We read and hear the word “frontline” a lot lately. Doctors, nurses, medical staff, and all first responders are on the frontline. They are heroes. They are heroes, quite simply, because they have put themselves between us and profound danger. We are extremely grateful for these people who are selflessly protecting us from a new and unknown enemy—Covid-19.
But this isn’t the first, nor the last, danger we’ll face as a nation. And isn’t new either. There are many moments in our history in which we have expressed profound gratitude for brave frontliners. The following is a notable example. In what has been described as one of the most emotionally intense moments of his presidency, Abraham Lincoln honored the wounded near City Point, Virginia, on April 8, 1865, just days before General Lee’s surrender. At the hospital he visited--one of the largest in the United States--he personally greeted as many as 6,000 men, many of them severely wounded.
In his book, Lincoln’s Greatest Journey: Sixteen Days That Changed a Presidency, March 24 – April 8, 1865, author Noah Andre Trudeau recounts a remarkable story from that day, involving a sharpshooter from Vermont. As Lincoln approached him, the soldier threw off his blankets to show the president that his right leg was missing. Lincoln remarked gently, “What, a leg gone?” The soldier replied: ‘Yes.’ Lincoln stood at the head of the bed and read the soldier’s identification card. “And a Vermonter,” he said. “Yes, sir,” replied the soldier. “I pride myself on being a Green Mountain boy.” Lincoln clasped the soldier’s hand between both of his. The soldier then asked, ‘Well, Father Abraham, have we done our work well?” “Very well, indeed, and I thank you,” came the reply. The soldier never forgot the pressure of Lincoln’s hands on his, nor did he forget Lincoln’s face. Fifty years later, he recalled, “I often see that sad and worn face in memory, and I can hardly keep back the tears.”
Just as Lincoln honored those wounded soldiers, the members of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania have been privileged to honor the fallen heroes at Gettysburg National Cemetery, in the very place they were buried so long ago. Unfortunately, this year, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, the ceremony cannot be held in public at the cemetery. Nevertheless, One Hundred Nights of Taps, Gettysburg, 2020, will continue its mission online and will be streamed every night at 7 p.m. on Facebook and YouTube.
This year, too, the Lincoln Fellowship’s annual commemorative coin honors one representative soldier, buried in Row D, #82, in Gettysburg National Cemetery. His name was Sergeant Isaac S. Osborne and he served with the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry, Company 1. He lost his life fighting on the frontline at the Wheatfield, on July 2. He died defending the colors. By remembering Sgt. Osborne every night this summer, we can honor not only his particular sacrifice but the bravery and nobility of every heroic frontliner, both past and present. It is the very least we can do.
Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania
On July 4th, we celebrate the birth of our great nation. We also celebrate the recurring rebirth of our common ideals. As Dwight D. Eisenhower observed: “The winning of freedom is not to be compared with the winning of a game—with the victory recorded forever in history. Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed—else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”
Here in Gettysburg, we especially remember all who have fought to preserve and protect our nation. Abraham Lincoln thought it his sacred duty to maintain that government which, although imperfect, was “the last best hope of earth.” Lincoln described the war as “a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men . . ..” Lincoln sought to carry the torch of the founding fathers’ vision while recognizing it must evolve. Thus, he exhorted Americans to continue the “unfinished work” of those who sacrificed at Gettysburg so that our nation “shall have a new birth of freedom” and our government “shall not perish from the earth.”
While looking to the future, Lincoln also emphasized the need to honor and remember those who fought for our nation. He frequently spoke, at Gettysburg and elsewhere, of the brave soldiers who sacrificed for the country’s cause: “To you who render the hardest work in its support should be given the greatest credit.”
Today, as we enjoy July 4th festivities, we also pause to pay tribute to our veterans. The Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, in coordination with Taps for Veterans and the Gettysburg National Military Park, sponsors 100 Nights of Taps, so that each summer evening Taps is played to honor those who served our nation. With great effort from the program organizers, 100 Nights of Taps continued virtually while the Soldier’s National Cemetery was closed for events. The Taps program recently returned to the beautiful and sacred Cemetery and will continue there as feasible. Visitors must follow all CDC and DOH guidelines including social distancing and the wearing of face masks. Please join us at the Cemetery any evening at 7:00 pm through Labor Day for this brief but powerful ceremony. Any updates will appear on the 100 Nights of Taps Facebook page.
And, as we observe July 4th, even if socially distanced, let us bear in mind all we have to celebrate as well as Lincoln’s call to continue the “unfinished work.” Reflecting on our nation’s history, Lincoln stated: “Of our political revolution of '76, we all are justly proud. It has given us a degree of political freedom, far exceeding that of any other nation of the earth. . . . In it was the germ which has vegetated, and still is to grow and expand into the universal liberty of mankind.”
Susan Iuliano is a Board Member of the Lincoln Fellowship of PA, which is committed to commemorating the Gettysburg Address during the annual Dedication Day ceremonies, supporting “100 Nights of Taps” at the Soldiers' National Cemetery, and other educational activities. To learn more and support these efforts, go to www.lincolnfellowship.org.
On April 9, 1865, Abraham Lincoln received a telegram from Ulysses S. Grant reporting Robert E. Lee’s surrender, formally ending the Civil War. Six days later, on Good Friday, April 14, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth during a performance at Ford’s Theatre. Lincoln died the next morning. This tragedy, 155 years ago this month, terminated Lincoln’s critical leadership just as he had turned to mending a broken nation. Focusing on forgiveness and justice, Lincoln sought to accelerate Reconstruction and establish voting rights for former slaves.
