Abraham Lincoln issued the Presidential proclamation that set the precedent for our national day of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863.
On that date, America was just past the halfway point in the Civil War. The great Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July of ‘83 had raised hopes in the North that the Southern rebellion was doomed – but two months later, the Confederate victory at Chickamauga proved that the war was far from over.
The Battle of Chickamauga, September 19 and 20, 1863, were the two bloodiest days in American history. Chickamauga claimed the lives of 1,657 Federal troops — with 9,756 soldiers wounded and 4,757 missing for a total of 16,170 casualties out of 58,000 troops.
Painting by Keith Rocco
Confederate losses were just as steep: 2,312 dead, 14,674 wounded and 1,468 missing for a total of 18,545 out of 66,000 troops.
It was only the courageous rear-guard stand of Union General George “Pap” Thomas – the legendary “Rock of Chickamauga” – that kept the Federal army from suffering a total rout in northern Georgia — and set the table for a Union victory at the Battle of Missionary Ridge two months later on November 25, 1863.
Drawing by Ron Crawford
Today, though the Occupy Wall Street movement is provoking a healthy dialogue about the plight of the 99% versus the insane, unbalanced power, influence and affluence of the 1% — America is not embroiled in a civil war on the scale of the 19th Century War Between the States.
But, with pepper spray, police “batons”, riot gear, and other forms of authoritarian violence being directed against ordinary Americans seeking freedom and social and economic justice — it’s not entirely beyond the pale to suggest that this year’s Thanksgiving celebration falls on a date fraught with historic significance.
So today, November 24, 2011, let’s remember why Abe Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in a much more desperate and pivotal moment in our national history. And let the Occupy Wall Street movement dine on turkey today — and draw strength for the battles ahead.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.
Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
And god bless the Occupy Wall Street Movement!