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Gettysburg at 150

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Currier and Ives, Battle of Gettysburg, c. 1863In time for the upcoming 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, our AEI colleague Tom Donnelly reviews historian Allan Guelzo’s new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. He writes:

Gettysburg. The word is a looking glass for America, both as a blood-and-soil union and an ideal of liberty but also as an eternal striving to make the one realize the other. Gettysburg, like America, “contains multitudes.”

The battle has likewise produced multitudes—multitudes of books that seek to wrestle with the chaotic enormity of the events of July 1-3, 1863. Not even Abraham Lincoln could fix Gettysburg for all time. The 150th anniversary of the battle this summer drives us again to peer into the glass, to reflect anew upon a moment when the American future hung uncertainly in the humid Pennsylvania air, when yet another Confederate victory, especially one on Union soil, might have broken the Lincoln administration’s grip on power. And as Allen Guelzo’s wonderful “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion” reminds us, the battle very easily might have gone another way.

… As befits a life-long Lincoln scholar, Mr. Guelzo concludes his story of the “last invasion” with an epilogue as elegantly succinct as the president’s renowned address. “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us,” Lincoln said, to demonstrate “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Allen Guelzo’s book is an extremely timely reminder that the American experiment has not been, as the Founders asserted, a “self-evident truth” but in fact a highly debatable proposition that needed to be proved, not just in July 1863 at Gettysburg but on many days and in many places since.

Read the whole thing.