Gettysburg -a promise made

The outcome of the US elections has been a surprise to many, to say the least. As I watch the protests across cities in the US on TV, sitting at home in New Delhi, I remember my trip last year to Gettysburg.

It was a rainy, cold Christmas Eve last year when we drove into the small, quaint town of Gettysburg. At around 8 pm, it was already dark as a slight drizzle fell. Lights were strung out in shop windows, and on Lincoln square a huge Christmas tree sparkled in the night. As we disembarked outside the Gettysburg Hotel, the sweet air of small town America melted away the hustle bustle of New York.

A borough in Adams County in the state of Pennsylvania, Gettysburg is where the famous Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1 to 3 in 1863. This three day battle was a turning point in the American Civil War, and is famous for the promise made by Abraham Lincoln in his iconic Gettysburg Address.

We came to this small town en route to Washington DC, which is 90 miles away. Its small town charm, old world ambiance and sense of languor captivated us. We stayed at the Gettysburg hotel, built in 1797. It stands regal on Lincoln square, and retains its old world grandeur.

Later in the night, we stepped out for a walk in the by lanes around Lincoln Square. Most of the shops were shut for the festive season, but their windows were done up in a charming manner. Local made goods, war memorabilia in form of uniforms, guns and the like were a favorite item on offer, along with the warm sign on many shops saying ‘dogs are welcome’! The eating places in and around also had an old world charm, old world names and looks.

Lincoln reverberates every step of the way in Gettysburg, in names, in plaques, and in statues. His iconic ‘Gettysburg address’ was conceived and delivered in that town. We spent a day in the town, and soaked in the legacy of the battle and the words that inspired generations. On Lincoln square stands a statue of Abraham Lincoln, outside Wills house. It was chilly, and with the twinkling Christmas tree for company we were swept into a bygone era.

The next day we drove down to the Gettysburg National Park, which is a huge area, nearly 24.24 square kilometers. There are many statues, guns, and symbols embellishing the vast landscape. There are reportedly nearly 43000 artifacts of the Civil War on display. You can take a tour, or if short of time, like us, walk through a part of it. Three days of battle on that land, made the country move towards what it is today.

Less than five months after the battle, on November 19, 1863, President Lincoln while dedicating the National Cemetery gave the Gettysburg address that enshrined a promise for posterity “That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth” 

Beautifully laid out, in the serene cemetery you can walk and read the tombstones. Apart from being a place for those that died for the Union in the Gettysburg battle, it also has sections for the Spanish-American War and World War 1. There is also a Soldiers National Monument in the center of the cemetery.

We drove towards Washington DC in the evening, drenched in the memory of battle and its martyrs.

Recollecting, I was left wondering. The promise made on that day entails a continuous battle to remain fulfilled. The battle to preserve the promise takes place across cities and continents, in different languages, in different forms, but it continues tirelessly. Keeping hope alive.

Photos courtesy – Shashi Nim and Dnyaneshwar Mulay 
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