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.
November 19th, 1863.
THE PICKET OF THE POTOMAC
“All quiet along the Potomac,”
“Except now and then a stray picket
Is shot as he walks on his beat to and fro,
By a rifleman hid in the thicket.”
’Tis nothing—a private or two now and then
Will not count in the tale of the battle;
Not an officer lost—only one of the men
Breathing out all alone the death-rattle.
All quiet along the Potomac to-night,
Where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming,
Their tents in the ray of the clear autumn moon,
And the light of the watch-fires gleaming.
A tremulous sigh from the gentle night wind
Through the forest leaves slowly is creeping,
While the stars up above, with their glittering eyes,
Keep watch while the army is sleeping.
There’s only the sound of the lone
As he tramps from the rock to the fountain,
And thinks of the two in the low trundle-bed
Far away in the hut on the mountain.
His musket falls slack; his face, dark and grim,
Grows gentle with memories tender,
As he mutters a prayer for the children asleep,
For their mother,—may heaven defend her!
The moon seems to shine as serenely as
That night when the love, yet unspoken,
Lingered long on his lips, and when low-murmured vows
Were pledged, never more to be broken.
Then, drawing his sleeve roughly over his eyes,
He dashes the tears that are welling,
And gathers his gun closer up to its place,
As if to keep down the heart-swelling.
He passes the fountain, the blasted pine-tree—
The footstep is lagging and weary;
Yet onward he glides through the broad belt of light,
Towards the shade of a forest so dreary.
Hark! Was it the night wind that rustled the leaves?
Is it moonlight so suddenly flashing?
It looked like a rifle— “Ha, Mary, good-night!”
His life-blood is ebbing and dashing.