Anniversaries focus our attention. Personal or national, dates to which we have assigned significance have a special power. They allow us to revisit triumphs and happy days; they allow us to recall painful and tragic days.
Of course, here in Gettysburg, July and November bring especially poignant days to remember, recall, and reflect. The humid, hot days of early July rightly focus our attention on the violence of the nation’s great battle. November’s cool and gray brings a call to think about how Americans began to make sense of the horror and sacrifice, and suffering and terror of those three days in July when so much hung in the balance. And it reminds us how much has been done, and how much has been left undone.
As I am writing this, we are in the middle of the commemoration of the battle. Thousands of visitors are here and taking in the many programs organized by the National Park Service and others. Yesterday alone, Pete Miele and I delivered five programs that explored the military history of the battle, the role of the Seminary in the cultural conflicts that helped lead the nation to war, and the experience of Gettysburg’s citizens – men and women — as they were engulfed by a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable scale. New scholarship is now introducing us to the stories of the experience of Central Pennsylvania’s African American citizens and the experiences of enslaved men who accompanied Robert E. Lee’s army in 1863. These stories provide new insights that continue to make the battle relevant to our own understanding of our past and how our past continues to live today.
We all have a special place in this ongoing story – because in many ways the Civil War is still very much a part of who we are as a nation. How we tell the story, how we ask questions of the past, and how we interpret and live out the spirit of the Gettysburg Address has significance beyond the mundane telling and retelling of old stories. What we all do with the story of Gettysburg and how we explore the special power of anniversary events provides opportunities to pause, reflect, and search for the better angels of our nature.
Seminary Ridge Museum is open seven days a week, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and ACLS and YWCA cardholders receive half-price admission every day. Special gallery talks, walking tours, and living history programs take place throughout the week and are free with admission. This summer, we will be conducting free evening walking tours of Seminary Ridge on August 9 and September 6. Each different tour will look not only at what took place on these grounds, but how it affected the individuals who fought here, lived here, and worked here. Tours begin at 7 p.m. at the Peace Portico on the west side of the museum. Visit www.seminaryridgemuseum.org for more information.