From PBS – How the telegraph helped Abraham Lincoln to reshape America. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proved himself a master of a new frontier–not on the battlefields of the Civil War, but in his “high-tech” command center, the War Department Telegraph Office. The telegraph was the “Internet” of the nineteenth century, and it gave Lincoln powers of command, communications, and control never before exercised by a commander-in-chief. He used this new technology to connect the country to him–receiving nearly live dispatches via telegraph from his generals in the field and sending out his plans for the nation faster and with more clarity than ever before. The results of Lincoln’s pioneering experiment in electronic leadership would ultimately lead to the fields of Gettysburg. There, one battle turned the tide of the Civil War–and became the setting for the 272 words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the speech that recast the American ideal as a national creed. [email protected] unfolds …
User Reviews: Everett Horton spoke before the president at the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery. Horton spoke for two hours, describing the battle and praising the union. The Gettysburg address that most of us are familiar with is 272 word long. (There are several versions.) It only took a few minutes for the president to read it. And in the speech, Lincoln’s carefully crafted words make clear exactly what was at stake in the Civil War.
But you have to dig a little to clarify the message. The speech begins with "Four score and seven years ago . . ." Well, that doesn’t take the audience back to 1780, when the Constitution was written. It takes them back to 1776 and the Declaration of Independence. And why does it make a difference? Because the Civil War, cloaked as it was in states’ rights, was all about slavery. The Constitution was a compromise between the north and the slave-owning south, and slavery is never mentioned. But the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins with the phrase "We take these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal."
The program briefly covers a number of elements of Lincoln’s presidency, ably assisted by David Strathairn’s narration and the contribution of several expert talking heads ranging from Colin Powell to Michael Shaara, author of "Killer Angels." In a way, this exceptional program is as much about the process of communication in all its forms as it is about the climactic moment at the Gettysburg dedication. Technologically, Lincoln used the telegraph to communicate with his generals, which speeded things up, including arguments. And Horton’s two-hour prologue was the performance expected of an orator before the age of mass media. There were no blogs, except that newspapers served as sources of opinions. The brevity of Lincoln’s statement was startling.
Breezing through the president’s address, a reader might at first see little but airy platitudes about liberty and whatnot. But imagine how precisely these generalizations applied to the entire country. Lincoln didn’t condemn the Confederacy. He painted the Civil War as a trial to see whether a nation built on American values and charter documents could ever succeed — not just here but anywhere on earth. There is nothing about the battle itself, no mention of "glory" or "victory," or even "slavery." "A new birth of freedom" takes care of slavery, but again a little decoding is in order.
In the end it’s not only a powerful political and ethical statement but a magnificently designed piece of literature, full of effective rhetorical flourishes. And — can you imagine any modern president writing such a document today — on his own?
It must also have been a grueling experience for everyone involved. The battle at Gettysburg had not been fought that long ago and the scent of cadaverine was still in the air.
It’s a fine program, and anyone interested in knowing more about it might consider reading Garry Wills’ "Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America." Will’s compares the speech to Pericles’ eulogy and the book won a Pulitzer Prize.