December 6, 2008
Good afternoon and thank you very, very much for having me here today.
I want to thank Superintendent John Howard and all our volunteers and park staff who worked so hard to make this tremendous experience possible. Thanks also to the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and to Georgine Charles and the American Business Women’s Association for helping to make this event happen for 20 years now.
Whenever I bring my family here, it’s a sobering experience to stand on grounds that once witnessed such bloodshed and struggle nearly a century and a half ago. The sheer numbers of those lost during the Battle of Antietam is hard to comprehend, but the candles we see lit today make it clear just how many Americans were killed.
As the sun rose on September 18, 1862, 23,000 soldiers had been lost. The Union Army had pushed back General Lee’s forces, ending his invasion into the North and giving President Lincoln the chance he needed to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
In many ways, our fate as a nation was determined that day. But when we look upon these hills and valleys where so many American soldiers fought and died, we mustn’t only remember the division that brought them here, but also the challenges we have overcome as a people to get to where we are today.
This is a place that represents the sacrifice and determination that has shaped our nation indefinitely. It represents the revolutionary spirit that still captivates our people. And it is proof of our strength and resilience, and the common American truth that tough times don’t last, but tough people do.
But perhaps most importantly, this memorial honors all Americans – black and white, rich and poor, young and old, Union and Confederate. In a very real sense, it honors not just those who died that day, but the many generations of men and women that have sacrificed so much in defense of the freedoms we hold dear.
This is a site that every American, and especially every Marylander, should have the chance to visit – our families, our schoolchildren, our teachers, our parents and grandparents, our leaders. Antietam reminds us of Maryland’s place in this nation, its centrality and its rich history lending to the strength that drives our State today.
That’s why we come here – to witness what we’ve overcome as a people, to witness our place in our nation’s history, to remember those who were lost, and to share it with future generations.