointment in the speech initially, it has come to be regarded as one of the most elegant and eloquent speeches in U.S. history.
Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" is a metaphoric speech. The metaphors of birth, death and rebirth appear in the speech with significant resonance and meaning. These metaphors attach a great literary value to Lincoln's very short speech. The birth here is the birth of the American nation in 1776. The metaphor of death refers to the death of the ideals that America set as its goals. The rebirth here is the regeneration of the independence ideals that America failed to stick to.
The background of Lincoln's 'Gettysburg Address' involves two most important phases in American history. The first phase was the Independence War of America and its independence ideals and the second one was the American Civil War and the threat it posed to the existence of America as a civilized nation. America came to exist through an Independence War and the Civil War came to test the ability of this nation in doing away with the uncivilized forces still existing in American society.
The reviewer is an ex academic, writer and MPhil researcher (Pedagogy) in the School of Education, Bangladesh Open University.