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The Gettysburg Address: Abraham Lincoln’s Speech Shedding Light into the Civil War

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The Civil War was a vast, complicated event, that comprised of both physical conflict and territorial separation between the developing American states. Aside from the bloody battles, however, there were also many other significant events throughout the war, such as issues of slavery and the question of abolition, which ultimately resulted in a transformed nation (Foner). Although the outcome of the war was very straightforward with the triumph of the Union, the incidents that progressed the war forward drew together people from all different classes and origins. Due to such a diverse history of people involved in the war, the accounts of this civil conflict included experiences from multiple perspectives and unexpected angles. A noteworthy piece of literature that wholly depicts the events of the Civil War, incorporating objects and historical records into personal narratives, is Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman’s gripping graphic novel, Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War. Throughout this novel, each chapter opens with a certain object or documentation along with graphic images that represents some significant aspect of the Civil War. Although many concepts were discussed throughout the chapters of Battle Lines such as slavery, illness and medicine, and chaos of the bloody battles which helped capture the major points of the American Civil War, an additional chapter that incorporates a documentation of the Gettysburg Address would holistically represent the graphic novel’s story and message to its audience (Kelman). That being said, the Gettysburg Address sheds light on both a national and individual perspective of the war through its emotional and universal appeal to and defense of the cause of liberty.

The Gettysburg Address was a brief yet enlightening and provoking speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which was a cemetery for the Union soldiers killed at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War (Foner). In only 272 words, Lincoln covered several crucial points in his speech, but was in hopes to get across two main purposes to his audience. His aim was to encourage people to take action in improving the nation, by honoring those who died in the Battle of Gettysburg, and by reuniting the north and south (Foner). Throughout his speech, Lincoln appealed to pathos as he convinced his audience his argument by creating an emotional response through the words that he used. Lincoln began his speech by establishing that the nation was founded upon liberty and the idea that all men are created equal. Rather than opening his speech by dwelling on the deaths of the soldiers caused by the battle, Lincoln took the speech at a different angle, as he invoked a sense of thought and contemplation upon his audience to think about why the war was being fought in the first place— in attempt to preserve the union. He then continued his speech by proclaiming that the entire country was at war with itself, and that the war was a test for whether or not that kind of country can endure. He dedicated the battlefield he was standing on for the soldiers who had died there, declaring that “we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground” (“Gettysburg Address”). Lincoln deliberately used both repetition and parallelism in this statement to help distinctly deliver his message as he appeals to pathos. By doing so, Lincoln brought the public together by creating a sense of unity with the use of the word “we.” He then goes on and stated that “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract” (Gettysburg Address). What Lincoln meant by this, is that there was no way the union would ever have blessed this ground today more than the soldiers that died there already have. He asserts that no one was going to care or remember the words said on that day, but no one could ever forget what those soldiers did on that ground. He states that it was up to the rest of the public that were still alive to dedicate themselves to the “unfinished work” that the soldiers have started, with the “unfinished work” being to continue to fight in order to reunite the northern and southern states into one nation. To finish off his speech, Lincoln discusses the notion of rebirth in his concluding statement, proclaiming that the people as a whole must promise that this country, under God, should have a “new birth of freedom – and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” (“Gettysburg Address). As he ended his speech with this parallel structured sentence, Lincoln promised that once the battles have been fought, the people of America can live in peace and harmony together. He ensured that a country that is made up of the people, was created by the people, and created to serve the people that can exist in this world. By appealing to the audience’s emotion, Lincoln was able to unify the public and redefine the Civil War as a struggle not only for the Union, but also for the principle of human equality.

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While Battle Lines included many objects and narrations that discussed the politics, troop movements, and bloody battles fought throughout the course of the war, Fetter-Vorm and Kelman’s graphic novel could have provided a more careful explanation as to why the soldiers were fighting and for what purpose the people of the Union should continue to fight for. The Gettysburg Address, on the other hand, does exactly that. Abraham Lincoln’s short but enlightening speech reminded the public not only how hard the soldiers fought in their battles, but also why the soldiers continued to fight and sacrifice their lives on the battlefield of Gettysburg. Therefore, this speech would serve as a focal point of the corresponding narration and artistic representation of an added chapter to Battle Lines. The speech was made four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg, also defined as the turning point in the Civil War (Parkinson). Rather than depicting the battle scenes like Battle Lines does, however, it is important to also display a source such as the Gettysburg Address and incorporate a graphic portrayal of Lincoln’s memorialization of the sacrifices of those who gave their lives at the battle of Gettysburg as it not only represented the physical hardships the soldiers went through but also the emotional response of the public that led to their unification and ultimate victory of the war. Unlike the other sources added into Battle Lines, which usually depict either an individual or national point of view, Lincoln was able to provide both a personal and universal perspective of the Civil War as he explained that these individual sacrifices by the soldiers were made in order to preserve the Union as an entity and its principles of human equality, individual freedom, self-government, and national unity. Lincoln knew that the union must prevail in the war if they wanted to remain one America, and as a result he uses clever wording to invoke an emotional reaction by the people. An addition of a source that includes an emotional aspect of the Civil War will in turn invoke an emotional response out of the readers of Battle Lines as it further emphasizes the overall message of the novel.

An additional source of the Gettysburg Address would be entirely suitable for the central image of an added chapter because it sheds light on the sensitive and emotional aspects of the Civil War. Lincoln’s eloquence of language in such a short piece of writing would be a perfect fit for an additional source used in Battle Lines as the Gettysburg Address incites an emotional visualization of what it must have been like to be a part of the audience listening to Abraham Lincoln orate such carefully crafted and healing words. The speech also addresses the union’s appreciation for the soldiers and provides an explanation as to why the war was initially being fought. It expresses the significance of how much the soldiers did to fight for the union and why they were going to continue to do it. One of the most underexplored aspects in Battle Lines is the prevailing question of why the war was fought and how it was resolved, and Abraham Lincoln was able to answer these questions throughout the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln’s speech sums up the overarching theme of the Civil War in only two minutes as he further develops the ideas of freedom for all and unity of the nation by honoring the union dead and reminding the audience of the purpose of the sacrifice of the soldiers.

Overall, the Gettysburg Address as an addition to Battle Lines would completely highlight most if not all the major experiences of the Civil War, ranging from political events, troop movements, and bloody battles to dedicating the soldiers, examining the purpose of the war, and expressing the defense of the cause of liberty, when including Lincoln’s timeless speech (Kelman). The Gettysburg Address subsumed the entire war and all in it, as Lincoln talks less about the physical combat and more about the fight for preserving the union and equality for all people. He delivered a speech that guided the union to the war through his persuasive and emotionally invoking words, and he always showed compassion for everyone and everything during the unsteady time.

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