On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg,the bloodiest on North American soil,the National Park Service held its main ceremony to mark the solemn occasion at the battlefield in Pennsylvania.A number of notables led the program held near Union General George G.Meade's headquarters.
Country singer Trace Adkins opened the observance with his a capella rendition of the national anthem.Master of ceremonies was former ABC newsman and "Good Morning America" host Charlie Gibson,who described himself as being a longtime history buff and student of the battle.More than 160,000 troops participated in the Gettysburg engagement,he pointed out.A testament to its impact is the fact that Amazon lists 9500 books about it.
One of the books is "Team of Rivals:The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by the ceremony's keynote speaker,historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.Goodwin said Lincoln stayed in the telegraph office during the battle,resting on the couch.Shortly after dawn on 4 July,he received the anxiously awaited telegram from General Meade that the battle had been successfully concluded.
An aide of the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson,Goodwin emphasised that the freedom legacy of the battle was still being worked out.It was an open-ended process,she said,citing President Johnson's civil rights and voting rights legislation,and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt's women's rights leadership,as examples of this unfolding.
Following Ms.Goodwin's remarks,a group of actors staged a dramatised recreation of eyewitness accounts of the battle backed by large screen images,which was quite effective,judging by the engrossed look in a little boy's eyes.
The audience then lit candles for a procession up to the Soldiers' National Cemetery,where the remains of many Union troops who died in the battle-and a few Confederate ones by mistake-are interred.Led by members of the US Army's Old Guard ceremonial regiment,the crowd of about a thousand people marched the short distance to the cemetery,where they visited the soldiers' graves,which were marked by luminaries in the form of candles in orange bags.
The battle occurred from July 1-3,1863.Just over 7,000 soldiers died,as well as civilian Jennie Wade,who was killed in her sister's house by a Confederate bullet while baking bread for Union forces.According to a recent estimate,some 700,000 troops were killed in the entire Civil War,which was from 1861-64.