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Lincoln's Elegy at Gettysburg

Kent Gramm

Publication Year: 2001

It begins with the search for hallowed ground, the exact place from which Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. In bleak November, Kent Gramm makes a pilgrimage to the most famous battleground in American history and over the course of a month transforms his search into a discovery of the meaning of Lincoln's elegy for America's identity.

For Gramm, the century that began with Lincoln's address and ended with the assassinations of the 1960s saw the destruction of the 'modern' world and with it America's sense of purpose. The book reflects on the November anniversaries of public events such as the Armistice that ended World War One, Kristallnacht, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the death of C. S. Lewis, the first major battle of the Vietnam War, and the publication of Robert F. Kennedy's To Seek a Newer World, and also on private events in Gramm's family history, provide the occasions for Gramm's meditations on public and private heroism, on modernism's hopes and postmodern despair. In November, he asks us to seek a path toward the 'new birth of freedom' that Lincoln envisioned at Gettysburg.

"The month begins with things that perish. But ultimately, November is a journey of hope, as was Lincoln's journey to Gettysburg. So too I will journey to Gettysburg in these pages. Like Lincoln's fellow citizens, I go there to assuage personal grief, to find answers; and I hope, for me as for them, that my personal sorrows become a vehicle for larger answers and a larger purpose. Lincoln addressed their grief, why not mine; he gave his generation purpose, why not ours."

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-12

A young man named Edward King dies in the Irish Sea when his ship, passing between England and Ireland, strikes a submerged rock. Seawater gushes in through an explosive wound in the hull. In minutes, the ship settles to the waterline like the Titanic. No strong wind is blowing; the ocean is calm. The elements cannot be blamed. Blame for these imminent...

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November 1: Years Ago (All Saints)

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pp. 13-18

Chaplain Horatio Howell was shot to death on the steps of Christ Church, Gettysburg, at around four o’clock on July 1, 1863. Thousands of young men belonging to Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia poured into town that afternoon pursuing Union troops. Several veteran Confederate units had been decimated by the Union First Corps, which...

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November 2: Our Fathers (L. L.)

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pp. 19-29

All Souls’ Day—a day for commemorating the unknown men, women,and children who died in the faith. On November 2, 1863, President Lincoln received a letter from Judge David Wills of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, chairman of the committee for the establishment of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Though the address for the occasion would be delivered by the distinguished orator...

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November 3: Brought Forth (Pen and Sword)

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pp. 30-40

Today it rains and rains. This morning few visitors came to the Visitors’ Center to look at Civil War artifacts. I went in only to get out of the rain. November is a lousy month. Just so no one is fooled by there still being some colorful leaves lingering on a few of the trees, a cold wind with driving rain comes to knock them o√. It is as if the dark sky and rain...

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November 4: In Vain (Lycidas)

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pp. 41-62

November was a month of anniversaries for Lincoln, none of them particularly cheerful. He won both his presidential elections in Novembers. He delivered the Address. And, on November 4, 1842, he had gotten married. Dressing himself in unwonted fine clothing just before the wedding, which had not been publicized, Lincoln was asked by his landlord’s son, Where are you going? ‘‘To hell, I suppose,’’ Lincoln answered....

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November 5: The Living and the Dead (Character)

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pp. 63-72

On November 5, 1863, Abraham Lincoln conferred with a former Louisiana congressman about how to restore state government there, and followed up with a letter to the general whose work overseeing the process had been, thus far, unsatisfactory. A little later he met with a committee of the African Civilization Society who had come to ask for a grant of $5,000...

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November 9: Never Forget (Nights of Broken Glass)

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pp. 73-76

Between Lincoln’s time and the new millennium stretches a century of barbed wire and broken glass. Sixty years ago the Nazis burned, defaced,and destroyed businesses and synagogues all across Germany. Shattered windows of businesses owned by Jews gave November 9, 1938, the name Kristallnacht, ‘‘night of broken glass.’’ As leaves cease falling in November, the forest floor becomes a pale...