The assassination plan devised by Booth and other Confederate sympathizers epitomized the formidable obstacles Lincoln faced. A few days prior to the assassination, Booth had listened to Lincoln advocating for black suffrage. Booth declared: “That is the last speech he will ever make.” Booth and his conspirators plotted to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and the Secretary of State at three locations on the evening of April 14. Johnson’s assigned attacker abandoned the plan, while the Secretary was injured before his assailant fled. Only Booth succeeded. As an actor known at the theater, Booth gained access to Lincoln’s private viewing balcony, barred the door, and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth then leapt from the balcony to the stage and escaped, but was later captured.
Lincoln was carried across the street to a boarding house and was laid diagonally to fit his tall frame on the bed. Throughout the night, doctors, government officials, and his wife Mary attended to him. When he died early the next morning, War Secretary Edwin Stanton declared: “Now he belongs to the ages.”
After public viewing in Washington, Lincoln’s body traveled by train to his Springfield home, viewed by multitudes of mourners along the way. Noted Russian author Leo Tolstoy declared that Lincoln was “worshipped throughout the world” because “his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.”
What legacy was lost when Lincoln was prevented from bringing his moral power to bear in leading a national reunion and rebirth? Could Lincoln have persuaded a recalcitrant Congress to implement his Reconstruction plans? Mitigated the calls for revenge? Moved us closer to that “just and lasting peace?”
Early in his career, Lincoln described his ambition as “that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” He became increasingly reflective concerning his mortality and his legacy. He reportedly experienced a prescient dream of wandering the White House and learning of the President’s assassination. Prior to his Second Inauguration, Lincoln stated: “Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.” Certainly, Lincoln rooted out a thorny thistle that had taken root. But we will never know what may have bloomed had he been allowed to cultivate and nurture all that he planted in our soil.
On a muddy March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in for his second term as President.
His Second Inaugural Address was an attempt to explain how the evils of the war reconcile with the idea of God’s will. President Lincoln quotes or alludes to Bible verses six times throughout the speech.
Lincoln reminded the audience that only four years before, “all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”
He states that views on slavery caused the war, whether to extend it into the territories or to restrict its expansion.
Lincoln noted that “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
Then he says that if God is offended by slavery, He might bring “both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came…”
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
In other words, slavery was an offense God wanted removed, and perhaps it was God’s will that war continue until “all the wealth” resulting from slavery is gone. Lincoln believed that we can’t know God’s will, but whatever that will is, Lincoln asserts that it is righteous.
Lincoln ends by calling us to a higher morality: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Susan Paddock is Secretary of The Lincoln Fellowship of PA (lincolnfellowship.org)
This article originally appeared in the pages of the Gettysburg Times, January of 2019. It is one of a recurring series penned by members of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, in the hopes of sharing the work the Fellowship does. We are delighted to re-share this as the first entry in our new Fellowship blog!
I am the Vice President of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, but during the day, I am an artist who specializes in painting Abraham Lincoln. My studio and gallery are here in Gettysburg. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t contemplate what it would be like if President Abraham Lincoln could return to Gettysburg to witness the profound impact his Gettysburg Address has made, not only on our thriving community but also the world.
If you visit Gettysburg’s town square, you will notice a statue in front of the David Wills House that captures what it might look like if the sixteenth president visited today. John Seward Johnson II (born 16 April 1930) is the American artist who created this iconic sculpture, titled, “Return Visit.”
“Return Visit” was commissioned by the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania and dedicated in 1991. The statue represents a “common man” (a present-day tourist) with Abraham Lincoln. While gazing at the Wills House, the tourist holds a copy of the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln stares down at his Address, and with his hat outstretched in his left hand, he seems to be inviting the “tourist” to notice the Wills House—to show him where he made finishing touches to his “few appropriate remarks.”
This amazing sculpture should make residents of Gettysburg very proud. Seward Johnson is a profound and renowned American artist. Heir to the Johnson and Johnson empire, he began his artistic career as a painter. In 1968, he began sculpting, choosing bronze as his new medium. He remarked that he liked to work in bronze because "it is strong and endures nature's harshness over long periods of time.”
Each bronze sculpture takes two years to complete. Johnson says he first observes his subjects by "walking through life, retaining the way people relate to each other, gestures they make, telltale habits, expressions." He has created more than 450 life-sized sculptures. They are in museums in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. Many appear in busy public venues such Times Square and Rockefeller Center in New York City, Pacific Place of Hong Kong, Les Halles in Paris, and Via Condotti in Rome. One of his most famous works is his twenty-six foot tall “Forever Marilyn.” This sculpture debuted in 2011 along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. His most renowned sculpture, “Embracing Peace,” depicts the moment in Times Square when the sailor and nurse spontaneously rejoiced in celebration on V-E Day at the conclusion of World War ll in Europe.
The Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania is honored to maintain the “Return Visit.” The bronze Lincoln statue weighs 700 pounds and stands 6’ 4” inches tall (Lincoln’s actual height). The bronze “tourist” statue weighs 400 pounds. Most of the time, the statue only requires on-site cleanings and modest repairs. But in 2011, the Fellowship sent the statue to the sculptor’s studio for a major, meticulous four-month restoration.
There are approximately 1,300 monuments, markers, and memorials in and around the Gettysburg area. I would bet that the “Return Visit” statue in downtown Gettysburg is the most touched, hugged, and, certainly, the most photographed of all.
- Wendy Allen
"Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania" is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. P. O. Box 3372, Gettysburg, PA 17325