All in a Day of Horseback Riding

Last Nov. 10, the day before Veterans Day, my wife and I spent 2 1/2 hours horseback riding around Chickamauga National Military Park, the site of a major Civil War battle in 1863. It was a beautiful day, sunny and brisk. We had done the ride before, but this time I could not help contemplating and thinking about history. During two days of battle, Chickamauga witnessed nearly 35,000 casualties from both armies. It is second only to Gettysburg in that unenviable statistic. One hundred twenty-five thousand soldiers were involved! The South won the battle only to lose Chattanooga a few months later, shifting the control and power and setting up the Northern troops’ push south and the Battle of Atlanta less than a year later. Much of that battle occurred on what is now the Georgia Tech campus.

It is hard to reconcile the beautiful Chickamauga with the carnage it witnessed. How can human beings kill each other so wantonly? All wars have a rationale. The problem is that the logic is different for both sides. They come about because the political leaders decide that there is no way out of the situation, or no other way to achieve their objectives. It is unavoidable that egos, power, material interests, and political pressures play a role in these life-and-death decisions. It is also inevitable that the soldiers who die do not always understand or even believe the broader issues behind the decisions to go to war. But they are the ones who carry the burden of our aspirations and our values. Their fate as casualties and/or heroes depends on the wisdom of the leaders’ righteousness.

Abraham Lincoln was such a leader. The death of so many weighed heavily on his shoulders. His righteousness and the pain of the burden of his leadership are evident in some of the most beautiful words ever written in the English language — the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 19, 1863)

Please remember the many who have served in all wars, good and bad. And remember this nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

-Rafael L. Bras








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