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November 11: Long Endure (Armistice Day)

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pp. 77-83

The superintendent has been gone a week. Doesn’t he know that people die, waiting? Down in a newer part of the National Cemetery a small ceremony is taking place. Today is Veterans Day—what used to be called Armistice Day. On November 11, 1918, the Armistice silenced the ancient guns on the Western Front. Wilfred Owen’s parents, in the English town of Shrews-...

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November 14: The Brave Men (Ia Drang)

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pp. 84-95

Today, Mr. Lincoln’s speech must be nearly finished. He has to go to Gettysburg in four days, on the eighteenth, to deliver the speech on the nineteenth. I wonder if he held the sheets of paper in his hand and gazed out the White House window—I wonder if he saw anything of his children’s children’s vague forms—the combat fatigues, web gear, helicopters...

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November 15: A Great Civil War (Virginia Wade)

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pp. 96-105

I might have found a Confederate grave this afternoon. I had been looking for a place where a number of Southern boys had been buried together in a long trench. Those fellows had been mere victims, several regiments of men ordered by incompetent officers into an unreconnoitered attack. In long lines they walked toward a stone wall until, at the last moment,...

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November 16: Final Resting Place (Sanctuary)

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pp. 106-118

The man is still not back. What does he think, no one dies around here? Cemeteries run themselves? Tomorrow is the beginning of ‘‘Heritage Days’’ in Gettysburg. For two days, people will converge on Gettysburg by the thousands and tens of thousands: tourists, scholars, buffs, reenactors. There will be so many men in Civil War uniforms that it will feel like there is a war on. Motel rooms...

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November 17: What We Say Here (The Other Address)

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pp. 119-122

While Abraham Lincoln was writing his Gettysburg Address on this day in 1863, another man was rehearsing his own Gettysburg address. The man was Edward Everett, the country’s premier platform personality. On the program at Gettysburg, only his speech is billed as the ‘‘oration’’ of the day.The president is simply to make the dedication; that is, give a short formulaic...

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November 18: We Have Come to Dedicate (The Visitor)

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pp. 123-130

On November 18, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg. Up on Cemetery Hill, a speakers’ platform stood ready. The digging of graves had been temporarily suspended. When Abraham Lincoln stepped off the train, the citizens of Gettysburg saw the most recognizable figure in America, and at the same time the most utterly strange. A London Times reporter said you could not pass...

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November 19: The Gettysburg Address

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pp. 131-161

During the night it rained, dampening the dusty roads. Then the clouds moved on, and stars emerged in unshrouded heavens. Toward Baltimore and York the horizon paled, and the sun rose clear in a cloudless sky. Its light shone upon a continuous procession of people approaching Gettysburg on its nine roads. They had started while it was still night,...

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November 20: That Cause (Confederate Rose)

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pp. 162-170

Back in Washington, Mr. Lincoln was sick today, November 20, and getting sicker. I took advantage of this circumstance to slip over to the enemy’s side. That is, I hiked across the fields between Union and Confederate lines to visit some Confederate memorials. On the Gettysburg battlefield today is inscribed another Gettysburg Address. Unlike Lincoln’s, these words are addressed not to the living but...

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November 21: The World Will Little Note (Futility)

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pp. 171-181

With a little work and thinking, a person should be able to figure out whether the Milwaukee man, Selleck, was right about where Abraham Lincoln stood when he spoke the Gettysburg Address. All that is needed are a few fresh ideas, clear logic, and the fortitude to look at things as they really were. Professional historians have understandable limitations. The...

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November 22: A Larger Sense (Dallas and Oxford)

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pp. 182-192

On this date in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot. We have the Zapruder film by memory. Each replay is an attempt to unplay, but it always comes out the same. The New York Times headline—‘‘President Shot Dead’’—was not large enough, bold enough, or blunt enough to overcome our disbelief. We are frozen in the frame just before; the last...

