Sunday, June 30, 2013

`Pride Was Repelled by Sterner Pride'

Just in time for the sesquicentennial of the battle, I’ve started reading Allen C. Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013). Gettysburg was the first Civil War battlefield – the first battlefield of any war – I visited, at age ten, a few months after the centenary. With the irreverence of youth, my brother and I played army among the monuments, ramming branches down the muzzles of cannons, but even then I sensed the hushed silence of the landscape. Visitors often note the quiet of battlefields, what Guelzo calls “the silent witness of places like Gettysburg,” whether Omaha Beach or Antietam. Chatter seems indecent but conscious memory remains a sacred obligation. Guelzo’s six-hundred pages remind us that liberty and prosperity are costly gifts, not entitlements. He quotes the nineteenth-century English Liberal statesman Richard Cobden, who asked, “If the United States go wrong what hope have we of the civilized world in our turn?” Guelzo answers: 

“Preventing that wrong turn was what the preservation of the Union was about. Emancipating American slaves would remove the cause of that wrong, and make the Union worth preserving. But neither of them would be possible without the triumph of the Union armies. And Gettysburg would be the place where the armies of the Union would receive their greatest test, and the Union its last invasion.” 

Guelzo uses Melville’s “Gettysburg” (Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War, 1866) as his extended epigraph and the likely source of his title: “God walled his power, / And there the last invader charged.” Melville’s rendering of Pickett’s charge is powerful, these lines in particular: 

“Pride was repelled by sterner pride,
 And Right is a strong-hold yet.”

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