EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a five-part series coinciding with “Legacy of Freedom,” a lecture series hosted by Oklahoma Christian University. This week’s scheduled topic “The Bill of Rights and Its Meaning for Today” was changed to focus on Memorial Day. Next week’s concluding topic will be “Can We Reclaim the Founders’ Legacy of Freedom?”
Abraham Lincoln had a relationship with God and understood that it was his destiny to die a sacrificial death for the sake of a nation torn apart by a long, bloody war, a noted scholar said Monday.
J. Rufus Fears, a David Ross Boyd professor of classics at the University of Oklahoma, addressing a “surprisingly large” holiday weekend crowd at Oklahoma Christian University, altered his scheduled lecture topic to honor Memorial Day.
At the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863, more than 51,000 Confederate and Union soldiers were wounded, missing or dead, according to www.ourdocuments.gov.
Many of the dead were buried in makeshift graves along the battlefield. At the time, the Army did not have a burial corps. Instead, before a battle, for $1.25, a traveling mortician would give a soldier six pieces of paper to place about his body so he could write his name on them and be identified if his body was blown apart, Fears said.
“But you were too cheap to spend that $1.25, weren’t you?” Fears said. “You drank yours up and you gambled yours up.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin, outraged at the sight, commissioned attorney David Wills to buy land for a proper burial site for the Union soldiers. The attorney bought 17 acres for the cemetery.
On Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Solder’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pa., the not-so-loquacious Abraham Lincoln played second fiddle to famed orator Edward Everett, who spoke to the crowd for two hours.
“That’s our first real Memorial Day, to dedicate a cemetery to those men who had died there, fighting for freedom, fighting over the same Constitution,” Fears said.
Born in Kentucky, the son of a frontiersman, Lincoln grew up knowing how to read, write and cipher, but that was all. “Honest Abe” hungered for knowledge, and his ambition led him to the presidency. On Jan. 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom for slaves within the Confederacy.
Lincoln had experienced the death of a second son at home less than a year before the Gettysburg Address. As he departed for Gettysburg, his third son was ill. Mary Todd had begged him not to go, but he had given his word to be there.
President Lincoln was not the featured speaker by agreement. Afterwards, The New York Times was critical of Lincoln’s speech. Elsewhere, it was hailed as a triumph.
On Nov. 20, Everett wrote to Lincoln: “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”