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November 23: For Us, the Living (Weep No More)

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pp. 193-195

The wan weeds of the fields are dry. The gray sky is a mirror, and all of nature has donned a somber costume. A long month ago, swallows twittered in the gathering twilight and were gone. You cannot roam these scenes of death or walk among the soldiers’ white stones without ‘‘the passing Tribute of a sigh.’’ How could I begin to understand these Civil...

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November 24: The Last Full Measure of Devotion (Ulysses)

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pp. 196-212

‘‘In Greece the mind and the spirit met on equal terms,’’ wrote Edith Hamilton in The Greek Way, a book Robert Kennedy read and reread after his brother’s death. He carried his dog-eared copy around with him; he often quoted from it by memory. On the day he died, the book was found open. The Greeks were different from the peoples around them, wrote...

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November 25: Unfinished Work (JFK)

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pp. 213-227

Monday, November 25. The streets of Washington are black and gray. Allt he world is black and gray through the small television in 1963. Muffed drums beat the death march slowly and incessantly. A man has been killed,and the world mourns: this was the president, this was our president thereon the caisson. Its slow wheels rumble along the pavement. On the co≈n a...

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November 26: Shall Not Perish (Beautiful and Brave)

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pp. 228-250

One year ago today, a spray of pink roses lay in the sun atop a cherry-wood casket in the old cemetery. Not the old cemetery here in Gettysburg,but in the small western Wisconsin town where Martin and Ingeborgare buried. The new grave, their daughter Ruth’s, had been opened that morning. The night before, I had brought out a box full of old photographs to...

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November 27: Highly Resolve (Thanksgiving)

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pp. 251-257

It seems my father never entirely gave up buying educational records for his intransigent patients. The evening before my birthday in 1961, Len brought home a long-playing album called The Union. From another room, I heard an unfamiliar voice. Coming into our pink kitchen, I saw a record turning on my portable phonograph—an actor reading the Gettysburg...

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November 28: These Honored Dead (Elegy)

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pp. 258-266

I have slept infuriatingly late, considering my resolution to work today. I must get out and use what is left of the dry weather. There is to be snow tomorrow. Moisture pushing up from the coast will slide over a cold front dropping down from the northwest. Today one would not believe it. The air is unseasonably warm and earthy. You can smell the soil. Fields I walk...

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November 29: Under God (Winter Saturday)

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pp. 266-272

One of C. S. Lewis’s colleagues said about Jack’s death, ‘‘Never was a man better prepared.’’ Since his conversion, of course, Lewis had believed in ‘‘the absolute reality of the supernatural world.’’ In this his intellect and imagination worked together; his arguments and his fantasy books are alike luminous with the assumption of a dimension, or dimensions, other...

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November 30: New Birth (Advent)

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pp. 273-284

I am on my way to Christ Church this morning, my last day in Gettysburg. The month has felt like years while I was in the midst of it, but like only hours now at the end. Perhaps time is a fiction of consciousness. Was I here thirty days this month, or have I been returning through years of Novembers? Either the postmoderns are right or I am growing older: the...

APPENDIX I: Modernism and Postmodernism

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pp. 285-292


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pp. 293-297

APPENDIX III: Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard

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pp. 298-301

APPENDIX IV: Anthem for Doomed Youth

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p. 302-302

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pp. 303-304

Thanks to Lynelle Gramm, Sarah Gramm, Stephen C. Turner, Mary Brown,Lisa Crawford, Annette Thompson, and Heather Schepperley Owens for critically reading the manuscript. Rolland Hein provided valuable help on C. S.Lewis and Tom Martin on postmodernism. Serene Worth helped prepare the typescript. David Madden believed. The J. Omar Good Fund and the Aldeen...


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pp. 305-316


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pp. 317-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780253108609
E-ISBN-10: 0253108608
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253340320

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2001